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July 20, 2014 | by  | in Features Online Only |
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A League Of Legends – E-Sports And What They Are All About

Right as this article goes to print, there is a sporting event in Seattle that has made an entire community sit up and take notice. With a total prize pool of USD$10,000,000 and represented by the best players of the sport the world has seen, this is the World Cup of their sport. Teams are invited based on skill and prowess, and prove it in a group stage setup, before playing in double elimination and knockout style in front of tens of thousands to people live at the Seattle Center in Washington, and to millions of aspiring players around the world both on ESPN and via internet stream.

The event is called The International, and it is the pinnacle of achievement of players of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game, DOTA 2.

Now you saw the key term there, and I can see what you are thinking. Video games and sports have always gone together like a wasps nest in a kindergarten classroom. How can you call a video game a sport? On the contrary, a governing body for the regulation of international play has been in place since 2008, and before that South Korea have had a regulatory arm for its e-sporting requirement for fourteen years, as part of an initiative from their Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. For six years, the International e-Sports Association has been leading a push for international recognition of electronic sport as a legitimized sport, with the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, China and Norway all recognizing the phenomenon, with some countries even granting visas for their work as a professional sportsperson.

The first video game tournament was held at Stanford University in 1972, with 10,000 participants throughout the United States participating in the game SpaceWar for the magnificent prize of – you guess it – a subscription to Rolling Stone. The practice could only go up from there, with competitions being advertised in Life and Time Magazine. One of the most prolific e-sports championships ever held were sponsored by Nintendo themselves, hosting the Nintendo World Championships in 1990. With a prize pool of over USD$50,000 and 132 finalists from around the world competing, it is one of the best examples of a tournament reaching worldwide audiences. Not to mention that the specially made cartridge built for the championship is the rarest video game ever made, with a copy of one of the 26 gold cartridges reaching a value of over USD$100,000 in auction.

Despite all of this attention, video games just weren’t being taken all that seriously. It was a children’s venture, and even Nintendo’s whirlitzer of a tournament had an under-11 bracket – a practice that some Olympic gymnastics aficionados would love to have back. The continued push of the e-sporting community would come from a place no one would have guessed at the time – South Korea. The release of Starcraft and its subsequent expansion Brood War in 1998 made the entire nation took notice of the game, holding televised matches, full-scale tournaments and even created a government-funded arm for its management, the Korean e-Sports Association, which still maintains e-sporting events in the country to this day. In general circles, South Korea is to e-sports what New Zealand is to rugby, or Germany is to football. Consistently the best in any game they play, they are continuously the benchmark for e-sporting athletes.

There still remains a distinct problem with the practice of e-sports, and it is precisely the mistake made in that previous paragraph. Calling them athletes is still technically incorrect; while many countries are willing to support the rise of e-sporting as a practice, very few are willing to call the practice a sport or its players athletes. On the list of countries mentioned earlier, only four of them recognize various games as e-sports – Germany, Norway, China and South Korea. Another MOBA, League Of Legends was given official recognition of sporting status in the United States only last year, with visas handed to players and classing professional players as ‘athletes’. It ties in heavily to what people define as a sport, and while many people would loathe classing Peggle as a premier sporting event, the lines between sporting event and video game tournament blur with many video game titles.

And therein lays the issue that faces many people daunted by the rapid clicking and roaring crowds of video game competition: its complexity. While we have been discussing MOBAs almost exclusively, over 30 games have been classed as official e-sports in some capacity or another by various e-sports governing bodies – from Call Of Duty to Super Smash Bros to Mario Kart – even Guitar Hero had a shot at the competitive gaming scene before that grandiose plastic star faded away. Some people find it hard enough to discuss video games could even be a sport to begin with: throw shooting and driving and running and casting and clicking and rocket jumping in, all describing vastly different disciplines of play and technical aesthetic, and it seems like e-sporting federations have quite a mountain to climb.

And yet in 2013, e-sporting content on internet streaming providers like Twitch TV or Curse reached a cumulative total of 54 million viewed hours of content – that figure is an increase of over 1500% since 2010. While many people seem to be daunted that video games can even be postulated to make such an impact, Gabe Newell, the CEO of Valve and one of the thinktanks behind DOTA 2’s success, disagrees. “We still think we have a long way to go to get to the point where all of the different people that are contributing value to competitive play get everything out of it that they should.” He said in a community Q&A session on reddit. “Feels like we are making pretty good progress though.”

For all of its complexity, derision and general challenges the community faces, not least of which including copyright laws, sexual harassment claims, match fixing and things most sporting fans are used to by now, e-sporting is slowly but surely coming into its own as a legitimate practice in its own right. Video gaming may never be a competitive practice in and of itself, but imagine a kid booting up his copy of Mario Kart and believing he is the next Michael Schumacher, or playing Street Fighter IV and believing he is the next Muhammad Ali. It is a dream shared by football fans, rugby fans, golf fans and fans of every sport in every creed, and now it is shared by people who want to beat that one best time on Mario Kart 8.

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