I have been playing Dota 2 for about 3 years now. I started for an academic research project (no, really!), and have been playing since. It is my first MOBA, and so far the only one that has held my attention for longer than a week or so. Over 2000 hours of play into this game, and at least as much watching professional matches. In fact, I am watching Optic Gaming Versus Fanatic as I am typing up this blog post.
I have been playing with various friends over the past three years, and that has been far better than playing with random pick up groups.
About a year and a half ago I played in an online tournament/league (LD2SL Learn Dota 2 PSring League) with a random team. I signed up as a solo player and was placed on NASOLO#19. What a creative name. We eventually settled on Banadiana Hayes, since bananas have a lot of potassium the 19th element, Rutherford B. Hayes was the 19th president, and Indiana was the 19th state. We would gather together once a week and play (or sometimes win be default when the other team would not show up) against another team. I never met the other players in person, but enjoyed the feeling of playing on a team. That team dissolved after the league was over. This team experience was not notably different than playing with friends casually.I was the safe lane carry for the team (for those who are not MOBA players that means I focused on getting a lot of gold [farm] to get items and get powerful while the rest of the team made space for me to get my items). I was not the team captain and was not really involved in the running of the team, other than the fact that I kept showing up.
Fall 2017 as part of the IU esports initiative, I formed a Dota 2 team of IU students. What this meant in practice is that I recruited friends and put together a team. I registered us on CSL’s website and then we came up with a name Ballantine’s Scepter. I used Fiverr to get a logo designed for the team.
Ballantine is a hall on IU’s campus where lots of classes are held. Now that we are a team that is co-located we were able to practice together and play our tournament matches in the same room. This one felt different. Maybe it was due to my greater investment, as I am team captain and in charge of getting everything together. I think the bigger aspect is being in the room with my teammates. We are able to communicate well just by talking, there is no mediating technology, just 5 players in a room trying to win.
The moment that I realized something was different was our first win as a team. We were playing a Best of 3 match, and had already lost game one. We were feeling okay though and we knew that the team we were playing was beatable. Game two was another close match, but we were able to pull out a victory. The excitement in the room was so different than the excitement after winning any other given game of Dota. We were cheering and celebrating and feeding off of the energy from each other. It reminded me of the other team activities I have done, like the energy of a performance going well, or my high school Mock Trial team making it to state’s.
Esports is more than just video games. For us, for our team it is a bonding experience. The team experience reminded me of being on traditional sports teams in high school. Esports can offer that kind of team based experience, the highs of victory and the agony of defeat, that team bonding and the camaraderie to people who either cannot or will not find those experience in traditional sports. At the collegiate level I am not able to compete on a sports team, I do not have the time as a graduate student, and do not have the talent (or frankly the waistline). There are social benefit to team activities, there are emotional benefits, ask those who have been on a team. Some of the best stories of friendship and memories are from teams or the friendships that born out of being on a team.
I also think these benefits can be found in musical groups, theater groups, debate clubs, and other organizations. I use sports as the metaphor here since it is so often extolled as such a benefit.
Esports is a way to bring those benefits and opportunities to a group of people who would not otherwise find those group activities. It is a much cheaper way to provide those benefits than say a football team, at least at the collegiate level. (The buy in for a field, stadium, etc is far more than 5 computers and a room to be in… most colleges already have this!) We should be reaching out to those who have been gamers their entire lives. We should be providing these opportunities to give them some of the same experiences those sports playing and choral singing friends have.