It might have humble beginnings – sitting on the couch and spending hours in front of a screen – but esports has become so much more.

Aotearoa has its very own national team too, aptly named the ‘E Blacks’. They’re preparing for the Global Esports Games in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, in December.

Today, The Detail speaks to the boss of esports in New Zealand and one of our E Blacks about what exactly this sport is and where it’s at now.

“Esports is defined in New Zealand as ‘digitally enabled competition’ – so people think of video games, but it’s probably a little bit more than that,” New Zealand Esports Federation CEO Jonathan Jansen tells The Detail.

“Video games is one end of the spectrum of the thing you think about, with someone holding a controller playing a game on a screen, but that goes all the way down to things like sim (simulated) racing, when you’re sitting in a rig and you’re driving a car on a screen. You’re not actually there, but you’re doing all the same actions. 

“And it also moves all the way down to the other end of the spectrum: ‘virtual sport’ with things like Zwift, where you’re on a physical bike.”

He notes an important distinction between gaming and esports.

“Just like if I went to the beach with some mates and threw a ball around, I wouldn’t go telling people that I’m a rugby player. Just like if you go home and jump on the PlayStation you’re playing Red Dead Redemption: that’s not esports, that’s just gaming to relax.”

A gaming stage at the League of Legends World Championship 2023 in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Getty Images

He says it becomes esports when it gets competitive.

“If you wanted to be a world-class player, nutrition, sleep, hydration, even your physical cardiovascular health, are all really important for your mind. If your mind’s not ready in esports, you’re gone,” Jansen says.

Ramsey “Magic” Mou is one of the E Blacks competing in an all-women Dota 2 team in Saudi Arabia.

“Dota itself is a very male-dominated game,” Mou says.

“In Dota, in my lifetime, in the rank that I’ve been playing, I’ve probably encountered [fewer] than 10 women … I think there’s a negative stereotype that women aren’t as good as men at video games and I think this causes a lot of women to stop trying to improve or just stop playing in general, because it’s a barrier they have to overcome, and it’s a hard barrier.

“I will always try quite hard at anything I do. If someone says I’m bad because I’m a girl, and then they lost to me, then, ‘What are you doing?’ These people aren’t really worth my time to acknowledge, they just want a reaction. You kind of just have to be a bit strong-willed and strong-minded when it comes to these types of games.”

When it comes to the controversy around Saudi Arabia, with claims of sportswashing over human rights abuses and treatment of women, Jansen says New Zealand representatives have had a look at the area.

“Our president visited one of the princes earlier this year … they’re very open to other ways of life in Riyadh … they are very welcoming, understanding that they have their culture but tourists or visitors to their country have theirs as well,”  he says.

Mou says despite Saudi Arabia’s record, the global body leading the games is accepting of differences.

“The organisation that hosts these tournaments is Global Esports Federation and they’re all about inclusivity and diversity and just making a place where everyone is allowed to play,” Mou says.

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