Video games as a global spectator sport

There is a new breed of professional armchair athlete. Make some room for the e-sport heroes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 11:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 11:21pm

An Olympic event it isn't (yet) but professional video game playing, or e-sport, is fast becoming a global spectator sport. According to a recent report from research company IHS, the number of e-sport viewing hours nearly doubled, from 1.3 billion in 2012 to 2.4 billion last year. With the city's second Esports Tournament just around the corner (at Kitec on August 30 and 31) and a prize pool of HK$1.5 million up for grabs, we've put together a beginner's guide on how to enjoy the four games on show - StarCraft II, League of Legends, Ultra Street Fighter IV and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Let the games begin.


StarCraft II

Objective Gather enough resources to build a base and train an army to destroy enemy's units and buildings.

Gameplay You play as one of three races: Terran (humans), Protoss (aliens with advanced technology and abilities) or Zerg (swarms of insect-like aliens.)

The expert Kim Dong-hwan, aka viOLet, a professional South Korean StarCraft II player and the first to get a US visa normally reserved for athletes. He plays as Zerg.

His tips Apart from playing and watching other video games - a lot - it helps to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the races.

Zerg spawn enormous armies quickly and can overwhelm their opponents by sheer numbers. But you have to scout the map early in the game and they are not physically as strong as other races.

Protoss have advanced technology and are individually powerful. A good Protoss player needs to time their game carefully in order to not be overwhelmed by Zerg swarms.

"It's like boxing," Kim says. "You defend, defend, defend, then you counterhook or something like that … just beat your opponent with one punch."

Protoss units also cost more resources to train.

Kim says Terran is probably the hardest race to master because it depends heavily on good control of individual units.

He says the staples of a Terran army are ranged units so the trick is to deploy them smartly so they are not overwhelmed by superior numbers.

A good Terran player needs to display solid micromanagement skills.

"A lot of time, they're doing well and they're leading tournaments because there's a lot of stuff going on … people love to watch the micro stuff."


League of Legends

Objective Destroy your enemy's Nexus, a tower at the heart of your opponent's base.

Gameplay You're in a team with four other players, each controls one "champion". There are three routes that connect your camp to your enemy's base. You can upgrade your champion with items by killing enemy minions or champions. You can also destroy buildings known as "inhibitors" to recruit more powerful minions to your side. Inhibitors only stay destroyed for five minutes, though.

The expert Kurtis Lau Wai-kin, aka Toyz, a professional League of Legends player, whose team won the 2012 World Championship and took home a prize of US$1 million.

His tips Winning this game is all about teamwork so talk to your teammates and learn from them. Lau says the community is fairly easy-going because it's a simpler game to get into than StarCraft or Warcraft. Here, you only need to control one character, there is no need to worry about building a base.

"Everyone starts off the same way, so it's all down to skill," Lau says. "Just enjoy the game and don't think too much."

By watching other players you learn the strengths and weaknesses of the various champions, and how they can work together to win. That's important because although the game is created equal, champions have different abilities: some are tanks, or tougher units, while others are good at supporting.


Ultra Street Fighter IV

Objective Reduce your enemy's health bar to zero. You have 99 seconds for each round, and there are three rounds to each game.

Gameplay A classic, one-on-one fighting game. There are six buttons, each corresponds to an action: light, medium and heavy punches; and light, medium and heavy kicks. The joystick controls the direction of an action. Learning combos, or a series of special attacks, is a must.

The expert Jonny Cheng, a competitive Street Fighter player who finished fifth at the 2012 Evolution Championship Series, the World Cup of fighting games.

His tips Some Street Fighter characters excel at close combat, others use ranged projectile attacks, some specialise in throwing their opponents. Cheng says Ryu - one of the series' best known characters - is balanced and versatile, making him an ideal choice for exploring the game. Cheng puts Ryu along with other "charged attack" characters as his attacks involve pulling the joystick down.

In this game, practice makes perfect. If you pull off a good special attack (moving the joystick in the right direction and pressing the right buttons in the right order) you can take as much as a third off your opponent's health bar. Cheng says: "If you're playing against a pro, there might only be two to three chances per round."


Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Objective Defeat the enemy hero with attacks by minions.

Gameplay This is a card game. A deck consists of 30 cards and you play one card per turn. You can choose from a pool of nine hero characters and the cards grant the player special abilities and powers; some of which require "mana crystals". You can have as many as 10 of these. Cards can also be used to summon weapons or minions to attack.

The expert Derek Cheung, the chief executive of Hong Kong Esports and the first player to collect all gold cards by reaching the highest level of each class in the game.

His tips Customise your deck once you've spent some time with the game, but Cheung recommends trying decks that Blizzard builds for beginners. "Blizzard has done a good job of building starter decks," Cheung says.

Each character is different: for example, the mage has powerful spells, the priest can take a lot of damage, and the rogue has aggressive attacks.

Cheung says winning this game depends not so much on drawing strong cards as on having a good strategy. He says beginners often blame their cards for their loss: "Then you'll never improve, because an e-sports game is always balanced. There's always a way to beat your opponent's strategy."