Answering the Question: What Is Esports?
People frequently ask me what it is that I do, especially since it’s known that I’m not currently employed in the career field in which I hold degrees. Usually when I tell them I write articles for an esports website, they either gloss right over the ‘e’ and assume I’m writing about hockey or something or they just nod and change the subject.
Occasionally someone asks, “What’s esports?” I typically open with, “In the new digital era, people play video games for money” and gauge their reaction. If they respond with, “That’s ridiculous, what is the world coming to,” I typically give up at that point. If their reaction is anything vaguely positive (or even neutral) I try to keep them interested by likening esports to something they are familiar with.
If I know they like physical sports, I might explain that esports is similar to watching football in that there are commentators who explain and analyze what is happening on the field. Much like during halftime of a televised NFL match, large esports tournaments often have an analyst panel who break things down in between matches and discuss players and teams.
Esports streamers can be compared to YouTube gurus. When explaining streaming, I usually say, “It’s sort of like watching someone do a hairstyle tutorial on YouTube… except streams are live… and the streamer is actively competing against other people doing the same thing. So it’s like watching someone in a live hairstyling competition… sort of.” Sometimes this actually works.
Helping People Understand the Games
Back during the halcyon days of 2014, I used to obtain TV monopolization permission from my roommate so I could hook up my laptop and watch Dota 2 matches on Twitch on a larger screen. She’d try to take an interest in what was happening on-screen, but Dota matches can be… confusing, to say the least. In fact, I asked Agnes, my old roommate, for a quick quote about how she felt about watching the games and she had quite a lot to say:
“Most of the friends I made during high school, undergrad and grad school were moderately to extremely involved with video games. Although the specific games varied, most thoroughly enjoyed Dota. I never played myself, but spent so much time around avid gamers that I knew some of the language, culture and general premise of the game. Before I even witnessed a Dota match, I knew the game was intricate, eclectic and complex.
“When I did watch Dota 2 matches for the first time, it was exactly what I expected it would be like — it was extraordinarily overwhelming. My eyes and ears felt like they were being pulled chaotically all around the screen. The vibrancy of the characters, both in their appearance and personalities, coupled with the quick movements, explosions, fire, and chat boxes made it difficult to keep track of who was who, and what was happening. My roommate, Kara, explained different gaming strategies and I tried to follow as best I could, but quickly realized the best way to get to know the game would be through playing. All the language and quick pace also makes it an intimidating culture to become a part of.”
A lot of Dota 2 heroes are colloquially referred to by their Warcraft names and some hero abilities are either shortened or called a slang name instead during casts. This makes it even more difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t know the game what is happening. “Well, the electric blue sailor guy just ran in and picked off two of the weaker guys on the other team — oh wait, here come the ‘red team’ tough guys and electric sailor man is running away. Now they’re all grouping up over there to go invisible for a little while and they’re going to try and sneak attack one of the guys on the other team.” This lacks a little of the panache of purely listening to a TobiWan or LD cast. Still, I’m grateful to Agnes and my other friends for taking an interest in my interest. And for letting me gush about a sick play by EG.Universe or rage over another Cloud9 loss.
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I’ve developed a one minute explanation of the basic mechanics of Dota 2 that I use to try to get people interested in watching competitions. I try to emphasize the intense teamwork aspect of the game, as I find that often appeals to people. The idea that five people have to work together and fill their specific roles is sort of a universal concept in sports that I find others can relate to. A support in Dota may not experience the glory of getting a Rampage during a match, but is notable for their selfless play that enables their carry to get that Rampage. An offensive tackle on the football field may never score, but is needed to protect the quarterback. Drawing these parallels to more familiar sports often helps people connect with esports and more easily understand the mechanics.
Convincing People to Care about Esports
So now that we’ve gotten our friends somewhat interested in the funny blue electric sailor and his teammates, how do we get them to care about who wins the match? Personally, I was never really into watching League of Legends until I joined this year’s Fantasy LCS. Now I’m invested in whether Team Solo Mid is going to be the amazing team people want them to be. Svenskeren wins me points each week.
As far as Dota matches go, usually mentioning the prize pool catches people’s attention. The fact that some people can win over $100,000 by playing video games is usually enough to get people to watch a little bit. They understand that in order for this to even be possible there must be a tremendous community and tremendous talent from the players.
Perhaps the best way to get people to care is to show them some of the amazing gameplay and amazing hype moments. It’s hard not to love esports during the moments in these clips:
Above all, try to keep things positive and be patient. It’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has no familiarity with esports, especially if they have little to no experience with playing video games on top of that.
Even if they don’t end up being totally absorbed by the world of esports like you want them to be, hopefully at the very least your efforts will have helped them understand what it is you like so much about it.