Fortnite World Cup was a recent high profile competition where players competed to be crowned world champion of the game. Although this made big headlines, it's not new. Virtual Gaming or eSports competitions have been running for many years and attracting increasing interest from players and spectators both on and offline.
As you may have read in coverage about the event, there is a degree of confusion around how a game like Fornite could offer such large prizes and whether or not it should be classed as a sport.
Whereas we are quicker to celebrate young chess champions or racing drivers, because games are often considered as just entertainment we can be slower to recognise what goes into being successful at the highest level.
However, as Steven Johnson wrote recently, comparing how we see games and books: “novels may activate the imagination, and music may conjure up powerful emotions, but games force you to decide, to choose, to prioritise. All the intellectual benefits of gaming derive from this fundamental virtue, because learning how to think is ultimately about learning to make the right decisions.”
As Johnson puts it, Fortnite players are weighing evidence, analysing situations, consulting long-term goals and then deciding. They have to keep track of the environment, the location of other players, how the game’s weapon systems work, how building mechanics can help them and do this in limited time under great pressure.
Whether it's playing Fortnite, Overwatch or Rocket League, players not only need quick reflexes and keen eyes, but they are managing a huge amount of information and systems. The game world they are playing in, the movement of other players, the building and combat systems.
The best way to get a feel for this is to sit with your child while they are playing and start to understand what is it they are trying to do in any given moment. Or you can play yourself and you get first-hand experience of what it feels like to take on this kind of challenge.
Of course, to get really good at any sport or activity requires a large number of practice hours. While it's important that gaming is part of a balanced lifestyle and regular breaks are taken, it's natural that players at the higher end of performance will put in more hours of practice.
If your child is interested in competing in gaming competitions, you can help them understand what it takes to be the best. This is as much about planning and training responsibly as it is hammering away at a game for mindless hours of play.
If you have a child who has seen the Fortnite World Cup and wants to practice to compete, I'd suggest that you get them to practice in shared family spaces. This not only means you can see how they are doing but creates a natural opportunity to celebrate successes.
You could also get their school involved in the Digital Schoolhouse eSports competition. In this year's tournament, it engaged over 5000 students who fulfilled a breadth of roles including players and production crew. You can get involved in the 2020 tournament by registering here.
Planning practice drills and offline play sessions can help them hone their skills for their next match. My son is keen to rise through the ranks of Rocket League so I've worked with him to plan specific drills to improve parts of his game that he has identified as needing improvement.
Not only has this helped him improve, but I've really enjoyed watching him develop. Previously I didn't pay a lot of attention to his matches. But now I not only understand when he is doing well but really enjoy cheering him on from the sidelines (and being told to stop distracting him).
Although not many players will make it to the top and earn money as a result, enthusiasm for competitive video games can translate into a wide number of future career opportunities.
Parents can help children focus this enthusiasm in a variety of directions. Some of these may be about competing, but equally, there are many roles in these events along with the wider media covering or commentating. Then there is the creation and development of the games themselves that require a wide range of skills.
These kinds of video game competitions are here to stay. What will change over coming years is how we see the competitors more as virtual athletes rather than just eager enthusiasts.