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Esports Slang Used by Competitive Gaming Greats

I can still remember the exact moment when I realized “old guy” might just be a term that applied to me.

My nephew was hanging out for the weekend, alternating between marathon video game sessions and something called Snap while I tried to keep up. I’m not the most technologically savvy person in the world, and unless we’re talking about my fly-fishing technique, I have no clue what a Snap could be. I’d always been close with my nephew, but as he becomes increasingly focused on his own interests, we seem to have less and less to talk about.

At some point, I heard him on the phone talking about “nerfing,” so when he came out for lunch a little later on, I was excited to finally have an opening for conversation.

Unfortunately, that conversation didn’t exactly go like I planned:

  • [Me]: “I used to have a pretty cool Nerf gun as a kid ya know…”
  • [Him]: “Oh yeah? Didn’t even know you played. In which game?”
  • [Me]: “Ah, well, we just ran around and played ‘War,’ maybe a little target practice.”
  • [Him]: “Yeah, but in which game?”
  • [Me]: “I told you, Nerf guns.”
  • [Him]: [Laughing] “That’s not what Nerf means.”
  • [Me]: “Huh?”

At this point, we’re both extremely confused. I pulled out my phone and searched for the old Nerf guns I remembered, experiencing a wave of nostalgia as I scrolled through the brightly colored weapons firing Styrofoam projectiles.

My nephew seemed to get a kick out of the “old-school” toys, and he even hinted that he’d like to try one, so know I have a Christmas gift scratched off the list at the very least. But I wanted to know what “nerf” he was referring to earlier, and that’s when he let me in on his private video gaming universe.

After a long talk – and a hands-on tutorial in a cool game called Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition – I learned all about what competitive gamers call a “nerf.”

As it turns out, today’s video games can be continually updated through software patches, a process which allows developers a series of chances to respond to player feedback. And when players like my nephew and his pals find a particular character to be overly powerful – in this case, a boxer character called “Balrog” who pummeled opponents into submission with extraordinary ease – game designers are free to reduce that character’s abilities on the fly.

Taking a character, or another aspect of the game, and reducing its power to level the proverbial playing field is what competitive gamers mean when they refer to “nerfing.” Apparently, the kid loved playing as Balrog, but a recent update to his favorite fighting game essentially neutered the character by removing his overwhelming power  attacks and other attributes.

I know that now, but I suspect many members of my generation have no clue about the world of esports. I sure didn’t, not until my nephew gave me a crash course in fighting games like Street Fighter, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft, and battle royale shooters like Fortnite.

By the time our weekend was up, I found myself hooked on the Fortnite game, which somehow reminded me of Capture the Flag games out in the woods. I wound up buying an Xbox of my own, and nowadays, I can be found under the screenname “Uncle1967” on Fortnite a few days per week. As it turns out, today’s video game systems link up with the internet, so I can compete directly alongside my nephew in tandem games while we both try to survive the “Storm” to become the last man standing.

I’ve definitely improved as a gamer, but even I know my status would be described best as a “noob.” That’s esports shorthand for “newbie,” or an inexperienced player who hasn’t learned the ins and outs of a particular game just yet.

Keeping up with all this video game vernacular is probably the most difficult part of participating in my nephew’s esports adventures, so I’ve been trying my best to learn the lingo. To that end, I’ve put together the following glossary of esports terminology and slang to guide fellow noobs into the intricate world of competitive gaming.

Auto Attack – Any attack move which can be initiated automatically, through button taps or mouse clicks, to repeatedly damage a target

Aggro –In its most common usage, “aggro” is shorthand for an aggressive, attacking style of play designed to pressure opponents. Another usage of “aggro” describes a gameplay mechanic whereby non-player characters attack players (i.e. “I’m taking aggro from this stupid NPC”).

AoE –An acronym for “Area of Effect.”AOE is typically used to describe spells or attacks that have a predetermined targeting area.

Backdoor –A method of attack used to infiltrate an opponent’s base in Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) and Real Time Strategy (RTS) games. When using a backdoor, players typically sneak up, or otherwise disguise their entrance, before surprising and overwhelming an opponent’s base.

Blink /Flash –Both terms are used to describe a style of movement in which characters disappear from the screen, before reappearing in another location.

BM –An acronym for “Bad Manners.” BM is typically used as an insult during heated chatbox exchanges.

Brush –Also known as “bush” or “the bushes,” brush is any area of the game map that is obscured, blocked off, or otherwise inaccessible. Players can conceal themselves in the brush to avoid detection.

Buff –The process of improving or enhancing a weaker character’s in-game abilities and attributes. Buffing a character is the opposite of nerfing.

Build –A term used to describe the methodology behind building a particular character or base. You might opt for a defensive build by fortifying the perimeter of a base with walls and turrets, or use an offensive build defined by scouting attacks.

