05. eSports

Which eSports Are the Most Cognitively Demanding? Part 1

January 21, 2022

There are myriads of different types of video games, especially when you take into account the popularity of casual or hyper-casual gaming. That said, when it comes to competitive gaming, cyber athletes fall into 6 main categories of eSports - collectively attracting by far-and-away the most spectators and biggest prize pools in gaming. In Part 1 of this blog, we’ll cover a brief introduction as well touch upon a little history of each of the big eSports. In Part 2 we’ll analyze each eSport in terms of their demands on 7 different high-level cognitive functions, and then weigh-up which types of gamers have to be the most adept at flexing their mental muscle!

First-Person Shooters

First-person shooters, or FPS as they’re more commonly known, were originally spawned by the legendary game of Doom in 1993. The desire for fans of the game to compete across the internet was so strong that the makers of the game actually invented multiplayer technology, changing gaming forever. Modern iterations of the same game are still popular almost three decades on.

This distinct class of games essentially involve gunning your foes down from a first-person perspective, while maneuvering to get better shots and taking evasive actions to avoid getting incoming fire. They also combine tactical teamplay, typically with two of teams five or more players pitted against each other. Some of the most popular FPS games today include the long-running success Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Arena of Valor, Fortnite, and the Call of Duty series.

Real-Time Strategy  

Also acronymized, RTS games blend strategy with fast-paced warfare. The epitome of multi-tasking gaming, players strive to build up a small empire via economic growth combined with tech research (macro play). They do this while managing growing armies from a top-down perspective (micro play), to steadily conquer control of the map, or rush to directly besiege their enemy’s base.

The Command and Conquer series popularized the format and brought RTS into multiplayer status. However, Starcraft II (Starcraft’s successor), has very much dominated the modern RTS landscape. The game was so popular in Korea that it literally helped bring the economy out of recession, with Korean players having a long history of being exceptional at this cybersport.  Whole TV channels have been dedicated to showing competition matches, and Korea’s top players are heralded with the status of rock stars.

Fighting Games

Fighting games deliver one-on-one brutal combat viewed from the sidelines. Born out of video arcades, they were the first games which allowed one player to really challenge another player head-on. The winner being the one who pummels their opponent into submission (or death) the first. Requiring very high-dexterity, this skill-based form of combat involves knowing precisely when to exact a combination of strikes on the opponent, and when to dodge incoming blows.  

Going all the way back to 1991, and still going strong today, the original Street Fighter II cemented this genre’s massive popularity. In 1992 it was soon followed by its far bloodier counterpart Mortal Kombat, and then the Japanese game Tekken. These games all successfully transitioned out of the arcades into homes, online gaming, and eventually eSports. That said they have been steadily declining in popularity compared to their eSports counterparts.


One of the earliest types of computer entertainment, racing or driving games have come a long since their graphically crude beginnings. Driving down race tracks or streets, they are the ultimate eSports simulation game. And today’s computer hardware allows for extremely realistic racing experiences which test a player’s cognitive skills much in the same way real driving does.

iRacing.com and Trackmania are examples of racers which attract respectable prize money, but it’s F1 eSports which has been gaining phenomenal growth and spectators in recent years. The video game even replaced real Formula 1 races, when events were cancelled due to COVID-19. Some of the biggest names in real F1 continue to compete regularly in online championships, with millions of viewers following their Twitch streams.

Sports Games

Ever since computers could do a decent job of recreating competitive sports, digital versions have been delivered into our homes. EA Sports has been the major video game maker on the market, covering long running series of NBA, NFL, NHL and MBL, with newer versions of the games released regularly. However, it’s pretty much only the sport of soccer which is globally popular in eSports tournaments, played through EA Sports’ FIFA 21 (and now FIFA 22). With a truly vast competitive player base, these cyber athletes have clocked up almost half a billion online matches.

Although very realistic, sports games are not sports simulations, as they are viewed from somewhere in-between a top-down and sideline perspective, and player actions have no resemblance to how the sports is actually played (unlike with racing games). Though they do involve some similar demands on situational awareness and tactical play.

MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena)

The core mechanics of MOBA evolved out of modding an older RTS game called Warcraft III (the predecessor of Starcraft). A whole community of gamers iteratively developed a brand new style of game by essentially hacking a game near the end of it's lifespan. This changed the history of video game development, as no company actually invented MOBA - instead gamers created all by themselves.

MOBA essentially blends FPS, RTS and RPG (role playing games) mechanics. Similar to FPS, matches involve facing-off two teams of 5 players against each other, with the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy base. Each players control a single hero or avatar (also like in FPS), but from a top-down perspective like RTS. Along with this is an RPG style leveling up of each hero via experience, allowing increasingly more powerful spells or combat abilities to be brought to the fray. The result of this melting pot of playstyles is a frenetic combination of tactical teamwork, meta-strategy and action gaming. As such, MOBA comes with a reputation for having an extremely steep learning curve, as well as being aggressively competitive.

MOBA games are both the newest type of game in eSports, and perhaps the least known generally. Nonetheless MOBA’s popularity among the serious gaming community has soared over the past decade, accounting for the most massive tournaments in eSports, as well as the most phenomenal prize pools. League of Legends and DOTA 2 are by far the most popular games of this genre, with a die hard following of fans. So much so, that in 2021, DOTA 2’s premier tournament (dubbed ‘The International’) dished out over $40 million dollars in winnings - with every cent contributed by people devoted the game!

The Cognitive Dimension – Which Gamers Will Come Out on Top?

Sports science and neuroscience research has demonstrated that elite gamers have exceptional cognitive abilities. In Part 2 of this blog, we will analyze each of these cyber sports in terms of their demands on mental bandwidth. Then we’ll measure them across these 7 high-level cognitive functions, which are all critical elements in gaming prowess.

• Processing speed

• Peripheral vision

• Depth perception

• Working memory

• Situational awareness

• Decision-making

• Reaction time

Scoring each cognitive function from 0-100, we’ll take the highest collective score to determine which cyber athletes require the biggest superbrains to compete at the top level. Who do you think will come up trumps? Find out in Part 2!

Which eSports Are the Most Cognitively Demanding? Part 2

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