There’s are some new teams in town and they’re shaking things up in the sports world – the esports world. Esports basically turns video game playing into a competitive, spectator sport, and requires very fast reflexes. (Pros are often washed up by the age of 25; they’re too slow.) Despite this, teams such as Sweden’s Silver Snipers are breaking the mold.
The Silver Snipers (and now Finland’s Grey Gunners) are competing in online games mostly played on PCs that are super reflex-oriented. In fact, they’re playing Counter-Strike, a very precise, lightning-fast shooting game…and all five men and women on The Silver Snipers are over 60, with one in his 80s.
They practiced hard under the tutelage of a former esports pro, according to The Verge. After learning the fundamentals of aiming and recognizing enemies, they moved on to deeper strategy before entering a tournament. While they lost, they liked the sense of camaraderie and self esteem that came with being part of a team. They’ll soldier on to more tourneys together.
How did we get here?
If you’ve played Wii Sports (that tennis, bowling or boxing that was such fun at Thanksgiving), you’ve played a cooperative, competitive game with spectators. You’ve played sports games, but not online. Sports games actually have been around since 1958, when scientist William Higinbotham created “Tennis For Two” on an oscilloscope at Long Island’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. It’s the online competition that puts the ‘e’ in esports. As the game industry grew, so did that spirit of competition. (Dennis Fong, often called the “Michael Jordan of esports,” won an esports competition while playing Quake in 1997. He won $10,000 in cash and a Ferrari.)
The next step in esports happened about 10 years ago, when the massive online battle arena game League of Legends from Riot Games took the online gaming counterculture by storm. Why? It featured heroes with great backstories. It was free in a time of recession. It was online, so you didn’t have to be in the same room to play. And it was hard. To this day, it requires deep strategy to play because it’s updated frequently to make it harder. But the basic idea is simple: you have to kill your opponents and take their home base.
Finally, five years ago, esports began to explode into the mainstream. For a Playboy magazine cover story, I followed young League of Legends pros around the world as they battled in large venues in Paris and Seoul at sold-out shows where avid fans could watch. The energy I felt was like that of a stadium rock show when I was a kid. The screaming was so boisterous, you couldn’t hear anything else. In Seoul, 40,000 people filled the old Olympic stadium to watch the League of Legends finals. Millions more viewed online. And the top superstars are getting paid millions to play – plus, they have groupies.
What else helped launch esports?
Twitch. The Amazon-owned Twitch is like YouTube for those who love games. At its most basic level, Twitch lets a large audience watch games as they’re being played – and fans can chat with their heroes as they give them tips. Esports pros make extra money on Twitch (through fan donations) – up to $1,500 nightly. Young adults in high school and college dream of being pros. You can make a base salary on a team, get free food and lodging, earn extra money from companies seeking sponsorship and make even more on Twitch nightly if you’re popular. Yet the reflexes required for esports are ridiculously fast; pros over 25 aren’t fast enough anymore.
Where does that leave older adults? Well, if older adults battle against other older adults, it’s a level playing field. And sponsors are coming on to help the teams become decently paid. For instance, Lenovo, an Asian computer company that makes laptops and PCs for gamers, sponsored the Silver Snipers. Said Matt Bereda, Vice President of Consumer Marketing for Lenovo Consumer PCs & Smart Devices, “We felt this was a compelling opportunity to get involved with an underserved community. Gaming and esports should be easily available to everyone who wants to play.”
Curious? The top five top esports are:
1) League of Legends – This massive online battle arena (MOBA) remains popular. You kill your opponents with various spells and weapons, then take their home base.
2) Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – A shooting game with teams of five where the last person standing wins.
3) Dota 2 – Defense of the Ancients 2 is a massive online battle arena with a huge prize pool of $86 million. Millions of fans add prize money to the pot themselves.
4) Hearthstone – A competitive card game that requires much strategy, but you don’t need quick reflexes to play.
5) Overwatch – Amazingly detailed, multicultural characters, varied sci-fi weapons, quick team action and elements of a story-based role-playing game make Overwatch a leader in esports. They even have characters to help bring in the LGBT audience.
You don’t have to stop at these five – here’s a list of free online games so you can try a few without obligation.
The question is, are senior teams like the Silver Snipers and the Grey Gunners mere marketing gimmicks, or are they pioneers on the cutting edge of a trend that will grow? The end result is actually up to you.
How you can start playing eSports:
- You can begin by watching games on Twitch.
- If you like what you see, try rounding up people together to play.
- You need a quick computer, a keyboard, plus a mouse. (You could probably even play together at the Senior Planet Exploration Center.)
- Visit Twitch or YouTube for videos and tips on how to play eSports.
Would you consider playing esports? Let us know in the comments!
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Harold Goldberg has written for the New York Times, Playboy, Vanity Fair and elsewhere. His narrative history of games is “All Your Base Are Belong to Us (How 50 Years of video games Conquered Pop Culture)” Random House. He’s the founder of the New York Video Game Critics Circle and New York Game Awards. Follow him on Twitter @haroldgoldberg.