Can the football that is played on a pitch really have anything in common with gaming on a console or PC – and can these two disciplines even learn something from each other? Answering this question is not as simple as it initially seems. FIFA.com asked Dr. Ingo Frobose – a professor at the German Sport University in Cologne long regarded as an expert in sports science research into eSports – to clear up the issue.
“After increasingly getting the impression at the German Sport University that many of our top athletes are also talented gamers, I sat down with some of them to discuss their problems, all the while considering what we could learn from this,” Frobose replied when asked how his research into eSports came about. “These conversations revealed that e-gaming requires a completely different approach.”
Nevertheless, can eSports really be considered a ‘proper’ sport? The fact that there is no generally accepted definition of sport as a whole makes this issue all the more difficult to resolve.
“[I’m campaigning] to get it recognised as a sport,” the 59-year-old sports scientist explained. “We’ve been looking at the skill profile of e-gamers for a long time now, and they have a stress profile comparable to that of DTM drivers, particularly when it comes to cardiovascular responses. We also see concentrative potential, alertness, reactions, focus and tactics comparable to other types of team sport, as well as motor, technical-tactical and emotional skills. For me, this package of attributes constitutes a sport.”
Frobose believes that a good footballer can also be a good gamer. “I think you simply need to have certain skills – all the technique and tactics used by the people predestined to play the sport in real life. I think athletes can benefit from this. If they have those particular basic skills, good footballers can also be good [EA SPORTS™] FIFA players. It’s no coincidence that most of them play the game.”
The professor is quick to point out, however, that gaming cannot serve as a substitute for getting out on the pitch for real. “If parents are sceptical about their children gaming, they’ve got a point,” he added. “It’s not good for kids to just sit in front of a console, as actual exercise must never be overlooked. Only a symbiotic relationship between these two pursuits can produce results. In my opinion, the ideal scenario would be if the real and virtual disciplines were linked together and even used to design practical training content. Certain moves and tactical issues could be taught extremely effectively using virtual training.”
With all this in mind, it seems the general public should bid farewell to the prevailing image of professional e-gamers as couch potatoes scarcely willing to put one foot in front of the other in real life. “I think that physical and mental fitness should go hand-in-hand with match fitness,” Frobose said.
“Only when mind and body are in perfect harmony can great things happen. Although it might work in the short term, only the physically fit will experience success at tournaments in the long term,” added the professor, who expects e-gamers to get their own training sessions and coaches in the near future. “We’ve seen it with the Koreans - not with FIFA, but with other games. They practise the idea of having a complete system like you see in other sports, including a coach, mental training, physiotherapy and so on.”
What exactly might this look like for virtual footballers? “When it comes to FIFA, the coaching team for e-athletes is unlikely to differ much from what you’d expect to see in real-life football,” Frobose explained. “[In order to develop a training programme, we need to] know the strain the e-athlete faces in order to define the kind of break they ultimately need, and we’ve got some catching up to do in this respect. We’re currently working to understand the stresses and demands on players so that we can use this information to create the ideal recovery plan. We already work with professional teams, and we also want to develop training programmes for e-athletes in the future.”
The university professor is calling for the professionalisation of the beautiful game’s virtual counterpart. “We need regular structures similar to those found in normal sport,” he said. “The accusation often levelled at eSports is that it comes from youth culture so doesn’t submit to structure – but that is exactly what is needed to gain widespread acceptance. I’m certain that we’ll be watching the first TV broadcasts within the next five years and that this subculture will become a full-blown culture.”
It is for this reason that Frobose considers events like the FIFA Interactive World Cup to be so positive. “The competition scene is already making eSports increasingly professional, with ever greater training and focus. Qualifying competitions, elimination rounds and structures all have to be created. If we manage to set up cross-border duels like the FIWC does, all the better, as that will also reinforce the notion of patriotism in a positive way.”
Frobose has an extremely exciting idea for enhancing the virtual football experience. “What I’d like to see is a network that allows me to integrate myself and my skills into the game, so that instead of playing with Cristiano Ronaldo, it would be me playing with the same strengths and weaknesses I have out on the pitch. I’d love to be able to individualise the playing characters. It would be fantastic to be part of a national team and be able to take part in a fully-fledged online World Cup because of my own motor skills – that would be amazing. And you’d have to train for it.
“The preconfigured players in the game have certain attributes such as sprint speed and jumping,” he continued. “It would be ideal if this data could be entered by me as an individual. To integrate my information into a playing character, I’d first need to complete an endurance and sprint test, and those individual characteristics would then determine how matches unfolded.” Such developments would herald an unprecedented link between real and virtual sport – and perhaps even encourage one or two less active gamers to get moving in real life.