What It Takes To Be A Pro Player In eSports
Move over, traditional professional sports: this is the decade of the eSports industry. In 2014, the prize pool for "The International," Valve's Dota 2 tournament, was more $10 million – making it bigger in terms of total payout than the Players' Championship golf event on the PGA Tour that year.
eSports revenues are on track to nearly double in just two years, jumping from $325 million in 2015 to an estimated $696 million in 2017. And eSports' biggest tournaments rival practically any sporting event: the League of Legends Championship sold out Staples Center in 2013, then sold out the 40,000-seat World Cup Stadium in Seoul a year later while drawing an online audience of 27 million.
Ready to quit your day job to play video games?
Money and audiences aside, what are the skills that an eSports athlete needs to succeed? Some might find it hard to compare the skills of an 18-year-old Counter-Strike player with that of a seasoned pro football player (though it's worth noting that both can sustain injuries while practicing). Using top eSports game League of Legends as an example, Robert Morris University's Executive Director of eSports Kurt Melcher explained on the Curiosity podcast that players need to have "the ability to process an insane amount of information" while playing the game in order to be successful.
"You need to know where you are on the map, and what part of the game it is, and where are your opponents, and where are your teammates, and what are the objectives, and should I be farming, should I be trying to get this objective... so to me, that's the most important part of a League of Legends player," Melcher said. "It's the ability of a player to come to and make the right decision, and make that call in-game."
And those calls happen in real-time, with players making calls on-the-fly without input from their coaches. "It's so fluid... In football, you have a stoppage and a restart," Melcher explained. Likening the sport to soccer, he added, "in League of Legends, the clock's running, and it's all fluid, so there's no real reset time to do this or that. There are definitely calls in-game, which would be sort of like a real-time soccer call. Like 'we're running this corner kick play,' it would be more akin to that."
Technical ability also comes into play, though the degree can vary by game. Speed dominates Starcraft II, where most professional players can perform up to five or six hundred actions per minute (that's 10 actions per second), while precision matters in games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
The Value Of eSports
Melcher spearheaded the effort to make Robert Morris University the first of more than a dozen schools to add eSports to their varsity athletics programs, and the first of many to offer eSports scholarships. "I think [League of Legends] is a sport. To me, anything that has a mass behind it that is competitive and collegiately can provide value to the students through a team setting in a competitive situation, adds value to the collegiate experience. That's the benefit of athletics in college, to be honest. They're a value add for the education component, where the students, through participation on a team, are having a richer outcome once they graduate."
Two of the top games, League of Legends and Dota 2 are similar in that they're defined as a MOBA, which is a multiplayer online battle arena. "Five players on the same team are playing against five players, and you're trying to destroy the other team's home base. It's almost like, in a way, capture the flag. You play on a map that's a mirror image, so both sides look the same," Melcher explained. "You have a couple different lanes and a couple different map objectives on the way," so communication is important.
And that's precisely why Melcher believes the games have so much value. "That's what [students] are going to have to do in the workforce anyway: they're going to have to work in a team. They're going to have to take direction from a manager similar to the way they take direction from a coach. I think [eSports] just opens doors for a new subset of students to be able to experience athletics."
To learn even more about the skills needed to excel in eSports and the value it can provide to its athletes, listen to our conversation with Kurt Melcher on the Curiosity Podcast.