Sunday 23 October 2016

The transition of eSports from a recreational game to a structured sport

Sport and the military have a  strong link
Basis of the growth of sport in general

In order to examine the transition of eSports from a recreational game to a structured sport, I feel that it is necessary to understand a little more about the more traditional sports.

It is not necessary to delve too deeply into the different sporting codes, but it is important to give a broad 'brush-stroke' of how, when and why traditional sport developed in the way that it did before moving on and seeing how eSports can too benefit from a more structured and accredited approach.
  • Origins of Sport
Without doubt the origins of most traditional sports rest in the military. In the past, every soldier was expected to know how to handle his weapons and to be fit enough for the rigours of war. Thus the first sports to make their mark were obviously running, discus throwing, javelin throwing, wrestling, boxing, etc. Even the longest of all athletic races takes its name from a military event, being the “Battle of Marathon”.

As the needs of the military became more complex as a result of improved technology, so did the sporting codes. The original sports were added to in order to show the full range of requirements needed by the soldier of the day.

Thus swimming, archery, shooting, football, etc. were all added into the the traditional sporting complement.
  • How sport has grown
Because sport owed its roots to the military capability of a nation, sport proved to be an export of such conquering nation.

Amongst historians it is a commonly held belief that many conquered nations soon adopt many of the attributes of the conqueror. Through the inevitable march of armies throughout history, armies have always carried with them both the best and worst of their culture – including their choices of sport.

So it was that many of the Afrikaans Boers where imprisoned in British Concentration Camps learnt how to play rugby while watching the British soldiers play. It may interest the audience to note that prior to the Boer War, rugby did not exist as a sport in the Free State Republic and that football was in fact the most popular sport amongst the Afrikaners. After the Boer War, even with heightened animosity between English and Afrikaans speaking White South Africans, rugby became the game of choice of the majority of Afrikaners.

There is also the political aspect of sport.
Throughout history, the success of a nation at sport is deemed to be representative of the overall vitality and strength of a nation.

Thus nations eagerly send teams to major international sporting events to demonstrate the nation's prowess. No matter what the cost to a nation, nation's strive to enter teams into events like the Commonwealth Games, World Games, Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, etc.

Even the ability to host such an event becomes a matter of national pride. One just has to see how quick countries are to bid for hosting the FIFA World Cup. To host such an event becomes a clear statement to the world that a country has arrived.

In order to host such an event, a country has to have:

                   The financial resources

                   Vast infrastructure
                   Adequately trained manpower
                   And the political will to host such an event

Even with all of the above in place, a state is not guaranteed of success. One has just got to look at the examples of the 1968 Olympic Games held in Munich and the 1972 Olympic Games held in Montreal.

There is no doubt that both Germany and Canada were more than competent in hosting said games, but due to a number of events beyond the control of the host countries, the perception was that both these events were not successful.

However, it was after the Montreal Olympic Games that host nations did a major rethink on how to market the games and how to have the games leave a lasting positive effect for the host nation.
  • How sport has developed
           The development of sport has always reflected the needs and wants of the people.

Where a people ave seen the need for a particular sport, the sport would generally first be played on a recreational level by enthusiasts.

As the popularity of the sport has grown, the sport has become more competitive in nature and the participants have banded together to form clubs and societies in order to promote the sport in question.

There then seems to be a critical watershed when there are enough clubs, and the competitive level is at a sustainable level, that the clubs form together to create provincial and national associations.

It is these associations that start 'legislating' the sport.

As the popularity in a specific grows, national federations start banding together to create International Federations.

It is the International Federations that assume final authority for the rules that gvern a sport.

It too is the success of the international federation that further enhances the enjoyability of the sport, or even its demise.

Acceptance of sport by society

From the above, it is clear that for any sport to grow, it needs to be accepted by society. Society is of course, represented by governments, and without the support of such, the sport is likely not to develop beyond being a side-attraction. Even the support of the government does not always ensure that a sport will grow and prosper. Without the support of the man-in-the-street it is unlikely that any sport will grow.

For a sport to grow, the average man-in-the-street needs to become involved in the sport. There are many ways in which a person can become involved, such as:
  • Becoming an active 'athlete'
  • Becoming a volunteer
  • Becoming a supporter of a team/individual
However, before a person would become involved in a sport as above such person would need to see the need to have such a sport.
  • Needs of Society
Any sport needs to be relevant to the country where it is being played. Thus you can find that different countries place a different emphasis on different sports. In the more developed countries, there is a greater emphasis on the more technical and advanced sports. Thus many first world countries tend to promote high expense sports such as power boating, formula one racing, etc.

Poorer nations tend to aim at the sports in which they do well and which do not require as much of an outlay.

