unizeit Schriftzug

Digital athletics

Running, playing football, gymnastics: these activities, and many more, are sport. But does this also apply to computer games like League Of Legends or even Counter-Strike? Absolutely, according to those active in the University eSport Germany (UEG) group at Kiel University, who are not only competing nationally, but also enjoying success.

Four people playing computer games
© HSG E-Sport

The Kiel League 1 team for League Of Legends in action.

It was autumn of 2017, when Alexander Utecht watched a television documentary about e-sports at the German Sport University Cologne. Along with athletics and other sports, digital competitions were already recognised as official university sports at the Rhine. Among other things, students competed in the university league against the best students in Germany. "As the state capital, Kiel should also be represented," Utecht said to himself, and looked for people who thought the same. Around 20 like-minded people joined him by the end of that year, so since the beginning of 2018 there has been an official UEG group at Kiel University.

Since then, the group has developed and prospered. Around 80 university e-sports fans are officially involved, along with numerous guests who are regularly present, but are not officially active members of the university group, from Kiel University of Applied Sciences and Muthesius University. There is a very high proportion of students from engineering and natural sciences subjects. Men are clearly in the majority, representing about 90 percent of members. Virtual combat and strategy games seem to be their domain. Alexander Utecht can also confirm this. Half his circle of friends spent their free time on their computer playing "computer games", so eventually he tried them himself, got better over time, and then wanted even more. "You become ambitious," he said, describing the effect which is hardly different in other sports.

The 25-year-old, who started his Master's degree in Applied Geosciences in autumn 2019, personally prefers Counter-Strike, the most controversial game on the Kiel UEG group list. Following the classic first-person shooter mould, it’s all about the fight between good and evil, using every conceivable weapon. But in Utecht’s opinion, it’s mainly about tactics, timing, communication, level-headedness and rapid reactions. League of Legends is completely different, in that it follows the logic of a board game, for example with the goal of conquering enemy towers. However, for competitive play, the Kiel group also participates in the Rocket League, in which quite conventionally you need to shoot as many goals as possible. Hearthstone, on the other hand, is like a digital card game, whereas in Overwatch you can "fire away" in a fantasy environment.

But regardless of the format, the e-sports competitors want to deliver good performances, just like a football team, for example. They have managed to achieve this quite well, despite their short history. In Overwatch, they recently reached the finals of the university league, and ultimately achieved second place. In addition, they reached the semi-finals in Counter-Strike as well as League Of Legends. In the national league, which is not only for university teams, Counter-Strike player Utecht and his team-mates almost produced a sensation, beating much higher-rated teams and narrowly missing the final. "Unfortunately, we lost one or two rounds through real bad luck," said Alexander Utecht, who is also the chairperson of this university group.

Although the participants consider their activity to be sport, they regularly encounter associated prejudices. By their own admission, the Kiel students agree this is sometimes "not entirely unfounded". Although it is rare, there are fellow students who overdo their time in front of the screen, at the expense of their studies, he admits. However, according to Utecht, the image of non-stop gamers who live on crisps, coke and energy drinks, and become increasingly obese, is definitely a cliché. At least when it comes to competitive action, those in front of the screen almost all drink water. And like many others, the e-sports athlete does endurance sports to maintain a balance, "because that also boosts concentration".

In Utecht’s opinion, it will still take some time for e-sports to be supported in Kiel. Despite the founding of the Landeszentrum für eSport und Digitalisierung Schleswig-Holstein (Schleswig-Holstein State Centre for E-sports and Digitalisation, LEZ SH) at the end of 2019, he believes that we lag far behind countries like South Korea or the Scandinavian region in this regard. Therefore, in his opinion, a positive sign would be if e-sports were soon officially recognised as a university sport at the CAU. Like in Cologne, where digital athletics has now even become a field of research. There, for example, sports scientists compare the stress levels experienced during e-sports with those in traditional sports.

Author: Martin Geist