Netball, Rugby, Rocket League? Embracing university life often involves playing a sport, and with the rising popularity of esports, the Glasgow University Esports Society ensures even those played online have a place on campus.
Given the esports industry is now comfortably valued at over a billion dollars, and attracting more regular viewers than the likes of the Super Bowl, its growth has made it hard to avoid. However, for those not in the know: the “e” in esports stands for electronic and is commonly an umbrella term for any form of competitive gaming. These can be game versions of more traditional sports like EA FC, but the most popular games are the likes of League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Valorant. These encompass the two largest subsets of games played competitively, the first of which is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA). MOBAs refer to games like League of Legends or Dota 2, where players battle in teams to attack and defend their respective bases. These have seen a steep rise in popularity in particular, especially in Asian countries, with the four highest-ranked League of Legends teams being from China and South Korea. First-person shooters are the second subset and the more familiar of the two here in Scotland, especially to those who play casually. Some of the most popular games like Call of Duty, Counter-Strike and Overwatch all sit in this category and often take the form of a search-and-destroy style game mode when played in competitions.
Teams often compete in these different tournaments scattered throughout the year for a portion of a prize pool well into the millions of dollars. News reports of the winnings are often when those unaware of this phenomenon first come across esports. Stories about three million dollar prizes won by those as young as thirteen by simply playing Fortnite have spread into mainstream news. The largest of these tournaments attract in-person crowds of over 20,000, who travel all over the world to the likes of Cologne, Rio de Janeiro and Paris. Much in the style of traditional sports tournaments these last over weeks and bring a whole array of events, beyond the sports themselves, to wherever they are being hosted to create a bustling convention for the fans who attend. However, attendees only account for a small proportion of the live viewership of tournaments as millions more watch these games through streaming websites around the world.
With viewers and players often overlapping, it’s no surprise that in 2018, Glasgow University Esports Society was revived and now acts as a hub for those looking to compete in numerous UK-wide tournaments or simply play with other students. Talking to their vice-president, Ashe Macdonald, the reasons for the growth of esports on campus became clear. From the perspective of those looking to get involved they highlighted the lower barrier to entry as one of the main differences when compared to other options: “There are less limitations unlike traditional sports, you don’t need to win the genetic lottery for esports, however, you still need an insane amount of time and dedication along with talent just like traditional sports.”
Ease of access when getting started is only half of the advantage. They also pointed out the unique opportunities for viewers compared to other sports: “When it comes to spectating, most of the time esports competitions are free to view on either Twitch or YouTube. This makes them extremely easy to access or even randomly stumble across.” This has meant that in recent years many have opted to join the esports society here on campus since its revival.
Reflecting on this increasing popularity, Ashe looked to the Covid-19 pandemic, which appeared to boost how active the society was: “If I had to guess, lockdown was a big factor in increasing the popularity, in fact, we have seen a decrease in [activity over] the past two years, [as] compared to during lockdowns.” But despite this slight lull, there are still plenty of reasons to get involved with the GUES: “We have hundreds of members all with unique interests both inside and outside of gaming. We have many social meets as a society unrelated to gaming, including, pub crawls, karaoke, Halloween parties and many more events! We also have a large player base of casual gamers who play games just for fun and it is a good community to just chat and play with like-minded people.”
Inclusivity was something else important to GUES, so Ashe was keen to emphasise the wide array of teams on offer: “We have both serious and more casual teams within these games as well as a community and teams for our women and non-binary (WNB) gamers. Anyone who enjoys video games, both casual and competitive should get involved with GUES.”
Seeing the multitude of ways to play and get involved with esports, its increasing popularity makes a lot more sense. Esports appear to offer the opportunity to both play and watch no matter your experience or background. Glasgow has clearly not been immune to this rising popularity seen around the world and the Esports Society shows this. By casting a wide net, no matter your interests or skill level, GUES seems happy to grow with the industry and welcome new members as this meteoric rise continues.