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This is esports (and How to Spell it) – LONGLISTED FOR THE WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK AWARD 2020: An Insider’s Guide to the World of Pro Gaming

This is esports (and How to Spell it) – LONGLISTED FOR THE WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK AWARD 2020: An Insider’s Guide to the World of Pro Gaming

Автор Paul Chaloner

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This is esports (and How to Spell it) – LONGLISTED FOR THE WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK AWARD 2020: An Insider’s Guide to the World of Pro Gaming

Автор Paul Chaloner

Длина:
416 страниц
7 часов
Издатель:
Издано:
28 мая 2020 г.
ISBN:
9781472977779
Формат:
Книга

Описание

***LONGLISTED FOR THE WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK AWARD 2020

'You need this. Trust me, buy it now.' - Weekly GG

'a triumph...
a must-read for newcomers and veterans alike' Forbes

Award-winning broadcaster Paul 'Redeye' Chaloner brings us the definitive book on esports, the fastest growing entertainment phenomenon in the world today.

From slapping coins down on arcade cabinets to the lights of Madison Square Garden, competitive video gaming has come a long way. Today, esports is a billion-dollar industry, the best players becoming stars in their own right, battling for eight-figure prizes in front of a global audience of tens of millions.

From Call of Duty to Counter-Strike, FIFA to Fortnite, a generation of players have turned multiplayer video games from a pastime into a profession. But there are questions. How did we get here? What exactly is competitive gaming – is it a sport? How much money do the top stars make? Do you really have to retire at 23? And just what the hell is Dota?

This is esports (and How to Spell it) addresses all of this and more, as award-winning broadcaster Paul 'Redeye' Chaloner takes you inside the unstoppable rise of pro gaming to reveal the bitter rivalries, scandals and untold history of esports, from origins to sold-out arenas. With his trademark wit – and unrivalled access – Paul delivers the definitive book on the fastest-growing entertainment phenomenon in the world today.

'Paul Chaloner is a living legend in the esports space.' - Jason Lake, founder and CEO of the esports team Complexity Gaming

'Terrific stories and insights from the inside.' - T.L. Taylor, professor of Comparative Media Studies
Издатель:
Издано:
28 мая 2020 г.
ISBN:
9781472977779
Формат:
Книга

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This is esports (and How to Spell it) – LONGLISTED FOR THE WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK AWARD 2020 - Paul Chaloner

About the Authors

Paul ‘Redeye’ Chaloner is one of the most prolific and recognisable broadcasters in all of competitive gaming, having hosted or commentated on esports tournaments for 83 different video games in 44 countries on six continents in a career spanning two decades. He has appeared on Sky, MSNBC and Eurosport and hosted The International, the biggest tournament in all of esports, four times. In 2016 ESPN called him ‘the voice of esports’. You cannot beat him at Unreal Tournament, probably.

Benjamin Sillis is a writer and historian who has covered technology and video games for over a decade. He lives with his family in London.

This book is dedicated to David, Anita, James, Ellie, Maggie and Steph.

Contents

Glossary

Introduction: Then and now

PART ONE

1 This is esports (and how to spell it)

2 From arcades to esports: Where it all began

3 1995–2004: Esports 1.0

4 2005–2008: Boom and bust

5 The revolution will not be televised: How Twitch and StarCraft 2 saved ­esports

6 The accidental MOBA millionaires: How a home-brew genre changed esports forever

7 Mod makers versus game owners, or the secret to making money from esports

8 Two sides of the same coin: Are fighting games esports?

PART TWO

9 Good luck, have fun: When esports rivalries go beyond the games

10 Prison or holiday camp? What it’s really like to live in an esports team house

11 Game of throws: Growing pains in esports’ teenage years

12 From rags to riches: An esports fairy tale?

13 Balancing the game: Five ­perspectives on the challenges women face in ­esports

14 Going live: Two takes on tournament day nerves

15 Game over? Esports’ retirement myth

16 New games, mind games: The positive future for esports

Epilogue: Good luck, have fun

Acknowledgements

Further reading

Index

Plates

Glossary

Platforms: The hardware games are played on

PC (Personal computers, played at a desk and controlled with a mouse and keyboard)

Consoles that plug into your TV (Nintendo, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, controlled with a controller or gamepad)

Handheld consoles (Nintendo)

Arcade (Arcade cabinets, played at arcades or tournaments using built-in joystick and buttons)

Mobile (Smartphones and tablets, controlled using a touchscreen)

Esports genres and games

MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena)

One map, two teams of characters with bases to protect – or destroy.