It must be noted though that all the sports promoted, by rich and poor nations alike, have a profound effect on the social conditioning of the people as a whole.

A country like Kenya may concentrate its resources on long distance running, but the effects are far reaching. The hero status attained by the Kenyan long distance runners has changed the personal fortunes of many an athlete as well as the community from which he/she comes.

How eSports fits into the equation

eSports are no different from the traditional sports. The development of both computerisation and the internet has its roots in the Cold War.

During the Cold War it became vitally important for the Western Powers to do things differently in order to maintain their edge over the Communist powers. Since the West did not have the huge cheap work force at their disposal as did the Communist countries, the West need to maintain their technological edge.

As a result, while Soviet Russia stockpiled weaponry, the West sank money into a new high tech way of doing things.
  • A new world
    eSports represents the newest and most technically advanced way of doing sport,. The parallels between eSports and the older and more traditional sports are still apparent, eSports still has its rootsa in the military as does the older sports while combining elements of competition and personal skill.
    It is just that the platform has changed!
  • Creating acceptance
While it is true that there are strong parallels between eSports and the older traditional sports, eSports battles to find the acceptance in many countries as what some minor sports do.

The reason for this is due to change. Although nothing in the world remains the same from day-to-day, people are resistant to change. eSports reflects that change as it represents a whole new way of doing things to which many people are still battling to terms.

There are still generations who are suspicious of computerisation and the role of computerisation in the world today, and while such people may utilise the latest in technology, have not embraced this “New Age”.

Thus debates rage on about the dangers of computer games. How such games promote antisocial behaviour, how such games promote violence, epilepsy, and a whole range of other issues which have yet to be proven and are only anecdotal in nature.

Even at one of the MSSA's premier school clubs, the headmaster was concerned about the eSports club promoting violence. MSSA officials were quich to point out to the headmaster that in the ten years that the club had existed, there was not a single incidence of violence from any of the boys in the eSports club, unlike the repeated offences amongst those in the Rugby and Waterpolo teams.

Needless to say the headmaster relented.

The issue is therefore perception.

As many here will understand, perception is reality.

eSports to many parents, teachers and government authorities is something strange and alien to themselves.

In order for eSports to become recognised as a full sport on par with any of the other more traditional sports, those involved in eSports have to change the perceptions of the public at large. It is not only for those who are tasked with the running of events to change perceptions, but for every official and participant as well to become involved in this enterprise.

eSports, thus represents the 'New' sport which only the most flexible of minds will see the full potential thereof.
  • The perception of the disharmonious nature of eSports
Part of the reason why eSports is not given the full accreditation of being a sport is due to the fact that to the outsider the entire arena of eSports appears to be so disharmonious. Clans, events, and personalities come and go, and the whole event seems to be largely driven by purely commercial forces.

As we already know, traditional sports is highly regulated and the rules are enforced by the relevant international federations – sometimes even successfully! The impression given to the world at large is that there is order and harmony. Such order and harmony is only broken over outrageous doping (or similar) scandals. When such a scandal breaks the news, there is always swift action, and normality is resumed,

However, in the eSports world, the IeSF is still in its infancy being just nine years old, and the plethora of private events do nothing to promote eSports as a sport.

Since such events are run as profit making ventures, the owners have to ensure that they are amply rewarded for their efforts. As a result, often the owners have to do things that will ensure profitability rather than ensure the growth of eSports as a sport. Thus the 'professionalism' that has crept in before eSports has become acknowledged as a sport is proving to be both undesirable and unsustainable in the long term.

It is vital that before a truly professional 'class' of cyber athletes can exist, there has to be a large groundswell of amateur players. It is important that a further distinction is brought in between the amateur cyber athlete and the recreational gamer.

The recreational gamer
The recreational gamer is one who buys games from time to time, and although often thinks that he is quite skilled, has no real intention to enter major competitions or put in the hours of training and effort in order to win. Often such gamers will have tremendous libraries of games which they have played and will always be waiting for the newest release.

The Cyber Athlete

As mentioned above there are two types of cyber athlete, the professional cyber athlete and the amateur. I use the term cyber athlete to mean the person who actively competes in eSports Championships whether for profit or for honour (bragging rights).

The Professional Cyber Athlete:

The professional cyber athlete is the gamer who is paid-to-play. Such athlete embodies all the virtues and vices of the professional athlete from all other sporting codes and is often looked up to with same reverence and awe with which other professional athletes from the more traditional sorts are treated. However, due to the nature of eSports at this moment in time, the rules that govern the conduct or the more traditional professional athletes are absent from the professional cyber athlete.

Thus the injection of money into eSports, without having a solid structure, tends to bring out a more mercenary approach in eSports than in other sports.

