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The Rise of Competitive Gaming & E-Sports | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios

September 22, 2019


[MUSIC PLAYING] T.L. TAYLOR: E-sports
is a way of signaling all of those things we
find in traditional sports, and the shared community
of passionate gamers that comes around that. DAMIEN DAILIDENAS:
The thing that I love about “Street Fighter,”
of course, is the competition. I go to a tournament. If I win, it’s amazing. Like, it’s the best
feeling in the world. AJ MAZUR: As long as there are
people playing video games, there are people ready
to watch video games. T.L. TAYLOR: Competitive
gaming has been present since the earliest
days of arcade play. People forming around favorite
titles, sharing top scores, competing against each other. When personal computers
came on the scene and those became popular, people
started going to LAN parties– local area network parties– to
play and compete face to face. When we get the
Internet, of course, that changes everything. Because people can now
start competing with people they’ve never met before. What happens then
is that there’s business people who are
interested in seeing if they can also make some
money off of that scene. So coming in and starting
more formal tournaments, formal organizations,
that run year to year. Despite having now been
around for several decades, it’s still in very early days. It’s still trying to figure
out its economic models. It’s still sorting out
the broadcast model. It’s still trying to figure
out what spectatorship means, and how to bring
more people into it. So I think for me that’s one
of the really important stories of e-sports. It’s what does it mean to
turn something that we mostly think of an object of
leisure into something you’re professionally
passionate about and are dedicating lots of
time, hard work and energy to. AJ MAZUR: When it comes
to e-sports right now, there are four major genres. First off, you have your
shooters– “Counter-Strike,” “Halo,” “Call of Duty.” You have those. Next up is the fighting games. They’ve been around
for the longest. “Street Fighter,” “Tekken,”
“BlazBlue,” “Guilty Gear”– things like that. Then you have
real-time strategy, which is really the basis of
e-sports where it is today. It started off with the
original “StarCraft,” now went over to “StarCraft
II,” “Warcraft II,” “Command & Conquer”– a
lot of games in the genre. And then it finally is
MOBAs– the multiplayer online battle arenas. This is your
“League of Legends,” “Dota,” “Dota 2,” “Heroes
of Newerth,” “Smite.” Shooters and MOBAs are more
the team-oriented games. You have a group of guys–
three, four, five people, depending on the game. And they really work on
team coordination, teamwork, for some sort of goal. For shooters, it’s
usually capturing bases of getting tons of kills. For the MOBAs, it’s go and
destroy the enemy’s base. The real-time strategy
games and the fighting games are more of the one
v one situations. RTS games, you have
command of little armies. You try to destroy your
enemy’s base, just one v one. Same thing with the fighters. You have a health bar. You goal? Just get that thing to zero. I think a lot of the
misconceptions about e-sports carried over from misconceptions
about video games– how it’s a waste of time. When in reality, you
can make quite a bit of money off of this. And in some parts
of the world, it can really open huge
career paths for you. T.L. TAYLOR: Right
now there are hundreds of e-sports tournaments
every year worldwide. And they’re organized
in a range of ways. There are some very polished,
professional leagues. There are also game developers
who run events themselves, all the way down to
volunteer organizations who are doing small,
local tournaments in their communities. So there’s a pretty
broad spectrum. At tournaments, spectators
energize in the same way they do at traditional
sporting events. When I talk to e-sports
fans, they often compare their e-sports
fandom to their fandom of a traditional sport, whether
it’s soccer, or basketball. So it means we’ve
got to figure out how to bring all these other
people into what is essentially a one-to-one space. And so over the
years, there have been lots of different
ways of doing this. Broadcast modules in games–
putting a big screen up in a room so that
people can all sort of watch one player’s perspective. One of the most
interesting things that’s happened in
the last couple years is the growth of live streaming,
where people are broadcasting tournaments, matches,
or even practice time, over the Internet onto
channels that lots of people can spectate at once. So it’s a big challenge– how to
let tens of thousands of people get into that space of digital
play, the digital playing field. DAMIEN DAILIDENAS: I was raised
on a small island in the Bronx. There was this local pizza place
that got “Street Fighter I.” So I got into that
with my friends. It was very addicting. And then “Street Fighter
II” eventually came along. And that was huge. That, like, took
the world by storm. So that was, of course, the
game that got me hooked. And I was the best in my
little group of friends. So one thing led to another. I found a local tournament
that was in Philadelphia. This was a really
small tournament. There was only
about eight people. I was just really fascinated
that there were tournaments for this game that I loved. So we played. And you know, I got destroyed. But it was a real
eye opener to see how differently
the game was played from when I thought I was good. The metagame, and the
strategy involved, was, like, way different. So I was getting beat
my characters that were unheard of getting beat
by back when I was younger. When I first started, I was
going to almost every major of the year. I’d fly at least six
or seven times a year. I was really hungry to test my
skills and climb the mountain. When you’re at home, playing on
the couch or with your friends, you’re totally
comfortable with anybody. That’s when a lot of people
can really play their best. But when you go to a
tournament, there’s this new element that you
really have to get used to. And you only do that by
going to more tournaments. And that’s the element of
hundreds of thousands of people that you don’t know
watching you play and judging your every move. The community now is
extremely friendly. Like 99% of the
people that go to tournaments are
there for the party. So yeah. It’s a very close-knit
community in that regard. I’ve kind of reached the top
of the mountain in America. So I’m going to make a big
trip to Japan this year. That’s where all the
best players are. My goal now is to
go there and be able to beat them consistently. T.L. TAYLOR: The
e-sports community needs to really confront
in a serious way, and grapple with, real problems
if it wants to continue growing and bringing new people in. It is male-dominated right now. And sexism is something that
the scene and the community struggle with. There are structural
problems that keep women out. I think that
community has tended to support itself and turn
inward, kind of take pride in their own outsider status. And I think one of the
things that’s happening now is computer gaming
has really just become a mainstream leisure activity. And so the e-sports
community is having to transition into what it means
from going from geek subculture to something actually hundreds
of thousands of people may be participating in. And I think the people who
are very interested in growing e-sports tend to be really
dedicated and passionate about improving
e-sports competitions. I think if the community
can sort out and get through this growing pain of
being a more inclusive space, it has an interesting
future ahead. DAMIEN DAILIDENAS:
I have a small group of dedicated friends. We meet about once a week. And we play. You have to be real
analytical in picking apart why you’re losing. T.L. TAYLOR: Right now
the model is around advertising as a
predominant form of support. It’s one of the
most fragile parts of the scene in many ways. Because it’s still
trying to find the best way to make it sustainable. AJ MAZUR: Every
progressive year has been the biggest year for e-sports. Viewership keeps going up. The number of pros
keeps going up. Prize money keeps going up. It’s a huge growing industry. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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