Just as major differences define the gap between organized and competitive sports, stark distinctions exist between competitive esports and casual gaming. Syracuse University sophomore Ryan Luo compared his League of Legends team to a soccer roster’s makeup.

In the game, a more aggressive player would play more of a “carry” role — similar to a forward in soccer — and pick certain characters that focus on damaging the enemy team, said Luo, a manager of Syracuse’s League of Legends team. Someone who focuses on playmaking is similar to a midfielder’s role and helps the carrier secure objectives and kills. And a more supportive player focused on protecting teammates is similar to a defender in soccer.

“The reason why I compare this to soccer is that for many teams in esports as well as traditional team sports, all these playstyles need to work together in order to win,” Luo said.

Electronic sports has emerged as an industry of opportunities for people looking to specialize in their passions, compete and just have an escape, he said. In Evan Ridge’s five years of playing competitively, the captain of SU’s Overwatch team — one of six teams representing the school in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference — has noticed esports opens a door for relationships through its emphasis on collaboration. With one tournament, which will be held remotely, remaining the season, communication needs to surface during matches for SU’s Overwatch teams to succeed. 

“I’d say it’s a generational thing,” Ridge said. “People are realizing you can socialize online as well as in person, and with esports, it’s socializing over a common goal. While esports isn’t only online and has in-person tournaments, it allows for great friendships to be created over the Internet.”

Video games are for people who play casually, either alone or with friends, for fun and relaxation, he said. But in esports, players have to communicate with others in order to further their team’s chances of success. The appeal of video games is that the average person can pick up a controller and learn to play. With esports, the same is true, but there is a higher level of competition, similar to that of traditional sports.

Scott Hushaw, captain of Syracuse’s Rocket League team, said that although communication over gaming consoles isn’t the same as in-person interaction, it’s better than no communication at all. And while there are similarities between esports and video games, it’s collaboration that makes the two different. 

“I have never heard of a competitive player who doesn’t collaborate with their team or just within the competitive community,” Hushaw said, “whereas I’ve heard of people casually playing games without any collaboration.”

a su player looks up during an esports match

Photo courtesy of Scott Hushaw

In League of Legends — a popular action- and strategy-packed battle arena game — five teammates work together to beat another team of five. Each team member holds a position that coincides with their strengths, and the success of an esports team is limited to how unselfish its players are — not how many good players they have, Luo said. On the Overwatch team, if the healer only passes to certain players, the team won’t be successful.

The Overwatch team also puts high value in strategy, Ridge said, because that’s an evolving aspect of this emerging industry. 

“We have strategies for certain maps, against certain teams, against what the enemy picks, for certain tournaments and more,” Ridge said. “And then actually playing the game is just doing exactly what we planned on.”

Luo agreed. Esports games are constantly changing, and how the games evolve can heavily impact how the games are played and what strategies are employed, he said, and this requires teamwork. 

Similar to traditional sports, Luo said, in League of Legends, certain roles tend to work together more than others, requiring relationships among players to have synergy. In order to successfully pull off strategies, players must consistently unite.

“Chemistry allows those players to play better off of each other and communicate better. Clear communication is key in sports and esports with teams,” Luo  said. “For a team to play at the highest level, chemistry and trust is a vital factor in playing well together.”



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