Connors A. Eilersen (500321936)
NPF 551 – Interactivity and Networking
November 29th, 2012
Networking and the Future of Sports
Networking is a concept that has been around for quite a while, though it does not have the same connotation today as it has in the past. Networking, at its simplest level, is the linking of a minimum of two things which can communicate. In the past this would mostly entail groups, such as workplace, a family unit, or a sports team. Furthermore, in the case of something like a sports team, the network becomes larger when you start combining not only the people on the individual team, but the teams themselves. Suddenly, a large web of minor networks forge a large worldwide network, glued together simply by populous similar interests. It is because of this that things such has professional sports, and more specifically televised sports, are able to exist. Not only do they exist, they are immensely successful, watched by millions and making a gargantuan amount of money. Keeping in mind that this massive infrastructure, at its core, is built upon a network of those with similar interest, what are the implications of modern networking theory?
Modern networks are not only constructed in the physical world, but are heavily set in the online medium of the internet. With the induction of online social networking and online gaming, networks have been enabled to grow in size at increasingly rapid speeds. This virtual space allows people with great geographical distance between them to network in ways similar to the real world, including creation of professional online sports. These organized online sports, often referred to as e-sports, are becoming an increasingly popular pastime and interest around the world. By examining the major games played in e-sports, the infrastructure surrounding those games, and the professional players themselves, it can be seen how the modern network is reshaping the way society sees professional sports.
As with all professional sports, the design of the game itself is very important to its level of worldwide success. There are three major factors that contributes to this: the level of fun and competitiveness, the size of demand for the game to be televised, and the games accessibility to a large audience. For the purpose of explaining these theories, we will use examples from the popular video game League of Legends (LoL), developed by Riot Games.
How competitive a game feels is very important to its success in the professional world, and due to this, there needs to be a small amount of teams vying for victory within a single match. In LoL, two teams of five players compete to destroy the other team’s nexus. In order to gain access to the nexus, the teams must destroy at least one of three sets of turrets that block their path. This component is integral simply because having only one set of opponents increases the level of competition. Furthermore, the increased level of competition instills a drive for people to play, increasing the player base to a volume large enough to warrant televising. These are contributing factors to why LoL has grown, “reaching a staggering 32 million registered players” (Beck), and is still growing. It is due to this massive player base that the game has such a high demand for viewing.
Another contributing factor to the large player base, and therefore how widely televised the game is, is based upon how the game is published. As with sports in physical space, if the sport is not easily accessible it is going to be difficult for it to take off in the first place. Soccer for example, requires only a ball and two objects to mark the goal posts. LoL follows a similar line of thought. The game is free to play, and available for free digital download from Riot’s website. The game is affordable to anyone who has a computer and internet connection, and you do not even have to leave the comfort of your chair to get the game. This allows the online network to expand with greater ease, and by deciding to make the game widely available, the level of success is vastly increased. However, player base, and therefore the size and ease of the network, is not the only contributing factor to a game success as an e-sport. The game must not only be designed to have all the components of a great sport, but must also have all of the infrastructure to make an enjoyable viewing experience.
In order for a globally televised sport to be a success, there are certain key elements that need to be considered. The first thing to consider is what is on the line. If the players are just playing for fun, it is unlikely that people will want to watch. However, if there is a large money reward for the winning team, the event appears to have more gravity. It is for this reason that Season 2 of LoL had a 4 million dollar prize pool. By advertising that the winner of the tournament will become rich, people put more importance on the event.
The second major element in determining a sporting events level of success is based upon where the event takes place. For example, a sport is far more likely to be taken seriously if it is played in a large stadium, rather than if it is played on a school field. This is one of the things that Riot has considered when developing LoL for mass consumption. Since the game takes place in an online space, it would be easy enough for all the tournaments to take place at the computers in the households of the individual players, and simply share what is on their screen. However rather than do that, Riot Games hosted the Season 2 playoffs at a major stadium in Los Angelis. By doing this they were able set up a proper television production set, complete with sports caster, a camera crew filming the event location, an energetic crowd of spectators, and even a live orchestra playing the games music.
