By George Simms
After talking to Lordie Bevan, the President of Durham University eSports and Gaming (DUEG), I was left in no doubt that Team Durham’s newest society deserved their place there.
The British University eSports Championship (BUEC), organised by National Student eSports (NSE), is gaming’s answer to BUCS, and DUEG are going from strength to strength in the rankings.
Their Winter 2020 and Spring 2021 competitions have seen Durham rank 8th and 10th respectively, securing their place as a top 10 eSports university. DUEG mainly compete in NSE (National Student eSports) and NUEL (National University eSports League). As Bevan tells me, Durham are now looking to “push for top five, but the competition is very, very heated”. However, “we have a fantastic culture here and a lot of our players are really top level”.
DUEG is one of many clubs riding the crest of the eSports tsunami currently gathering speed and marauding towards the sporting world. Projected to have more than 500 million viewers by 2023, which would take it above the likes of Basketball, Golf and American Football in terms of viewership, eSports looks set to become a mainstream competition within the next decade.
As Lordie mentions, when you consider the time and dedication which top eSports players put into their craft, it’s only fair that “eSports and sports should be respected in the same manner”. This raises the question of how eSports should be classified. What makes a sport, a sport?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sport as “An activity involving physical exertion and skill, especially one regulated by set rules or customs in which an individual or team competes against another or others”. By that definition, eSports fall down on the physical exertion point.
However, is this a fair judgement of a sport? Ronnie O’Sullivan and Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor would probably disagree, and both of their sports have their own section on BBC Sport. Archery and shooting are Olympic staples, but arguably rely as much on technical and mechanical skill, and as little on physical exertion, as eSports.
Perhaps a more important question should be whether eSports want to be classified as a sport? When we discussed the structure of DUEG, Lordie outlined the variety of different games they cover. From MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas) like League of Legends or DOTA 2, to first person shooters like Rainbow Six Siege, CS:GO, Overwatch and Valorant, even including Nintendo classics like Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Mario Kart, there’s a huge variety of very different games which fall under the umbrella of eSports.
As they’re continuing to grow in popularity, DUEG’s place in Team Durham seems to make sense. But, consider this – how far are we from an eTeam Durham? A whole department just for competitive gaming, with its own dedicated coaches and arenas. A full-time League of Legends coaching staff. Valorant and DOTA 2 treated with the same individual respect as football and rugby.
When you look at the money and time which is currently being pumped into professional eSports, it’s really not too hard to believe.
The eSports industry is expected to generate global revenues of over $1.5 billion by 2023. The International 2019, the ninth edition of the annual DOTA 2 World Championship, had a combined prize pot of over $34 million.
These numbers are only going to get higher as viewership increases, which is massively aided by the success of platforms like Twitch. Twitch averages nearly 3million viewers at any given time, a number which seems to have doubled every two years since 2012. As Lordie told me, eSports are “entering the mainstream”.
The most common criticism levelled against eSports, and gaming in general, stems from its effect on mental health. China recently banned gaming for under-18s for all but three hours of the week, after a state media outlet called it ‘spiritual opium’. Unsurprisingly, Lordie called this approach “rather hard-line”, although he conceded that “gaming addiction has been a problem for a lot of people and it’s not going to go away any time soon”.
Discussing his teenage years, Bevan conceded that he was probably “very addicted” himself, but he caveats this by saying he “enjoyed every minute of it”. A successful runner in his youth, he credits this with keeping his gaming hours, and mental health, in check.
More importantly, he directly attributes his running to improving his gaming. He told me, “When I was doing the training, I was super-focussed, I put 110% in. Then, in my gaming, I was super focussed, I put 110% in. It helped me keep a lot of mental focus”. Bevan raises a fundamental point to prospective and professional eSports players alike.
Research shows that mental health is not only as important as physical health, but the two have a wholly symbiotic relationship. Whilst eSports can be very mentally taxing, they don’t directly help improve physical health. As a result, it’s incredibly important to take time away from gaming to work on your physical health. Lordie’s running taught him this first-hand. He emphasised that “exercise is incredibly important. Now we’re part of Team Durham, I was hoping to get gym memberships for the guys who do eSports, because it’s important”.
However, Lordie also talked about the great social and psychological benefits that can come from eSports and gaming. As he admits, “people often play video games because they struggle with the social side of things” but called it a “good excuse to come together and play your favourite games”.
He highlighted that “video games are meant to be enjoyed” and discussed how joining a Dungeons & Dragons society at Hild Bede helped him make friends and come out of his shell at Durham. Whilst video games and eSports may seem lonely from the outside, they’re often heavily team-based and can be a great way to meet new people.
You can’t argue with Lordie’s claim that “eSports are only going to get bigger”. He encourages everyone, regardless of skill level, commitment, or experience, to join DUEG. “The culture is amazing, the people are lovely, I’m trying to push it towards becoming a more social society”, he told me. Who knows, you might find yourself playing college eSports before your time at Durham is up. eSports are not just here to stay. They look set to take over.