How to talk esports

Hi there! If you’re clicking on this you probably don’t know what an “esport” is, but are at least a little bit curious

Hi there! If you’re clicking on this you probably don’t know what an “esport” is, but are at least a little bit curious. The basics are quite simple: “esports” refers to any video game that’s played at a highly competitive level, usually for cash and prizes. Remember Street Fighter competitions at your local arcade? It’s like that, except with stakes. And while Street Fighter is played at a competitive level, the biggest esports on the planet nowadays tend to be team games: League of Legends and Dota 2.

Still confused? Don’t worry. Sometimes I think about that fateful day when League of Legends first appears on ESPN. I think of a sprightly group of commentators, excited to bring their craft to the world at large. And then they drop a phrase like “post-nerf.” Middle America, already incensed at the idea of video games being taken seriously at competition, throws the remote at the TV in a fit of incomprehensible rage.

It’s true, the realm of esports is tied up in its own vocabulary. Some of this is technical, the sort of stuff you could only pick up through playing a ton of the games. But a lot of it is cultural.

Think about your mom, or even your esports-ignorant friends looking at a Twitch stream—they’d lose their minds right? Don’t worry, we’re here to help. For the uninitiated, the terrified, and the curious, here’s your basic esports dictionary. We’re not talking about scary terms like “tower-diving.” For the most part, these aren’t game terms. We’re not going to tell you the difference between a MOBA and an RTS and a FPS. We’re just focusing on the stuff that will let you parse the very basics when your esports-loving friends or kids or loved ones start talking among themselves. So here you are, every basic esport definition you need.

The esports cultural glossary

Aggro (Noun) – A catchall term that refers to any play-style that’s more offensive than defensive.  

“Man, that aggro deck is really hard to stop.”

Ban (Verb) – In tournaments, players and teams are allowed to select certain champions or classes that they’d like to “ban,” ensuring that they won’t run into a hard counter of their gameplan. Bans tie into the metagame (see meta) and are a very strategic part of high-level play.

“Oh, Rek’Sai is first ban again, what a surprise.”

Buff (Verb) – To make a champion/spell/rune/creature more powerful. This is instituted by the developers of a game and instituted for balancing purposes.

“I want Blizzard to buff Illidan. He’s so underpowered.”

Buff (Noun) – An effect that increases the power of a player, often earned by meeting certain conditions within a game.

“That’s the second Dragon buff for Cloud9. They’ll be doing so much more damage next fight.”

Cheese (Noun) – A strat that attempts to exploit the mechanics of a game in an unfair, wonky, or otherwise “cheesy” way. Cheese is generally looked down on by the community as unsportsmanlike or indicative of a lack of skill.

“Man, the deck this guy is using is so cheesy.”

Caster (Noun) – Similar to a streamer, but unlike actually playing games, the caster focuses more on commentating on the gameplay of other players. In 2015, most high-level competitive games have casting options built right into the UI for this sort of thing to be possible.

“My favorite caster is Day9, I love how knowledgeable he is on StarCraft as well as his affable personality.”

Dennis (Noun) – Predominantly used in the Hearthstone community but seen elsewhere too, a Dennis is someone who’s new to the game and doesn’t quite grasp the fundamental mechanics of what they’re playing, causing them to make dumb, inefficient, or otherwise hilarious plays.

“That guy just played a Wisp and a Grimscale Oracle on turn one, what a Dennis!”

Farm (Verb) – Originally a term that referred to the long, boring grinds required in RPGs, farming now refers to any repetitive task needed to get ahead in esports, both in-game and in the meta-game. Farming in League of Legends generally refers to last-hitting minions to get an edge on gold, but farming in StarCraft and Hearthstone would refer to “farming ladder,” essentially winning a bunch of games to move ahead in rank.

“Man I haven’t logged on in days, I’ve really been slacking on my farming.”

Gank (Verb) An ambush, essentially. Usually used in games like League of Legends and Dota. Getting ganked means someone tried to kill you quickly and efficiently by someone taking you by surprise.

