File picture: Pexels
File picture: Pexels

Can esports fill the void while traditional sports are put on hold?

By Sacha van Niekerk Time of article published Apr 17, 2020

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From the F1 Grand Prix to the 2020 Summer Olympics, lockdown has certainly turned conventional sporting right onto its head. However, amid an almost worldwide lockdown and all the inevitably cancelled and postponed tournaments and competitions, there is one form of sport that continues to thrive - esports, short for electronic sports. 

How gaming evolved into esports

Mainstream electronic gaming was once confined to the dull green dot-matrix screens of handheld gaming consoles and grimy coin-operated arcade machines. If you think back to a time when you last played on either of these, a very vintage image from childhood memories most likely comes to mind. Although the time for shoulder pads and mullets may have passed, getting lost in the pixelated world of gaming has evolved into a worldwide, multi-player phenomenon that boasts professional and lucrative opportunities for enthusiasts.  

In an interview with Ryan Macquet, a co-founder of Africa Electronic Sport Association (AESA), he explained that the term often takes the form of “organised, multiplayer video game competitions particularly between professional players, individually or as teams”. 

Although the term “esports” is relatively new, competitive gaming isn’t. The first event of its kind took place in 1972 at Stamford University where students competed on the video game Spacewar for a year long magazine subscription to the Rolling Stones. However, it wasn’t until the Space Invaders Championship in 1980 when the first video game competition was held. With an attendance of 10 000 participants, the competition garnered widespread media attention establishing video gaming as a mainstream hobby. Since then, things have certainly snowballed. From the opening ceremony of the League of Legends World Championship held in Beijing to a Dota 2 tournament that took place in Seattle, today, esports attracts stadiums packed with thousands of fans with millions more tuning in to watch the action unfold online. 

Esports is seeing a boom in SA

South Africa has seen enormous growth within the realm of gaming. According to an article by Bizcommunity, “Vancouver-based in-game advertising pioneers RapidFire have recorded a huge jump in the number of impressions being made by the South African market across their network of AAA gaming titles for PS4, Xbox One, Steam and PC.”

Weighing in on why this may be so, Maquet said, “The nationwide lockdown has closed restaurants, bars, leisure facilities, sporting and cultural events. Now that people are forced to stay home we’re starting to see a major digital transformation in the social space whereby people are looking to digital platforms to stay connected. This kind of digital social cohesion is no stranger to gamers as most online games are social environments as they require team based coordination and engagement.”

Esports is one vertical that fits within the digital gaming environment. “Most people play games from a casual perspective. The other side of the coin is how digital education is being transformed with students adopting online learning platforms that teachers and parents can track and submit assignments. I can only imagine that gamers are far more comfortable spending more time in front of the computer or device as they have been enhancing their digital literacy skills every day compared to the ‘non-gamer’.”

More specifically in terms of the role of Esports during the lockdown, we have seen an upward trend of competitive gaming tournaments and leagues come up. “Just recently the Formula 1 drivers hosted a digital race which attracted over 5 million viewers. With social distancing rules, we won't be seeing any large gatherings for some time and this is where I think Esports will really begin to get recognised as a viable alternative as people can play and connect from the comfort of their own home.

Can esports fill the void while mainstream sports are put on hold?

Esports might be the closest thing to live conventional sporting events that the world may be seeing until things normalise. According to Macquest, it might, b a good substitute for sports fanatics. “It is good for connecting with other like minded individuals and well as filling the gaps within your day where you might have sat down with a beer to watch the big game. However, those obsessed with traditional sports, or who are loyal to specific teams, players and tournaments like those seen in soccer, basketball, baseball, rugby etc, absolutely not,” said Macquet. 

But there are other major skills that it can reinforce for those who used to play team sports. "Children and parents stuck at home can use esports to build the digital fundamentals that are traditionally applied to sports. Esports may be able to help children and adults stuck at home make friends and challenge themselves and replace that aspect of sports. The requirements of an e-athlete, are rather similar from hand eye co-ordination, to understanding strategy and timing, fast reaction and decision making skills, team work, mental endurance, speed and so on."

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