The Kotaku article that took a jab at competitive gaming really threw me for a loop. No, it wasn’t what Kotaku's Jen Schiller wrote. If you listened to the Original Gamer Podcast episode featuring Jim Sterling and Ben Paddon, you would realize that I, along with many others don’t take Kotaku that seriously. What surprised me, and broke my heart a little, was that the biggest haters of the competitive gaming scene were OTHER GAMERS.
Many people rightfully praise what gamers can do if we come together. The recent drive by the Extra Credits guys to raise money for their artist or the millions of dollars that have been raised through various charities like Extra Life show that gamers can be a force for good. Yet here it was, in front of my eyes: criticism against competitive gaming and pro gamers coming from the very people that should be supporting them.
Before I continue with my current disgust, I’d like to take you back to a few years ago. It was around 2005 when U.S. gamers became aware of how big a phenomenon Starcraft had become in South Korea. In 2005, National Geographic made a documentary about Starcraft's immense popularity and the pro gamers that competed against each other in that game.
US gamers were in awe of the lifestyle of being a pro gamer and at the pageantry of the events held in South Korea. Many asked themselves: "Why doesn’t this happen in the U.S.?"
We are getting much closer to that point. 2011 is the year of competitive gaming. Fighting games have become the new face of competitive gaming thanks to the increasingly popular streams of Level Up Series and Team Spooky who have several thousand viewers watching their streams on a weekly basis and tens of thousands viewers tuning in for major tournaments.
The world’s largest fighting game event, Evo 2010, had more than 3,000 competitors present last year and many more attendees. Players like Justin Wong, Mike Ross, and Daigo Umehara have become names in the gaming community. They receive sponsorships from pro gaming teams like Evil Geniuses and Complexity along with being sponsored by gaming accessory companies like Mad Catz and Hori. With the release of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition and Mortal Kombat this year, the fighting game scene has never been so alive. Just as in any other competitive activity, there are people who enjoy watching the best compete.
Last year, Starcraft 2 was released, increasing the already large pro gaming community. Streams featuring Starcraft 2 pros competing with each other have become incredibly popular, featuring players like MvP, Huk and Idra. Major League Gaming, Global Starcraft 2 League and even the newly started North American Star League are offering prizes ranging from several thousand dollars to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
That’s not all. League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops and of course the game that’s been at the center of competitive gaming in the U.S. for more than a decade, Counterstrike, are all games that have competitors playing them at the highest levels. With the pending releases of Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and Gears of War 3, competitive gaming will have all the elements it needs to make it successful.
Former pro gaming leagues like the Cyberathlete Pro League and Championship Gaming Series had to close up shop due to lack of interest, sponsors, and some underhanded dealings. While these leagues had competitors, they didn’t have drawing power. Some say that was due to the lack of a visual production, but before there were streams, pro gaming was on TV. It was simply unwatchable, though. Streaming, while being run by amateurs, gave viewers what they want. Yes, they want to watch great players compete, but they also want to gain a deeper understanding of the games that great commentators like Day9, James Chen, Skisonic, and Ultradavid. Developers have also done their part in molding their games to create a better viewing experience.
Right now we have the games, we have the players, and we have the means to provide an entertaining viewing experience for viewers. So why the hell are gamers so damn negative about competitive gaming?! How can we expect competitive gaming to be taken seriously by the public when even other gamers don’t want to take competitive gaming seriously?
First, we have asinine comments about how competitive gaming takes away the "fun" of video games. That statement gives me the same douche chills that I get when every kid in school gets a medal for doing nothing. Along with those comments we have the typical comments of "why watch a game when I can play it." My face could not sustain the intense amount of facepalming I was doing as I yelled "YOU CAN DO BOTH, YOU IDIOT!" at my computer screen. Nothing is stopping you from doing it, and guess what? You can actually watch a master play the same game that you are! Seriously, how is it that any mention of watching pro gamers play ends up riddled with these kinds of comments and yet those arguments are almost never mentioned when people talk about watching sports? I can shoot a basketball, pitch a baseball, and throw a football, but I watch sports because I want to see the best players playing them. That's the same reason why many people watch competitive game streams.
If you want to gaming to continue to grow to a point where there is no doubt that it is art, that it is not just for kids, and for it to be taken seriously, then you need to do your part by supporting other gamers, including pro gamers. While being amazing in their respective games, these competitors are still gamers through and through. Why put them down? Is it because they're doing something they love to do and are damn good at? Is it out of jealousy? It's not like they're the jocks in high school that made fun of you because you weren't as good as they are in certain sports. These players also wait in line for a major releases, spend hours on message boards talking about their favorite non-competitive games, and squeal with joy when they meet the developers of their favorite games.
You don’t have to cheer for pro gamers and you certainly don’t have to watch them. That said, the least you can do is stop the dismissive remarks about pro gaming because you are only helping to keep the gaming community divided. Lots of people play games for fun, and a few play for money and fame. What's wrong with that? Whether it's at Evo or a local tournament, many gamers enjoy watching and participating in competitive gaming tournaments. Competitive gaming has been around since the days of high scores and it isn't going away anytime soon, so how about showing our 'best of the best' some love, instead?
Let us know what you think.
Art by xxgdogg17xx