Esports: Behind the Success

Reports published by business media show that electronic sports (or esports) are one of the fastest growing branches of global entertainment, with 18 percent annual growth. We see the rise of professional competitive gaming websites, fanbases expanding at a tremendous pace in social media, players becoming celebrities, companies investing millions in new ventures. But what does esports mean for people at the center of it?

Mariusz 'Loord' Cybulski, the coach of the highly successful Team Kinguin's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive division answers questions about esports in an interview published at Interia and Esporter.

You can find the original content in Polish at: Interia and Esporter.


Why do you think esport isn't considered equal to traditional sports?

It's an issue as old as the idea of competition itself. There was a time when rock climbing or surfing weren't considered 'real' sports, and now we can watch them at the Summer Olympics.

For esports, the gist of the problem is the player stereotype, which is caused by generational differences. Our civilisation, and entertainment and sports within it, is evolving at a rapid pace due to leaps in communication technology. News spreads faster, gets more popular. At the same time, video games and the competition around them are a phenomenon that is gaining fans quicker than anything else. People who remember the time before the computer age, who are used to spending their evenings playing cards, are not always able to comprehend it. Because, conservative ideas aside, what is the difference between struggling to win a volleyball match and a video game match? Talent, reflexes, experience and tactics are required in both cases. One might argue that sitting at a computer for so long is harmful, but is it any different in case of weightlifting or various other sports? Did you know that nowadays airplane pilots are usually gamers, because they have natural predispositions towards flying due to their reflexes and decision-making skills?

Whether traditionalists want it or not, also the way competition works in video games is based on the classic sports model. Teams require preparation and infrastructure. Training is what allows them to reach the global top, and if you want to be among the best, you need to go pro. You need coaches, tacticians, psychological support, and you need to train 7 days a week. This is how football players, ski jumpers, and video game champions become pros. And this is why, when it comes to organisation, video games aren't revolutionary.

Professional teams compete at gaming tournaments are dedicated to a certain discipline, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or DoTA. There are qualifiers before the main event, and qualifying for a Minor gets you a chance to advance to a Major. There are national, international, global events. Sometimes your opponents are selected randomly, sometimes there are playoffs. Then there's quarter-final, semi-final and final. Just like in boxing or football, there are leagues and federations. There are sponsors who fund the prizes, so you have to make sure to communicate with the fan base through media, through Twitch, Youtube or Facebook. But it's no revolution either. In the ancient times there were officials whose function was to organise the Olympics and secure funds for prizes.

Where did the real esport begin?

According to esports historians, arcade tournaments pioneered the industry. However, the first tournament ever was probably the 1972 event, where Stanford University students battled each other in Spacewar. The winner was awarded a yearly subscription to The Rolling Stone magazine. In 1980, a Space Invaders tournament was held, the first event ever to boast a major sponsor – Atari. The company increased its sales multiple times by popularizing Space Invaders.

In the age of the PC, a breakthrough was made when the Internet became accessible to anyone. Players could compete online, and people quickly realized how exciting it is. Fans emerged as soon as it became possible to watch matches online – both live or 'reruns'. But really, fan bases were growing even in the 90s, and developers did notice it. Even back then studios were designing games specifically with player vs player competition in mind. When Doom and Quake became famous, Quake 3 was soon to follow with no single player campaign whatsoever. Organizations were established, such as Professional Gamers League or Cyberathlete Professional League. Tournaments were held, imitating traditional sports leagues.

Today, traditional sports fans can't comprehend the scale of esports, but you can't argue with the facts. League of Legends 2016-2017 season has reached 70 million viewers, while NBA finals only 25 million*. We simply cannot ignore esports. It's an element of our culture, and it keeps growing.

How did you get involved in esports?

It started in 2001. The first tournaments in Poland were much less flashy than they are today. Winners got a mouse or a keyboard. I started to play Counter-Strike just for pleasure, as a hobby. But with each passing day I got more and more engaged. I started to watch videos from esport events and I realized that playing with the best and against the best was what I really wanted to do. Before I reached the level that allowed me to do just that, I spent years on improving my skills. I took part in numerous Polish tournaments with my team Pentagram G-Shock. This gave me the experience necessary to realize my dream of entering the international scene.

My first international tournament was Electronic Sports World Cup 2005. It took place in Paris. I was awed by the spectacle and I knew this was what I wanted to focus my career on.

For the next couple of years I stayed with my team, which, despite numerous name changes, sported a consistent roster. We've won 7 globally important tournaments. Three times we took the champions title at World Cyber Games, twice at Electronic Sports World Cup, and twice at Intel Extreme Masters. In 2015 I retired as a pro gamer and became the coach of Team Kinguin. I decided to focus on sharing my experience with younger players, who really are the successors to the teams from my golden age. My biggest achievement as a coach is leading Team Kinguin to the 2nd place at World Electronic Sport Games in 2017, in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. We’ve won $400,000.

How does your day look like?

My life is commanded by the schedule of matches and tournaments. I work with players in a different way before and after an event. Just like in traditional sports, the most crucial thing is to keep in shape. Video games require reflexes, planning, reading the opponent and acting as a team, by which I mean sharing duties in order to achieve the common goal. In Counter-Strike, we play on maps, virtual environments where teams battle each other with guns, and we control our characters with a mouse and keyboard combo.

Most people have at least once played such a game, but most also don't realize that getting to the global top requires years of hard work.

Thanks to the online access, pro players can play with both fans of a game or other pro players. We often use dedicated platforms to set up games with anyone who's willing to fight us. That's our life. Before a sparring we always need to warm up, practice a bit with mouse and keyboard. We also need to memorize the map's layout. We usually spend 6 hours a day, 6 days a week on training. Sometimes more. Near an event the work gets even more intense. Bootcamps become a crucial factor. They last a couple of days, during which we are together 24/7. We play, eat, rest, jog, talk. If we know who our opponents are, we watch their games on YouTube. This gives us a chance to work out their tactics and the strategic preferences of each player. We also review the games we haven't been able to win. We analyze our mistakes and try to learn from them. Together we create a tactic and the idea of how we should approach the game.

Gaming house becomes extremely important at this stage. It's a place made specifically for esport gaming, where we can improve our skills. This year, Kinguin Esports Performance Center is set to open. It's a three-story building full of advanced computer equipment, training rooms, resting areas, also sporting a recording studio and a gym. Just like in case of traditional sports, esport players have all the facilities they need to work for victory.

How does one become an esports player? What do you need to do to travel around the world and take part in the biggest events?

As with every other career path, you need to dedicate a lot of time and effort to the thing you want to be good at. Many gamers want the same thing, so only the ones who work the hardest will be able to achieve their goal. It's a process that demands a lot of sacrifices, motivation, dedication and the ability to cope with a failure. You need to remember that individual work is just one of many aspects of the game, because you have four companions at every tournament. It's important to find yourself among equally motivated fighters. Nowadays esports organisations make it easier for the most stubborn players to spar with pro gamers and teams. Internet and dedicated competitive platforms allow to fish out true talents, and only the best of the best enter the top-tier games.

How will esport look in the future?

Esport is developing rapidly, gaining millions of fans every year. The industry gets more and more support from companies that have nothing to do with gaming. Whether the sceptics want it or not, electronic sports are a part of our culture. The youth will soon be unable to imagine life without them. It's just like rock'n'roll. Today we know that music combined with media expansion resulted in a cultural revolution. It won't be different with esports.

Interview by Bartłomiej Bełc

*Data taken from onlinebusiness.syr.edu and Newzoo Researches