At the start of the new academic year, it is helpful to host at least one class as a quick review session. The same thing kind of goes for esports. There are new students on campus, new faculty on campus, and many of you may have no idea what an esport even is. Consider this as your unofficial study guide for being able to talk about esports with your friends.
Esports technically refers to electronic sports, but more broadly we are talking about competitive video games. There is plenty of room to debate whether playing a video game competitively is worthy of the moniker of “sport,” but I generally leave those debates to the talking heads on ESPN and sports radio. For now, it is easiest to refer to all video games played as a competition as being a part of esports. Genres of games that are an esport are as varied as they can be. At this point it is kind of hard to tell if a video game is or isn’t meant to be an esport—thank you, Farming Simulator Esports League.
It is easiest to wrap your head around esports based off of the sports games. FIFA, Madden, NBA2K all have esports leagues, many of which are running in conjunction or parallel to their traditional sports counterparts. The Memphis Grizzlies have Grizz Gaming. The Nashville Soccer Club will soon be hosting FIFA qualifiers. You can also represent the Tennessee Titans for Madden Esports, and I guarantee that many players worry about their Madden player ratings.
When you get beyond the sports games, the biggest esports genre exists in the MOBA games category. MOBA stands for multiplayer online battle arena and is showcased by the two leading games in the category: League of Legends which just finished its summer series split, and DOTA 2 which just finished their world championships known as The International. MOBA games traditionally take 2 teams of 5 players who each pick a character with varying special abilities and traits and try to defeat the other team by capturing the enemy “base” or nexus. While League of Legends has generally more viewers than DOTA 2, The International provides one of the largest prize pools in all esports at $1.6 million, with the winners from 2019 taking home $1 million as a team.
When thinking about large prize pools, the largest piece of that pie goes to the recent World Cup for Fortnite. Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf became a household name when he took home $3 million from this summer’s Fortnite World Cup. Fortnite and the battle royale genre, for which it is the current king, have made a large splash in the esports industry. With names like Ninja and DrLupo dominating the streaming industry and becoming a part of many family living rooms, you might begin to think that esports really means entertainment sports. Fortnite is only a couple years old at this point and it is still uncertain what kind of role the battle royale game is meant to play in the esports landscape.
If you are instead looking for the more traditional shooting games, they come in the form of Counter Strike: Global Offensive and the Call of Duty franchises. Counter Strike has been on the market since mid-2012 and has been a staple of the esports landscape ever since. These games take the form of multiplayer, first-person shooters where players again try to defeat the other team on different map objectives. Newer to the scene, and on the rise in the collegiate ranks, has been the more tactics-based first-person shooter in Rainbow 6 Siege. Rainbow 6, published by Ubisoft and M rated, just wrapped up one of its major regional tournaments in Raleigh, NC which awarded $500,000 in prizing to the 16 teams which competed there.
Wrapping up the first-person shooter category is the ever expanding Overwatch League (OWL). Overwatch is not your traditional first-person shooter—the cartoonish characters have roles and special abilities that go beyond just shooting the enemy, such as anchoring as a beefy tank character or keeping your team alive as one of two healers. The OWL also follows a more traditional model for team franchising, focusing on location-based teams such as the newly minted Atlanta Reign or Washington Justice. While the current OWL season is about to wrap up, it isn’t too late. The grand finals in Philadelphia are at the end of September.
When most people think about esports, they cover the categories mentioned so far. But the world of esports is much larger than that and covers all kinds of video games. The first group that comes to mind are the car games. Headlined in collegiate leagues by Rocket League. This game is easily one of the more family-friendly esports around. The game is literally soccer played with derby cars that can fly. It’s an incredibly easy game to watch and fun for everyone to enjoy. Then comes the more traditional racing games. Racing games have rapidly been growing in the esports community, even proving that skills in the game can relate to skills on the track as some players have gone on to race in NASCAR and other circuits. The headliner of this series may go to the game iRacing, which utilizes live racing data from tracks around the world to not only create a compelling game, but also to make a highly accurate racing simulator for all to enjoy.
Flipping the switch comes the card games category. Many people are aware of the actual card game Magic the Gathering, but now you can battle your friends in the online version or compete in worldwide, online competition through MTG Arena. If you don’t like MTG, then give the other favorite, Hearthstone, a try and even watch your favorite college teams battle it out during the school year.
Lastly, one of the largest and most wide offering categories of esports comes from the fighting games community (FGC). The leader of this pack, though not always thought of as a pure fighting game, is Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. Don’t like the new game? You can also pull out your CRT TV and load up Smash Bros Melee in many local, regional and national tournaments. The fighting games community is so large that we will save the details of its legacy for another article, but here is a short list to whet your appetite for the action: Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Street Fighter, Unist, BlazBlue, DragonBall Fighter Z and many others.
The list so far attempts to showcase the wide breadth and reach of esports as a profession, hobby and entertainment option. It is by no means exhaustive, and so if you want to learn more about esports, everyone is welcome to game nights hosted by the esports club every other Friday in the Student Union. And, of course, follow this column throughout the school year.
UTK Esports is a student organization at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, interested in competing in and promoting collegiate and professional esports. If you have questions or would like to join and compete, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on Twitter @utkesports.
Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.