The Rise of Mind Sports
Mind sports have been around as a concept for almost as long as the human race; the concept of pitting one brain against the other has been bringing pleasure and prestige to those involved for literally thousands of years. Games such as go, chess, draughts and mah-jong have a long history of tournaments and public contests and recent years have seen even more popular games join this roster. Card games from poker to Pokémon, esports like Dota 2 and Overwatch, and even board games like Monopoly have all taken their place in the arena of globally recognised mind sports.
So, what is it about so-called mind sports that holds such an enduring appeal for audiences? People like to watch physical sports in order to marvel at the extremes that the human body can be pushed to thanks to a combination of rigorous training and natural talent, and the same goes for mind sports but with the focus firmly fixed on the human brain. Whether an athlete is a top chess player with the best opening gambit in history, or a whizz at Fortnite’s Battle Royale, there is fascination to be found in watching a master at work.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the most popular mind sports in the world today and their corresponding tournaments.
Go, or igo/weiqi, has been played in China for over 2500 years and is now a popular game across the world. Most players of note are located in East Asia, and so this is where the majority of large Go tournaments take place. Some of the biggest international tournaments include the Ing Cup, the LG Cup, the Samsung Cup and the Bailing Cup; prizes can reach heights of up to $250 000 in these contests so professional Go players often make the game a full time pursuit rather than a hobby.
The unique structure of Go lends itself to being a spectator sport, as there is no guaranteed or expected outcome to a game. There are more legal board positions in Go than there are atoms in the known universe, by quite a large amount. So, you can see how this game has remained fresh and interesting for audiences and players alike across three millennia. Another attractive quality of this game is that it can be picked up by almost anybody; you don’t need a natural aptitude in order to learn how to play, with most pros starting at a very young age of about 5 or so. This adds an extra quality to tournaments for the audience, as they can feel informed about players’ decisions.
Chess may not be quite as old as Go is, but it has a sturdy place on the mind sports circuit with thousands of participants taking part in public tournaments and competitions since it was classified as a sport in the late 19th century. It has a reputation for being an upper-class game, played by gentlemen wearing suits in a stuffy, formal atmosphere. However, modern chess is open to anybody with the mind for it. Tournaments take place across the world, with audiences of thousands made up of players with varying competence levels and different reasons for their interest in the sport.
Perhaps the most famous chess competition is the World Chess Championship. This is held every two years and determines the current world champion. Players and enthusiasts from across the globe converge on the competition every even year, gathering to see if the current champion will be knocked from the top spot or will manage to keep the title. There is even a World Computer Chess Championship, which pits human minds against one another in an entirely different way – mainly, the ability to write an effective computer chess engine.
This mention of computing leads us neatly in to the esports arena. Going forward, esports are going to be big news, expanding across the planet to become one of the most watched, most followed and most talked about sports in history. Titles like League of Legends, Fortnite and Dota 2 already attract legions of fans and players to tournaments with as many as 4 million people watching at any one time via the internet and in live stadiums. Esports teams are carefully assembled and managed, much like traditional physical sports teams, and they represent the opportunity to make some big bucks.
The beauty of online gaming is that it is accessible to everybody with an internet connection. Whether that means tuning in to the big shows, catching up with your favourite streamer on Twitch or having a go at the games yourself using innovative and user-friendly software, there’s no denying that esports have something for everyone.
With an ever more spread out yet digitally connected population on hand, the world is hungry for new sports that can be followed, enjoyed, played at home and looked forward to as a form of entertainment and escapism at the end of a long day. Mind sports neatly fill a gap in the market that traditional, more physical sports can’t always fulfill, promising that the future landscape of sports is certainly looking more cerebral than it ever has before.