Last weekend the TV was on and I watched what will probably be the greatest sports event this year (for me, at least). Not Olympics, not football and not the Tour de France.
No, it was the finals of the 13th Alliance Tournament in Eve Online.
It is annual and the 13th of its kind, so it is nothing new. The reason that I find it is worth a blog post is that although it feels quite natural watching this, there are several novel aspects about it, and I doubt it would have happened just a few years ago. First of all:
What is the Eve Online Alliance Tournament?
(a very brief intro that does no justice to this excellent and complex game)
Eve Online is a computer game where many people play together online in a common universe – a so-called Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) – and massive it is: more than 50,000 players share the same world at the same time. The role-playing is that all players fly around in spaceships, fighting, mining, trading etc. Interaction between players is an essential part of the game and players organize into corporations, which may further organize into alliances. Inter-alliance politics and warfare is a big thing in the game.
The developer of the game, the Icelandic company CCP, hosts a number of events for the players, including an annual Fan Fest party at their headquarters in Reykjavik. And, of course, the annual Alliance Tournament, where teams from different alliances meet (online) over 3 weekends to fight each other in 10 minute matches. There are no cash prizes; instead the best teams win in-game items of significant value (many thousand-euro equivalents).
I have played Eve Online on and off since 2006 and enjoy seeing the best of the best in action.
Is it Sports?
Is that “sports”? Well, according to Wikipedia:
“Sport is generally recognised as activities which are based in physical athleticism or physical dexterity, with the largest major competitions such as the Olympic Games admitting only sports meeting this definition… However, a number of competitive, but non-physical, activities claim recognition as mind sports. The International Olympic Committee (through ARISF) recognises both chess and bridge as bona fide sports…”
So, no, the Eve Online Alliance Tournament is not officially recognized as a “sports” event in the traditional sense. Mind sports? Perhaps one day, but before then I am sure another term will have established itself: Esports – that covers competitive video gaming. The concept goes back some years, but I first became aware of it when I heard about Korean TV showing StarCraft tournaments. So the leagues are there, the tournaments are there and the possibility of people becoming professionals are there. What’s missing is the physical exercise and/or the traditional view of being better that the other games.
However, watching the matches, I am certain that it is physically demanding of the participants and, in any case, these days all (physical) sports are also dependent on analysis and planning, backed up by teams of scientists and medics etc. to the point where the athletes themselves seem to be merely executing the final steps in a bigger plan. As for history: with a generation now growing up on online gaming there are esports viewers growing up as well. So who knows, maybe in a few years we may have every Elympics 2 or 4 years. Time will tell. Regardless, it is here now and it is growing.
How and Where to Watch It
Time will tell if esports will ever make it to the live TV channels as anything but a novelty: fun clips about nerds spending waayy too much time with their computer in their parents’ basements. That may be a lost opportunity, because naturally online games can also be watched online, and not necessarily in front of a PC or on a small laptop screen. In this case I am watching the tournament live on twitch.tv (owned by Amazon), streaming to my TV via Chromecast. Another time with another game it may be on (Google’s) YouTube. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the infrastructure for transmitting such events globally is in place already and no one needs the TV networks to send this. Perhaps some help in advertising this will help, but again, in the age of the Internet with social networking powered by twitter, steam, Facebook etc the traditional TV advertising channels may not matter much longer either.
Also, note that it is not only the big events that are shown. Everyone can join with their own show, broadcasting whatever they feel like broadcasting. Nothing new either, but I like that it is not only self-produced reality shows, but also a platform for excellent self-produced shows, so if somebody wants to broadcast the games of the local (esports) league, the platform is already there. And if you got something good to show, people may come watching. I am sure it requires talent, ambition and stamina, just like professional sports. And just like professional sports, making a living off it is a challenge.
- Video games have evolved to the point where they make watchable TV sports
- Technology is in place to bring web broad casts directly to your TV screen
- Everyone can broadcast whatever they want
I was certainly enjoining myself, together with 8700+, other viewers, which isn’t a lot compared to other esports being transmitted at the time. For comparison, elsewhere on twitch more than 170,000 were watching “League of Legends”, which again may be nothing compared to the number of viewers on major sport events. On the other hand, at such events you are limited to watching whatever events you TV channel is showing, switching back and forth between different events like they (not you) choose.
As it is, technology offers us more choices than ever before, so let’s jump into it.