Gamers love to argue, whether it's over which is best, the Xbox One or the PS4 (or the PC), Call of Duty or Battlefield, Leauge of Legends or DotA 2, one thing we can all agree on, is that esports are becoming quite a phenomenon. You may not play any of the big MOBAs that are dominating the scene at the moment, but they're drawing in not just millions of active players, but millions of viewers and millions of dollars too.
Riot Games' latest All-Star game in Shanghai, had over 18 million viewers on the live stream, which is more than a lot of professional sports have for an average game. Now sure, you could argue that these semi-regular events are more than your average game and that's true, they're more like some of the European football titles that are competed in by the better teams in the EU. But the fact remains, esports is involed with big people and big money.
However, as per any longstanding scene, the face of pro gaming has changed over the years. Right now it might be MOBAs, before that RTS was the genre of choice, and before that, it was FPS wars in Quake III and Counter Strike.
But before all of this. Before even the semblance of esports existed. Before there was even the possibility of playing against someone else remotely from your home, there were the arcades. These feeding grounds spawned the first esports contenders, who didn't have millions of other players to compete with. Some might have had an odd friend of their ability level, but most simply had the game itself as their main rival.
Which makes them a very different breed of game and gamer to those of today. Which begs the question, how relevant can these classics be, in the face of such new blood?
A few of you are no doubt thinking the answer to that, is “not at all.” And that's understandable. You look at the pace of modern games, the popularity, the ever evolving gameplay – there's no way Donkey Kong can compete with that.
However, anyone that's seen King of Kong, Chasing Ghosts, Doctor Kong or any of the other arcade themed documentaries, will tell you, there's still something exciting about people pushing these games to the limit. There are those that grew up with the technology and find it nostalgic as well as impressive, that people can take these simplistic games to new levels of speed and intricacy and then there's people of today, that can just appreciate the drama behind wanting to be the best at something – even Centipede.
That said, it's not like it's an easy thing to follow – clearly. Twin Galaxies, the long standing authority on video game records and arcade competition, has a twitter account: with 1,829 followers. Twitch TV on the other hand, has 183,000. Now it's not all about social networking prescence, but this should give you an idea of the difference in interest between modern, competitive esports and the esports of old.
This type of disparity was poked fun at in the film Noobz, which has the Billy Mitchell parody still holding on to his golden Frogger record. When he shows up to compete however, only a handful of people know who he is and his score receives very little attention compared to the rest of the tournament and the more modern games.
Though this is a movie and it's overly simpliscit in its portrayal, it does have a point. These sorts of games don't fit the same sort of mold as modern games and they don't provide the same kind of spectacle. While they're easy to get into and understand, as everyone can watch a live score get closer to a goal and will it on, there's just less to get excited about in them. There's less randomness and there's only the one player in most instances. They're playing against the machine and that's fine and exciting in its own way, but it just can't really compare with the good guy vs bad guy element of modern games that pit players against players.
That's why King of Kong was so entertaining. It had the two individuals going at one another. You don't have that while watching an individual game from the 80s.
The big kicker though, is that modern eSports titles, like League of Legends and perhaps to a greater extent, DotA 2, have been built from the ground up for this. They're designed to be as entertaining to watch as they are to play, which is a far cry from the arcade classics of old and indeed most games altogether.
While I think there will always be a place in our hearts – and in eSports – for classic games like Donkey kong and Qbert, which have inspired such headdy competition amongst fans, it'll always be a niche thing. Modern esports is a juggernaut that one day soon is going to rival and perhaps surpass many traditional sports offerings.
While arcade titles might come along for the ride, it seems likely that they'll always be the side attraction and never the main event.