But online games are time wasting and addictive. Aren’t they? Shouldn’t we keep our children away from them? Interestingly, this was almost the same complaint against cricket during our own teenage days – more than three decades ago
February 1982. Sri Lanka played its first test match. Following the age-old traditions, it had to be with England. Venue: P Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo. While Sri Lankan spectators had high hopes, Sri Lankan team under the captaincy of BandulaWarnapura didn’t play too well. Having played only three days previously, they were not prepared for five day test matches. Experienced batsmen like Warnapura himself, SidathWettimuny and Roy Dias all were out before reaching a double digit score. RanjanMadugalle scored 64 – highest score in first innings.
In the middle of all that turmoil, totally unexpected but outstanding performance was shown by an 18 year schoolboy cricketer – the youngest in the meticulously picked national team who had till then faced no test level bowler. British newspapers branded this amazing young man ‘The Colombo Kid’.
Colonel V.S.Kudaligama, then Ananda Principal thought of exploiting thisimpressive performance of ‘Arjunaaiya’ (as we, students at few grades below him at school fondly called him then) for the advantage of the school. He hurriedly organised a felicitation event with GaminiDissanayake, then Minister of Mahaweli Development cum President, Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka as Chief Guest.
In his speech Colonel Kudaligama urged the Minister’s assistance in transforming Ananda grounds to an international level playground, equipped with a matching pavilion. Minister Dissanayake smartly and politely declined. “I am sure Ananda College has the capacity to get that done on its own,” he said, “...my focus right now is to develop our national team. I will do that. I don’t want to try too many things and lose my focus.”
Most important part of Dissanayake’s speech 37 years ago was his reasoning why Sri Lanka should invest in cricket. “It should not be cricket for the sake of cricket,”he emphasised. “...cricket will one day certainly make Sri Lanka proud. It will create a dignified brand which we could use for many things including promotion of tourism. In time to come we’ll be bringing one airplane after another full of cricket spectators to watch our boys play tests against England, Australia and West Indies. That will create a new economy and thousands of new job opportunities. Cricket should not be seen as a game. It should be seen as a development opportunity.”
GaminiDissanayake, sadly, didn’t live to witness Sri Lanka winning World Cup 14 years later in 1996, under the captaincy of the same school boy cricketer he handsomely commended, in true gentleman style, ignoring all political differences with latter’s father, then Gampaha SLFP organiser. Still he proved that it is commitment and determination that brings victories in cricket, not just batting, bowling and fielding skills.
Cricket in 1982 could be DOTA 2 in 2019
Cricket in 1982 could be DOTA 2 in 2019 (well, we can even expand that to cover the entire eSports arena but let’s start with one game). DOTA 2 is a multiplayer online battle arena video game developed and edited by Valve Corporation with the help of some of the original game’s creators: Defense of the Ancients (DotA), a custom map mod for the strategy game. The game was released in July 2013 on Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux ending a beta phase started in 2011, it is available exclusively on the online game platform Steam.
DOTA 2 has long been the most played game on Steam, with daily peaks of more than 900,000 connected players at the same time, as well as more than 13,000,000 monthly players.
It is played in independent matches between two teams of five players, each with a base card corner containing a building called the ‘Ancient’, the destruction of which leads to the victory of the enemy team. Each player controls a ‘Hero’ and is required to accumulate experience, earn gold, equip himself with items and fight the enemy team to achieve victory.
Compare an online game to cricket? Yes, why not? One is an outdoor sport, while the other is indoor. One requires physical strength and attention while the other mental focus and swiftness. Players in both benefit from their ability to understand the strategies of the rival. Whatever the differences and resemblances, both are games – recreational activities that makes the mind calm active and attentive.
But online games are time wasting and addictive. Aren’t they? Shouldn’t we keep our children away from them? Interestingly, this was almost the same complaint against cricket during our own teenage days – more than three decades ago. Parents wanted their children to spend more time with books, rather than in turf. They hid bats and balls. They assigned time restrictions for the play.
Teachers discouraged those students who went for cricket practice. Such students were publicly humiliated in class. 16 year olds getting 8Ds at GCE (O/Ls), rather than scoring a century at Big Match, was the dream of both groups. Some parents and few teachers approved playing for big match, but certainly not at the cost of getting 8 ‘light kanu’– that was how we called failures at O/Ls.
Key test playing nation
Things changed with time. Sri Lanka became a key test playing nation. Our boys transformed the one-day international scene. With more and more players becoming rich in no time and ensuring their future with cricket both parents and teachers opened their eyes. With the spotlight cricketers received, they started seeing some value of cricket practices even at the cost of getting zero for mathematics at term test. Cricket has created an alternative career path. Cricketers became famous, got jobs in the corporate sector, became super rich to marry their gorgeous college sweethearts. Preparation for that life was not a complete waste of time and energy. Only we realised it later.
We must look at DOTA 2 player in the same light today. It may be a pastime for players, but like an outdoor game it brings many other benefits for the rest of the community too. eSports market is massive. It earns nearly $ 1 billion annually. ‘The International’, annual DOTA 2 world championship tournament first time held in Cologne, Germany in 2011 had a total prize pot of $ 1.6 million. Last year they had the eighth iteration of The International, for a state of $ 25 million. Since 2013 onwards, the prize pool was crowdfunded by the DOTA 2 community via its battle pass feature. In general, international level eSports athletes make anywhere from $ 1,000-5,000 per month. Asian Games now identified eSports only as a demonstrations game to be a medal event by 2022. Olympics 2024 too most probably have eSports as a fully-fledged sports event.
Sri Lanka eSports arena
The Sri Lanka eSports arena too is expanding in parallel. SLT eSports championship has been conducted for several years now in Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna. The tournament features a number of popular online multiplayer gaming titles such as, DOTA 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Overwatch as well as single player gaming titles in the likes of FIFA 16, Project Cars, Mortal Kombat XL and Call of Duty Black Ops 3. In Colombo it is organised parallel to annual Infotel events. The prize pot is not as high as in international events but reaches few million rupees. Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) has been a key sponsor for some of these events.
From a more development angle, expansion of eSports could be an ideal opportunity for Sri Lankan software developers to focus on. Sri Lanka’s software industry has recently hit the $ 1 billion mark, from a mere $ 166 million in 2006, with a workforce of over 85,000. Our goal is to expand it to $ 5 billion within a period of five years. With over 90% value addition and high paying jobs, it has made a significant impact on the growth of the Sri Lankan economy. So why not our developers focus on gaming software? After all, we are there not just to play. We should change the way the world look at eSports. Yes, the same way once we changed the way the world looked at cricket.
(Ajith P. Perera is the Minister of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology and ChanukaWattegama is a business writer.)