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eSports 101: What They Are, Where to Watch, and How to Get Involved            

One of the unique joys of gaming is the opportunity to play against someone else. Enjoying the feeling of victory in Street Fighter or playfully slugging a friend on the shoulder after losing in Mario Kart are experiences not even the most well-constructed single-player game can deliver.

What if you could take the skills you’ve gained and compete against other players in a tournament for real money? That’s possible now thanks to eSports.

A blanket term, eSports is used to describe the wide number of games and game types played competitively by amateur and professional players around the world. With the growth of game streaming and exposure, eSports have become more and more popular, attracting players from around the world. Sponsorships for tournaments can offer millions of dollars in prize money.

Although there haven’t been many women competing professionally in eSports, the number of female contestants are increasing as the popularity of eSports grows and becomes more mainstream.

The Games

Competitive gaming comes in many forms. eSports can be first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, card games, even traditional sports games. It’s a wildly varied realm in which virtually any game type has been turned into a competitive opportunity.

For a game to be considered an eSport, however, it has to have a certain amount of inherent technical skill required for success. It could be two teams facing off against each other, or one person braving it against another in a test of skill.

Here’s an overview of the most popular eSports games.

Dota 2, League of Legends

Dota 2 and League of Legends are best described as “multiplayer online battle arenas” (MOBAs). In these games the camera is in a fixed isometric perspective above the map. Players select characters called “heroes” or “champions” (depending on the game) and join in teams to defend the pathways or “lanes” on a given map. These heroes each have their own unique strengths and advantages that help them fulfill their personal duty as part of the team, ranging from supporting offensive characters to defensive roles.

MOBAs are very technical and have a steep learning curve for anyone interested in trying for the first time. Still, they continue to attract new players to the existing millions of fans around the world each day.

Street Fighter

The long-running Street Fighter franchise has been around since gaming’s early years, which is one of the reasons it perseveres today. A fighting game, Street Fighter (currently Ultra Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter V) is a one-versus-one battle between two characters selected from the game’s roster by the players.

Fighting games are often extremely technical and require a knowledge of movement, timing, and the different styles of each character. Even more advanced players will study the animations of characters and use specific tactics to bait and counter their opponent’s attacks. It might look like mere button-mashing and dumb luck, but fighting games often require the player to have an extensive knowledge of the roster, their preferred players, and the styles they like to use.

Of all eSports, fighting games are probably the most easily understood by those unfamiliar with the concept. The goal is to simply knock out the other player, usually in a best-two-out-of-three setup depending on the tournament rules. Plus, it’s easier to watch and understand what’s going on in a fighting game than it might be in a MOBA or real-time strategy game, both of which require at least a basic understanding of the game’s mechanics in order to enjoy.

Counter Strike, Halo

First-person shooters are among the most popular games available in western markets. Call of Duty continues to sell millions of copies year over year, and games like Counter-Strike (CS:GO for short) and Halo have very carefully crafted multiplayer modes meant to give players a veritable playground in which they can hunt each other while working together as teams towards different objectives.

Competitive first-person shooters are often made up of teams working together and using tactical strategy to eliminate the other team, capture flags or control points, disarm weapons, or secure an area, among others. Like fighting games, they are relatively simple to understand for the average person, although broadcasting limitations have made it difficult to make them as easy to follow as fighting games, since everyone’s screen is different.

StarCraft 2

With the same isolated overhead angle as MOBAs, StarCraft looks similar to its arena-based contemporaries. However, StarCraft is an entirely different breed of competitive game.

It’s part of the real-time strategy (RTS) family of games, in which players act like a veritable general or ruler by ordering military units around an environment to build or capture bases, fight another player’s units, accumulate resources, and upgrade tech abilities while creating new backup or support units. Games are typically made up of players pitting their armies and skill against that of another while balancing finer details such as resource maintenance and base control. Like MOBAs, spectators need to have a basic understanding of the game mechanics to appreciate and understand what goes on during a tournament match.

Hearthstone

Blizzard’s recently-released collectible card game Hearthstone is a spinoff from their popular World of Warcraft MMO in which players compete using decks of cards laden with characters, weapons, and spells. A free-to-play game, players can create and build their own customized decks with the intent of countering their opponent’s decks and defeating their main champion. Hearthstone has gained a great deal of popularity, thanks in part to how accessible it is to beginners and pros alike. Millions of players have logged on to Battle.net to compete in card games, and it continues to be wildly popular with Twitch streamers and viewers.

Where to Watch the Action

It’s easy to find a competitive match in progress virtually anywhere you go online, but there are a few biggies to look out for each year. Most major tournaments are available to watch both in-person and online via streaming services.

The International

The International is Dota 2’s biggest event of the year, and it has grown in popularity immensely. In 2015, the tournament offered a prize pool of over $17 million to teams made up of players from around the world.

BlizzCon

Blizzard Entertainment’s dedicated fan convention, BlizzCon features competitive events for many of their key franchises, including StarCraft, Hearthstone, and their recent MOBA Heroes of the Storm.

EVO

EVO is one of the biggest tournaments of the year for fighting games. While the lineup often changes, many of the games featured at EVO include Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, BlazBlue, and Super Smash Bros.

How You Can Get Involved

Entry in an international-level championship requires a dynamo-level set of skills, but that doesn’t mean the average player can’t start testing their skill against others competitively. There are competitions and tournaments for every level, some of which don’t even require you to leave your home.

Internet connectivity makes it possible for virtually all of these games to be available to you competitively, and online communities often create and host their own organized tournaments. Arcades and local game stores have been known for organizing fighting game competitions, and even major companies like Blizzard have organized tournaments for Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm on college campuses. Join online communities, interact with other players, and you’ll be amazed at what opportunities become available to you and your insatiable need for glorious competition.

Cassidee Moser
Cassidee is a freelancer for multiple outlets on the web, including IGN, Kill Screen, and CG Magazine. When not writing about games, she’s usually drawing something or watching adorable corgi videos on YouTube. You can chat with her on Twitter @CassideeMoser
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Cassidee Moser
Cassidee is a freelancer for multiple outlets on the web, including IGN, Kill Screen, and CG Magazine. When not writing about games, she's usually drawing something or watching adorable corgi videos on YouTube. You can chat with her on Twitter @CassideeMoser

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