Skill Versus Luck in Gaming

Tell anyone as recently as a decade ago that there would soon be a generation of players who could become millionaires just through playing video games and the chances are that they wouldn’t have believed you. To then go on to say that millions of people would choose to watch them compete in tournaments either held online or in actual arenas and they would have been even more ludicrous. 

But that’s the situation we find ourselves in today. The world’s very best gamers can earn as much as many professional athletes and the area of esports is becoming more and more professionalized with sponsored teams and tournaments that are some of the most highly viewed events online.

It also seems like something of a no-brainer that, now that esports has reached this kind of level, it has to be seen in the same way as other professional sports such as soccer, golf and tennis.  It may even be that it is edging closer to being accepted as an Olympic event, surely the very definition of a skill-based activity. Admittedly, there are many hurdles to be overcome before this becomes a reality, but it would be foolish to write it off as a possibility.

What’s the difference?

Before getting into the debate, it’s worth spending a little time defining exactly what’s meant by skill and luck in this context. It’s also worth considering this in relation to the development of games over the decades and how the balance of the two elements required to be good at them may have changed over time. 

Skill is generally something that relies on physical ability in some way, whether this is being able to strike a golf ball over 300 yards or have the manual dexterity to use a game controller. It’s also something that can be learned and developed over time. In fact, there is a theory that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours’ practice in any particular activity to truly become an expert.

Luck, on the other hand, can happen to anyone, at any time. It requires no preparation, no special qualities and, above all, no skill. A great example of this comes from lottery winners. They may believe that their special number selection system has been instrumental in the win – but it really hasn’t. They’ve just lucked-in to the win.

In gambling, such as online slots, the issue becomes a little more opaque. For example, the spinning reels are random and quite unpredictable, but the player does have some judgments to make. These include the level of stake to play with and also judging when is the best moment to stop playing, or whether a winning streak is likely to continue. The unpredictable nature of online slots often makes them the central figure of an online casino. 888 online casino host over 1,000 slot games on their site, many of which are exclusive and developed internally, with a wide variety of features such as Bonus Games, Expanding Wilds, Free Spins and Huge Jackpots, making it the best place to play online slots in our humble opinion.

Dealing with random events

At the heart of the online slots, there is a device called a random number generator – or RNG for short. This is what ensures that the reels that spin follow no logical pattern. Video games, while not having a specific RNG in their software, do have a similar algorithm that ensures that the unexpected can occur.

Even the earliest games were made more complex by the random events that occurred to throw players off the expected progress of their particular characters. And, just as the unexpected is one of the elements that help to make life more interesting, it’s these moments that really help to enhance the entertainment value of a game. The very fact that they can’t be predicted and come completely out of the blue are also what tend to make the game seem more lifelike, in that it is replicating the random nature of real life.

When skill alone is needed

There’s no doubt that there are some games that rely almost totally on skill. These tend to be formulaic, puzzle-solving games that require logical thought as well as the deployment of knowledge and experience of playing the game on previous occasions. To use a distinctly offline parallel, one can consider the Rubik’s Cube. At first sight, moving the squares around so each side of the cube has the same colours seems like a complex task. But the fact that constant practice and experience means that some people can, from almost any starting point, solve it in a matter of seconds, suggests that there is skill that is needed but that this also works with a formulaic approach.

This, in turn, brings in the question about the true nature of skill itself.

The synthesis of skill and random events

So it emerges that the question is not quite as simple as whether games rely on skill or luck to be a successful player. Rather, players can only really show their true skill and ability when random events occur in a game and they suddenly have to alter their strategy or approach in order to deal with them. This is when they have to draw on both physical ability to manipulate the controls to overcome the problem as well as to adapt mentally to quickly alter the strategic approach.

That’s not to say that luck also plays a part. But far more important is the player’s ability to react in the right way to capitalise on the changed situation. To return to real sports, this can be seen in everything from soccer when the ball falls unexpectedly for a striker to take a shot or in golf when a mis-hit bounces off a tree and lands in an unexpectedly advantageous position. In both cases, it’s what the player does following this stroke of luck that really lets them show off his or her skill.

So, to return to the original question, being good at games is a combination of both skill and luck. If games relied solely on skill, they could become formulaic and boring. If luck prevailed, everyone would have an equal chance of winning. But the coming-together of the two is what makes gaming such a challenging and enjoyable activity for millions of people around the world.

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