The third element of have a successfully televised sporting event is a proper method of viewing the sport. If for example, the game only allowed the viewers to see what was on the player’s screens, the game would have a gimped viewing experience. Instead, the game features a built in “spectator mode”, which gives the viewer control of their own personal game camera so they can truly see all the action taking place. At e-sports tournaments, they feature a person whose specific job is to manage the camera in spectator mode, similar to a camera crew that films what is taking place during a physical game. Currently, e-sports are generally viewed through an online medium, such as popular video streaming websites like twitch.tv and own3d.tv. This makes use of another core principle of online networking. “The growth of the number of person accessing sports sites on the World Wide Web has grown in a manner parallel to the growth of Web production and content perhaps at an event faster rate. When compared to the television numbers, the subscription numbers to leading sports Web sites seem small, but they have been expanding rapidly,” (Real, 186). By streaming the content in an online medium as opposed to television, those who view the video streams also have access to live chat rooms so they can discuss the event as it progresses. This chat room solidifies an already strong network. Image being able to watch the big game with millions of other people you can communicate with from the comfort of your living room, and it is plain to see the appeal in viewing the game through a live stream. The modern method of viewing is central to the success of e-sports, and without the modern network, these viewing methods would be impossible. However, this viewing experience provides more than just a way to simultaneously communicate with other people and watch the game. It gives viewers the ability to see the professional players themselves.
The professional players, and the teams they belong to, are another important link in the chain of the modern network. The reason these players are so important to the success of e-sports is because it makes the game just that much more personal. For example, imagine you are sitting in front of a computer screen playing a modern competitive video game, and you happen take part in an intense battle between yourself and an opposing player. There are certain emotions tied to the sensations of defeat and victory, and due to the nature of looking at a screen, it is very easy to forget that there is actually another human being on the other end of the game. Forgetting this simple fact closes in the experience from being social, to mostly singular. By making the professionals a central part of e-sports, it keeps the game more firmly grounded in the realm of the social. There are two major methods used to help keep the professionals in the foreground of a virtual scene.
The first method used in keeping a social focus is the use of personal online streaming. Personal streams differs from the large scale event streams, discussed earlier, in a couple of manners. Firstly, rather than streaming a game from the perspective of the crowd and commentators, whilst viewing two sets of teams, it is from the perspective of a singular player, often with a camera also showing the face of the streamer. In fact, often the games that are broadcasted on these personal streams are of no real significance beyond being based around the professional themselves. The professionals generate advertising revenue as users watch the stream, and in fact, makes up a larger portion of most players income than actually winning tournaments. It is for this reason that many of the famous streamers in e-sports do not even choose to participate in international tournaments, and instead focus on building a community around their game play. League of Legends takes the concept of individual streaming to a new level, with their introduction of the spectator channel. Whereas before you could only view a game that you had previously played or a friend was currently playing, it is now possible to view the game of any individual playing the game. The interface also provides you with a menu to select currently active high profile games, increasing awareness of the growing sport. However, simply streaming the player is not the only thing that keeps people interested in the professionals.
The second method for keeping social focus is the use of endorsement. Endorsement is a fairly common concept in today’s society, though many would be surprised to hear that video game players often get paid vast sums of money to use a specific type of mouse, keyboard, or even gaming glasses. Popular gaming peripheral companies, such as Razer or SteelSeries, often provide the professional players with the equipment for free, providing they have the right to advertise the players using it. This comes in many forms, such as art and logos on the product package, though is strongly routed in the online networking scene, such as Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, videos featuring the player and their opinions on the gear can be frequently found on the company’s websites and the player’s personal video streams. This product-player relationship is largely responsible for driving e-sports as both entertainment and business. A cycle appears where the viewer sees the professional do well using the gear, going out and getting the gear, and then watching the professionals to affirm their opinion about the gears validity. It is in this fashion that endorsements make use of social network theory, and help bring the players into the spotlight.
Through the professional players, the infrastructure put in place for the game, and the design of the game itself, it is plain to see how modern network theory is strongly influencing the way society sees professional sports. It is due to the fact that the medium of networking has changed, though the core concept remains the same. The interacting of people with similar interests has near limitless possibilities now that the network exists in an online medium. The modern network is a new emergence that has only just begun to flourish, and shaping professional sports is just the tip of the iceberg for the changes to come.
Beck, Brandon “Ryze” “Community Grows to 32 Million Players.” League of Legends Community. Riot Games, 17 Nov. 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2012. <http://na.leagueoflegends.com/board/showthread.php?t=1495692>.
Real, Michael. “Sports Online: The Newest Player in Media Sport.” Handbook of Sports And Media (2006): 183-87. Print.