The summer of 2018, can be said to be something of a special summer for sport in the UK. Along with major sporting events such as Wimbledon and Test Cricket, it was the year football almost came home, in what was a passion filled World Cup. Yet another craze seemed to be taking the UK by storm… Fortnite. Snapchat stories of hard won “Victory Royales” were a mainstay for much of the summer. Imitations of Fortnite celebrations seeped through social media. The summer of 2018 showed that online gaming was very much alive in the UK. Yet for all the passion that has been shown for multiplayer gaming in recent months, the Esport world still seems to remain a relatively understated aspect of the gaming world.
What is Esport? Through speaking to Tim Delaney, President of the St Andrews Gaming Society, Esport is competitive gaming. In essence like with most sports a pick up game would be considered recreational, the same is true of a casual game of Fortnite. Esports on the other hand counts for something, it is when you compete in a league for a certain game and the results count towards your ranking. This said Esport is not one specific game but an umbrella term for any multiplayer video game which is played competitively. The question of whether Esports is in fact a sport is a polarising one. The lack of physical exertion often being where many take exception to. Through speaking to Tim, and fellow members of the gaming society Ruben James and Sandy Steele, I have been convinced otherwise. Tim explained that the ability to register changes in situations and adapt to them are common in both Esport and more-traditional sport. Ultimately decision making determines success in many traditional sports and the same is true in Esport. Esport is a thinking sport and a sport of strategy, not dissimilar to pool or snooker. Multiple Esport games can be considered team sports as well. This was axiomatic when I observed the University’s Hearth Stone team passionately debate with each other over their next planned move. In recent years Olympic Committees have considered Esport when choosing pursuits for the Olympics reinforcing that competitive gaming is beginning to be rightfully considered a sport.
Too me there were three striking features to Esport, its variety, its transients, and its profitability. Video games largely strive to create a virtual world for the players to take part in, it is then perhaps fitting that Esport has not become an emerging sport, but potentially an emerging sporting world. Esport is a vast Labrynth of different games of very different styles. From shooter games, such as Rainbow Six Siege, to fighting games, such as Super Smash Brothers, along with far more strategic games such as Hearth Stone. It would seem for many of these games the only common bond which they have is that they are played on a screen. Hearth stone in comparison to Rainbow Siege Six is a sporting contrast perhaps starker then cricket and athletics. Watching the Hearth Stone game Tim (a Overwatch specialist) admitted he didn’t completely understand all the rule of Hearth Stone. Clearly showing the variety of games available to compete in. Accordingly, the emergence of Esport has clearly been a Pandora’s box scenario when it comes to sports games.
At least whilst the rules of cricket and athletics remain the same, in the Esport world, a major game can be replaced by another more appealing alternative. The Esport world is turbulent and unforgiving. It does not take a seasoned Esport player to realise that the mainstays of our adolescents, such as Call of Duty 4 and Assassins Creed, no longer maintain the same level of eminence. Sandy Steele noted that this is something unique to Esport, the fact that a games existence is never guaranteed. Tim emphasized there has to be something special about a game for it to be sustainable. Evidently Esport is not just a competition between players, but a fierce competition between developers.
The another eye opening aspect of Esport is how lucrative it is. In 2015 the industry grossed $325 million and an audience of 226 million viewers. It is a sport which is truly professional. Teams for various games having full time coaches, a number of team franchises across the world, and sold out gaming grand finals in cities like Los Angeles. During the interview, Tim showed me an Esport vlogger who makes £10,000 for an hours worth of film. Esport is not just growing in support but also in terms of profitability.
It was then only a matter of time before the world of competitive gaming made inroads into the university video game scene. Tim explained how the University Esport team is very much in its infancy, having only just formed this year. Tim had identified, as Gaming President, that there was a demand within St Andrews for passionate video game players to play competitively. Hence the St Andrews StAGS Esport team was formed(St Andrews Gaming Society).
There are many different teams within the Esport section of the Gaming Society. In total there are over 60 players taking part in Esport. In total there are 11 teams which play competitively in either of the two major university Esports leagues. They compete across 7 games. These games vary from FIFA to Counter Strike. Matches usually take place once a week per a semester. For a club which has only just formed, they have garnered a great deal of early success. Most notable of which would be a top 8 regional playoff finish for the League of Legends team. This was followed up, in Nottingham, by a 2nd place Hearthstone Winter Championship finish for the StAGS team composed of Sandy Steele, Reuben James, and Alexander Lennox Church.
The Esport Team and the Gaming Society as a whole goes far beyond the screen. Tim emphasized the importance of the social scene. Conceivably, playing in a team which does not meet regularly becomes a bit sterile and can lead to a lack of connection amongst the players. Tim explained this could lead to commitment issues and a less enjoyable experience. Equally particularly with the Esports Team, due to the vast distinction between different games, there would be limited reason to interact beyond the game team. Consequently the club works extra hard to have socials every Thursday. These socials can vary from being video game related, with nostalgic split screen games. Many will remember the friendly competition associated with such games, and the fear of screen watching. Along with this, they regularly have non-gaming related events, such as pub quizzes and the Christmas Dinner.
The first season of Esport has undeniably been a success, and Tim spoke passionately about wanting to grow the team. Currently they compete in 7 different video games, but Tim is very open to expanding to more games if the interest is there. This year there was overwhelming enthusiasm from freshers, so the team will look to continue this approach of recruitment and grow the club from below. Ultimately there is no better way to meet new people then through a favourite past time! So if you are an experienced esport player, or a keen player who is looking to play competitively the Esport team would love to have you!