The full lowdown on the essential need-to-know of what’s involved in the ever-growing esports scene.
Naturally, it helps that there are some big prize-pool purses to incentivise starry-eyed young ones to want to pursue a potentially lucrative career as the next big esports household name. After all, the Fortnite World Cup 2019 had a prize pool of US$30 million, and then 16-year-old American Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf took home a cool US$3 million in winnings.
Meanwhile, in a completely different gaming genre, Dota 2’s The International 2019 edged closer to US$33 million, with Aussie Anathan “ana” Pham’s current approximate total earnings sitting at more than US$6 million. Not bad for someone who’s yet to turn 21.
Given esports is continuing its meteoric rise in popularity, here’s the skinny on what you need to know.
Like ‘electronic mail’ to ‘email’, ‘esports’ is the shorthand term for ‘electronic sports’. While some may scoff at the seemingly paradoxical term ‘digital athletes’, the reality is that professional esports players train just as hard (if not harder) than sports athletes. It’s not just physical-versus-digital training, either. These days, physical health and mental wellbeing are also part of the equation for top-tier esports players and the teams seeking a competitive edge.
If you’re ever having trouble motivating your budding esports hopeful kids to exercise or take a break from gaming, you can tell them that performance perks are part and parcel with physical fitness. That said, one of the perks of esports is competitors don’t have to be the pinnacle of physical excellence, and it’s open to players of different ages and genders.
With an estimated 81 per cent of children playing games around the world, and crazy year-on-year growth that should see esports hitting $1.8 billion by 2022 – as part of an overarching $180 billion gaming industry – it’s understandable why more and more kids are seeing esports as a viable pathway.
PLAYING THE GAME
The main requirement of entry for pursuing a path as a professional player is, understandably, excellence at a particular game. While skills are certainly transferable within game genres – players, for instance, shift from shooters like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) to Rainbow Six Siege – it’s advisable to focus on one particular game, and a popular one at that.
That’s because esports games are born out of demand for competition from within a game’s community. While developers and publishers might include tools and systems in the hopes that their latest release will become the next big-bucks esports sensation, it’s always the gaming community that determines what they want to play, what they want to compete on, and what they want to watch.
The good news is there are a variety of games across popular genres to suit gaming tastes. Multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs) are some of the most popular (League of Legends (LOL) and Dota 2). Shooters have a showing with CSGO, Siege, Overwatch, Fortnite, and there’s no doubt that Riot Games, the creators of LOL, will have a new contender with its CSGO-meets-Overwatch shooter Valorant, which is playable in pre-release form and already popular.
BARRIERS OF ENTRY
Outside of age classification, the main requirements for finding success online are meeting platform and bandwidth requirements. Games that are played on consoles like PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (Splatoon 2, specifically) or mobile devices, have a lower barrier of entry because they have standardised performance care of the platforms.
For PC games, though – which is the majority of big-name competitive titles – meeting the minimum hardware requirements for a game are a starting point, but players should be gunning for recommended specs at the very least. This means investing in PC innards and connected peripherals that can offer a viable competitive edge: gaming headsets, mechanical keyboards, gaming mice, and high-refresh-rate monitors (in that order) start to become essential.
In terms of bandwidth, mobile internet isn’t going to cut the mustard unless you’re using a 5G connection. This is because low latency is critical for a responsive experience in online tournaments, which means a fixed-line NBN connection is preferable from an ISP like Telstra, Exetel or Optus that consistently score the lowest-latency results on the ACCC comparisons.
While many pro esports wannabes may have dollar signs in their eyes, there are many proven perks to playing, too – reaction times, multitasking and communication skills are all bolstered – which makes competitive gaming a worthy pursuit beyond chasing a possible career pathway.
Playing as a professional player may be the goal, but the size of the esports ecosystem means there are plenty of other related career pathways to pursue. Pro players can also create and/or stream content to subsidise earnings. Retired mid-20s players can go on to be coaches or analysts. There’s work on the production side of things, too, for crew, hosting or event management. In terms of the game publishers, there’s also PR, social media management or brand management.
LAN vs ONLINE
Qualifying rounds for big-ticket esports titles tend to happen online. This is also the place where budding esports stars can make a name for themselves by climbing the leaderboards. Rising through the ranks is one of the best ways to determine whether a player has what it takes to go pro. Major events, though, tend to happen at ‘LAN’: an abbreviation for the dry enough to be used as kindling ‘local area network’. LANs are designed to draw a crowd, have all players together, and create the most competitively fair experience for teams that don’t have to worry about things like lag, internet dropouts or potential cheats.
TOP ESPORTS GAMES
Rocket League is the most popular esports game in Australia, with Overwatch not far behind, when judging by the number of teams. In terms of individual players, Overwatch, StarCraft II and CSGO attract the most individuals, but Dota 2 has the most individual player earnings.
It’s worth noting that the Classification Board guidelines are a great place to start when weighing up the viability of a particular esports title. For instance, popular games like CSGO and Siege have MA15+ ratings, while Overwatch and Fortnite are rated M, even though all four games are in the same shooter genre. Still, even the G-rated GT Sport has eligibility requirements for the competitive LAN circuit. If in doubt, read the eligibility fine print for any particular esports games of interest.