Yesterday, I wrote a post tweaking 27-year-old professional gamer David "Zaccubus" Treacy for his comments in an interview with Alienware, mostly for what seemed like an attempt to blame pro gaming's lack of success in the mainstream on "cheesy" television productions. It sounded defensive, especially since, well, I don't see the appeal of eSports at all.
There has been a lot of feedback - some might call it a backlash! - since, some fair and some less than. At the very least it proves beyond doubt that there is a passionate and wide-ranging audience for professional (or at least structured, competitive) gaming.
Eventually pro gaming supporters started sending facts and figures to back up their arguments. Unfortunately before that, I was also accused of things that had nothing to do with the content of the article: of thinking pro gaming is only for kids; that I have never watched a pro gaming event (I have); and - most damning - that I played and enjoyed Pokémon. Oh, and that I have some sort of sexually transmitted infection that only FarmVille can cure.
I'm not going to paint the whole pro gaming community with the same broad brush by judging all of them from a few bad eggs, but I won't pretend it didn't make "giving pro gaming a chance" more difficult.
Still, I can understand why some are upset. The things I wrote were in response to Alienware's interview with David Treacy, not to pro gaming at large, and I apologise for treating it too casually. The bare-bones interview didn't make a strong argument for why pro gaming is (or is not, based on the numbers we've received) slipping into obscurity. The title - "Pro gamers staying alive, chasing the dream like the rest of us" - indicated that the interview would prove in some way that pro gamers are struggling. Treacy's answers, as well as a lot of the responses we have received, seem to point toward the opposite conclusion.
Some objected to my use of the phrase "regular people" at the end of the post, even though I was trying to make a joke about how I objected to Treacy's use of the phrase. It was a poor choice of words - on Treacy's part, but also on mine - to bring "regularity" into the argument. I have my nerdy pursuits; you have yours.
To pull directly from Treacy's response to a question about live competitive gaming in the US: "Only recently, thanks to MLG, can we see what gaming events should look like: Great shoutcasting, well presented, and without the need to cheese it up for regular people to understand." That comment insinuates that there's something irregular about the competitive gaming community, and lumps non-fans with non-gamers, which simply isn't a fair inclusion to make. That would be like saying those who don't play baseball can't possibly be fans of MLB, which obviously is not the case.
Ultimately, what I'm going to walk away from this with is more information and a small glimpse into the number of people who are passionate about eSports that I probably wouldn't have gone looking for on my own. I've tried watching pro tournaments, and I just wasn't that into it - maybe in the same way that you've tried a Final Fantasy game and just weren't that into it. In the end, we're all gamers and if we shared the same interests, the gaming industry wouldn't be as vast and successful as it is.
Joel Johnson, Kotaku's Editorial Director, added:
I've been following eSports and pro gaming as both a gamer and a tech journalist for over a decade. (I won't bore you with the shared daydreams I had with my friends about our plan for a Tribes television event, but suffice it to say we were sure it was going to be the most compelling new televised sport since the invention of snooker.)
It's hard not to be pessimistic about pro gaming's future at times, but no more so than when it seems to focus on attaining some sort of parity with other televised competitive sports. That's about as useful as trying to ask when video games will be better than movies. But the numbers and stats being passed around in light of Jen's post do show one thing: there are hundreds of thousands of people interested enough in some games to watch competitive play online. (Millions if you lump all the big games together. And tens of millions if you toss in Starcraft.)
That's not nothing.
For all the kvetching about responsibilities Kotaku has or doesn't have as a publication, one decision I made when I came on board went against my own personal instincts: we may criticize individual games, but we're going to celebrate gamers and the obsessive, passionate niche communities that make gamer culture so varied, even if each niche isn't a writer's particular jam. That's not to say we won't criticize things within gamer culture with which we disagree—bad attitudes, racism and misogyny, genre snobbery—but I don't want anybody to get the idea that we think we're an ever-so-slightly cooler variety of dork than anybody else. We know we're not.
The pity is that's exactly what torqued Jen about Treacy's interview in the first place: that he implied there was something lacking in "regular people" who couldn't be bothered to enjoy eSports, when the truth is some people—passionate gamers, even—just don't enjoy them. That didn't read entirely, but if it takes a dashed off opinion to get pro gamer advocates talking about their obsession of choice, I'm going to take it as a net win. — Joel Johnson
Here are some of the more informative responses to the article, received by Joel after tweeting for pro-gaming fans to weigh in:
Alex Nguyen (and others from /r/starcraft): "Pro-gaming/eSports is here, and in full force. Dreamhack, a tournament in Sweden, this past month pulled 900,000 unique viewers. 210,000 of them concurrent. And that was for only one game, League of Legends. Source. Have you heard of LoL? Have you seen the Team Liquid Calendar? It lists upcoming Starcraft 2 tournaments, including the NASL, which boasts a $100,000 prize pool. For Season 1. Seasons 2 and 3 have $100,000 and $200,000 prize pools, respectively. Have you seen South Korea's love for eSports? GomTV's Global StarLeague (GSL) July event has a prize pool of $121,900. They host an event roughly every other month. The previous event, a Super Tournament, had a prize pool of $190,082. IGN seems to know what's up. They love what's happening so much they're hosting a series of Starcraft 2 tournaments, and hired a staff of full time Starcraft commentators and video production guys to polish it to one of the most smoothly run tournaments of all time. As a last word about Starcraft 2, check out the premier tournaments. Eyeball those prize pools, and tell me that eSports isn't huge. MLG's Columbus, a general eSports event that included StarCraft 2, Halo: Reach, and CoD: Black Ops, in June had over 10 million streams. And this was only a 3 day event."
