How E-sports Is Different From Fantasy Gaming And Real Money Gaming

The distinction between e-sports and real-money gaming and why it's important to tell them apart

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By Lokesh Suji


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There is a wide misconception that i-gaming/e-gaming (real money gaming) is the same as e-sports; in fact the confusion extends into sports fantasy as well. In India, over the course of 2020 with COVID-19 lockdown in place, we saw a boom in digital entertainments mainly real-money gaming and e-sports. These developments have led to growing concerns that the structural boundaries between real money gaming (i.e gambling) and e-sports may potentially become indistinguishable, if not addressed now.

It also comes down to the conventions of naming (or nomenclature), and generational differences, the confusion of what new words mean, and finally the unpopularity of etymology in modern times.

The term gaming refers to the act of playing video games, while the term i-gaming was created to cover "online betting of real-world events with real world currency". I-gaming refers to Internet for-profit games such as online poker, online bingo, online casinos, sports betting and lotteries.

Gaming, simultaneously, is a formalized expression of play. Games can come in many different types and genres; they can involve social play or role-playing, they can comprise board games such as Monopoly or Scrabble, they may include video games which are played on a game console (for example, Call of Duty; Need for Speed, which is a car racing game; FIFA, simulation game for football, etc.), or may come in the form of electronic/digital games played via a computer or smartphone (such as Candy Crush Saga).

India is the only country where we are seeing this confusion in regards to e-sports and online gaming. Let's analyze the distinction between e-sports and real-money gaming and why it's important to tell them apart.

Real money gaming and fantasy gaming

Fantasy gaming: In online fantasy (sportsbooks), players bet on sports from their homes or on their mobile devices, online bookmakers as an easy way to get access to sports betting around the clock. Fantasy has a major element of betting which comes in when you pay money to register your virtual team for a contest with other virtual teams. Here the winners gain money from the losers, with the platform taking a cut. Courts have so far ruled that picking a fantasy team involves strategy, and so it doesn't come under the purview of gambling, like in a card game or roulette that's based more on chance.

Real-money gaming: It means the offering, distribution, advertising, promotion and sale of any type of game played via online media in which real money is wagered on the outcome of the game.

Fantasy gaming which has also been confused with e-sports, mainly due to some amount of skill involved in this virtual space of competition based on real sports. The main ideology between gambling is it being a game of chance, while e-sports is a game of skill. Thus, many older people and the gambling industry 'mistake' e-sports and (real-money gaming) i-gaming/e-gaming.

Esports and how it is different

E-sports managed to go from nearly 385 million views to an impressive 454 million over a period of one year in 2019. This kind of rapid growth for an industry had a great influence on making it an inviting field for the gambling industry to have an incentive to be recognized under the same umbrella term.

E-sports is a sport, and recognized by several countries as such and India won a bronze medal in Asian Games 2018 where e-sports was a demonstration title and will be a medal sport in upcoming Asian Indoor & Martial Arts Games 2021 (Thailand). Basically, it is competitive video game playing, coordinated by different leagues, where players participate in group gaming competitions. Viewers can watch professional gamers compete against each other in a variety of games.

Competitive video game communities have evolved with e-sports also becoming a spectator sport, and wagering on the outcome of competitions and tournaments is growing. Whether engaging in e-sports for the competition or for fun and entertainment, e-sports have garnered a huge following via online streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube.

Skill In e-sports or why e-sports is a real sport

The rapidly growing phenomenon has skill involved in mastering a video/online game has led to the professionalization of e-sports. There may be motivational differences between casual/recreational players and those seeking high levels of competition.

Just like any athlete, e-sports athletes have trained their body and visceral reactions in the competitive environment. Though to someone who does not know what is happening, it might seem like the e-sports athlete is just mashing buttons, but the perceptual acuity of first person shooter play for example where their knowledge of game maps and weapons meet interpretive wok in elaborate hand eye co-ordination can leave the average players head spinning it they were to face them in the game. At the topmost level embodied skills must be naturalized to a degree that its unconscious in order for true mastery occurs.

It requires years of commitment and dedication to reach the level on a professional and still be beaten by someone who's practiced more. The same way traditional sports shape embodied actions, with constant and rigorous practice, e-sports players exhibit physical-technological skills within larger team concepts all with practice and intensive routines.

These factors clearly embed e-sports as a professional sport, even the level of luck involved is no different from the traditional sports. While gambling or "real-money gaming" depends largely on luck and very little to no skill involved, pairing the two together is in a way disgracing and resenting to acknowledge the skill of these pro e-sports athletes.

Lokesh Suji

Director, Esports Federation of India

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