Over recent years there has been a shift in the focus of the gaming industry towards online multiplayer as a gaming model. Indeed, the biggest sellers of this generation of titles have been primarily online competitive titles, such as Halo 4 & Call of Duty.
Over this time there has developed a very distinct separation between what I would call “traditional” gaming and this newer online competitive gaming. The industry is now at a point where, really, online multiplayer has differentiated itself so far from its original genus that it should really be classified as such.
Now, before all the fans of FPS online shooters, League of Legends, Starcraft 2 et al skip hurriedly down to the comments to decry my hatred for online gaming, please take a moment to allow me to explain. I am in no way depicting online-focussed games such as these being worse than or inferior to traditional gaming experience titles. Nor am I suggesting they are better. They’re just inherently different.
Video games as we know them originated as solo (or later on shared) experiences. This experience involved the player(s) interacting with the game directly and, more or less, exclusively. Be they adventure, puzzle, RPG, platformer or whatever, the key experience was one of a challenge, a set computerised obstacle for the player to overcome. The experience was, in essence, the same for every player and was, more or less, a personal experience, a struggle between man and machine, if you wish to be dramatic.
Over time games have developed along with the technology available, with newer and more varied challenges being able to be concocted based upon a new bit of equipment or gameplay innovation. Initially, these were used to enhance the human/computer interaction, allowing for more realistic and varied challenges.
However, once online play arrived, the face of the industry started to change. Specifically, a new type of game began to emerge; one in which the opponent was no longer the computer, but was now other humans. These games allowed players to compete against each other in a computerised activity, allowing winners and losers to be determined. Games like Quake 2, Counterstrike and Command & Conquer allowed people to do battle and compete against each other in hitherto unknown ways.
When you compare the two types of game, however, there are a number of key differentials. While traditional computer-experience games are based on solo or shared computer-human interaction element, online multiplayer shifts the focus to human-human interaction. While this may, on face value, seem a minor point, it completely changes the dynamic of the activity. In traditional gaming the game is the focus of the activity, the thing to be completed and competed against. In online multiplayer competitive gaming the game is merely the facilitator of the activity; the pitch on which the competition is held, if you will.
While traditional computer games are just that; games (or as the dictionary definition goes: ‘An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime’). By contrast, online gaming is more accurately defined as a sport. In these games a set of rules and guidelines are put in place to allow performance to be empirically evaluated, scores allocated and then compared competitively to allocate values of success (or as per the dictionary definition of sport as being an ‘activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively’)
What has happened is that games have developed to a point where a schism has occurred, where a new form of an existing structure has evolved to the point of becoming its own distinct entity. A similar example from another discipline would be the split between Rugby and Football. At one time both were the same thing. Eventually over time there developed two types of the game; one played predominantly with the feet and one played mainly with the hands. Eventually this led to a splitting of the two, forming to distinct and separate entities: Rugby and Football. Both have the same origins, but are distinct and separate games. Gaming has come to the same point, with traditional gaming and computerised/electronic online sports (Esports) developing to a point at which they should now be considered separate.
Some may argue that MMO games prove this to be incorrect, being both shared and competitive at once, but though they can perhaps be seen as operating in the grey area between the two, really they are just a combination of the two, a point at which both apply. When multiple players co-operate to take on the game itself, such as a World of Warcraft raid for example, this is a shared experience of competition against the game itself, so is an example of traditional gaming. When the players engage in competitive PVP gaming, this then shifts over to the realm of Esports.
While both gaming and esports share a common origin, both are now district in their focus and execution and should really be considered as such. In many ways, this should be celebrated; gaming and esports are changing and evolving, becoming more varied and intriguing before our eyes.
That my friends, is something very, very good to know.
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org