“Let’s go gank the mid-lane, it’ll give us the tempo boost we need.”

gg (Interjection) – Short for “good game,” the classic, polite thing to say at the end of a match.

“gg guys, we’ll get you next time.”

Kappa (Noun) – Refers to a grayscale photo of the face of one John Kappa, a former employee of Twitch. The picture could be used as an emote in Twitch chat, and its subtle smirk and judging eyes became an abbreviation for trolling and sarcasm. Although Kappa primarily refers to the specific emote, it can also be used as a word in general conversation for even more meta-humor.

“I don’t want to play The Weeknd’s “Often” because I play that song… often. Kappa.”

Meta (Noun) – Short for “metagame.” The term players use in reference to the current dominant strategies, champions, decks, builds, etc in a multiplayer game. Staying ahead of the meta is key to high-level play.

“Man, all I see are Hunters and Zoolocks, we’re in a very aggressive meta right now.

Montage Parodies (Noun) – Originally conceived as parodies of the overindulgent, polychromatic montages 12 year olds would make of their Call of Duty noscopes or World of Warcraft raids, Montage Parodies have spun out of control into their own weird subtype of miles-deep metahumor. Doritos, Mountain Dew, and Illuminati iconography are all prevalent themes.

“My Goat Simulator montage parody is going to be so hilarious. I photoshopped the Wally.gif onto the barn!”

Nerf (Verb) – The opposite of a buff, but instead with developers making something weaker.

“Man Riot has to nerf Sivir, she is insanely powerful.”

OP (Adjective) – An abbreviation of “overpowered.” A term you use to describe something that you think is, well, overpowered and in need of a nerf.

“Akali is so OP. Seriously how has that champion not gotten a nerf yet?”

Rekt (Verb) – What one becomes when they’re wrecked (from which the term is derived), crushed, sniped, pounded, exploited, squashed, snowballed, or otherwise dominated in the realm of esports. Grew out of the “owned” and “pwned” of the Counter-Strike/Warcraft III generation. Essentially, “rekt” means you’re losing very badly.

“Man I really wasn’t expecting that gank. I got rekt.”

RNG (Acronym) – Random Number Generation. From crit-chance to card-draw, it’s the incidental glue that holds competitive video games together. The source of much adulation and derision among players, and known cheekily as “RNGsus.”

“God, how is he going to crit at that crucial moment? I have such terrible luck with RNG.”

Salt (Noun) – What one acquires when aggravated, disappointed, or otherwise perturbed by performance of other players or the randomized elements that are built into gaming as a whole. (see RNG.)

“Man, Reynad’s salt levels are high after he got bad luck after his deck failed him.”

Salty (Adjective) – The more common way of phrasing “salt” in competitive gaming.

“I’m really salty after that last game, I couldn’t get anything going and Twisted Fate kept stealing my kills.

Strat (Noun) – Short for strategy, a general outline for what you want to accomplish with your champion/class/deck/whatever, and what your win condition looks like.

“I’ve been using this aggro Nunu support strat and it’s really upped my game.”

Streamer (Noun) – The bread and butter of the esports economy. A streamer is one who streams themselves playing video games (could be anything, but here we’re mostly talking about StarCraft, League of Legends, Dota 2, and Hearthstone,) for the enjoyment of their viewers. Streaming can be done casually or professionally, and most players accept tips for their effort. (See Twitch.)

“My favorite streamer is Trump, I like his generous schedule and the way he talks through his plays.”

Twitch (Noun) – The biggest name in town when it comes to streaming video games. Formerly Justin.TV, the company rebranded itself Twitch in 2011 to focus exclusively on the burgeoning subgenre. These days all the biggest events in esports are broadcast live on the service. If you want to build your reputation in esports, you’re pretty much required to start a Twitch channel.

“Are you watching The DreamHack Invitational? It’s live on Twitch!”

Photo via Riot Games/Flickr