Last weekend I was heartbroken, mentally destroyed, condemned to never recover from the sorrow and pain I had experienced. And before you freak out, no, nothing bad happened to me directly. It is what I watched that awakened those emotions. What could it have been that shook me so much to my core and left me scared for days. Was it a movie, with a romantic or perhaps a tragic setting? Was it a video on the internet? A video of a heartwarming, yet tear-jerking reunion of a man and a gorilla? No. In true white male fashion, the only thing that can bring me over the edge and force salt my cheeks is sports. More specifically, when my favorite team is losing. My team went 0-3 in the fight for playoffs this weekend, but by some miracle they still qualified, so there is something to be happy about, at least. But I should probably get to the point now. I don’t really enjoy regular sports. The sight of sweaty men and women passing a ball around is not really my cup of tea. What really gets me all hyped up is a bunch of guys in chairs, playing video games. What I am talking about here is Esports.

Esports is truly a fascinating thing. The acronym stands for electronic sports, but what is it exactly? Well, all competitive video games with professional players and dedicated viewers are considered Esports. There is, however, a certain stigma and disdain for Esports. People aren’t willing to give it a try and it’s really a shame. So allow me to tell you why Esports are actually great.

First of all, I want to disprove the claim that there’s no interest in Esports.

This love for the games is what makes me really mad whenever someone says that professional Esports players aren’t real athletes. This really just downplays the achievements of dedicated, honest and hardworking people. Let me give you an example. Starcraft, arguably one of the first games to blow up in the industry, takes gallons of blood, sweat and tears to master. The game is built around a 1v1 battle. The players play in real-time against each other. In other words, both make actions at the same time. The players are have to build a base – a type of town, with its own economy, infrastructure, defenses and army. The goal of the game is to destroy the enemy’s base before they destroy yours. Maybe it sounds simple, but let me add that there are different maps which influence the tactics for each match, different playable races, which all have different buildings, armies and mechanics, which again change the flow of the game. Oh, and you cannot see your opponent’s actions. So not only do you have to manage your base, you also have to predict your opponent’s moves before they do them. In order to do this, you have to master the game and you also have to be fast. Not only do you have to be able to come up with solutions quickly, you also also have to maneuver around the map and expand your base before your opponent does. The best Starcraft players can perform a barely-human 800 actions per minute (apm). The next time someone says video games are easy, make them reach 800 apm in Starcraft and laugh when they inevitably fail.

Starcraft, however, had one fatal flaw that really “killed” the game. It didn’t really have team dynamics. Because the matches were one on one, despite the players technically belonging to teams, there wasn’t any real team competition or rivalries. The next biggies in the Esports industry resembled traditional sports more.

Arguably the most important video game, that has really molded the Esports industry into what it is today, is League of Legends (LoL). Riot Games, the developers of LoL, had a specific image in mind when they were designing their game. They didn’t just want to make a game, they wanted to make an Esport. They wanted to integrate everything that made sports popular into the game’s DNA. They sponsor different tournaments, which form the leagues in each major region. They give out big prize pools to the winners of these championships. Then, they host a huge international tournament every year. And hundreds of thousands of people tune in to watch everything. But they would not have had any of this success if they lacked a solid foundation. League of Legends had to also, despite being designed as an Esport, be fun. People had to want to play the game for more than just the money and fame. And judging by the fact that LoL has been one of the most played games for the past 11 years now, I would say Riot did a good job.

League of Legends is an online multiplayer battle arena, or MOBA, for short. Similarly to Starcraft, a match consists of two teams with five players, each battling to destroy the enemy’s base. Simple enough, but here is where it gets tricky. Before a game, each player has to choose a champion to play. In LoL there are 150+ champions with four or more abilities each. As such, to play effectively, every player has to thoroughly understand around 700 unique abilities and also know how they interact with one another. After loading into the game, the players then have to destroy the enemy towers to reach the enemy’s base. These towers are located on the lanes – three pathways connecting the two bases. The players are not alone in their quest to destroy the enemy structures. Periodically, a set of minions (non-playable characters controlled by the computer) emerge from each base to help their respective team. Upon killing an enemy minion, champion or turret, the player is rewarded with gold and experience points (xp). Gold is spent for items which grant flat stats and xp is used for unlocking new abilities – both increase the strength of your character. This process continues until one team overpowers the other in a teamfight, which is a major skirmish involving all 10 players. I left out a lot of different details that make the game even more complex and fun. Everything I’ve listed makes each match unique and remarkable. Teams have their own playstyles and compositions of champions they like to play, which makes clashes between teams with opposing strategies especially exciting. This makes professional League of Legends a blast to watch and also interesting to discuss.

At the end of the day, this article has a simple goal – to get you to try Esports. Either play the games or watch the greats. I guarantee you, it’s a good use of your time if you don’t have any work to do, hell, even if you have work to do. And now, during the Corona pandemic, there is not better time to watch some Esports. Unlike traditional sports, the Esports experience has not declined much during the lockdowns and quarantines. Thanks to streaming platforms like Twitch and Youtube, you can interact with the other viewers in the chat, as if you were talking to them at the stadium. So please, try Esports, and you won’t regret it. Oh, and one last thing. If you are considering watching professional League of Legends, let me give you some advice. Do yourself a favor and do not get too attached to a North American team. You will be left disappointed with their international performances. Trust me, I’ve been there. 

What makes traditional sports so popular? For the players themselves it is glory and passion. But for the viewers? The answer is entertainment. People get so invested in the teams, the players, the rivalries, the banter, the stories, that it becomes an intrinsic part of their lives. All of this makes up the culture of each and every sport. And let me tell you, Esports aren’t short of any of that.

Every competitive video game has a cult following that loves the game to death. And this love for the games is carried through its professional scene. This makes the whole experience more enjoyable, because at the end of the day, they are doing what they love. Unlike in regular sports, Esports players don’t have to have been born into their game.

Both provide excellent entertainment, but keep the viewers interested differently. The culture around what fans like about their entertainment is different. In sports, people like watching the teams play the game. In Esports, people like to watch the game be played by the teams. That’s a pretty substantial difference. 

Because not everyone has a football field next door, most people who watch football don’t play the game themselves. When watching, they quickly start to enjoy the teams and their dynamics much more, because they themselves haven’t participated in games in a long time. This creates a divide between fans of the same game, because they are much more dedicated to the teams than the game itself. The reason you start watching esports, however, is because you played the game. Nowadays, most people have access to a computer and the internet at home. This is all you need to start playing a game. If your friends don’t have time to play, that’s ok – the games automatically match you to play with strangers. So most viewers are players themselves. Thus watching is more about deriving additional enjoyment from the game, rather than just cheering your team on. Having a favorite team still plays a big part of the enjoyment, but it really takes a back seat. Because of this, the Esports community is much friendlier and more welcoming. And it’s not only gamers, but also cosplayers, artists, entertainers – they are all part of the community, because it is about the games which we all love.

Momchil Tzekov, 11a