Hannah Harn discusses the pitfalls and potential of Ireland’s video game industry
When most people turn on their gaming console, they are looking for an hour or two of fun on the weekends. Now, some of the best players the gaming world has to offer are finding ways to turn a hobby into a career. While many parents see video games as a dead end hobby, there are those in Ireland that earn their living playing professionally.
In 2012, Ireland’s first professional competitive eSports team, Emerald eSports, was born (eSports being the modern name for competitive video gaming). The professional gaming team, made up of 15 players as well as three streamers and five managers, carries the flag for Irish eSports and is continually growing.
There are organisations dedicated to encouraging social engagement through esports, such as Irish Collegiate ESports, the official representative body for esports competition for all third level students in Ireland. Video games, streams and competitions have become a worldwide phenomenon.
While the first video game tournaments were held in the 1980s, the industries of competitive gaming and video game development have only grown.
However, casual as well as career gamers may also be at risk of developing the newly introduced gaming disorder. In September of 2018, the World Health Organisation inducted gaming disorder in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, defining it as a pattern of gaming behaviour, specifically video-gaming, characterised by increased prioritisation of gaming and impaired control over gaming habits to the point that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, despite negative consequences.
A diagnosis of gaming disorder requires behaviour patterns severe enough to significantly impair personal, social, and familial relationships as well as their educational and occupational performance. According to WHO, studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who game regularly.
Dr Gerry McCarney, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and Chair of the College Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, has seen an increase in referrals in regard to gaming addiction over the last year. “We’ve had three referrals this year, which is definitely an increase,” he said. “I think the awareness increase will make people more likely to ask for help.”
According to Dr McCarney, career gamers and casual players alike are at risk if they allow their playing to consume their whole lives.
“If someone is particularly interested in it, they’re more likely to engage in it, by virtue of the fact that they’re more likely to play games,” says Dr McCarney. “There are lots of people who play games and are interested in games who don’t become addicted. Having a balance is important.
“Try to get to know what their kids are doing, what kinds of games they’re playing,” Dr. McCarney advises. “Make sure they’re taking breaks.” Some signs of gaming addiction parents and friends should look for are decreasing social engagement, extended time playing, skipping meals, and skipping sleep to play.
“If they’re taking a break to engage with their friends and with their families it is not a problem,” he said. “Where it becomes a problem is when they begin to pull away from people. They stop going to engage with their friends, they play for much longer periods of time than expected, they stop eating meals with families, or they skip them altogether.”
While gaming can be fun, Dr McCarney says that moderation is key. “It’s important to note that this technology can be beneficial,” he says. “There are lots of positive things about the internet and this immediate access to information and interaction. Games are fun but it’s like anything, it should be in moderation.”
Galway-based game developer Brenda Romero has seen much of the evolution of modern gaming in Ireland.
“The best eSports players get the job, and they’re playing eight hours a day, just like a professional athlete,” Ms Romero says. “You wonder what could they be training for, but think of a musician. What is someone at a piano doing? Practicing. Why? To get better. It’s the same sort of stuff.”
ESports teams have fan bases, video channels, joint social media, and often even live together. Many of them have corporate sponsors to support their training and branding efforts. For all intents and purposes, the eSports industry has become as commercialised as more traditional sports. Some betting sites offer betting on eSports matches.
“While they’re doing that and they’re practicing, they need to be making money, finding some way to support themselves,” says Romero, “and that money comes about as the result of sponsorship, odds are.”
While Ireland’s current eSports team is an all-Irish team, many teams in other major cities and countries have pulled players from around the world. “I would hope it stays an Irish team,” Romero said, “But it’s a question of sponsorship.”
Ireland has been heavily involved in the video game industry since just after its inception, but what sets the country apart in the game industry is not its long history –it is the broad experiences of Irish players that all come together over the same platforms.
“The only thing that feels different, to me, is the types of games,” says Ms Romero. “When I talk with young prospective game makers in educational programmes, the variety of experiences people discuss here tend to be different than the variety of experiences I hear from students in America.”
In the short-term, Romero does not necessarily foresee any major shifts away from growth in the gaming and eSports industry, and Ireland’s long involvement in the video game industry adds to its ongoing development as a core spot for technology development. However, as the industry itself sees continued commercial branding and social engagement from players of all ages and skill levels, Ireland will need support to keep up with competitors.
“The industry has grown a lot here, but it tends to be overshadowed by big tech because, in European headquarters with major technology firms, their revenue outshines the revenue of the games,” said Romero.
“We need funding that’s on par with our neighbours, because if somebody is making a decision about where they want to develop their game, why would they come here if they could go to the North of Ireland or the UK or France where they can find the talent and have more favourable tax breaks?”
Romero feels that Ireland’s ‘moment’ in the gaming industry is still ahead. “We have everything here in Ireland from the hardcore toolmakers at Havok to companies like [Dublin-based video game developer] Simteractive. We have Seán Murray, Terry Kavanagh and Colin Markham, all really successful developers. I still feel like our moment is coming. It’s an incredibly vibrant industry here.”