Online Multiplayer Isn’t Gaming Anymore

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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.

The new breed of Esport titles

The new breed of Esport titles

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.

New Teams and Leagues really do lend the new split of gaming a sporting theme

New Teams and Leagues really do lend the new split of gaming a sporting theme

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.

The MMOs - a meeting point of the two genres

The MMOs – a meeting point of the two genres

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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About Paul Izod
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

  • RC3556

    They are still games
    vid·e·o game  
    A game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a television screen or display
    and these games are not a sport
    An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others.

    • Paul Izod

      So gaming involves no physical activity or skill then? That’s interesting, as I would argue it involves as much physical exertion and skill as sports like darts, shooting etc… Besides, general definitions of words evolve as the world does. Even if your definitions were not flawed, the point would be meaningless in the face of normal linguistic development

      • Raymond Newell

        It involves very little physical activity, which is why it is not viewed as a sport any more than breathing or chess. Whilst I agree it takes skill I do not believe that it is qualified as a sport due to the lack of physical exertion. I believe that when referring to the competitive play of video games the e should always remain in front of the word sport, making the word eSport the definition of such activities.

        • Paul Izod

          Which is exactly what I’ve done in my definition by describing them as esports…

  • JohnDernoncourt

    I guess I don’t follow.  I remember multiplayer games on Atari.  It didn’t change the game much, except for the opponent.  Hm…yeah, sorry >.<

    • Paul Izod

      As I said in the article,shared multiplayer experiences (coop) would be traditional gaming. Pvp like street fighter back in the day would be early examples of esports.

  • VampyWorm

    ok first of this seems like a rant complaining how you suck at multiplayer. Do you even realize how much MLG, GSL, Dreamhack, etc.. has opened up gaming. I managed a semi-pro team they treated it like a sport and life style. I like how you pick on SC2 and Halo 4. SC2 requires a lot of skill and SC:BW was big for competitive gaming so why dont you just go back to the late 90’s and online gaming is ruining the gaming experience but you didn’t because there wasnt these big tournaments. LoL, Halo 4, SC2 allows you to play against AI’s why don’t you research more then ranting. 
    Thanks for wasting my time, 

    • Paul Izod

      At no point was there any sort of criticism of online multiplayer gaming. In fact, i specifically state i’m making no judgement on either traditional gaming or esports. The article is not an attack on either, just a discussion of how they are now distinct and different. I make no mention of my own preference or skill at either, that is you projecting an opinion on me yourself.

      You seem to have completely missed the point of the article when you talk of games having AI bot modes. I concede this is to some extent a blurring of the lines, but it is still a simulation of an esport, so it could be argued it is still an example of that, though the fact it is against an AI controlled opponent could also mean it is a traditional game.

      Your comment about the semi-pro esport team you were involved in, rather than contradicting me, supports my point if anything. (my point being online multiplayer is more esport than traditional gaming) as you and your team focussed on it like a traditional sport, in which the focus (human vs human competition) is the same as sport.

      I appreciate your love of esports and online gaming and I support you in that. I honestly feel you have got the wrong end of the stick on this and I would urge you to re-read the article in the context of my assertion that I am not criticising the sport you love, in any way, again as I said in the article itself.

  • rogertdj

    In agreement with JohnDernoncourt…
    Get a life folks.
    Multi-player is just an extension of gaming consoles.  Player vs Player has always existed.  The only “new” thing that has been introduced really is a “persistent world” such as EQ / WoW and others of that type to where the world keeps going even when you’re not playing, and other players can play in your game world while you’re not there.
    The rest of it is just social jousting.  such-n-such sucks.. such-n-other was first.  you suck because game xyz sucks.  etc.. 

  • rogertdj

    I like the definitiion of sport.  Let’s call it something new though, “e-sport” or introduce a 2. or 3. definitiion to the word sport.  
    There’s definitely a category of skills and knowledge of rules required to play in player vs player and leagues.  You have to have a base-line of skills and have to develop strong skills in specific actions within the game in order to be even an entry level player. 
    The same thing is required of people who compete in RL sports.  They need their basic skills at a certain level and then they need more of specific skills to fill a position on the team.  Both can require work-outs and/or hand-eye coordination training.  And certainly both require practice-practice-practice..  Endless training gives you the edge and more training keeps it sharp.
    Also the sharper your body (i.e. regular exercise at least) and the more your mind and body work together the better you will be at whatever you aspire to do.