For many gamers the idea of being paid to play games seems like a no-brainer; to get paid to play our favourite games would be great. Last year, professional gaming reached new heights when it drew in over 35 million viewers across the world. 2015 was also another landmark year for the industry as The World eSports Association (WESA) was unveiled to bring rulings and regulations to the world of eSports. This shows just how popular eSports has become, to the point that it is treated the same as other professional sports.
There is, however, still a stigma attached around eSports to non-gamers. A lot of the time some might suggest that professional gaming isn’t a real job, and that those in the industry shouldn’t really be classed as athletes. However in recent years there seems to have been more of a focus shift towards eSports and gaming as a profession by developers and more mainstream outlets alike. It’s easy to see that there is far more coverage of eSports now than there has ever been, with coverage not just on places like Twitch and YouTube, but also with TV broadcasters like ESPN covering some major eSports tournaments.
This change has been gradually brought about by developers and players alike, with YouTube and Twitch personalities streaming Let’s Plays and live gameplay. There is a lot of interest in actually watching other people play games over playing them ourselves.
Since the early days of games such as Counter Strike, competitive gaming has usually been reserved for the very best, with competitions and tournaments not being very easy to get into for the average gamer. This is perhaps due to there not being a great deal of tournaments organised, it not being viable in terms of making an income, or the lack of easily accessible coverage on such events. This has quite rapidly changed over the past few years and there is now a plethora of eSports gaming organisers like MLG and ESL, as well as ensuing drama on and away from the controller. It would certainly seem that eSports has indeed become a sports-like activity, with teams being sponsored by companies and drug usage issues being present throughout the profession.
While all this is great for pro gamers and those good enough (or lucky enough) to be on one of those teams, the barrier for entry to the average gamer or those looking to getting into professional gaming is still set quite high. There is some good news though as this too is breaking away from old ideals, allowing the average gamer the opportunity to try their hand at more competitive gaming, and then further down the line allowing them to take place in organised tournaments. Games such as Hearthstone, Rainbow Six Siege and lately Overwatch all have their sights set on eSports; they are not only including a ranked playlist in their games but are also organising competitive tournaments at different levels for players. And that’s not to mention EA’s bold statements at this year’s E3 about its commitment to making eSports accessible to players with the latest iterations of games such as Madden and FIFA. It would seem that even the biggest publishers are aware of the need to account for eSports fans and players.
These type of games are promoting players to get into that ‘pro gamer’ mind frame. Rainbow Six Siege’s ranked playlist for example, has a completely different set of rules and parameters for its gameplay, meaning that strategy, teamwork and communication are more important for players to succeed. These are the same rulesets that are used in the eSports games allowing players to hone their skills, and have a go at playing like the pros. This in turn is adding new levels of depth to these games. In order to succeed, teams must carefully plan a number of different strategies and contingencies before they even step onto the field. Not only are ranked games being offered to players to test their skills, but games like Rainbow Six Siege are offering players the chance to compete in tournaments for prize money. These range from the ‘Go4R6’ matches where anyone can participate, to the pro league where teams must sign up for a slice of a $1000 prize pool.
These competitions have been a big success for Ubisoft, who is now in the middle of their second season of events with a third planned to start later in August. Already there has been a huge amount of support and participation in these tournaments. This is great for players as it gives them something to strive towards, bragging rights and a little bit of prize money for just playing the games they love is a win-win.
The importance of having a dependable team in any game cannot be understated. Even in a casual match, a team with a solid communication and the ability to cooperate effectively tends to win more often. Lately, there has been an emphasis in multiplayer games on teamwork and cooperation. Games like Rainbow Six Siege, The Division and Overwatch all favour arranged teams that can work together. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the matchmaking systems in these games, but pre-organised teams have an advantage. I suppose that has always been the nature of team-based games, but now more than ever, games are asking teams of players to plan and think strategically in order to succeed.
Overall it’s really nice to see that eSports is beginning to hit its stride, and although it has had a few missteps in recent years, I’m glad that it is being treated like the real sport it is. The gamers that take place in these competitions are athletes, it takes more than spending many hours a day playing video games, it takes real skill, as well as physical and mental concentration to be able to compete. It also shows the commitment of developers to not only support and facilitate these kind of events, but to also stump up the prize money for winners. While most of us won’t ever go on to become pro gamers, the changes do offer hope that those with the potential might have more of a chance to make it now more than ever.