In the current times when the necessity of maintaining social or physical distancing is made mandatory, a lot of people are following such a precaution without any defiance, as it is for the sake of their own health and wellbeing.
Therefore, many people are keeping themselves entertained and busy at home by engaging in the virtual world through various social media platform including gaming.
A different kind of recreational sport is making news these days. It is called electronic sports or eSports. eSports is already popular the world over, and is being recognized as the future of sports.
A number of locally organized eSports tournaments are being held currently as schools are shut. Many gamers stated that they are happy staying home playing in the ongoing tournaments online than having to go out and socialize in close proximity.
According to a report on BBC, such online games appear to help people contain their stress levels or keep their mental health in check during a lockdown scenario.
Minister of Information and Communication, Karma Donnen Wangdi, said that with the current COVID-19 issue at hand, the government is trying to ensure work on all the priority sectors. As it is not clear on when the pandemic will end, the government has started with policies, such as social distancing, staying indoors. There will be more number of Government to Business (G2B) services and other various services provided to the people.
“With all that is happening at one time, we are already seeing a surge of pressure on the existing telecom network. Further on, we need to be able to provide support to the e-Learning initiative, and civil servants working from home puts an even heavier burden on the existing infrastructure than usual. Other than that, network for all the other necessary purposes that keep people occupied at home also needs to be thought of,” said Lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi.
He said that in terms of eSports, the government is responsible for providing services but such initiatives would have to be taken up by the private sector, and if and when they come as long as the network can sustain with the current infrastructure in place, the government will then can be in a place to give a thought to it.
The Bhutanese interviewed a couple of experienced gamers and tournament organizers on eSports.
A 11th grader at Motithang Higher Secondary School (MHSS), Tenzin Yuden, said, “I developed an interest in gaming since the 5th grade, when my brother introduced me to games, like Mario and Harvest Moon. After he left for another country, I used to go to the Internet cafes to play. Both my mom and dad are very supportive when it comes to gaming. They understand that it is my hobby, and they even let me spend money on online games, which I am grateful for.”
She said that she had an anxiety disorder when she was younger, and gaming has helped her to improve on her socializing skills. She aspires to become a professional gamer in the future if possible.
Having recently organized a tournament for the game Mobile Legends among of 11 teams with 5 players in each team, she said that the experience was joyous, and that she would hold it as one of her best memories in life.
She said that eSports should move forward in Bhutan since there are a lot of gamers who are not getting the platform for world recognition. She is hopeful that Bhutan too can participate in world gaming events.
Although she believes that gaming should not have age restrictions, however, a certain level of monitoring by responsible adults or parents is necessary.
A freelance marketer, Tandin Tshewang, 25, has been gaming since 2001. His father had introduced him to the world of gaming.
He said, “Gaming gave me some source of entertainment, engagement and an escape from reality. My first online interactive game was back in 2008, and I got quite hooked on it. I got quite addicted during my high school days, but if I recall properly, gaming had taught me a lot more than just provide me mental stability and support. I learnt a lot of my first bombastic vocabularies through games, and I can even do voice expressions in unique ways which could be helpful if I ever do something like that for a living.”
He said he learned the spirit of sportsmanship, power of teamwork, importance of strategies and trust in teammates through gaming.
He added, “Of course, every coin has two sides, and games have its own cons that follows. I remember becoming obsessed with games, not sleeping at night. Even to the point of getting dehydrated and not realizing it. It hampered my sense of priority at that time. I spent a lot of my time, had to resort to dire methods to keep myself gaming, and at some point, it even had an effect on my relationships. Therefore, I hope my young friends game responsibly.”
Tandin strongly believes that Bhutan has potential players that can compete for world ranking in Dota tournament, which currently has a prize pool of USD 34.33 mn for the winning team.
He said his friend, Kuenga Lhendup, who goes by the Dota username of ‘ICY’ became the first Bhutanese player to obtain a top 100 player ranking, and received a personal email from Dota congratulating him. He sacrificed his schooling (a10th grader then) to leave for Manhattan, New York in the United States. He said that his parents had supported his decision.
A psychiatrist at JDWNRH, Dr Damber Nirola, said that he has not really researched on the positive and negative effects that games have on the human mind. However, Dr Nirola said that like any other form of entertainment and technology, there is always a dark side and a bright side to look, especially as there are a variety of games today. He said that gaming addiction is bad. A lot of people are gaming online on their phones that use excessive amounts of Internet data and that is an expensive hobby to keep up with.
Organizer of Dota 2 Bhutan, Jigme Lepcha, 27, is also a programmer at Bhutan Web. He said that most of the game zones are empty as most of the players were students. Due to the social distancing norms, game centers have a hard task paying rents. He added that one of the places that was used to host the seasonal tournament had to close down recently.
“In times like these, I think it would be a voluntary engagement for gamers to stay at home, who otherwise might go out to hang out in social spaces. They should game responsibly though, long hours in front of computer screens will cause strain on their eyes, cause migraines and people may force parents out to buy Internet packages which are quite expensive for some games,” he said.
Tshering Dendup, 23, is pursuing MBBS in Sri Lanka. He is currently in quarantine in one of the quarantine centers in Thimphu. He said he is socially connected and entertained by playing games with his friends online. He said that he prefers online games to outdoor games, especially as physical activity in college leaves him feeling tired and drowsy in the class.
He said playing his scheduled online games refreshes him mentally and then he can focus on his studies.
Kuenzang Galay, 30, is self-employed, and he has been gaming for a long time and was addicted to playing endless spree of matches at one point of time. He stated that as long as one can game responsibly and balance the positive and negative aspects, gamers can have fun as well as excel in life.
Tandin Wangdi, 20, said that he organizes tournaments to keep in touch with his friends. He also does it to provide a platform for those who are looking to compete for a small prize money. He aspires to become a businessman in eSport business. He said the market is entirely flexible since there is not much know-how on how big eSports industry can be in Bhutan.