Competing in video games can be fun and intense, but the difference between the two main settings are fairly vast. We compare online tournament events to live competitions to give new players a better idea of what to expect.

The allure of competitive gaming can definitely be appealing to the player just starting out, with visions of major tournament victories dancing in his or her head. Countless hours of practice and online games with friends eventually culminate in the big day: the first ever competition. However, there are some things that practice and preparation simply cannot account for, and that’s the experience of competing itself.

It doesn’t matter how many hours you’ve played the game you wish to compete in, until you’re in a high-pressure competition the feelings that come with it are hard to understand. These feelings also depend on what kind of competition you’re entering, be it a live tournament event or an online tournament. Here I hope to break down each of those types, talk about the obvious (and not so obvious) differences between the two, and tell you which type of competition I prefer and why.

(NOTE: Since the question will certainly be asked, I am basing the following observations on my time competing at NEC 19 in December and in the Super Smash Bros Ultimate North American Online Open.)

Doing It Live

Competing in a live tournament is something I recommend all players do at least once, even if they’re not very good at games. For a start the energy inside those rooms cannot be adequately described, the shouts of excitement or shock at a flashy move or impressive play are a delight. In the current world we live in, where social media and other sources tend to push the negative aspects of gaming into our faces, simply watching people play and react with joy is pretty awesome.

Attending a live event can even shed light on games never seen before or forgotten about. The rise of Under Night In:Birth EXE Late[st] to EVO 2019 featured game did not take me by surprise, as I’ve been watching it in side tournaments since Winter Brawl 2018. EVO 2018 is where I first saw games like WIndjammers in their full competitive glory, selling me more than any trailer could. Heck, even games like Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering Arena seem way more appealing when a pro player drops a nasty combo, even if I have no clue on how to do it myself.

Most importantly, however, when done right a live tournament engenders a feeling of camaraderie you might not feel when you’re playing at home. Everyone in that room with you, whether it’s a small local event or League of Legends Worlds, is there because they love the same game(s) you love and they want to see the best players in the world do their thing. That fact alone can serve as a perfect icebreaker, as a stranger can become a friend just by discussing some strategy.

Case in point: back at NEC I was preparing for my Smash Bros Ultimate match by playing a few CPU matches on my personal Switch. Another attendee whom I’d never met before asked if I wanted some live competition instead, I agreed, and we played a best-of-five set right then and there. From strangers to training buddies in as little as two sentences..that’s the power of a live tournament.

For some folks who aren’t as extroverted as I am, however, what I’ve just described may sound like a nightmare. The idea of all those people and all of that noise could be intimidating or downright frightening, and that’s perfectly fine! Those feelings would just need to be taken into account before entering a tournament. Also, entering smaller local events before moving up to bigger tournaments might also ease an anxious player into the feeling of live competition, which could be a good way to get around the nervousness.

Also, since this is a public place with plenty of people around, there is always the possibility of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. This means that while you’re training for your next match or watching someone on stage, you’ll have to be mindful of the things you brought with you and where they are at all times. I have never had anything taken from me personally, but I have seen it and heard of it in the past. There’s usually a few sore losers (or overcharged winners) in the crowd too, so keeping yourself in check and avoiding becoming one of them is important as well. If you’re the trash-talking type among your friends who know what to expect, a room full of new players who don’t know your style may not take as kindly.

Logging In And Throwing Down

Online tournaments -- while in their most basic formats are the same as live events -- obviously could not feel more differently in practice. The biggest perk, of course, is competing in the comfort of your own home. However you play games at home -- laying in bed, sitting on a couch, pants optional -- is how you can compete in the tournament. It’s your gaming device, your controller, and your personal environment, which should maximize your comfort level and help your performance in a match.

Online tournaments also help the easily distracted to concentrate as well, since there’s only one game being played on one screen at any given time. As much as I loved playing Smash Ultimate at NEC, every time I heard hooting and hollering coming from the BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle or UNIST areas I wanted to go see what was going on. When I’m playing online the only thing that can distract me is a barking dog or talking family member, and those are manageable situations I can prepare for and try to mitigate. I can’t tell a raucous crowd watching a different game to stop enjoying themselves so I can concentrate, that’d be unrealistic.

The major concern with online tournaments, for me at least, is right there in the name: online. If there’s a tournament I’ve registered for taking place on a certain date and time, and an hour before a storm knocks out my internet for the day, I’m out of the tournament through no fault of my own. That’s not to say there aren’t technical issues at live events, but in most cases those hiccups don’t result in my automatic disqualification.

Also, and this may be a personal con, but playing a tournament online doesn’t feel any different than picking up and playing a game online for fun. I may have to log into a website, link up with my opponent, and report the results at the end of the match, but actually playing the game feels no different than a normal gaming session. I don’t feel like I’m actually competing, I feel like I’m going through the motions. A live event cultivates the feeling of competition through the energy of the other competitors, but when the other competitors are on the other side of an Internet connection I can’t feel that energy and the experience suffers a bit in my opinion.

The main event at EVO is one of the brightest spotlights in competitive gaming. (Photo taken by the author)

Online or Live: Which Is Better?

Honestly? I can’t answer this for all of you. For me, it's live, but it’s as subjective as a question can be, a complete personal preference. I personally prefer being at a live event, thrust into battle surrounded by peers and onlookers, the shouts from excited crowds energizing the room like shots of electricity. Not that I’ll ever necessarily be good enough to get there, but playing on that main stage at Top 8 at EVO looks like one of the most exhilarating moments on Earth and I’d revel in the opportunity.

You might feel completely differently, preferring the online battlefields to in-person ones. The comfort of known surroundings (and a strong trust in your network) might be more important to you than playing in front of a crowd, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I would still encourage coming out to a local tournament at some point, if for no other reason than just to say you did. Heck, it might even grow on you while you’re there. 

If you plan on coming out to an event in the near future, heed the words I wrote above so that you know what to expect. If you’re going to compete in online tournaments only, just make sure there’s no foul weather coming your way. Either way enjoy the time you spend competing, and never stop improving your game.

For more on all things esports, check out our look at the Fortnite Gauntlet Solos and Duo leaderboard, as well as how to register for EVO 2019.


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