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Lack of recognition for competitive gamers

Felix Kjellberg earned $12 million in advertising revenue in 2014 by playing video games on YouTube, according to a report by Forbes.

Kjellberg, better known by the moniker PewDiePie, is only 25 years old, and has nearly 45 million subscribers to his YouTube channel.

That’s just one person’s channel on one website. Clearly, the market for video games as a spectator sport is colossal.

And make no mistake; if curling and darts are considered sports, then competitive video games can be sports too.

Unlike poker or chess, many video games are actually physically taxing.

Hung Le Tram, who used to compete in SKL, Saskatchewan’s provincial League of Legends tournament, says that he used to input an average of 150 to 250 commands per minute over the course of each game, just to remain competitive. That’s upwards of two-and-a-half commands per second for 45 straight minutes.

Tram, who graduated from SAIT’s Electrical Engineering Technology program this year, says that this makes League of Legends one of the least strenuous eSports, compared to a game like StarCraft II, where some professionals input upwards of 400 commands per minute.

Though, according to Tram, in a game like League of Legends, “You end up putting a lot of pressure on your wrist and your eyes all day long. A lot of pro players get wrists injuries from time to time.”

Tram and his teammates spent countless hours working on their strategies and mechanics, averaging around six hours per week practicing together.

“The more competitive it gets, the more coordinated you have to be in order to win the game.”

Despite the game’s often extreme difficulty, League of Legends and other eSports are not getting the recognition they deserve.

This, Tram suggests, is due primarily to how new a concept competitive virtual sports are to the general public. This low-key neophobia is lessening year by year, however and now eSports are even shown on ESPN.

David Solomon, a Calgarian who holds three world records for speedrunning (completing video games in the fastest possible time) and who is registered as an athlete in Sweden from a 2006 international Dance Dance Revolution tournament he competed in, says that when he was in Korea, seeing video games on broadcast television was completely within the norm.

In addition to televised tournaments, there were entire channels that played nothing but professional development StarCraft matches 24/7.

“I never heard any complaints about that. I say, let’s put it up on a broadcast. And as long as it generates advertising revenue and ratings, then I see no problem with it.”

Though it sounds simple, it’s not as easy as flipping over to ESPN to watch the big eSports game.

Just as with normal sports, there are dozens of games that are played competitively at a high level, and each one is completely different from the next.

To make matters more complicated, as a byproduct of their medium, video games tend to have a higher level of complexity and nuance when compared to their traditionally athletic counterparts.

League of Legends, for example, involves two teams each trying to break the other team’s “nexus.” Each “nexus” is protected by a series of defensive structures, which are in turn protected by soldiers.

Add to that the unique characters that each player chooses before the match, and a number of other factors to keep track of, and you have a very difficult show to watch.

But it’s not without its payoff if you can learn to follow along.

Solomon remembers watching a tournament live. The underdog was down two matches in their best of five. He had to win three matches in a row, or he would lose the tournament.

At the character selection screen, the other player picked a very strong fighter to play as, and then it happened. The underdog picked perhaps the weakest fighter in the game. No professional player had ever even considered using this fighter.

And, of course, the underdog went on to win the match.

“It’s one of those moments you never forget.”

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