05. eSports

The Unstoppable Rise of eSports

June 4, 2018

Once the domain of pure leisure, ‘gaming’ is fast becoming the sport of the future.   eSports stars now earn salaries on par with top athletes around the globe, with predictions for earnings set to escalate. In this first part of a two-part blog, we’ll see what the eSports hype is about and if the status of ‘cyber athletes’ being the sports stars of tomorrow is justified.

An Olympic Sport?

The IOC recently declared eSports as a possible Olympic sport by 2020.  One step ahead, the Asian Games have already announced that a range of eSports will be officially included in the 2022 games.  Just like with the definition of chess as a ‘sport’, the idea of playing computer games rivaling events like the marathon is seen as contentious, to say the least.  Largely it depends on whether you define sports as mental or physical.  That said, the undeniable rise of eSports popularity seems like an unstoppable tide, with major tournaments filling huge stadiums and attracting prize pools reaching into the tens of millions.  Believe it or not, there are now stadiums being built exclusively for eSports competitions.

Who Watches

Maybe you’re unfamiliar with the concept of gaming as an international class event, which is not surprising given that followers of gaming seem to fit well into the classification of ‘geeks’. This is mainly because to appreciate a game, you generally need to know how to play it. For that reason, it’s predominantly sports entertainment for young spectators.

That said, there is a hell of a lot of fans, particularly in Asia. The sheer amount of people watching eSports is clearly something to take seriously. For example, a recent ‘League of Legends’ tournament attracted over 100 million viewers in China alone.  Year after year the major eSports games pull larger and larger crowds - a demand the internet is more than ready and willing to cater for.  Improvements in software technology even allow many eSports to be watched freely from with the actual game engine in stunning 4K, something traditional sports simply cannot offer.

Turning Pro

Viewing numbers in line with the world’s biggest sports league certainly whet the appetite of sponsors and advertisers.  For this reason, eSports went professional many years ago, with teams of gamers living in shared housing managed by coaches becoming a norm. Things are moving on from that quickly. Now the biggest eSports teams are turning to sports science to raise their game, including using NeuroTracker to sharpen their minds.  This video gives a glimpse into how cyber athletes are conditioning their minds on the latest cognitive training technologies.  

Although cognitive training is seen as the new frontier in sport performance, if the trend continues, it will actually be a generation of cyber athletes who will be setting the standard for how to hone the mind for optimal performance.

  • Processing speed – gamers have to react on superhuman timescales, just a tenth of second delay and its game over.  Cyber athletes are probably the fastest thinkers on the planet.
  • Decision-making – most games are geared towards presenting multiple outcomes for every action, with each decision concatenating outcomes exponentially.  
  • Strategic thinking – many games have sophisticated strategy elements at their core, with resource management, skill planning, and complex teamwork mechanics often deciding the outcomes of competitions.
  • Working Memory – gaming is all about juggling vast amounts of incoming sensory information and turning it into actionable outcomes. Huge amounts of information needs to be managed on a moment by moment basis.
  • Motor-skills – for fast-paced games like first-person shooters, the skills to manipulate a mouse have to be honed to within fractions of a millimeter.  Even keystrokes have to be hit precisely, and often in combination.
  • Action execution – measured in ‘actions per minute’, the commands to control game elements have to reach god-like levels when competing on the pro circuit.  Top gamers are known to reach up to 600 hundred actions per minute (10 actions per second) – while performing all of the above!

Putting it All Together

A great example of the need to combine these mental skills is the real-time strategy game StarCraft II.  This is a game where a player must control hundreds of units: building defenses and gathering resources to produce soldiers, then mustering troops for battle, then attacking and defending across multiple fronts. It revolves around a rock-paper-scissors-style logic that makes every single lightning-fast decision high stakes.

Training their minds 10 hours or more a day, these pro-gamers take their sport extremely seriously.  Its now professional gamers, rather than fighter pilots, astronauts, or chess players, who are now setting new standards in mental performance.  

In our second part to this blog, we’ll be looking at the different types of eSports, as well as the companies behind them seeking to evolve the next generation cyber athletes.  And if you’d like to get your head around just how gamers can hone their minds to such high levels, then check out our recent blog on neuroplasticity.

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