Every day, I wake up the same as most people. I do the normal morning activities such as brushing my teeth or showering. After that though, I do something not many people do — play Geoguessr.
I look at a rock, which is particularly reddish-brown — easy, Brazil. I see a sheep that looks Australian — another easy round. Mountains with spotty shrub coverage? It has to be Albania. I then see a turtle at my feet — we must be in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. My last stop shows me a utility pole with distinct black and yellow stripes, almost screaming Taiwan.
I’d be lying if I said the game was that easy for me. I’m at best an intermediate-level Geoguessr player, but that above thought process is akin to those of some of the greats of the game like GeoWizard or Rainbolt. Both of these players are adept at Geoguessr, and it is incredible to watch them narrate their thought processes. But before I get further into how impressive this all is, let me explain the basics.
Anton Wallén, a Swedish software engineer, created Geoguessr in 2013 as a fun side hobby for himself and some friends. The premise is simple. You’re dropped in a random spot in the world that has been covered by a Google Street Car like this one. You get to move around and explore the area virtually, looking for clues as to where you may be. It could be a street sign or a website domain on a store window (they use the .fr domain at the end of websites in France) or anything that gets you closer to figuring out the location. After three minutes, you’re forced to make a guess on a standard world map and you’re given a score from 0-5000 based on how close you are to the exact spot.
A game consists of five such rounds and at the end you get a score out of 25,000 points that determines how well you did. There are also ways to tweak the rules to adjust for skill level. If you’re new, you can remove the time limit and really explore. If the standard settings are too easy, you can move the time all the way down to 10 seconds and/or prevent yourself from moving, panning or zooming into the location.
Although people could work together to solve Geoguessr games, it lacked a social element until the addition of Competitive mode. This was a complete game changer. In one such mode, “Duels”, you play against one other person and each make a guess with time pressure, with each person starting with a certain amount of health. If you do better on that round than your opponent, you take health off your opponent. The last person with health remaining wins. There are also two different “Battle Royale” modes that can hold ten players at a time and eliminates one person every round who makes the worst guess.
Based on your performance in these games, you get an ELO-based rating on a scale from 400-1400, which helps Geoguessr match you against players with similar ratings. This competitive aspect adds a whole dimension to Geoguessr. Now you can play it either to relax or to compete.
Everyone has an even match somewhere because there are novices and experts online at all times. And unlike some sports, there’s a bit of chance in each match. Even if your opponent is better than you, maybe you’ve been to a place that they haven’t, giving you an advantage. However, the level of chance isn’t usually enough to overcome a rating difference of more than 100. In short, upsets can happen, but not too much such that they’re still special and they’re rarely egregious.
Until Geoguessr became competitive, it was just a fun thing for people to do in their free time. Now, it’s getting bigger and there are legitimate pros and competitions for money. It takes skill, but has a perfect learning curve. A month or so of practice will get you to a decent level, but you need to grind a lot harder to make progress afterward.
As a result, the game is growing. The Geoguessr subreddit has more than 50,000 members. Several Geoguessr creators accumulate millions of views on each video, and it’s only $3 a month for a Pro membership. The game has all the tools; it just needs to take the next step by getting itself out there to a broader scope of people.
If we’re not considering esports to be sports, then I’ll admit that Geoguessr isn’t much of a sport. However, I truly believe Geoguessr deserves a spot at the table as much as League of Legends, and it should trend that way as it increases in popularity and earns more respect.