Where football stars are governed by watertight contractsa which govern almost every single aspect of their lives, eSports players chop and change their allegiance in order tro make a 'fast buck'.

The Amateur Cyber Athlete:

It is important for any growing and developing sport to develop a large amateur base. As the word suggests, these are the players who play the games for the love of the game. The amateur is the player who differs from the professional in one respect only – the amateur does not get paid to play.

It is once there is a large groundswell of amateur gamers that professional gaming will bloom and prosper as never before.

Amateurism, is therefore the foundation stages of competitive gaming as well as being the foundation of the National Federations themselves.

Thus the school league as run by the Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) is vital in developing eSports. The school league not only instil cyber athletes with a code of conduct and ethics in regard to how a gamer should behave, but the school league also instils a heightened sense of competitiveness and cameraderie as schools battle it out against each other for the honour of winning.

Thus the amateur leagues create the love of gaming and of competitive gaming, while such leagues also draw parents and older gamers into the sport to provide the much needed volunteers to ensure the success of the sport. The amateur leagues to create the spectators who look up to, and follow the exploits of, the professional players.

The spectators, in turn swell the coffers of both clubs and the professional league by purchasing memorabilia, purchasing tickets to view matches, etc. The spectators too have an important function to fill as they represent an outward showing of how popular the sport actually is. Of course you can bus in supporters as a quick fix, and with modern technology, there are many ways of bussing in spectators, but it is bums in seats that are the most important.
Nothing is as important to a sponsor and to the very sport itself as the paying sponsor. Where would the traditional sports clubs be today without their huge and loyal fan bases.
Certainly even Manchester United would not be the team it is today without its international team base. It is true that South Africa does also have marketable brands. It is not uncommon for the Mind Sports South Africa Protea team to be offered hard cold cash for their kit.

It is therefore vital that each club develops its brand and fan base to ensure long term success. This can be done in many ways and is probably best dealt with in an entirely separate paper.
Acceptance of eSports by society

From the above, it is clear that for eSports to become fully accredited as a sport, it too has to follow the traditional route of existing, and traditional, National Sports Federations.
This is not an easy road to follow, but the benefits are huge:
  • Following the traditional route
In order to follow the traditional route, eSports have to look at the way that it is currently organised. As mentioned above, clubs are the foundations of National Federations. It is important that clubs become proper legal entities in terms of their own nations laws. The clubs as legal entities add stability to the gaming scene as clubs are legal entities. Since clubs are also run by all the members, clubs too have a greater longevity as they are not dependant upon any one person for their survival, but upon the club as a whole.

The clubs are then affiliated to National Federations. Only once properly constituted National Federations are formed, can such National Federations affiliate to the International Federation.

It is then vitally important for the International Federation to affiliate to the GAISF - General Association of International Sports Federations – which has now been rebranded as SportAccord.

Many in the eSports world may not know much about SportAccord, so, here is a little about such august body.The General Association of International Sports Federations has been founded in 1967 and groups together the International Sports Federations and various associations with the aim of defending world-wide sport, becoming better informed and making themselves known, and cooperating and coordinating their activities.

SportAccord aims to create a forum which brings together all the sports bodies once a year for an exchange of views on subjects of common interest. Its mission is to maintain the authority and autonomy of its members, promote closer links between its members and all sports organisations, coordinate and protect common interests and collect, verify and disseminate information.

In 1976, the "General Assembly of International Federations - Assemblée Générale des Fédérations Internationales" (GAIF-AGFI) became the General Association of International Sports Federations (AGFIS -GAISF) and its regulations of procedure were transformed into Statutes. Its head office is established in Monaco since 1977.

SportAccord groups together over 90 International Sports Federations and over 20 international bodies contributing to the development of sport on an educational, scientific and technical level. The association has been constituted by Monacan law.

SportAccord is not only a consultative organisation; its objective is also to provide a service to its member organisations. It organises meetings and amongst others an annual congress, and carries out technical and consulting jobs. It also gathers newsletters, statutes and technical regulations published by its members. It co-ordinates the dates of important international competitions and publishes them in its calendar.

SportAccord also enables International Sports Federations to present a united front against any attempts of intervention and to affirm its specific character and autonomy. In addition, SportAccord constitutes a privileged co-operative organisation with other private sports organisations, and with the inter-governmental bodies with which it co-operates on a regular basis. The GAISF therefore plays an irreplaceable role for International Sports Federations.

It is largely through the International Federation's affiliation to SportAccord that governments around the world acknowledge and accredit the existence and authority of an International Federation.

It is also through such affiliation by an International Federation that the doors to many of the Continental Games (All African, etc), Commonwealth Games, and World Games are opened.

