On September 2, SBS will air the qualifying final of a tournament of video game Counter Strike. The game involves a team of “terrorists” (the game’s most popular location is in an obviously Middle Eastern setting) planting a bomb that must then be disarmed by the team of “counter-terrorists”, under a barrage of fire from the other team. Players can be either terrorists or counter-terrorists.
The winning team will represent Australia at the global grand final in Indonesia.
It’s not the first time an Australian network has aired Counter Strike (Fox Sports had some on last year), but it is the first time e-sports (as this style of competitive video gaming is called) has come to free to air. The genre of competitive, professional video gaming is very popular in many parts of Asia, where it is regularly aired on television. It’s big business — young people with quick reflexes are willing to devote their lives to training win prizes worth millions of dollars — and gets big audiences. SBS’ release gives a figure of 150 million viewers worldwide.
Speaking of which, SBS seems at pains to convince journalists that e-sports are really, well, sports. The release states:
“The mental agility and reflexes of competitive gamers are enough to rival conventional athletes, with gamers producing the same amount of cortisol as professional race car drivers and pulses soaring as high as 180 beats per minute, the same as marathon runners. Competitors are even drug tested for performance enhancers like Adderall.”
Your correspondent watches a fair amount of e-sports so doesn’t really need convincing on that point. But it is hard to drum up much enthusiasm for Counter Strike going mainstream. It’s a rather stereotypical shooting game with Middle Eastern baddies, which sometimes draws a rather toxic player base. And for the uninitiated, it’s pretty damn hard to follow. The game display jumps between the first-person perspective of different players. If you don’t know the maps like the back of your hand, the camera’s jumps can be baffling. And the players move fast. The other major e-sports are League of Legends and DOTA2, and those feature a top-down display with rival heroes facing off on a more-or-less 2D battlefield. A newbie to the genre may not follow the intricacies, but at least it’s very clear who and where everyone is and which rivals they’re pulverising into digital dust.