Gamers may have an anti-social reputation, but the teamwork and communication skills required for E-Sports success shows it is often underserved.
It's a mantra that runs through seemingly every explanation of what E-Sports are, how to win, what to watch out for and what players enjoy about it. Success comes from team cohesion.
In a 5v5 game like League of Legends, a code within the wider E-Sports family, players must communicate rapidly and accurately to perform moves like ganking - an ambush or surprise attack that can often involve throwing multiple champions against one enemy champion.
More long term strategic communication is also crucial, as champions will not gain in strength at the same rate over the course of a game. Stronger champions at the start of the game have to carry champions that will grow far stronger over the course of a game, but start off weak.
When comparisons are made to more traditional sports among advocates for E-Sports, teamwork is often the context. Despite the debate over whether E-Sports are or are not real sports fast becoming pointless and stale, the parallels for those trying to explain E-Sports to laypeople are too tempting to ignore. Basketball is a common example, as the numbers on each team match up for both League of Legends, and related code Defense of the Ancients. (more commonly known at Dota 2)
That team cohesion can only come from hours spent playing together. Some professional teams practice for 50 hours a week, some more.
At the elite level, unstable rosters have often led to teams being less than the sum of their parts. Dota 2 developer Valve have moved to give elite teams more cohesion, by introducing new rules that rosters must be locked by certain dates to participate in lucrative qualifying tournaments, though teams that do not abide may still gain entry to The International through winning open qualifying tournaments.
Team Secret, a team that had initially shown great promise by luring top players from other teams, utterly collapsed at The International 2016, the flagship tournament for Dota 2, amid major roster changes. The overall winners, Chinese team Wings Gaming, have had a totally stable roster since August 2015. E-Sports reporter Kellen Beck described their triumph over in the final as being based on "winning team fight after team fight."
Roster stability certainly helped Team Defiance at Manurewa High School win their intra-school competition. Player Jay Inthavong explained that his League of Legends team had the same five players for the last three years. With the faintest of traces of teenage irony, he described his team as having a "special bond" together. Their opponents in the title match, Final Form, had been thrown together far more recently, and it showed as they were blown away.
As Manurewa High has recognised E-Sports as a legitimate extra-curricular activity, school resources have been opened up to allow Defiance to train together. While the teacher in charge of the programme, Steven van Garderen, stresses that part of being able to game at school is based on students signing a code of conduct that says they must prioritise schoolwork, it has also given Defiance the chance to make a mark on the upcoming New Zealand Gaming Championships.
However, the favourite for the NZGC, current champions Team Villains, have the vast majority of E-Sports rivals in New Zealand beaten on that score. Their promotional video for the NZGC brags of their 'synergy' and how it will trump the "raw talent" of other teams. As team member Rodolpho 'Dolph' Villanueva puts it, "I don't see a combination of five players in New Zealand that could take us."
Whether they can defend their title will depend on how other teams respond to the new tournament format. With six weeks of matches, rather than the one off tournament that was held in 2015. As the tournament progresses, it will be the teams that can figure out the best way to work collectively, rather than those with individual stars, that could close the gap with Villains.
League of Legends - Key Terminology
Nexus: The enemy base that needs to be destroyed to end the game. Protected by two Nexus turrets that also must be destroyed.
Minion: Computer controlled unit that marches towards the enemy base after spawning to attack it. A minion wave is when there are multiple minions in a group.
Champion: Characters selected by players to control during the game.
Abilities: How a champion will fight over the course of the game. Different champions with different abilities will play different roles within their teams.
Lane: The pathways in which battles between champions, enemy champions and minions take place.
Carry/Fall off: Terms to describe a champion that starts weak, and then becomes stronger as the game progresses, or vice versa. Related to 'scaling' - how much a champion improves over the course of the game. Some champions improve more quickly than others.
Gold: Currency to purchase in game items, that can make a character more effective.
Farm: Killing lots of enemy minions in order to build up gold and experience.
Last Hitting or CSing: Killing a minion with a final blow to receive bonus gold.
CC or Crowd Control: An ability which causes a opponent to have limited control of their champion.
Health bar/mana bar: The health bar is the green bar, and the blue bar is the mana bar. Mana is for most champions a resource for using their abilities, and can be regenerated over time.
Gank: A surprise attack, when a champion ambushes an enemy to create a mismatch that can be exploited, either through superior numbers or a stronger champion.
Scrub/Noob: A player who isn't particularly good.
Trolls/griefers: People who ruin the fun for everyone else.
UP/OP: Underpowered or overpowered - too weak or too strong to be worth playing against.
GG: Good game - an online post-match handshake.
Written by Alex Braee - @awbraae