Burst damage – Dealing an opponent or in-game character significant levels of damage with a single move, or within a short period of time.

Carry –Any character protected and preserved by a team due to its superior strength. The carry is given protection priority due to its enhanced strength and ability to deal high levels of damage to opposing teams.

Casting –In the most common usage, “casting” refers to the charging period required before certain spells, abilities, or attacks can be used. Another definition of “casting” is simply shorthand for broadcasting, used in reference to commentators and streamers who announce esports competitions.

CC (Crowd Control) –An acronym for Crowd Control. CC refers to certain abilities or attacks that limit another character’s controls. The most common forms of CC are described below:

  • Knockback –Character is pushed, pulled, or otherwise moved
  • Root –Character is rendered frozen in place, but can still wield abilities
  • Stun – Character is completely frozen and loses all abilities
  • Blind/Silence – Character is unable to attack or wield abilities, respectively

Channel – Any ability which, once used, prevents the character from performing additional actions until the casting animation is complete.

Cheese –A derisive term used to describe any style of play believed to be cheap or unfair. When you use a single move repeatedly to drain an opponent’s health meter, or skip significant portions of a map or track, you are “cheesing” the game.

Cooldown – After using an ability, cooldown is the period of time in which that ability cannot be used a second time.

Comp –Shorthand for “composition,” comp is a term used to describe any grouping of characters selected to form a team.

CS – Acronym for “Creep Score.” CS is typically used to count the number of non-player characters you have killed or defeated during the game.

Denying –The process of preventing another player from targeting non-player characters, or protecting them from other players.

Dive –A strategy defined by plowing ahead into an unsafe area and incurring additional risk to pursue a kill or objective.

DPS –Acronym for “Damage Per Second.”DPS is typically used in reference to characters capable of distributing significant damage during a short attack.

Drafting –The process of selecting which characters will be used, and which will be sidelined, ahead of a match or battle.

DQ –Acronym for “disqualified.” DQ is typically used when a player breaks the rules or otherwise breaches in-game protocol.

Farm –The process of obtaining in-game currency and other resources, typically through increasing your creep score by destroying enemy minions.

Feeding –When a player repeatedly loses or dies against the same opponent, causing that opponent’s power to increase in kind, they are said to be “feeding” the enemy.

FF –Acronym for “Finish Fast.” FF is typically used to inform teammates that you have a chance to end the game imminently. Typing “FF” into the chatbox can also be used to surrender, a la tipping one’s queen over in chess.

Flaming – Verbal abuse or harassment targeting opponents in the chatbox.

Fog of war – A term used to describe outlying areas of the map which are obscured from view until you move closer.

FPS –Acronym for “First Person Shooter.” FPS is used to describe the entire genre of shooting games like Overwatch, Call of Duty, and CSGO.

Frag –Another term for “kill” or “death” inflicted on the enemy.

Ganking – Used to describe any attack which surprises an unprepared enemy.

GG – Acronym for “Good Game.” GG is typically sent in chat as a way of conceding defeat or congratulating an opponent on a well-played contest.

Glass cannon –When a character is capable of inflicting heavy damage, but succumbs to minor attacks, they are said to be a “glass cannon.”

GLHF –Acronym for “Good Luck Have Fun.” GLHF is typically sent through chat before a match begins.

Gold advantage –Used to describe the discrepancy between various teams in terms of gold or similar resources (i.e. “We’re playing better than them, but their gold advantage is too much to overcome”).

Griefing –Used to describe a style of play designed solely to antagonize, annoy, or anger opponents.

Harass – Used to describe a style of play based on staying out of an opponent’s attack range, while simultaneously inflicting small levels of damage their way.

Initiating –When you start a fight, or gank an opponent, you are “initiating” the conflict.

Inting –Shorthand for “intentional.” Inting is typically used to describe the act of intentionally feeding enemy characters or opponents. Inting can also refer to intentionally losing or “throwing” a game.

Juke –The act of deceiving an opponent and getting them to target or attack empty space (i.e. “I kept juking the guy so bad, he was missing me by a mile”).

Jungler –Used to describe players who concentrate on attacking non-player characters, obtaining gold and resources, and otherwise assisting their team.

Kappa –When viewing a live streamed esports event on Twitch, viewers often use the Kappa emoticon to express sarcasm or glee.

KDA –Acronym for “Kills / Deaths / Assists.”KDA is the typical format used for scoring shooters.

Kiting –The act of evading an opponent, staying just out of their attack range while baiting them to continue a futile pursuit.

Laning –Used to describe the act of pursuing a certain “lane” in Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games. Laning typically takes place in the early stage of a battle, as players focus on accumulating gold, weapons, and other resources.

Last hit –The final blow or damage dealt to defeat an opponent or in-game enemy.

