It is impossible to deny that communication and collaboration have become major aspects of our everyday internet experience. The online video game industry has thoroughly embraced the concepts of cooperative gaming in order to provide players with a sense of community. Video games have long been seen as a solo endeavor – as a way to escape reality and leave social interaction at the door. However, this paper aims to dispel the notion that video games are separate to real-world interactions and that the online gaming industry has created a platform that allows for alternative ways to communicate, collaborate and interact with like-minded individuals. Therefore, this paper will argue that the popularity of competitive online multiplayer games has promoted informal social interaction through the use of established communities, and communication at all levels of competition within the genre of first-person shooters. I’ll begin by describing the experience of Online Gaming through the lens of the First-Person Shooter genre, before examining the role communication and cooperation plays in building communities and forming friendships within the online gaming realm. Furthermore, an analysis of the various online platforms surrounding one of the most popular first-person shooter titles; Counter Strike: Global Offensive, will be presented in order to establish the sense of community created by these platforms. Additionally, I will investigate the impact the Electronic Sports (or Esports) industry has had on the communities of Counter-Strike by promoting a higher level of engagement, communication and collaboration for players across the globe. Finally, I will provide an overview of the points discussed, as well as conclude with the overall thoughts of this argument.
Digital Gameplay: Understanding the Realm of First-Person Shooters
Video games have existed for decades Before analyzing the way, competitive online multiplayer games have promoted a sense of community, it is important to understand the success these video games have had these past decades. Of course, it is important to remember that the term “online games” doesn’t solely refer to the First-Person Shooter (FPS) genre, it describes everything from Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) to Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games and even Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games. However, for the sake of brevity, this paper will focus primarily on the “first-person shooter” genre of games as the gaming community as a whole encompasses various niche topics and genres and it would be near impossible to describe the communities that have been developed in each sphere. First-Person shooters – or just “shooters” as they are colloquially known – are fast-paced action games that are usually played in teams, ranging anywhere from four to sixteen players, depending on the title. For many players, FPS titles offer an escape from reality. Games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Player Unknowns: Battlegrounds and Overwatch transport the player in to a fictional world of explosions and gunfire. These types of games have often been falsely criticized for embracing violence which leads to a desensitization amongst players (Hake, 2017). Despite the virtual violence and bloody pixels, gamers are also exposed to intense strategic decisions and decisive teamplay that helps players establish communities and relationships within the virtual world (Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006). Due to the strategic nature of these games, they often require large amounts of cooperation with the players around them. Candy (2012) explains how the intense, team orientated gameplay of CSGO allowed him to form strong bonds with his fellow teammates, not only in the virtual world but also in real-life.
Communication In-Game: The Road to Success
Every FPS title requires the players be able to communicate effectively in order for the team to be successful. Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) is an example of a game where communication and teamplay is essential to the outcome of the match (Rizani & Iida, 2018). CSGO is a fast-paced, round-based action shooter game developed by Valve and released in 2012. CSGO gives players multiple tools to communicate in game with their teammates. The most basic of these communication tools comes via pre-recorded voice lines that the player can trigger to “call out” useful information at a basic level. Alternatively, gamers can engage in a simple text chat interface that allows players to chat freely with not only their own team, but the opposing players as well. However, as any avid FPS gamer knows, text chat is too slow and inefficient to be the primary source of communication in a game where split-second decisions need to be made.
While the text-based option can be useful to members of the casual community, in a game where mere milliseconds can make the difference between winning and losing, it is essential for players that are engaging in competitive matches to be able to communicate swiftly with their teammates (Candy, 2012). This is where voice-chat comes in. Without the “Voice over Internet Protocol” (VOIP) feature found in competitive FPS titles, high level teamplay and strategizing would be impossible. Players at the highest level of competition desire to play with incredible speed and having an easily accessible way of communicating with their fellow players is integral to their performance, not only as an individual, but also as a team (Candy, 2012).
Additionally, to the standard in-game communication tools such as text chat and the VOIP tool, gamers can rely on external communication tools such as TeamSpeak and Discord. Discord specifically, is a computer application (with a mobile app available) that allows people from across the world to create communities and communicate with each other in their own private server. With access to private messaging, group messages, high-quality audio chats as well as the ability to post attachments to the collaborative server, Discord is the perfect way for gamers to create their own community hub and interact with each other on a daily basis (Anderson, 2019). Discord also allows people to express themselves with unique avatars and usernames in order to present themselves in any way they could imagine (Anderson, 2019). All of these features help to build strong friendship bonds and a sense of community for video game enthusiasts via an efficient and accessible communication platform outside of the game itself. Next it is critical to define the various networks found in the game of Counter Strike: Global Offensive in order to examine how each community collaborates in order to help gamers compete at the top level while also fostering a sense of community and social interaction.