Dota 2 (Developer: Valve)

League of Legends (Developer: Riot Games)

Heroes of the Storm (Developer: Blizzard)

RTS (Real-time strategy)

Make armies, order units about from a God’s Eye view and crush your opponent.

StarCraft: Brood War (Developer: Blizzard)

StarCraft 2 (Developer: Blizzard)

Warcraft 3 (Developer: Blizzard)

FPS (First-person shooter)

A first-person perspective and a gun – shoot to kill.

Call of Duty (Developer: Activision)

Counter-Strike (Developer: Valve)

Doom (Developer: id Software)

Fortnite (Developer: Epic Games)

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (Developer: Bluehole)

Quake (Developer: id Software)

Overwatch (Developer: Blizzard)

Rainbow Six Siege (Developer: Ubisoft)

Unreal Tournament (Developer: Epic Games)

Fighting games

Punch, kick and combo your opponent until they’re knocked out.

Street Fighter (Developer: Capcom)

Super Smash Bros. (Developer: Nintendo)

Tekken (Developer: Bandai Namco)

Dead or Alive (Developer: Tecmo)

Marvel vs Capcom (Developer: Capcom)

Sports

Sports simulators.

FIFA (Football. Developer: EA)

Madden (American football. Developer: EA)

F1 series (Formula One. Developer: Codemasters)

Digital card games

Make your deck, unleash magical chaos turn by turn.

Hearthstone (Developer: Blizzard)

Clash Royale (Developer: Supercell)

Magic: The Gathering (Developer: Wizards of the Coast)

Auto battler games

Chess with 150 different pieces and more than two players.

Auto Chess (Developer: Drodo Studio)

Dota Underlords (Developer: Valve)

Teamfight Tactics (Developer: Riot Games)

Esports tournaments and events

BlizzCon (StarCraft 2, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone )

Call of Duty League (Call of Duty)

DreamHack (Various)

ESL One (Counter-Strike, Dota 2)

Electronic Sports World Cup/ESWC (ESWC) (Various)

EVO (Various fighting games)

Intel Extreme Masters (Various)

The International/TI (Dota 2)

League of Legends World Championship (League of Legends)

Overwatch League/OWL ( Overwatch )

QuakeCon (Quake)

World Cyber Games (Various)

League and tournament organisers

Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL)

DreamHack

ESL

Major League Gaming (MLG)

World Series of Video Games (WSVG)

Major teams

100 Thieves

Alliance

Astralis

Cloud9

Complexity

Counter Logic Gaming

Dignitas

Evil Geniuses

FaZe Clan

Fnatic

G2 Esports

Immortals

Invictus Gaming

MAD Lions

mousesports

Natus Vincere (NaVi)

Ninjas In Pyjamas

OG

Origen

SK Gaming

SK Telecom T1

Team Envy

Team Liquid

Team Secret

Team SoloMid

Team Vitality

Virtus.pro

Terminology

gg (Good game; Typed in to the in-game chat box in some titles to concede defeat)

glhf (Good luck, have fun; Often said at the start of a game as a sign of sportsmanship)

Map (The virtual level, space or arena in which a game takes place)

Draft or Character Select (The point before a match where teams or players select an in-game character; making an effective draft is sometimes an important tactic or mind game)

Frag To frag or kill an enemy character. Often, but not always, a point scoring objective in a game

Kill streak A chain of unbroken kills. To be on a kill streak is to have momentum in many FPS games

Meta (The type of effective play the rules of a game encourage; e.g. the current meta encourages aggressive rather than defensive play)

Patch (When a game is updated, to fix software bugs, introduce new features or tweak existing rules)

Buff (When a patch is believed to make an in-game character stronger, they are said to have received a buff)

Nerf (When a patch is believed to make an in-game character weaker, they are said to have been nerfed)

T, T-side (The team in a Counter-Strike match playing as terrorists)

CT, CT-side (The team in a Counter-Strike match playing as counter-terrorists)

AWP (A powerful sniper rifle, an essential weapon in Counter-Strike. Someone who uses it heavily is an AWPer.)

