Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Players of Games

I saw this article in the Economist, which led to this article, about professional computer games players. At first sight the idea of computer gaming as professional sport may seem absurd, but, as the first article points out, snooker's early professionals were probably similarly derided.

The top players in this sport can earn over $200,000 a year, making it as viable a career option as many other sports. But is it as wholesome, as skillful, as spectacular as other sports? Perhaps not physically, but, having watched a couple of bouts of Starcraft 2 on the biggest gamer channel's biggest tournament, I think it might be a goer.

Each bout (or 'set') is about 45 minutes, which is well within sports watchers' attention spans. I'm no big gamer, although I have played similar games, so I'm vaguely familiar with the format, controls and complexity of such realtime strategy games. While the action was at times difficult to follow, it was no less accessible than, say, cricket. All it would need is better explanatory commentary. The commentators covered the highlights well, explaining the skills and tactics on show, but it was quite hard to grasp what you were seeing. Packaging, in other words: there's little wrong with the product, from an entertainment perspective, it just needs better presentation. The screen is a bit cluttered with arguably unnecessary detail. I believe Starcraft 2 is one of the first games designed with spectators in mind, and there's clearly more scope for evolution here. But with over 250,000 viewers for some matches, there's definitely an audience, so plenty of justification for such an evolution.

While it's never going to replace more tangible sports, I think there's sufficient complexity and excitement within the games, and beyond-amateur prowess on show that, coupled with the inherent low cost global distribution model, there could be serious money in such sports in future.

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