Thus if eSports is to continue growing, it is absolutely imperative that the IeSF becomes a member of the SportAccord.
  • Benefits to cyber athletes:
The benefits to cyber athletes is immense. Whereas mainstream culture in many countries regards eSports as a fringe element of society, with eSports moving more onto a centre stage, it is the cyber athlete who will benefit.

With the improved accreditation of eSports, the athlete himself becomes accredited. This means that his skills and abilities are not only recognised by other participants in the field of eSports, but by the community in general. Thus teachers, parents, government officials, press, etc., learn to accept the values of eSports and give the athlete the recognition he/she so richly deserves.

With the improved accreditation comes the ability for all the organisations with in eSports to access greater funding through new avenues. Currently many National Federations have to rely on the goodwill of sponsors alone. And while there are some exceptional sponsors, there too are times when National Federations have to almost sell their souls to obtain just enough sponsorship to stay afloat.

Through greater accreditation, National Federations are no longer only dependant upon sponsors, but in many countries can also tap into government grants and into distributions from their own National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.

In South Africa, because the MSSA itself is recognised as a National Federation in terms of the Sports and Recreation Act of 1997 (as amended), any club so affiliated, that meets the criteria, can be awarded up to R750,000.00 a year for development. Such finds can then only be used for the purchasing of equipment, the purchasing of kit, and to cover the cost of entry into competitions.

Another advantage of accreditation is that all National Federations and the IeSF will be able to provide an upward lader to the cyber athlete to help him/her become a better citizen and more productive member of society. The NF's and IeSF cannot only be concerned with the cyber athlete while he/she is still competing. The life-shelf of a competitor is indeed a short period and all our minds have to be applied to how to help the athlete move from being a competitor to being reintroduced into the work-force. Thus again accreditation holds part of the answer.

In the case of the MSSA, accreditation has brought with it acceptance from Universities. So much so, that currently any cyber athete who has provincial and national colours can apply for one of fourteen sports bursaries a year. The bursaries range from several thousand Rands a year to bursaries that cover all educational expenses. For example, the University of Johannesburg offers one full bursary of R48,000.00 and two half bursaries of R24,000.00 to players who have earned their colours from Mind Sports South Africa.

However, to me, the greatest benefit to the athlete is growth. With the accreditation of any sport, growth of competitive athletes is a natural bye-product. With accreditation comes increased exposure in the media as well as a mind change in the community as a whole that facilitates the community to encourage participation.
  • Benefits to the community
Once a sports is accredited by both state and international bodies alike, there is a direct benefit to the community.

The benefits include, but are not limited to;

  • The creation of new sporting heroes, and
  • The opportunity for people who would not normally become involved in traditional sports to become engaged in a sport, and 
  • The ability to be rewarded in an activity in which the person excels.

  • Benefits to the State
The importance of the state can not ever be ignored. Yet the benefits for the state in recognising eSports as a fully-fledged sport are ongoing.

The main benefits to the state are as follows:
  • The state can demonstrate to the world just how technologically advanced it is.
  • The state is able to demonstrate how adaptable it is and open to change and new ideas.
  • The state is able to remain relevant to the needs of the people in an ever faster moving world.

  • Benefits to the National Federations
Without doubt the most important benefit NF's is to create an environment conducive to sponsorship and investment

Without sponsorships none of what the IeSF or the NF's try to achieve would be possible.

Whether the sponsorships come from the private sector (like
SK Gaming) or from the public sector (National Lottery and/or government subsidies), development will be almost impossible as entrance fees earned from gamers are utilized to cover costs in hosting events.

By having bodies recognized and accredited by the government and by National Olympic Organisations, Sponsors and Investors are able to demand a level of accountability not possible with bodies that are not legal structures and/or privately owned entities.

By having an environment that appears to be properly regulated, Sponsors and Investors shall feel far more emboldened to invest greater amounts into eSports.

Ultimately, everyone will win.

The road forward

I therefore am of the confirmed opinion that the way forward is:
  1. For the IeSF to affiliate to SportAccord
  2. For the IeSF to affiliate to the International Mind Sports Association. The IMSA is a “mind sports”. Chess, Draughts, Go, Bridge, Majongh are all members of such.
  3. The IeSF must carry on its road of encouraging National Federations to form.
  4. The IeSF must continue to promote a “World Championships” event, but must two encourage Continental events.
  5. The IeSF must encourage member Federations to promote the amateur and professional aspects of the game, while paying special emphasis to the growth of the game at school level.
There is much to do, and it is indeed a long hard road that stretches out before the eSports community.

However, as long as the IeSF and the NF's remain true to the vision contained herein, the accreditation of eSports is inevitable.

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