Whether you like it or not, there are a lot of similarities between esports and traditional sports. You could rant all day that esports shouldn't be considered a sport because it doesn't offer any form of physical activity but once you learn how the scene works, you'll end up biting your tongue.
Chess isn't a physical activity yet it managed to be a sport and ESPN had the audacity to broadcast spelling and eating contests in their channels.
So does this mean that esports should be qualified as a sport?
I personally came from a traditional sporting background. I wasn't an athlete but I was the pundit or worse the nerd who spends most of his time in the college library looking at stats, documentaries, and video tapes. After learning that DOTA fans would flock the stadiums to watch a tournament, I became curious to learn about the esports industry. I even became a part of it as I ended up broadcasting tournaments. During my experience, I was able to interact with professional players and coaches and I realized that there are a lot of similarities between esports and traditional sports.
Here are some of them.
While watching Coach Leathergood's live Facebook session discussing his analytics in Mobile Legends, I was left in awe. I learned that drafting is a crucial stage in studying the opponent's patterns. Team A bans damage dealing heroes in the first phase because they respect their opponents for having a good core player.
Even Purge's thoughts on the recent DOTA patch would leave me at the edge of my seat as I've learned the numerous ways on how gameplay changes tend to shape the competitive scene.
These moments reminded of that scene from Amazon Prime's Take Us Home featuring Leeds United, where Marcelo Bielsa discussed in detail his tactics in front of the press. I even recalled those days when I studied Jose Mourinho's tactical periodization and how it changed European football or those times when I got so hooked with Pep Guardiola's tiki-taka system.
The common theme revolves around tactical complexities.
Football isn't as straightforward as scoring goals and the same applies with esports. You don't just plant the bomb in the A-site or destroy the opponent's base or diminish the opponent's health bar.
Rather it's more on how will you score goals? What do we need to do to secure the A-site or who should we use to destroy the opponent's base? What do I need to learn so that I can counter my opponent's in a fighting game?
They could be pocket or surprise strategies like OG picking core Io or Mourinho deploying Samuel Eto'o as a right winger and not as a striker, or the Golden State Warriors selecting Draymond Green as an undersized center.
They could be the usual setups like playing the pick-and-roll with your point guard and center or using a smoke grenade to enter the bomb site.
At the end of the day, you'll realize that its not all about the physical attributes or the mechanical skills of the player. The tactics go hand-in-hand with it.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PREPARATION
If there's one thing we can learn from Alliance's ascent in the International DOTA scene is that a lack of preparation will kill you. Everyone in the DOTA scene talked about China and Southeast Asia being the dominant force while Europe was viewed as a laughing stock. When Swedish based Alliance competed in China, they embarrassed every team that stood against them. No one could handle Admiral Bulldog's Lone Druid and Nature's Prophet strategy.
This served as a wakeup call for Chinese and SEA DOTA teams to value the importance of preparation. If before Chinese and SEA teams would spend half of their time playing RPG games and streaming, the loss to Alliance propelled them to take things seriously.
And the same concept applies in sports. You don't end up being the best in the world by following an 8 hour session. Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant would be in the gym making jump shots hours before the scheduled practice time. Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't only train inside Real Madrid's headquarters as he carries on in his own residence. DOTA players spend 12-16 hours a day studying the latest tactics and sharpening their skills.
To be the best requires a huge amount of commitment and only the 1% of the 1% can fulfill this status.
THE WINNING MINDSET
I remember Coach Brian “Panda” Lim, mention that he reprimanded his team for bringing a bottle of alcohol inside the bootcamp. He didn't hesitate to smash it in front of everyone. He did that to remind the team that they've yet to win a trophy. In the end, his squad swept through the Mobile Legends scene, beating their local rivals and making their statement in the international scene.
It reminded me of Sir Alex Ferguson in his early days in Manchester United where he got annoyed with the team's drinking culture. He inherited a squad that featured the worse offenders like Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside and Gordon Strachan. Ferguson imposed a strict rule that limited the team's drinking behavior. Only Robson followed the policy while the rest specifically McGrath and Whiteside carried on with their antics which led to their departure. Strachan was unfortunate that his injuries forced him to leave.
It was Ferguson who had the last laugh as he managed to dominate the English football scene in the succeeding decades. He even garnered success in the European stage. His devout followers like Robson became a club legend and icon.
But this mindset doesn't just apply in instilling discipline as a positive mental attitude has always been an important catalyst for success. Professional sports teams invest in psychologists to help their players develop the winning attitude.
Esports teams followed the process and the results speak for themselves.
Astralis, a renowed CS:GO organization, was once a team that everyone laughed upon as they failed to live to the high expectations. But when they hired an Olympic psychologist, their fortunes changed. They ended up dominating the CS:GO scene accomplishing every major trophy. DOTA 2's OG likewise did the same and it managed to provide them back-to-back The International trophies in 2018 and 2019.
Given these anecdotes you'll end up realizing that esports isn't just all about fun and games. There's an intense competitive spirit involved and there's also a huge psychological hurdle that needs to be addressed in order to succeed.