eSports hits the main stage in New York
Jakiro the two-headed dragon catches the Crystal Maiden in an ice stream before the wyvern spits out a burst of liquid fire. The burning phlegm connects, melting the maiden instantly as her allies come to avenge her slaying the dragon. But it’s too late; the Evil Geniuses have already breached the Alliance’s defenses.
EG’s Death Prophet storms the enemy keep with a platoon of minions and a swarm of spirits. Together they whittle down the Dire’s Ancient remaining health to a tiny sliver, bringing them one attack away from victory. In the ensuing madness, the ghostly keeper dies in a four versus one fight with Alliance, but Visage’s familiars manage to slip through and deliver the final blow.
YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU_W9Kia65E
The match ends as the crowd chants USA. A roar of excitement from 5,000 seats fills the theater at Madison Square Garden. This is pure unadulterated madness.
This is eSports.
A 21st century sport
Madison Square Garden is famous for being the home of the New York Knicks basketball team, boxing matches and circus performances. Recently the Electronics Sports League, or ESL, has decided to host its first Dota 2 tournament on the east coast at this iconic New York venue. While the theater might have only held 5,000 audience members, there were also (as of this writing) 10,750,707 viewers watching the event live over Twitch.
In the grand scheme of eSports events, these are actually paltry numbers. The International 4 Dota competition held at Seattle’s Key Arena in July brought an audience of 10,000 people from locales around the world including Sweden, Berlin and Beijing. And that’s not counting the 20 million people who tuned in through Twitch.
eSports is a phenomenon quickly becoming the most popular pastime of the 21st century. Once shunned by venues because no one thought people would pay to see nerds play around with keyboard and mice, eSports has started bringing in bigger audiences than more well funded events like football and baseball.
More than a game
Winning the Dota 2 competition in New York isn’t just a matter of earning a title and a big, shiny metal cup. There’s also a $100,000 (about £62,293, AU$114,794) grand prize pot on the line where $52,000 (about £32,392, AU$59,693) goes to the winning team.
Similarly there’s more to being a professional gamer than lightening reflexes. It also requires good communication, teamwork and strategy. For this reason Evil Geniuses manager Charlie Yang shared that every team member spends three to six hours a day training in team practice during the regular season. On top of this, players will spend another three to six hours honing their own skills in individual training. Being a professional gamer already sounds like a full time job but EG’s team members also host their own gaming streaming to further supplement their income.
Similarly there’s more than meets the eye when watching the best gamers duke it out online. Turning eSports into into an event that engrosses the audience is an art. While it’s easy to see the play or field in video games, Twitch COO Kevin Lin highlighted that “it also requires good spectator tools that allow you to move the camera independently and pull up stats to understand what’s going on in the game.”
“There’s [also] professional commentators which helps the hardcore enthusiasts appreciate the deep level of strategy that’s happening in these games,” Lin said. “It also helps newcomers get a grasp of what’s going on.”
Not just a fad
Game watching hooks
eSports has existed for a long time with shooters, fighting games and StarCraft. More recently though, the revived interest in Dota 2 and similar MoBA’s such as League of Legends have turbo charged the eSports movement. Now more games, even ones like Hearthstone, are becoming part of the competitive game watching phenomenon.
At its core, Dota 2 is a game all about making your way from your base to the enemy stronghold to kill their ancient. The map is split into three lanes that players can travel along and strung along these paths are defensive towers that you and your minions have to take down. That’s Dota 2 in a nutshell. But there’s also much more to the game once you factor in items, combos, farming monsters and newly added bounty rune power ups.
Lin explains because of this complexity, watching a Dota 2 match is very engaging since you can see the player’s skill level. At the same time viewers will think about how they could play out an encounter in their own head.
Even a novice can appreciate the action that comes in giant clashes and narrow escapes during a Dota 2 match. One elderly Madison Square Garden usher even noted “this is the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen!”
On the uptick
With eSports rising in popularity, there are bigger events happening more frequently every year.
“Flashback to three years ago, you’d see one event every month,” Lin quipped. “Now you’re seeing an event almost every single weekend with events popping up around the world and they’re happening very frequently.”
ESL One’s Managing Director of Pro Gaming Ulrich Schulze noted that eSports exploded in popularity last year and continues to see steady growth.
“In the past it used to be during times of the year we had a few weeks off without events, we don’t really have it anymore” he said. “Our studio in Cologne, Germany is booked throughout the year for big events.”
Schulze said eSports is only going to get bigger and recalled that in January 2013, ESL One held its own inaugural stadium event. This year the competitive gaming organization held an event at the 52,000 seat Commerzbank-Arena, which was once used as one of Germany’s 2006 World Cup football stadiums.
On December 6 and 7, Intel Extreme Masters will hold a League of Legends and StarCraft II event at the San Jose SAP Center. With a capacity over 18,000, the venue is set to welcome one of the largest eSports events ever held in North America.
From the look of these numbers, it doesn’t seem like eSports are going to disappear any time soon.
ESL One New York Dota 2 event in pictures
- The rise of Twitch is one very big part eSports phenomenon