The term e-sports (electronic sports) refers to the practice of playing digital products (videogames of all kinds, not just sports games) at an organized and competitive level, in a purely professional capacity. Literally, playing and practicing in world-class competitions becomes a career which provides a more or less substantial form of income through sponsors and investors who pay to have their brands displayed in world championships and tournaments. There are numerous competitions organized all over the world, especially in the United States and China and, although the movement is in its infant and does not yet have a world federation, each nation is forming its own, whose hierarchy organizes the world movement.
Italy is the country with the highest number of champions, who have triumphed several times in the world championships of various e-sports, in relation to the amount of professional gamers. Video games, not only in Italy but all over the world, are one of the (if not the largest) phenomena par excellence, that over the course of the twentieth century has revolutionized the way in which young people think and live reality, becoming a true and mass phenomenon.
According to a Deloitte Global report, the e-sports sector generated a revenue of around 400 million dollars around the world in 2015, while in 2016 it was 500 million, with an audience close to 150 million people, between regular and occasional viewers. As reported by the Gazzetta dello Sport, “one of the most played video games in the world, and holder of this record on the PC platform, is League of Legends. The Worlds final, the equivalent of the World Cup, was held inside Beijing National Stadium. About 73 million spectators attended the event. If we consider that the NBA finals, the American basketball championship, counted 20 millions and was the most watched in the world, then we are aware of the mammoth scale of this event.
Video Games as a Social Reality
If we wanted to make a comparison in terms of numbers, social impact and speed of growth, the phenomenon of video games finds a counterpart in the game of football. We can be more specific. Sociologist Christian Bromberger defines football as a social reality. There are few events that can be defined as such, if by this we mean phenomena that certain cases set the totality of society and its institutions in motion.
The main object of study that is considered is the ritual character of the stadium audience’s behavior. This ritual involvement of the audience in the football match takes on very broad sociological connotations if we consider it in relation to its broadcast on television and in streaming. The rebroadcasting of the match, in fact, is not limited to replaying football matches, but presenting them again, personally reconstructing them as a succession of shots, with direction and comments that create an arbitrary and misleading distortion. Indeed, even the “live” media performances of the fans physically present in a stadium are part of the television product that is enjoyed, now for a fee, by the audience. Football is therefore transformed into an industry and, just like an industry, it sets in motion various aspects of society, creating an economic link that cannot be ignored.
This mechanic has reappeared in the e-sports sector with a few differences, but above all, many similarities. The global video game movement has shifted a large number of dynamics and subjects of society, starting from large multinational companies that have invested in partnerships and multimillion-dollar sponsorships, passing through the political consequences that this amount of money entails and ending the automatic media push that the movement has received.
Let us analyze the numbers further: the best-selling single video game of all time is Minecraft, the only one to have exceeded 250 million purchases, followed by the Game Boy version of Tetris, with over 170 million copies and purchases. If we talk about video game series in general, the series with the highest number of copies sold is Mario which has sold, counting both the main series and the spin-offs, more than 1 billion units, while Pokémon is the second franchise in terms of sales (more than 500 million copies). Wii Sports, released only for a single console, is the best-selling game of all time (100 million copies), while Fortnite, which requires internet connection, recently passed 250 million registered users.
If we multiply these numbers with the cost of the console and PC on which the games are played, then we reach incredible figures. And there is more: technology and inclusion of the Internet in many game dynamics has allowed the development of virtual relationships between users around the world, who have begun to compete against each other, individually or in groups, creating a movement large enough to attract the attention of investors.
The impressive economic turnover that follows cannot be indifferent to the chief systems that begin with hiring groups of online players on payment for participation in international tournaments and further reward for eventual success in the competition. Exactly what happens in football clubs, but also in volleyball, basketball or any other sport. However, just like football, e-sports have moved so many numbers that it cannot go unnoticed and has attracted the greatest entrepreneurs from around the world, who are now pushing for the sport’s growth.
Video Games and Disability
From the economic point of view, e-sports seems to follow a similar path that was taken by the Paralympics. For a long time, in fact, the Olympic games reserved for people with disabilities have not received the same economic and media attention as the Olympics itself, at least not until fans began to show interest and curiosity. Rather emblematic is the case of the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics (2016). On the eve, the organization was rather skeptical about the turnout of the public at the Paralympic competitions, so much so that it used part of the budget dedicated to them to strengthen the economic contribution to the Olympics. It was no small surprise when the numbers of the Paralympics audience exceeded those of the Olympics, proving once and for all how the former had nothing to envy the latter of in terms of attractiveness to the general public. Among other things, the paths of e-sports and people with disabilities meet and further intertwine, if we consider that video games allow everyone to play, jump and run without any distinction. Video games allow individuals with disabilities to experience situations that may be difficult or limited in the real world, provide social networking opportunities to maintain mental and emotional health by participating in one of the largest networks in the world, that of gamers.
