As part of the MIT Technology Review series on future jobs, they have an article about professional video gaming which is well worth the read. As someone who enjoys gaming, here’s my take on the subject.
Western society has never truly concluded the debate over whether competitive Chess should be categorized as a sport. And what about things like Poker? I mean ‘professional game’ doesn’t have the same ring as ‘sport’. So, of course, twenty years after their inception, we are still debating the classification of professional video games and the term ‘e-sports’. In all honesty, I’m not sure that the classification matters, however. After all, whether it’s on a real or a virtual pitch, at a table or on a computer, they’re all games. The real issue is the value of the professional player and the skill and dedication they bring to the game. In this regard, footballer, or video gamer, they’re all the same.
However, as a parent, I’m also aware of some of the stigmas and concerns around the long hours of video gaming that are require to reach professional status. What I will attempt in this article is to discuss some of the various issues surrounding pro-level video gaming.
One of the first and strongest issue that comes up for every parent of a would-be gamer is that of health, both physical and mental.
Physically, the concern is that hours upon hours of video gaming destroys a person’s body and there is the stereotype of the fat gamer to bring to mind. However, while the fat gamer is a dying stereotype, with gamers being no fatter than the rest of the population, there is evidence that too much gaming can harm the body. This may not be due specifically to gaming itself, but to the long hours sitting in a chair. As the saying goes, ‘sitting is the new smoking’.
A search of scholarly articles on Google reveals that there are a large number of studies on pro-gamers that have been carried out and that the physical demands of pro-esports are significant, with one study suggesting pro-gamers’ bodies are physically several decades weaker than would be expected.
At this point it should be noted that even serious physical athletes can, and often do, destroy their bodies with their sport. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for a young hopeful to have a sudden accident that completely derails their professional dreams. Of course, if there is a chance to modify training or lifestyle to avoid that, as could be the case in professional e-sports, then it should be taken.
As I see it, the challenge is to accept pro-gaming to the degree that the teams and trainers will actively provide similar training support structures for their members (physical training, good habits, good nutritional training, in addition to game training). This is already happening to a degree with independent gamers and groups such as Vitality for Gamers, as well as gaming teams themselves, such as this health post on the Team Dignitas site.
The same studies as mentioned above, highlight that mental acuity and reflexes of pro-gamers can reach level equivalent to a jet fighter pilot. This is a massive benefit of gaming that should not be trivialized or overlooked. These are people highly trained in rapid problem solving and system analysis. Not only do they develop incredible reflexes, but to function at the top level of some of the fast-paced games, they need an incredibly detailed understanding of the game mechanics (system), something which many pro-gamers carry as a generalize ability to understand fundamental system structures, since they are able to move between different types of games and remain near the top in each. This is in incredible skill that should not be overlooked and should surely find use in other parts of industry, should the gamer move on.
Overall, however, I would suggest there is little to argue that the health affects seen with pro-gamers are anything different from what would be expected for people undertaking any activity at the highest levels. The task informs the outcome. With that in mind, we should, of course, train pro-gamers to take care of themselves with healthy physical and mental activities to offset the strain of their sport. However, I would like to note that rarely has it been suggested that pro-footballers be required to have supplemental cognitive training to offset the one-sided focus on physical activity. Perhaps that should also be looked into.
not a real sport
The surface argument here is only a matter of semantics and thus easily dismissed. Personally, I’m not concerned whether it’s classified as a sport, as long as the players are allowed the same protections due to athletes, and the games are allowed to develop the same followings, if the public interest is there.
The secondary argument here relates back to the health issue. The only thing I’ll add at this point is that one could consider e-sports as sports for the mind, while real world (rw)-sports are largely about physical prowess. And, of course, both share the need for strong determination, will-power, and competitive spirit.
not a real career path
This is ironic, often coming from International Football fans or fans of other rw-sports, and it demonstrates yet again how much we’ve lost touch with our past. One has only to go back about 60-70 years to a time when professional athletes could barely survive on their meager paychecks. Undoubtedly, such athletes faced very similar criticism at the time.
