In the past, sports were associated with physically fit athletes who had reached the top of their profession through rigorous body training and exercise. But, in recent years, the emergence of mind sports has proved that competition doesn’t always have to come down to who has more strength or physical ability. Games like chess and poker, which require a high level of intelligence and strategy, have become widely-watched spectator sports. It could be argued that the rise of mind sports such as these has paved the way for the booming eSports industry, which is growing at an astonishing rate.
What are Mind Sports?
Put simply, mind sports are any games that require players to use their brain power to compete against other opponents. Instead of needing to be physically fit, players must be mentally sharp and draw upon a highly varied skillset to reach the top of their chosen niche. Having in-depth knowledge, mathematical skill, advanced vocabulary, high-level logic and reasoning ability are all tools that competitors must use in order to win.
Mind sports have been recognized as a serious form of competition since the inaugural Mind Sports Olympiad in 1997. The first ever MSO event was held in London and had a £100,000 prize fund. Now, it happens annually and, in addition to having the chance to win money, players are also awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals for each event. The MSO has been described as the biggest gamesfest ever, and always features a high number of strategy games and events. Some of the games which have frequently appeared at this version of the Olympics for the mind include chess, bridge, draughts, shogi, backgammon, poker, and cribbage. The event also features its own mind versions of the pentathlon and decathlon in athletics. These are called the Pentamind and Decamentathlon.
Mind sports are serious business, and there is the Mind Sports Organisation behind it all. This institution organizes the annual Olympiad and also has the vision of promoting mental skill-based games to larger audiences. The organization was initially formed in 1997 by International Master of Chess David Levy, alongside author Tony Buzan, and chess grandmaster Raymond Keene. The development of this organization led to the emergence of the International Mind Sports Association, which was founded in 2005. This newer association has been behind the organization of the World Mind Sports Games, which began in China in 2008. The huge event has led to mind sports being globally recognized as a genuine form of competition.
Why do Games like Poker Qualify as Mind Sports?
One of the most popular mind sports is poker, and it is watched and played by thousands of people all over the world. During the poker boom, events like the World Series of Poker were televised and made available to a higher number of viewers. There was also the emergence of numerous high stakes poker television shows at the time such as High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark. All of these things allowed everyday viewers to see professional players in action, and pick up the various skills and techniques that these people incorporated into their games.
Poker is far from being a game of luck. If it was based on chance, the people reaching the latter stages of major tournaments would be completely different every year. The fact that some of the same players constantly keep making it to final tables proves that Texas Hold’em is a game of skill with some unavoidable elements of luck. Phil Helmuth, for instance, has a whopping 15 World Series of Poker bracelets, while Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, and Johnny Chan each have ten. Antonio Esfandiari tops the all-time money list with $21 million earnt at the Las Vegas event over the course of his career. Daniel Negreanu is not far behind with $16 million.
These poker players have mastered their trade by working on and perfecting strategies which constantly help them to best their opponents. These include bluffing, deception, calculating odds, and selecting the perfect bet size for any given situation. For new players, looking at a poker strategy guide would only scratch the surface of what they need to learn to cut it with the pros. Beyond knowing which cards they should start with and what positions to play in, players need to sharpen their minds as they would a sword. Decision-making skills need to be worked on, just as how to get the best out of one’s energy levels. Top poker players can’t afford to get distracted or become sluggish and need to train their brains to avoid getting angry when situations of chance don’t go in their favor. Because the mind needs to be trained in such a way to play poker well, there is no doubting that it classifies as a mind sport. In terms of the skillset needed to be the best, it is up there with chess.
How did Mind Sports Pave the Way for eSports?
Major mind sports events have attracted viewers for over twenty years now. Events like the Mind Sports Olympiad have led to others such as the World Mind Sports Games, while the World Series of Poker has sparked tournaments like the European Poker Tour. These events differ hugely from traditional spectator sports, but the fact that they manage to garner high viewing figures shows that there is a huge market for unique forms of competition. This almost certainly laid the foundations for eSports.
The eSports industry is beginning to thrive after only really coming into existence a few years ago. In 2012 the global revenue generated from eSports was a mere $130 million but, by 2012 this is projected to rise to $1.6 billion. After mind sports events had paved the way for shining the spotlight on players’ intelligence and mental attributes rather than their physical skills, eSports has taken it one step further by turning alternative sports into a lucrative industry. The eSports championships that take place all over the world now completely outdo mind sports and the prize pools that players can win are getting enormous. An example of this is in the recent Fortnite competitive season where there was a whopping $100 million prize pool up for grabs. Prior to this, the largest prize pool in the history of eSports was the $24.6 million available at the 2017 DOTA 2 International.
Thanks to the rise of eSports, getting into games like Counterstrike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, Hearthstone, and League of Legends is actually considered to be a viable career path for the younger generation when they finish school. It has given people who may not be as lucky with their physical attributes a chance to use their brain skills to achieve salaries which can compare to those of leading sports stars.
All this stemmed from the mass amounts of people who began viewing mind sports like chess and poker. There is no doubt that eSports have a lot to thank the original mind sports for, as they laid the foundations for the video game competitions to thrive.
Anthony is the Owner and Editor in Chief for Culture of Gaming and he spends his days studying, gaming and working on the site.
Anthony has worked for the past 7 years in the Video Game journalism industry and has worked for over 30 different sites in that time.