The University of Nevada has developed a version of Guitar Hero for the blind based on a popular video game that uses a special guitar equipped with buttons which, when activated, produce in addition to the sound also images associated with each note and which allows you to have one or more players compete, creating compositions based on rock tracks or other musical genres. In the version for the visually impaired, Blind Hero, the guitar is replaced by a special glove that provides the user with different tactile stimuli based on the notes, thus replacing the buttons. Research has shown how this special type of access allows an almost complete use of the game, involving and entertaining the players. If, therefore, even simply at a playful level, it is possible to include people with disabilities, it will also be possible to do so at a competitive level. The virtual is placed in a parallel dimension of the real and, in this case, also allows those with disabilities to compete at high levels.
Video Games as Sports
As a result of the important date produced over time, a consequence to the maximum systems cannot be surprising, due precisely to all those components of society itself (politics, market, economy) that push for the growth of the movement. In October 2017, the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the promoter and organizer of all Olympic Games, meets for one of the usual meetings where everything Olympic-related is discussed. And the statement reported by ANSA is historic: “Video games are sports.” ANSA writes, “The top executives of world sport, after a summit in Lausanne, made it clear that e-sports can no longer be ignored, despite the fact that President Thomas Bach has said he was against it in the past.”
This is the moment when a change that appears epochal can begin and, with it, the path of inclusion in the video game Olympics. It will be enough, adds the IOC, to sign the Olympic charter, to equip oneself with structures to fight doping, to enact rules against betting risk. The epochal turning point, if concretely implemented, would also lead to a profound rethinking of the very concept of sport and, for this reason, has triggered the discordant reactions of newspapers and social network users on the web.
One of the most heated debates concerns the not always ethically acceptable consent of video games. The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, specifies that the opening can only occur “towards those games that do not promote violence and discrimination as the so-called killer game, from our point of view, are contradictory with respect to the values of Olympics and cannot be accepted.” However, much of the global gamer community considers this statement a simple screen that hides a deeper truth, namely that the IOC is resisting the entry of the new sport into the Olympic Games.
If it is true that sport is the set of activities that engage, at a competitive or exercise level, the psychophysical abilities of the athlete, who plays a discipline for amateur or professional purposes, video games perfectly meet this definition. A videogame engages the brain constantly for several hours and the gamer works out strategies to achieve his goal, in the exact same way that football teams practice their tactics to put the ball into the opponent’s net. A commitment and a professional attitude that went to a higher level when the organization of international tournaments took hold in a massive way.
Staying eight hours in front of the computer to play Fortnite, for example, is no longer a pastime and a “simple” mental effort, but is equivalent to the level of concentration and emotional tension of any other sport. This is because it is necessary to study useful strategies for the competitive race, which involves salaries and prizes in case of victory. Exactly the equivalent of the most popular sports. It is simply the lack of athletic training (understood as muscle toning, endurance, running speed or physical strength) that screeches in the ears of those who hear that video games are sports.
The IOC Opens
Bach’s statements have been felt by many as an excuse to postpone an inevitable trial. On the other hand, there are not only violent video games and shooters and it is possible to introduce alternative solutions to allow the movement to enter the Olympic Games. Paolo Besser, editor-in-chief of The Games Machine, the longest-running magazine in the industry to be published in the West, surpassed in the world only by the Japanese magazine Famitsū, says without mincing words that “video games are a means that allows players to measure their ability in an objective way, both in human-machine confrontations and in competitions between men, in a way rather similar to a sport. Although I romantically continue to associate the term sport with the concept of physical effort and have welcomed the novelty with a certain skepticism, I must nevertheless accept that before video games there were already sports that somehow went beyond the tradition. I mean, if grabbing a rifle and shooting a moving target can be considered a sport, there is no reason when a first person shooter shouldn’t be too.”
In 2018, the IOC changed its perspective. The International Olympic Committee, in fact, partnered with Intel for IEM Pyeongchang 2018, an event focussed on Starcraft II that was held in South Korea a week before the 2018 Winter Olympics. Shortly thereafter, Timo Lumme, chief executive of television services and marketing for the IOC, declared that the Organization would further explore the relationship of e-sports with the Olympic movement and pointed to the potential inclusion of e-sports in the Olympic Games as an “exciting future.”
The 2018 Olympic Summit even encouraged “accelerated cooperation” with e-sports. In short, the new world movement has taken hold in an ever faster way. The video game sector today represents a reality that cannot be ignored by both institutions and organizations and which, consequently, within its reach, has lost contributed with its growth to a massive reevalitaton, both in terms of social phenomenon and the roles to which the main users, the games, who are not just simple enthusiasts, but real professionals.
cover image: The Smithsonian (Accession Number: 1979-91-382)
Testo Originale: Alessio Piatti / Traduzione: Peter Briggs