To the hardcore eSports fans out there – stop reading now, you’re only going to call me old and grumpy and want to troll me online.
To the people reading this who have a fleeting knowledge of eSports, hello. And if you’ve never heard of eSports you’re about to have your mind blown.
It’s not like I’ve been blissfully unaware of eSports (or e-Sports or E Sports – let’s pick a name) at all – I’ve done interviews on it over the years, covered the rise of it in many ways here and on the radio. But I’ve never been to an event.
I’m a rev head, so my only other eSports experience was watching a live stream being broadcast of a Formula One race which was not real, but in fact a bunch of players on computers driving the cars. The graphics were so real to me as a viewer I didn’t immediately feel a great difference between this and the real thing on TV.
So yesterday, I went to the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney where rock stars and basketball teams all play. But this was no traditional sport – this was what I call Competitive Computer Gaming – or eSports.
The Intel Extreme Masters was the event and it wasn’t just eSports – there was an excellent showcase of all the amazing gaming tech going around at the moment (for the thousands of fans got to play with cool tech in the foyer outside the actual venue) while inside the stadium was where the hard core gaming action was taking place.
Crowd wise, the Arena wasn’t anywhere near packed, but there were several thousand people there filling the main centre seating and the first tier side seats and boy were they loud.
This was more like a Soccer game or All Blacks v Wallabies than anything else I’ve seen – the chanting, the yelling – they were getting right into it.
Putting on my old man fuddy duddy hat here, I’d have liked for the announcers to perhaps suggest less chanting using hard core swear words, but – this was hardly a family event.
The actual game being played on stage was Counterstrike – where five players took on the role of Terrorists and their five competitors played Counter Terrorist agents. (This alternates through the tournament).
And that game, well, it’s a first person shooter, so there’s a shoot to kill objective and there’s blood and gore for each kill.
Leaving that aside, and my desire to see more family friendly eSports next time I go along, what I was captivated by here was the actual event.
No expense was spared in the stage setup.
No expense spared in the arena setup with big screen TVs and score boards following the live action.
The live action was seen through the eyes of not an observer, but each player. The director of that screen action would choose players randomly and quickly to follow and watch their point of view – it took some time to really adjust and understand who was who, but for the fans, there was no complaints.
The players aren’t just kids on their weekends, these are professional teams, who train, some have nutritionists looking after them as a team to stay healthy and fit because the mental battle here seems quite extreme.
In this particular event, they were short “games” played over and over in a “best of” style format, and wow did the crowd get behind it.
I was impressed by the commentary and presentation of the event to the live audience around the world, I was impressed by a few of the players who were clearly big names in the eSports Community (SPUNJ anyone?) and how they spoke of their opponents and the fans.
But, there was a bit of a less than broadcast friendly overtone to a couple of the players who would need to clean up their thinking if they want this sport to hit its next big moment.
Now the eSports community probably think they have hit the big time with good crowds and huge live stream numbers, but that’s just the start.
Firstly, they’ve gotta start filling stadiums. The crowd was epic, but it could have been full.
Next, they’ve got to get broadcast deals, and not just one off special things, this needs to become a desirable property for broadcasters to haggle over.
And – there’s the Olympics. I truely believe this could be seen as an Olympic Sport. It won’t be a first person shooter game, just won’t happen, but find a game with both skill and strategy and you have a computer model that levels the playing field outside of the human players own skill and strategy model – and it’s really exciting.
The bottom line. I get it. This is the real deal. And frankly, I’d encourage anyone who loves playing games to get along, it’s an awesome experience. For those who are skeptical, pick a game or genre you have a fleeting interest in and the Arena experience will have you hooked!