Nicolas Schweikhard: "You misrepresented eSports as this thing that goes on between 12year old's with HALO or Call of Duty but in reality that is not what eSports is. eSports is a growing market and companies are realizing that by sponsoring teams and players along with events."
Katie Goldberg, Major League Gaming: "More than 15,000 fans attended the recent Pro Circuit event in Columbus, Ohio (June 3-5) and more than 1,300 players from around the world competed. Even more impressive, the LIVE streaming of the event delivered a record-breaking 22.5 million online video streams to viewers in 164 countries – that is more than the NFL draft on NFL.com. The online viewers, combined with in-person attendance made Columbus the largest Pro Circuit competition in MLG history and we expect a similar turnout at the Anaheim Pro Circuit July 29-31."
Nick Fraser: "If you're looking for a pro gamer to feature I would recommend covering Chris "Huk" Loranger, a Canadian StarCraft 2 player. Huk moved to South Korea almost a year ago to compete in the Global StarCraft 2 League, the most prestigious StarCraft 2 tournament (aired live on Korean TV). He is currently dominating at StarCraft 2; in the past few weeks he won DreamHack 2011 (Sweden) and HomeStory Cup III (Germany), and just this morning he easily defeated his opponents in the latest round of the GSL. You can watch this here, matches 2 and 3.
Notice that it costs $US9.99 to watch those videos with ads, and yet it already has over 20,000 views, despite the matches only having been played a few hours ago. That also doesn't count live views. That's a lot of viewers and a lot of money in eSports!"
Jeff Dicker: "An outsider to hockey isn't going to know who Ryan Kessler is, but does it make watching any less boring? If you want to know who LiquidHuk is, just do a google search! More to the point, if you don't enjoy watching a basketball game, does that make you a "regular person" and all basketball fans basement dwelling weirdos?"
Adam Larson: "Professional gaming in a downturn is absolutely false. At one point it was on dropping, but in the past year it has exploded with more organizations jumping in. Even IGN has gotten in on hosting professional tournaments. Two years ago there wasn't enough content to keep me occupied, now there is too much for me to even keep up with."
Hunter Swensson: "I had played highschool football and was looking to play in college until I tore my knee up. After that I knew it was destiny for me to go pro in Halo through MLG. After placing pro I obtained a sponsorship from Kicker and worked with Toyota during SEMA the past 2 years on the Toyota All Terrain Gamer. For the past 2 years I was flown to Las Vegas and kicked it with the likes of Ryan Sheckler, Travis Pastrana, and other sponsored athletes. To be in that crowd of people as a sponsored athlete for gaming has got to be a sign that proves pro gaming isn't lame."
Erik Lorentzon: "Is there a reason to think this is just a fad? Not really. Gaming will likely never be as big as traditional sports. But there is only reason to think it will grow. Look at pretty much any study on gaming. I have yet to hear of one that doesn't say gaming is growing. And that's where the target audience is. Gaming is a natural part of pretty much every kid's life now, much more so than it was 10 years ago when professional gaming was just getting started, not even mentioning 20 years ago which is close to the latest a professional gamer of today could have been born. And it's only natural that the number of people who are into competetive gaming will increase as the number of gamers increase."
Steve Ericson: "All I found wrong with the article in question is the irony that Kotaku celebrates otaku but Jen speaking for Kotaku shit on a gigantic subset of gaming otaku, one that is much larger than her article gives the impression that she knows of."
Sawyer: "As someone who watches e-sports (in this case, Starcraft II), I'd like to liken watching SC2 to watching any other professional sport. Starcraft is the chess for nerds who don't play chess. There's a ton of strategy and possibility involved, but there's way more going on than in your typical chess game. You see, if you don't like football or soccer or baseball or rugby or golf, don't watch it. There's no point in watching something you're not interested in, even if it's commentated well. But, consider the following: A person with only rudimentary or zero understanding of Starcraft can get into it due to the accessible nature of the casters. Totalbiscuit, for example, is really bad at Starcraft, but he's an exceptional commentator. He's as good as a play-by-play caster as John Madden (Okay, maybe bad example but you get my point) is at casting football. Hell, I'm not very good at SC2 but I watch it to learn and be entertained."
Jonathon F. Wagner: "My professional game of choice is Starcraft 2. I play it (not well), I watch it, and I like dissecting what goes into being a professional for this game. I like following my favorite players. I like the drama. I like how close the games can be. I like how the most minute detail can mean defeat for a player. I like the aesthetic. I just like it, okay?
I'm not alone. Reddit has it's own subforum for Starcraft. So does Something Awful. Almost ten thousand people watch the DayDailyevery day. At Dreamhack in Sweden, over 140,000 worldwide tuned in to the Starcraft 2 tournament alone. Over 300,000 for the League of Legends tourney. Not to mention South Korea and the GSL. Banks sponsor tournaments over there. That's crazy cool."
Dakota Lasky: "I think what a lot of people miss, and Kotaku in general could learn from this, is that competitive gaming is not just about the competition, it's about the community. It's about being with the people that love to play the game the way you do and making friends that way. I can tell you that my favorite thing about all the tournaments I attend for the games I play competitively, such as Super Smash Bros and Gears of War, is to be able to hang out with other gamers (many of them have become good friends through going to such events) and having a great time. Hell, we all even hang out outside of tournaments to practice and have a good time."