Esports have moved online and are filling the void left by traditional sports. (Reuters: Tom Jacobs)
Every major sporting league in Australia is on hiatus.
Normally spoiled for choice in the winter months, sports fans have been left with empty weekends indefinitely.
Except they haven’t. As traditional sports grappled with, then lost, the battle to try to operate in a world of social distancing and shutdown orders, the world of esports moved out of stadiums and back to its online roots, ready to fill the void.
We’ve enlisted Byteside editor Seamus Byrne to help guide you through the weekend.
What even are esports?
It’s pretty simple: it’s video games played competitively.
Just like traditional sports, there are many different kinds of games to play or watch. Some are virtual representations of real-world sports (like FIFA or iRacing), others are wild fantasy worlds that bear little to no resemblance to real life (like League of Legends or Starcraft II).
“Esports is not a single thing. There’s a million different things and so if you try one and it doesn’t catch your eye, it doesn’t mean that all these esports aren’t going to be for you,” Byrne said.
Many operate under structured professional leagues just like the AFL or NRL, and there are often millions of dollars of prize money on the line.
The only difference is most of them can be played online.
Esports can be tricky to get into. Don’t worry
Just like it can be tricky for a non-sports fan to understand what is happening if a bowler takes a hat-trick or sends four wides down leg side, it’s tricky for non-esports fans to understand what’s happening if Profit is popping off on Tracer in a 1v5 to secure second point on Volsakya.
Byrne says the best thing to do is just start watching.
“Don’t panic that you don’t understand what’s going on, first listen to the commentators and sort of slowly start to try to pick up the rhythm of the game,” he said.
Think of it like explaining cricket to a visitor from overseas, Byrne says. It’s going to take a little while to appreciate what’s happening, and that’s OK.
So, what should you watch?
If you just want to replace traditional sports
Motorsport fans are best positioned here.
Current F1 drivers will play the F1 2019 PC game on the same tracks as the cancelled races. The events will run on the same weekends the real-life Grand Prix were due, and they’ll be broadcast on the official Formula 1 Twitch and YouTube channels.
NASCAR is also taking a similar move, and has launched a multi-week series that will be played in iRacing. It began this week, and you can keep up to date on future events on the official NASCAR channels.
Denny Hamlin, who won the race, even got some unusual help during the race.
“The real drivers, because they train in these simulators anyway, it’s not like for them it’s some foreign experience for them,” Byrne said.
“There’s no question that when they’re behind the wheel, they’re completely going for it.”
Unfortunately for football fans, the FIFA 20 Global Series has been suspended until further notice because many events were played in-person. For updates on the series, you can check in on the official channels.
If you want something a little different, but a little familiar
Look no further than Rocket League. It’s like football, but the players are cars.
Rocket League is simple to pick-up but much more in-depth than it appears.
If you’ve ever watched a game of football, you’ll be comfortable watching a game of Rocket League. Players score goals. The most goals wins.
An added bonus is that Rocket League is rated G. No guns or violence to be found, so it’s a good one for the family to watch.
And despite coronavirus interrupting some live events, Rocket League’s North American, European, Oceanic and South American Championship Series are continuing online.
The next game kicks off at 9:00am AEDT on Sunday, and you can watch all the action on Rocket League’s Twitch channel, or here’s the full schedule.
If you’ve played some games before
There’s a good chance you’ve played Call of Duty at some point in the shooter series’ decade-long run as one of the most popular games on the planet. If you have, you’ll be pretty well prepared to dive into the Call of Duty League.
The competition is on hiatus at the moment as it switches to online competition only, but it’s due to start back up soon. Head over to their official website for more on the schedule.
When it does resume, you can catch all the action on the Call of Duty League YouTube channel.
The Overwatch League will also be easier to grasp if you’ve dabbled in games before.
Overwatch is a first-person shooter where teams of six players choose unique heroes, then compete over an objective. A blend of individual skill and near-perfect co-ordination with teammates is vital to success.
Modelled on a traditional sports league, the Overwatch League features city-based teams from around the world competing in a single competition.
The league returns this weekend with a whopping 16 matches, starting on Saturday evening at 7:00pm AEDT. You can catch every game on the Overwatch League YouTube channel.
If you want top-tier esports
This is jumping in the deep end. You might not understand what’s going on, but rest assured you’re watching the best of the best when it comes to esports.
“Come to it with that same openness that you’d try to ask of someone else when you’re trying to introduce them to your favourites,” Byrne said.
First up the world’s biggest esport — League of Legends.
It’s known as a multi-player online battle arena game, where two teams of five players go head-to-head. Each player chooses a champion with unique abilities from a huge list of 148, then they battle it out to try to destroy the opposing team’s base on the other side of the map.
The gameplay goes much, much deeper than that and takes years to master, but that’s part of the appeal that draws many players to the game.
Much like real-life football, there are localised competitions around the world. In this case, leagues run in places like Korea, China, North America, Europe and Oceania.
Second, one of the world’s oldest esports — Counter-Strike.
With a competitive history dating back nearly 20 years, few esports have endured as long as Counter-Strike. Competition is now played in the game’s sequel, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
It’s a first-person shooter where rounds are fast, the action is tense and only those with the fastest of reflexes and sharpest aim can survive.
There are several leagues around the world that you can tune into. You can see a full list of them and where to watch right here.
If you want something local
Byrne recommends tuning into the Oceanic Pro League (OPL) this Friday and Saturday night.
It’s the top league for League of Legends here in Australia.
“It’s got Aussie commentators who can hold your hand a little bit on that path into it,” Byrne said.
If none of these is your cup of tea
That’s OK. There are plenty of esports fish in the sea.
Byrne says the best place to find something to your own tastes is at the newly launched esports website Juked.
“They have this lovely portal that just shows you that sports wall of everything major that’s happening right now in esports. It is just kind of so handy as a place to just jump in and have a quick scroll through what’s happening,” he said.