It was less than 40 years ago, with the wide-scale access to cable television, that athletes began commanding the superstar-level salaries as their audience numbers exploded. By contrast, we are still in the early days of professional e-sports. Until recently, many players ran solo, making money from tournament wins. Gaming teams have been around for 10-15 years but arguably, it’s been the new Overwatch League created by game company Blizzard, that has begun to set in place formalized league and team structures, as well as a sense of professionalism, that mimic those of professional rw-sports. It remains to be seen whether this will be a successful model for e-sports and the players.
As for whether a pro-gamer can earn a living, some of the top players have taken home over a million USD a year, with some regularly bringing in six-figure annual winnings. Now that professional leagues with sponsored teams are becoming a part of the framework, pro-gamers on such teams can earn a livable fixed salary. As the popularity of the players and the e-sport grows so too could we expect their salaries to grow.
As we struggle with health issues, and whether we want our kids devoting so much time to games, the one thing we have to agree upon is that professional video gamers can now making a decent living off their games. And that’s not even considering future developments and possibilities.
what happens when your pro-gaming career is over?
Another argument that was certainly faced by early professional rw-athletes and is faced by gamers at all levels, is ‘even if you are a successful pro, how can you make a living when your career is over?’
To begin with, this argument is no different that with a rw-sport, so it’s ironic that we treat the two differently. However, as a quick run-down, here are a list of current e-sports related jobs that aren’t directly gaming.
Caster / Commentator
These are the colour commentators that host the tournaments. They are every bit as skilled and knowledgeable about their games as the rw-sports commentators are. Furthermore, most e-sports commentators actually play, or have played at a high level, the game they commentate on, giving them far more credibility than their rw-sport counterparts.
When an esports commentator doesn’t know their sport well, fans and players will call them out on it, so these people need to be serious about their game.
The observer (an often there are several in big tournaments or fast-paced games) is a person who watched from in-game with a virtual camera. They provide a view of the interesting action to the audience.
All gaming tournaments have a significant amount of tech support both for setting up the computers, cameras and headsets at the beginning, to ensuring the highest player standards for set-up are met.
While the above are the main e-sports related (non-gaming) jobs that currently exist (ignoring most of the behind-the-scenes people who have more generalized, non-gaming specific, jobs), I can foresee several possible future jobs that are gaming related. Whether any of these will actually come to exist remains to be seen.
Military / Business
With their advanced ability to understand system structures, it seems the skills of high-level gamers would be very useful in business or the military as analysts.
With increasing robotics development, gamers might also make very skilled pilots and remote controllers for robotic platoons.
Diagnostics and Data Analysis
A few years ago in the Cancer Research UK carried out a highly successful experiment using gaming to aid in data analysis (Play to Cure: Genes in Space). They found the data was too complex for computers to analyze accurately, but their game allowed them to get thousands of people to analyse the same data, then average the results for >90% accuracy. They used a fairly simplistic method with the game more as a reward than a method. Since then, they’ve built several more with crowdfunding help.
Advancing this technique, data analysis could be incorporated into games such that gamers around the world could work together on a distributed diagnostic network. With thousands doing analysis of the same data, through game, the averaged results would be very accurate. This could be something a company could set up for doing low-cost, high-accuracy diagnostics in medicine, research, or anywhere data is better analyzed by humans than computers.
The issues surrounding e-sports and pro-gaming are nothing new, and were faced by rw-athletes during the early years of what are some of the most popular sports today. The current generation of parents has a stigma against e-sports for various reasons, some valid, some a hold-out to tradition and past views on what’s acceptable and reasonable. However, with its enormous popularity among the under 30’s, it’s difficult to see e-sports going away, especially now that it has gained some corporate legitimacy.