The Communities of Counter Strike: From Casual to Competitive
Online games and communities have always been closely linked. Counter Strike: Global Offensive has facilitated many communities among the game and whether the players are seeking a competitive or a casual experience, there is a sense of community to be found. The casual CSGO audience makes up the majority of gameplayers. These gamers take part in a simplified version of the standard mode of play that gives them the ability to have fun, relax and make friendships, without the added stress of a competitive environment. For gamers that feel their skills are adequate enough to play in ranked matches, players can participate in thirty round competitive matches. Players are ranked in a matchmaking system based on their skill level, with all players putting hours in to the game to become the Global Elite, the highest achievable rank in Counter Strike. These competitive matches foster an environment that is entirely different from that of casual gameplay (Candy, 2012). The rounds are more tactical and strategy driven compared the free-for-all style of the casual game modes. This “competitive” mode in Counter Strike hosts the majority of the overall CSGO community and is the most expansive.
Additionally, for players either seeking to go pro or just compete at a higher level, independent tournament organizers have developed their own matchmaking systems and leagues for the best of the best. Faceit and ESEA are two such independent leagues that players can join and participate in high-level matchmaking games. Each platform features their own ranking system with the highest rank being comparable to the level of a “pro” CSGO gamer. By nature, these platforms foster a sense of community for the participators. They allow players to connect with others with similar ambitions to share strategies and comment on the current state of the game. Due to the exclusivity of the services, gamers often team with, and compete against players that they have met in a previous game. Players that manage to reach the top ranks of their respective matchmaking platform – either Faceit or ESEA – can network with the top Counter Strike players in the world. These services offer the ability to connect with pro players, network with tournament organizers and create communities with the many organizations that are present within the pro scene of Counter Strike. The strive for a competitive gaming environment has the most dedicated of players to search for top level competition, resulting in the CSGO Esports scene as it currently stands.
The Meteoric Rise: Esports and the Culture Surrounding It
The Electronic sports industry has seen a meteoric rise in popularity which has resulted in the games top performers being hailed as celebrities. These phenoms have been given the opportunity to cultivate their own community allowing professional gamers to reach new heights when it comes to social status. Players such as Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and Tyler “Ninja” Blevins are often praised for being the top performers in their respective video game titles – Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and Fortnite respectively – and have each gained a respectable cult-following of their own, with Ninja even blowing in to the realms of celebrity stardom after a live-streamed gaming session with Drake and Travis Scott (Nattrass, 2018). The games top performers are able to cultivate a community of their own. By producing content on media platforms such as YouTube or Twitch, players can share their gameplay with the world and their audience. The games top performers can create an environment of their choosing and communities surrounding them follow them avidly.
The community surrounding the Esports scene is niche and tight-knit however this lends itself to producing stronger bonds between players and event casters. Counter Strike: Global Offensive’s Esports scene has produced many individual talents and phenoms. Players competing at the professional level are seen as role models to a majority of the casual and competitive community with various players even being immortalized in to the game itself. These professional players receive sponsors and are primarily contracted to a specific organization or team in order to compete and win both online and offline (LAN) tournaments (Candy, 2012). Various Counter Strike leagues include the Electronic Sports League (ESL) and the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM). These tournaments are well organized and presented online to thousands of viewers with total prize pools anywhere up to a couple million dollars (Menasce, 2017). These teams spend the majority of their online time with each other – many such teams have sponsored gaming houses where the team members can eat, sleep and train with each other. While the Esports community is arguably the smallest of all CSGO communities, it is clearly the one that creates and maintains the strongest bonds between players.
The online multiplayer gaming industry has seen a paradigm shift when it comes to the size and status of the industry. This shift in the dynamic has facilitated the growth of online networks and communities amongst gamers, allowing them to develop enduring friendships that surpass the bounds of the virtual realm. This paper provided an analysis of the First-Person Shooter genre before describing the communication tools that video game developers provide the average player. This was followed by an examination of how communication within the game shifts between the casual and competitive communities. Counter Strike: Global Offensive was looked at as a case study to loosely define the varying communities that can occur among a competitive FPS title. Platforms such as Faceit and ESEA provide gamers with an all new community experience that differs from the standards provided by the developers. Additionally, this paper explained how the Electronic Sports industry and the peak performers of a game title can influence the growth of preestablished competitive communities, as well as create brand new communities through the globalization of the realm of Esports. It is impossible to deny that online multiplayer gaming has introduced a new avenue for creating lasting friendships and long-standing communities that encourage informal social interaction and communication between gamers.
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