eSports' position among traditional sports is the subject of much debateMarco Verch

Athlete Profile

  • Name: James Hinshelwood
  • College: Selwyn
  • Degree: Computer Science
  • Hometown: Bristol

With eSports rapidly growing in popularity in the UK and ahead of their upcoming Varsity fixture, James Hinshelwood, the President of the Cambridge University Digital Gaming Society sat down with Varsity to discuss Counter Strike, the lack of women, and whether or not he thinks eSports are actually sports.

How does eSports work?

eSports as a whole is just the term used for competitive video games. There are many games played internationally, but the most popular are League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Dota 2. There are professional eSports players who compete at multi-million dollar prize-pool tournaments. There are also many amateur players, which our society mainly caters to. We have teams who play in national tournaments, against other universities. I’m a member of the Counter Strike team.

How did you get into it?

My friends convinced me to play with them, and I found I really enjoyed it. Once I found a game I enjoyed and was good at, I started putting time into practicing and improving. I think I am also quite a competitive person and eSports satisfy that competitiveness quite well.

Some might argue eSports aren’t ‘real’ sports. What do you think?

This issue often gets brought up and you can argue either way. On the one hand, it may be true that eSports don’t require some of the same level of physical exertion as ‘real’ sports, however there are many aspects that are common to both – technique, micro and macro level decision-making, teamwork, practice, and dedication. In terms of viewership and prize money, many eSports are in the same league as sports. But in my opinion, it doesn’t matter if eSports are sports or not. They are what they are and we play because we enjoy them, we don’t need to justify ourselves by arguing that we play ‘real sports’.

What’s the hardest thing about eSports?

The hardest thing is committing to the practice hours. It is especially harder in eSports, compared to normal sports, because you don’t get the chance to play next to your teammates. Mostly you play in your own rooms, communicating with each other online. This means it can be hard to find motivation sometimes.

Do you have a training schedule you have to abide by?

The different teams have varying levels of commitment. My team aims to practise for about 3 hours, twice a week, but I know that our Overwatch team practices 5 or 6 nights a week. The schedules are left down to the individual team members to agree on, depending on how busy people are.

How do you reconcile it with your Cambridge workload?

I still dedicate most of my time to working - I just treat it like I would any other society/hobby. There is definitely time for both. This shouldn’t put people off joining the society, since we have many levels of commitment from our members - some who only play games a couple of times a month, others who practice multiple nights per week.

What do you need to be a success at it?

It’s what you would expect. Some of it is just natural talent, especially at the highest levels, but equally you need to put in the practice hours. To be good you need to have good reaction times and hand-eye coordination. All of this only improves by practicing.

Who’s the most famous eSports player?

This is equivalent to asking, “Who’s the most famous sports player?” There are many different games that come under the umbrella of eSports, each with many famous and talented personalities. League of Legends has Faker, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has pashaBiceps, but they’re just a few examples.

eSports has a reputation for being male dominated. Is this fair?

This is definitely not unfair – it’s simply true. At the highest levels, it is almost all male. That’s to be expected though when you consider the ratio of female to male players, there are simply a lot more male gamers. There are more women emerging as time passes, but it is likely to remain male dominated unless we can get the ratio of male to female gamers closer to 50:50. Our society welcomes anyone who wants to join.

What’s the state of eSports in Cambridge?

We have competitive teams for all of the largest games, who compete in national leagues against other universities. The CSGO team that I play on came 10th in the country last season. There are also plenty of opportunities for people looking to play in a less competitive setting – the society hosts LAN parties where you can just turn up and play games with other people. We have the annual Varsity match against Oxford coming up on the 30th April at the Cambridge Union, where the teams and spectators from Oxford will be coming here to compete against us. The event will also be streamed online at twitch.tv/cudgs.

How do you get involved?

For more information about the society you can visit our Facebook page. You can message me or any of the other committee members if you have any questions, and we’ll be happy to help. You can also come along to Varsity and talk to us, or we’ll be at the Fresher’s Fair next year.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

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