Digital gaming is growing rapidly. Whether it is professional games, virtual versions of real world sports or new types of real world digital sports, the future sports fan appears to want more that a grass pitch and a TV.
While gaming tournaments on basic consoles have their roots in the 70s, they remained a subculture while the game systems were still so underpowered.
The increase in processing power, graphics abilities and gaming engines began shifting that in the 2000s and by 2010 all three varieties of eSports began going mainstream.
Three games dominate, Dota2, League of Legends and Counterstrike. Both Defence of the Ancient (Dota) and League of Legends grew out of versions of World of Warcraft, a multiplayer online game that has already had its own movie release.
Counterstrike is a multiplayer first-person-shooter which evolved from war combat games.
Millions of players around the world login and play daily with some countries like South Korea and Poland having some of the most dedicated fans willing to fill football stadiums to watch tournaments.
Not that you have to. Twitch.tv is the YouTube of gaming consumption allowing players to stream or post their games online for others the learn from or watch for entertainment.
At any moments you will find thousands of live streams of players playing dozens of titles.
These games are the focus of the sport development at the moment, with pro teams created (often by regular sports companies like Football clubs) who see this as a rival and potential future of sport.
Tournaments have ever increasing prize money and both the game and hardware makers are happy to see it thrive with TV companies including DStv including eSports as part of their sport channel offerings.
The City of Cape Town encourages it too, in part because it allows more people to participate and because it is often more popular than regular sports in enticing kids to play. It also hopes to host a major tournament in the near future.
These try to copy actual sports as realistically as possible with football and driving games being the most popular.
F1 will kick of this year’s racing season with a tournament that will last as the actual season and end with the best drivers competing in Abu Dhabi when the season concludes. That driver will win a contract to be a virtual test driver for an F1 team for the year. But virtual tournaments don’t only seek to find good computer game drivers, the games are real enough that a good sim driver could perform almost as well on a real track.
Football games are huge with fans not only wanting to see their team play, but control them too. Fifa is setting up virtual teams to compete in what may become an actual rival to real world football in the future.
One other element of virtual sports that was considered a distraction by sporting bodies that have rapidly began changing their minds is fantasy sports. Rather than having fans abandon watching the games, they have begun to watch more as they pick the best players across all the competing teams.
The tournaments have also attracted the gambling industry who consider all the versions of eSports a perfect fit for their interests. While officially illegal for most games, especially as its involves underage children, there are some not so subtle way around regulations. Many games offer items to enhance play, those can be traded and have come to be used as a form of betting currency. Another development is the creation of a cryptocurrency specifically used for betting on games.
As you can imagine, innovation is outpacing regulation and it may be some time before rules to protect everyone can be put in place.
New digital sports
Racing, as a result of the high speeds and crazy costs, has become a very security conscious sport, rightly so when you have 30 humans whizzing around a track at 300 km/h.
Roboracing may change that as it has no human driver and so would see AI drivers pushed to find any gap to try push past a driver in front of them, rather than rely on a tactical game to see who makes a mistake or has a car with technical trouble. Considering they are autonomous means spectators are guaranteed to see them fail as even sophisticated systems begin to be seriously challenged at 180 km/h.
There is also drone races flying small drones through complex courses and robot wars with robots battling in a wrestling arena to flip or eject the other robot from the ring.
Finally there is work on making real sports more like the virtual games by adding in more cameras and details about the unfolding play. One option even considers projecting a real game played elsewhere in the local stadium allowing home fans to see their team play irrespective of where they do, or allowing really big games to be viewed in multiple venues around the globe. Imagine following a World Cup every four years at your local stadium.
And, speaking of World Cups, it is expected that some eSports may feature in the Olympics as soon as 2024.
So rather that telling your child to stop wasting their time playing games, it may be worth to find out just how good they are first.