The top e-Sports titles in the world are DotA 2, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. All of these, as you probably know, are PC games. These are followed, at somewhat of a distance, by Hearthstone and Overwatch. Both of these are multi-platform, yet when played competitively it is usually on a PC.
So what’s with the platform discrimination? Why has console gaming struggled to get a decent toehold in the competitive scene? I have a few ideas.
Everyone is poor
As much as PC gaming tends to get a lot of flak for being expensive to consistently upgrade and keep up to scratch, the top e-Sports in the world all have something in common: they’ll run on a potato.
DotA 2, League of Legends and Counter-Strike will all happily run on integrated graphics cards, as will Hearthstone. The only real exception to this is Overwatch, but even that doesn’t exactly need a water-cooled, fire-breathing beast to crank out a playable framerate.
On top of that, three of those five games are free, with CS:GO costing a rather pathetic $15 dollars, and frequently going on sale for half that. That just leaves Overwatch as the only premium priced game.
The picture gets clearer when you see the map of active Steam users by country, and see Russia and South America shining bright. These are areas with massive populations and widespread poverty. When you don’t have a lot of money to suffer through the latest headache-inducing 3D Marvel romp or buy overpriced alcohol in 25ml doses in the hopes somebody attractive will talk to you, you may find yourself turning to the old Celeron your mother does her internet banking on that plays DotA 2 just fine.
That’s the other big differences between PCs and consoles – one is almost exclusively for gaming, while the other is found in a lot of households for more general purposes. So your parents may not be willing to shell out for a PS4 Pro, but they’ll get what they need to to embarrass you on Facebook.
Baby it’s cold outside, but I’ve got fibre
An interesting trend in some of the more prominent e-Sports countries is how damn cold they are. Some of the best e-Sports players in the world come out of Europe and Asia, specifically the Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway, as well as Asian countries like China and South Korea.
What these countries have in common is that they’re cold as all hell in winter, so cold that doing pretty much anything outside is out of the question. In addition to this, countries like South Korea and Sweden boast some of the fastest and most consistent internet connections in the world.
I lived in a rural farm town in Korea and was getting 100mb/sec in my apartment – and that was five years ago. When you’re confined to your house all day every day with a baller internet connection, you tend to spend your time playing games. And if you want to interact with your friends at all, they’re gonna have to be online games.
The funny thing about this trend is that these aren’t the countries with the most e-Sports interest necessarily, but they usually are the best at it.
Japan and Korea hate each other
Like, a lot. While they’ve made peace enough to trade with each other at this point, there is still a deep hatred of the Japanese in Korea society that persists today.
And, as it just so happens, all of the most important consoles in history have come out of Japan. So the Koreans have essentially said “f**k that noise” to Sony, Nintendo and Sega since forever, which means console gaming never really made much of an impact there. While Korea is a wealthy country, they choose to spend their money at PC gaming cafes rather than support those filthy Japanese (their words, not mine).
There were all-out trade restrictions in place which didn’t even give Koreans access to consoles for a long time, but even now with those lifted the damage is done – they’re PC gamers till the bitter end.
Gaming is also by far the most popular past-time of the youth of Korea, and their absurd work ethic, laser focus and obsession with gaming has made them the e-Sports powerhouse of the world.
The skill ceiling is higher
This isn’t a master-race thing, I own a console, but the greater range of movement and more precise and minute control of a mouse and keyboard will mean there is always more room for improvement and honing of skill on a PC game.
The likes of DotA, Starcraft and CS:GO could never be successfully ported to a console because that speed and precision of movement and number of actions isn’t possible without a mouse and keyboard setup.
PC is the home of the mod
Mods are pretty important to e-Sports. Let’s take a look at the big three. DotA 2 started life as a Warcraft 3 mod (technically, for the historians out there, it began life as a Starcraft mod with a different name).
League of Legends’ main designer was a guy who used to work on the original DotA, but left to work on League, an unashamed rip-off of DotA which still managed to differentiate itself enough to carve out its own niche.
Finally we have Counter-Strike, which began life as a mod for Half-Life created by some Canadians in their garage. This was eventually bought by Valve and turned into its own standalone game.
Ostensibly, the top 3 e-Sports in the world are mods. But this point doesn’t really stop there. Throughout the last couple of decades, PC games have been malleable and moddable in a way console games haven’t, and since the original Doom modders have been tweaking games to be as competitive as possible.
For many FPSes like Call of Duty 4 and Quake 3, the modded versions were the only ones that were used in serious tournaments. These would generally strip out any imbalanced or abusable features (like perks and killstreak rewards in Call of Duty 4) and raise the skill ceiling.
Is any of this likely to change? Probably not. The fact remains that the dominant e-Sports are cheap to get into, have a massively high skill ceiling and are designed with maximum competitiveness in mind, with most forgoing any kind of single-player experience at all.
Consoles will continue to dominate the cough-gaming, campaign-driven, single-player experience, but the ultra-competitive scene belongs to the PC.