On eSports and Gaming Competitions

esportsLast year, on December 27th, former chess world champion Garry Kasparnov took to Twitter to make some comments about the eSports scene, specifically in Seoul. He wrote that although Chess and Go are far less popular than eSports, because of the volatile nature of videogame fandom, Chess and Go will still be a popular game-sport 100 years from now, while League of Legends tournaments will be relegated to at best a footnote in the history of competitive gaming (broadly defined to include tabletop games). He wrote that ” the strategic purity of chess (or go, etc) is timeless for a reason. No storyline to tire of, no expansion packs to buy!” Despite the backlash from the (video)gaming community and my own inclinations to prefer playing videogames over tabletop games, I am inclined to agree with Gary. I don’t mean to say that eSports won’t be around in 100 years – in fact, as technology improves and we become a more technologically immersed society I expect eSports to only grow in popularity. However, I don’t see League of Legends tournaments (or Starcraft 2 tournaments, or tournaments revolving around any given videogame) to be around 100, 50, 20, or maybe even 10 years from now.

Let us first consider the history of the EVO Championship Series, the world’s premier fighting game tournament. The original EVO took place on 1996, before it evolved into its current form, and it revolved around Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha II. By the time EVO took its current form, in 2002, Street Fighter Alpha II had been phased out in favor of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Capcom vs. SNK 2. 2003 saw an expansion of titles, with the inclusion of Street Fighter Third Strike, Soul Calibur 2, Tekken 4, Tekken Tag, Virtua Fighter 4, and Guilty Gear XX. On 2004 the titles remained unchanged, but it’s always worth it to post the Daigo moment.

By 2005, Tekken 4 had been phased out in favor of Tekken 5, while 2006 saw the inclusion of Dead or Alive 4 and the removal of several titles. By 2013, the main titles featured were Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (Version 2012), Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter X Tekken (Version 2013), The King of Fighters XIII, Persona 4 Arena, and Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Now, those blinded by the eSports phenomena might argue that of course the games change as they are updated. Why make tournaments on Street Fighter II (the classic fighting game that gave birth to the genre) or Street Fighter III (hailed by many as the superior title in the franchise) when the newest title is Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, with an update to Ultra Street Fighter IV coming later this year? That is exactly Garry’s (and my) point. Although EVO isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, games will be rotated as soon as newer games are released.

The same is true of other major tournaments at all levels. At the local level I will use my own experience in small tournaments as example, while at international levels  I will use established leagues to compliment the EVO example.

When I went to college, the university’s gaming club sponsored various videogame tournaments. These tournaments were, more often than not, promoted through local media, organized with the aid of other institutions and sponsors, and involved well over 50 participants. During my first year at the university, I witnessed a fairly standard Street Fighter II tournament, while in other years I saw and participated in tournaments focusing on various Mortal Kombat games, Pokemon Stadium, Unreal Tournament (I lost miserably), and Farcry 1 (I did better in this one). Although I haven’t gone to any of their tournaments in the last 4 years, the last time I went (as spectator) they were running one of the Call of Duty games as the main attraction.

During my college years, I also took part of another tournament scene – the DDR tournament scene. The very first tournament, in which I was a spectator, featured DDR 1.5 Mix, while later tournaments (many of which saw me win the gold) featured a rotating roster including DDR USA Mix, DDR 3rd Mix, DDR 4th Mix, Pump It Up, DDR Max, and DDR Extreme, with one specially delightful and simultaneously disastrous tournament on 2002 co-featuring DDR Max 2 and an odd limited release dancing game called Stepping 3 Superior (in Japan called “Stepping Selection”).

At the international level, the two major eSports leagues are the World Cyber Games (operated out of South Korea) and Major League Gaming (operating out of North America). An exploration of the timeline of games played will show that WCG used to host competitions on Quake III, Starcraft, and FIFA 2k, while now it hosts competitions on games the likes of Street Fighter IV, World of Tanks, and Warcraft III. Meanwhile, MGL currently hosts competitions on CoD: Ghost, DoTA 2, and League of Legends, which is a far different roster from its 2004 roster of Halo 4 and Smash Bros Melee.

So, when Garry says that in 100 years people will still play Chess (most of us still do, honestly, even if it’s in Yahoo Games or in Chessmaster 4000) and League of Legends will be a footnote, I have to agree with him.

This doesn’t mean that individual games will not survive. I still look fondly at my copy of E.T. and remember the tremendous impact it had on the game industry, while (limited) efforts to canonize certain games are already in motion along with several efforts to preserve them in museums. However, this doesn’t mean that these games will still be played in tournaments 10 years from now, much less 100, while Chess has proven itself as a tried and true game.

For further evidence, let’s consider the original venue for eSports, the Twin Galaxies Arcade Scoreboard. Back in 1983, they founded a national team which did tours and participated in Space Invaders (an iconic title if there ever was one) tournaments (and other titles popular in that time). And… well.. who really participates in Space Invaders tournaments now?


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on August 10, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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