Metagame –Also known as the “meta,” metagame is used to describe ways in which a game can be played most effectively. Individual characters, styles of play, and team composition methods can all have their own metagame.

Minions –The non-player characters players must mow down in first-person shooters and other level-pursuit type games. The “goombas” in Super Mario Bros. and ghosts in Pac-Man were among the earliest minions.

MOBA –Acronym for “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.” Popular MOBA games include Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, and Vainglory.

Nerf –As described in the introduction, characters can be “nerfed” by game developers when they become too powerful. Nerfing restores game balance by bringing all characters closer together in terms of power, ability, and skill.

NPC –Acronym for “Non-Player Character.” NPCs are the various interlopers you’ll meet while exploring massively multiplayer online role-playing games and first-person shooters. NPCs often provide valuable resources or information.

OOM –Acronym for “Out of Mana.” OOM takes place when your lack of mana prevents you from summoning, casting, or otherwise using abilities.

Peel –Shorthand for “peel off,” to peel is to cease engaging with enemies while attempting to save a teammate.

Proc –Used to describe instances when an ability or item based on random chance is activated.

QQ – Acronym for “Go Quit” or “Go Cry.” GG is a staple on the Battlenet platform maintained by Blizzard, where players can use ALT+Q+Q to immediately exit a game. The shape of “QQ” is said to resemble a pair of eyes crying.

Recall/Teleport –The act of returning to your base, or any area of the map, by using a certain item or ability.

RNG –Acronym for “Random Number Generator.” RNG is typically used in reference to the “shuffling” randomization effect used in card-based strategy games like Hearthstone.

Rotation –Used to describe the path a team takes while moving throughout the game map.

RTS –Acronym for“Real Time Strategy.”Popular RTS games include the StarCraft, Warcraft, and Command and Conquer series.

Rush –The act of immediately attacking an opponent or base before they have time to adequately defend.

Salty –A derisive term used to describe angry or frustrated opponents (i.e. “No need to get salty just because I’ve spanked you in three straight matches”).

Shot-caller –Used to describe the lead player on a team tasked with deciding who will attack where, which enemies will be targeted, and other in-game strategies.

Shutout –The act of preventing an opponent from scoring, killing, or otherwise winning. A “Flawless Victory” in Mortal Kombat would be considered a shutout.

Skillshot –Any shot or attack which moves in line with a path devised by the player.

Smoke –Any ability capable of obscuring or limiting your opponent’s vision.

Snowball –Used to describe instances in which a player or team has become so powerful that opponent’s have no legitimate chance to compete.

Stack –Used to describe a group of players and/or units concealing their true numbers by lining up in close proximity.

Tank –A type of character defined by durability and resistance to damage (i.e. “I’m not a fan of her attacking moves, but Cammy can be a tank when you play her correctly”).

Tilt –Used to describe a frustrated player’s state of mind. A player “on tilt” is more prone to making mistakes, as their anger clouds their judgment and prompts impulsive actions. Tilt is commonly used at the poker table as well, but both esports and poker take the term from pinball, where losing players were known to tilt the machine in hopes of keeping their ball alive.

Ultimate –A character’s top attack or ability is known as their “ultimate.” These attacks typically deal extreme damage to opponents in exchange for a prolonged cooldown period.

Vision –The area of the game map which is currently visible to yourself and/or your team.

Wards –An item that, once obtained, allows players to clear the fog of war and gain increased visibility of the map.

Zerg – A style of play defined by acting aggressively early on, rather than waiting to acquire additional resources. A player prone to “zerging” will simply use their most basic attacks right off the bat in hopes of gaining the early advantage over a superior opponent.

Zoning –The act of using highly aggressive attacks to force opponents or enemies into retreat from a particular area on the map (i.e. “That wizard is absolutely killing us, we’ve gotta focus on zoning him away from here ASAP”).

Game-Oriented Glossaries

Many of the most popular esports titles today are long-running series that have spawned entire universes all their own. Between character development and world building, modern video games are intricately layered immersive experiences, complete with their own vocabulary and modes of communication.

For that reason, game-oriented glossaries that spell out all the slang used in a particular series can be godsends for inexperienced gamers. Check out the glossaries below to learn all about the unique terms and phrases found in your favorite games:

Keeping up with what the kids are into isn’t always necessary, and they surely have a few hobbies that us old folks have no need for, but esports actually bridges that divide.Depending on your age, you probably came up playing anything from Pong to Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros. or Zelda, or maybe something like Sim City or Starcraft. In any event, video games aren’t exactly a newfangled invention to ignore – they’re fun and entertaining ways to challenge yourself. No matter where your interest in esports stems from – trying to connect with a younger family like I did, or simply finding a new way to stay busy while having a little fun along the way-learning how to speak the language is an essential step if you want to enjoy competitive video games.

On that note, I hope the glossary above gives you a great head start in that regard.

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