These days, lots of new things are popping up from their niche status and into the mainstream. The best example of that in 2017 is Bitcoin. Up until this past year, Bitcoin was nothing more than “magic internet money”, as even some of its own community called it, but during 2017 it had soared in popularity almost as fast as its value did.
But that’s money, and money does make the world go ‘round. Let’s talk sports, or “sports” - depends on where you stand.
Another field that was testing the niche-mainstream border in 2017 was esports - or Esports, or eSports, or e-sports… the list goes on and on. We’ll use “esports”, and capitalize the E when needed, following Paul “Redeye” Chaloner’s rule of the word, as he explained during this live broadcast (he’s very passionate, so the clip does contain some inappropriate words - you have been warned): (embeds don't work here)
If we take a look at the Wikipedia page for esports, it is defined as “a form of competition using video games.” Just like sports, esports is organized into different types of games. Instead of soccer, hockey, and basketball, however, they are mainly First-Person Shooters (FPS), Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs), and Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games. FPS games include Quake and Counter-Strike, MOBAs include League of Legends and DotA 2, and RTS games include StarCraft II. Just like in traditional sports, players are not referenced by their first name. Unlike traditional sports, however, players are named using their chosen nickname in the game and not their last name - with me being Yotam “Tech” Cohen, for example.
In this piece, the FPS field will be overviewed, with Quake as a case study.
I ask you to come into this with an open mind, especially if you’re a traditional sports fanatic, as this is not an easy topic for some (“Video games are not a sport” people, keep that down please).
Ready? Onto our subject.
Let’s Talk Business - Quick Maths
If you played video games growing up, you know the fun and thrill that comes with it. The reflexes, the challenge, the talk with your friends about it... Little did you know that in the future, people were going to play video games for lots of real prize money.
To put esports’ size in perspective, the biggest prize pool to date - at the time of writing - was the DotA 2 International 2017, where the general pool exceeded $25 million and the winners, Team Liquid, took home a very fair share - $10.6 million. But here’s the real kicker: that money isn’t even 4% of the total revenue of the esports industry in the past year (again, at the time of writing).
In 2017, according to statistics website Statista, esports had generated about $696 million in revenue, with the audience size being around 385 million people around the world. In just two years, esports has more than doubled its revenue - and it’s expected to grow to over $1.4 billion in 2020 - again doubling its value in about 3 years.
Quake: The One that Started it All
If you owned a computer as a kid during the late 1990s, there’s a pretty fair chance you’ve heard about Quake. Quake is a fast-paced, brutal shooting game that puts your reaction time, coordination, quick thinking and decision-making skills to the ultimate test by pitting you against other players in a big, tall arena (hence it’s more specific genre name: Arena Shooter).
Due to its simple but fast, competitive nature, Quake shaped esports as it is today by being one of the first, with tournaments still ongoing. Its biggest event each year is QuakeCon, which is organized by Bethesda, the company developing the game. Quake as an esport isn’t huge, with the biggest player in the field currently being Counter-Strike, but it is one of the longest-running ones, running all the way back to 1996.
General Rules of a Quake Tournament
Quake’s biggest tournament is “Duel” - one versus one, time-limited combat. When a timer of 10 minutes runs out, the player who killed his opponent more times wins. Each player starts (or “spawns”) with only a machine gun and 100 points of health (HP). Items, such as the Mega Health (“Mega” for short) and the Red Armor, can refill and/or overfill your health or armor points over 100, and more powerful weapons and ammo are scattered around each arena. Armor takes two-thirds of incoming damage and is a must-have item in order to stay alive. When your HP reaches 0, you die. Items can greatly increase your chances of staying alive and killing your opponent - so make sure you know where they are located in each arena and take notes on their timing - especially the two key items mentioned earlier.
A match of Quake is played on a “map” - the setting. Each map has its different structure, item locations, and features, such as teleporters - instantaneous travel to another part of the map - and jump pads, which are like powerful trampolines.
Since a game can be as short as 10 minutes, competitive tournament rulesets extend that using a best-of-X format (or BOX). A professional match and the Grand Final of a tournament are usually a BO3 and a BO5, respectively. To decide the maps of each game in a series, players are given a standard list of maps. Each player then bans a map from the match, and then each picks a map. This repeats until the map slots for the game are filled, with the last map usually being a decider remaining after all other maps have been picked or banned.
As you can see, esports isn’t mindless entertainment. It’s a cutthroat, tough competition with lots of mental note-taking, quick reactions, coordination between eyes and each hand and educated inferences on your opponent’s state. Some people don’t include esports as a sport just because it doesn’t involve intense physical activity, but that definition can cripple some popular sports in existence today. For example, archery is an Olympic sport - and the most physical activity done is pulling a string and walking to get arrows back. In fact, archery has more in common with esports than it seems: they both rely on subtle motor skills of the hands and arms, and both require lots of quick thinking - as explained by Assistant Professor of Physical Education Seth Jenny in the following video, posted by ELEAGUE on twitter:
Other sports that break the definition include poker, which is broadcasted on ESPN, golf and shooting - also Olympic sports.
A Professional Example
Now that you’ve learned most of Quake’s - and esports’ - basics, let’s watch an example. This particular one is the Grand Final of the QuakeCon 2016 Duel Championship, where the American Shane “rapha” Hendrixson played against the Russian Sergey “evil” Orekhov in one of the most intense matches ever played live, and - coincidentally - also the last Duel match of the main QuakeCon championships being played on Quake Live, with Quake Champions’ early version replacing it in 2017’s tournament. The game is casted in part by Daniel “ddk” Kapadia, one of the most famous esports casters to date. If you have an hour to spare, I cannot recommend this match enough. It is chock-full of impressive moments of precise aim, tactical thinking, and quick decisions. The winner - I won’t spoil this greatness for you - takes $12,000 home.
If you’d like to try Quake yourself, Quake Live is currently at a price of $10, but Quake Champions will be free to play when it comes out. You can also buy the full version of Champions, which also gives immediate early access to the game. At the time of writing, Bethesda has yet to provide a release date for the first full version of Quake Champions.
A Conclusion - and Personal Thanks
Congratulations, you are now educated on the basics of Quake and, consequently, esports as a whole. If you thought Quake was big - it’s only a small fish in a bigger pond than it started in. Games like Counter-Strike and League of Legends attract millions of viewers every event, with organized teams, companies, and investors all creating a new genre of what we call “sports”. In the future - and even today - moms might want to reconsider telling their children to stop playing video games.
In general FPS esports news, a huge Counter-Strike event is coming up soon - a Major one, some might say (the event is classified as a Major by the developing company, Valve). I might write a piece about an overview of Counter-Strike before the tournament starts, if you, the reader, and others want it.
Thank you for reading my very first piece! I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to try my hand at esports journalism, and this website gave me a good starting point. If you’d like to see more of this content and/or have suggestions, you can leave a comment or email me at "thetechnixian (at) gmail (dot) com".
In fact I think the very moment this thing started to generally be termed "esports" was around the same time it started to lose it's magic, at least for me.