Gamer Beware: The Failure Known as "Skill-Based Gaming
By Jerry "LordJerith" Prochazka
Overview of skill-based gaming: What is skill-based gaming? Skill-based gaming is a legal term used to define a type of gaming which you or I would probably call gambling, but because it is based on "skill" and not "luck," it does not meet the legal definition of gambling. Basically, in skill-based gaming, you or I would deposit money into an account, place a wager, and play the game, and the winner takes all. Funny, to me, that sounds like gambling.
The Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (H.R.4411) basically legalized skill-based gaming, and some would argue, defined "gambling" too narrowly. I won't bore you with the details as to how and why it was passed, but feel free to look it up if you want more information on this law.
"This is not illegal?"
Various businesses have cropped up surrounding skill-based gaming. Many of these have already failed. One notable example is bringit.com, which has now rebranded itself as some sort of social gaming site. Some of the remaining players in this field are VirginGaming, Galaxy4Gamers, GamerSaloon, and BeyondGaming. Virgin Gaming, probably the most publicized of the group, recently made the 10 Games Businesses That Are Doomed, coming in at number 4, in a recent Kotaku article.
In the article, author Nicholas Lovell quotes Tom Jubert of the GameShadow blog, stating: "Gambling works because it's based on luck. No matter how aware of the growing hole in our pockets, we keep playing because we're addicted. We're addicted to the chance we might win big with the next set of cards."
Lovell goes on to add, "In an FPS [or sports game], as some investors may not realize, success is heavily based on skill [or the quality of your internet connection]. That means if you're a loser, you're a loser - there's no chance of ever making it big. As a result, the weaker players don't bother, while the stronger have no one to compete against."
"I can smell the noob in the water."
With all this being said, however, I want you to know that I'm not here to discuss the obvious
reasons that this business model may fail. I'm indifferent about their existences as a business, and I do agree with the Kotaku article and others that these models will probably fail. I actually want to discuss why skill-based gaming is bad for competitive gaming (or if you prefer the term, eSports). I think it was best said by Sundance DiGiovanni, CEO of Major League Gaming, "I'm not a fan. These sites lead to predatory behavior by players, and they are not in the spirit of competitive gaming or sport."
From my own personal experience, I have found that these sites do a poor job of verifying that players are 18 or older, do not adequately warn players of how important internet connectivity plays into match outcomes, and generally look to capitalize on bullshit, testosterone-charged bravado. The real danger of these sites is that it would be very easy for someone to confuse one of these skill-based gaming sites (which again I remind you are nothing but gambling sites that are exploiting a loophole in the law) for the legitimate activities of competitive gaming (eSports) that go on at the World Cyber Games, Major League Gaming, Devastation and other legitimate gaming competitions.
It's important for anyone interested in competitive gaming and eSports to educate gamers and those who are interested in competition. Skill-based gaming has nothing to do with competitive gaming and eSports. Competitive gaming is about a level playing field. It is an organized, competitive, entertaining, and skillful activity requiring commitment, strategy, and fair play, in which a winner can be defined by objective means. By today's technology, this can only occur at a LAN setting. Online gaming, specifically skill-based gaming, has too much potential for cheating and other unsportsmanlike conduct.
Which brings me to another point: sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is an attitude that strives for fair play, courtesy toward teammates and opponents, ethical behavior and integrity, and grace in victory or defeat. Sportsmanship expresses an aspiration that the activity will be enjoyed for its own sake. You probably know the well-known sentiment by sports journalist Grantland Rice, that it's "not that you won or lost but how you played the game." This is quite different than skill-based gaming (again, you can dress it up how you want, but at the end of the day, it really is gambling).
"Hey Mom, I'm making the big bucks."
My nightmare scenario: the day a 16-year-old comes home to a weeping mother who has
discovered that her child has lost $200 because he had access to her bank card. In this scenario, it will be very easy for skill-based gaming to be confused with competitive gaming. This is one nightmare I'd like to avoid, I encourage gamers (especially those that are fans of competitive gaming) to not lay down and just sleep on this issue. If you are passionate about competitive gaming at all, I advise you to avoid these sites and leave them to adults who are probably terrible at most video games anyway, and let them quietly have their bets.
Now, if we could just get them to bet on actual matches. . . wait. . . never mind.