I once journeyed to Vietnam so that I might have an interesting conversation piece at Christmas parties. Whilst sojourning, I happened to flip on the television to practice my Vietnamese. I know one word: Pho. Alas, my efforts at language acquisition were stymied by a thing of unrivaled beauty: a channel dedicated entirely to e-sports. Primarily of the DOTA and Starcraft variety. I was among my people, in the spiritual sense at least. I experienced the silent peace of harmony, and I expected ascension.
I remember thinking at the time how wretched we were to not know such pleasures in the USA. Sure, there were installments of competitive video games here and there, curiously inserted into the mainstream media. Always on the margin though, a footnote embarrassingly added to “experiment” with the idea. The occasional highlight on ESPN the Ocho or a passing mention on G4. However, rigorous coverage remained elusive. These were lean times. Hard times.
I speak of them rarely, and only in hushed tones.
Yet the times, they are a changin’. At this very moment I’m watching The Odd One, a well known League of Legends player, style on some clowns in a solo queue troll fest. He rages, and I rage with him. It’s endless entertainment. With the arrival of streams, I finally have the channels I so coveted.
This is an enormous personal development. You see, I don’t much care for traditional sports. I played them once upon a time, but only as cover for my penchant for wizardry. Trust me, I saw what happened to the kid that wore the Gandalf robe to school — not pretty, though I like to think he caught the beating because his command of Elvish was shaky at best.
Nowadays, I can while away the hours watching the top players improve their understanding of the game. I can hear free commentary, and the better streamers manage to be the fact guy and color guy simultaneously (HotshotGG, I know ye well). On occasion, I’m handed delicious morsels like scrimmages or even full fledged tournaments. It’s outstanding stuff.
I believe that e-sports has finally arrived. With the massive expansion of the games industry and the increasing number of tools for content delivery, there is finally a suitably large and accessible audience. I’ve seen streams rocking 80k+ concurrent viewers (to say nothing of subsequent views for archived streams). I see thoughtful commentary in various bastions of nerdom: forums, reddit, youtube, etc. I see organized teams with dedicated followings. And T-Shirts. One knows one has arrived when there is merchandising involved.
The scene is also helped by the serious treatment it receives from various patrons. Riot Games is plopping down 5 million in prize money for this ladder season. Stakes are a critical component to competition. In Bobby Fisher’s day, it was the Cold War on the chess board. In the early 2000s, it was 7 digit sums pulled down in the World Series of Poker. If enough is wagered, the audience will arrive. There is currently some serious money hitting the table in competitive gaming. I hope there is more to come.
The final aspect I find so endearing about e-sports are the competitors themselves. People who aspire to heights of gaming are generally not the heroes of high school. There are exceptions, but they undermine my point so they don’t count. I love seeing the perpetual underdog lay claim to the prize for a change. Heck, some of these guys are even getting the girl. I mean, there is only one girl, but someone is getting her. Theoretically. They sometimes stream together, okay? It’s progress.
Anyways, e-sports, I salute you. I can’t wait to watch more.
For folks inclined to take a peek, I find myself gravitating to the following channels (warning, they’re probably offline, though you can watch their archives):
- Magic: The Gathering Online — AJ Sacher
- Starcraft II — Artosis
- Starcraft II — Destiny
- League of Legends — TheOddOne
JM: We need to go get some pho. What was that little sweatshop place called? Honestly, the appeal of e-Sports is a bit of a mystery to me. But the same was true with social games, and now look at us. I’ll hold judgment for now.