Top lane, mid lane, bot lane (The top, middle and bottom lanes or roads on the map used in League of Legends matches, separated by jungle. A player who specialises in the top lane is a top laner.)

Jungler (The player who lurks in the dense jungle during a League of Legends or Dota 2 match to help teammates)

Carry or ADC (Attack Damage Carry; the powerful champion or hero in a League of Legends or Dota 2 match that the rest of a team will rally around)

Support (A player in many types of multiplayer games who focuses more on ­healing or strengthening teammates, or setting traps for, rather than inflicting direct damage on, the enemy)

Hadouken (Iconic fireball special move in the Street Fighter series of games)

Introduction

Then and now

A good sports commentator doesn’t just call the shots: they tell a story.

They ground every action in context. That pass, that player. Does he or she normally connect? Do they whiff it? Is that injury they’re recovering from playing havoc? Is this their 500th appearance in a league, the debut of a youngest player ever, the swansong of an old one, or the longest dry spell they’ve endured? Why should we care? Why should you care?

I work in esports, but I’m still a sports broadcaster. My heroes are Murray Walker, John Motson and Jim Nantz. It’s just the games I cover happen to be electronic ones.

And as for why you should care about competitive video gaming? Even if you’re not a fan, you’ve probably heard of esports, read about it in the papers, seen it on the news, caught a glimpse over the kids’ shoulders online. Likely something about the shooter Fortnite, which is as much a media starmaker now as the music industry used to be (and as we’ll see is actually only one small part of the wider esports world). Esports has caught the public’s imagination. It’s why you’re holding this book in your hands right now.

Esports is having a moment – more than that, in fact. The esports industry in 2019 was valued at over a billion dollars. A billion. While I actively campaign against making sweeping comparisons between a single sport and esports, I’m going to break that rule here for you, just so you can understand the size of esports and understand how much further it still has to grow: that’s roughly a sixth of what both F1 and the tennis industry are valued at already. Pro gamers are now stars in their own right. The best players can become millionaires overnight, sell out stadiums or use their skills to take over Twitch, television, even flog phones or shampoo with their endorsement.

But esports had a ‘moment’ once before, and that didn’t work out. I know, I was there. Let me tell you a story.

* * *

It’s July 2007. The Raleigh Studios, Hollywood. Charlie Chaplin once filmed here. William Shatner is shooting Boston Legal next door. Today 200 cheering fans (albeit mostly paid) are squeezed on to bleachers in front of a giant screen to see a showdown of a different kind.

It’s the grand finale of the first ever North American Championship Gaming Series (CGS), News Corp’s attempt at kick-starting an esports revolution. Yep, that News Corp, the one that owns Fox, Sky, DirecTV, Star TV, every newspaper. They’ve spent millions buying up some of the most talented esports teams and signing their players to a new league they want to become the next NBA. There are hundreds of staff working on the production. It’s one of the first major events in all of sport to be broadcast in high definition.

After 12 weeks of battling, just two teams are left. We’ve got our heroes and our villains already. The Chicago Chimera, babyfaces, carried effortlessly through the season by the squad’s incredible Project Gotham Racing 4 drivers, Wesley ‘Ch0mpr’ Cwiklo and Jason ‘JaSoN-X’ Exelby. Our heels: the Carolina Core. Rebels, outsiders, managed by Mark Dolven, who is never seen outside without a flashy suit and a dour expression on his face. He bellows at his players from over their shoulders, but are they listening? It’s hard to say: Core are the bad boys and girls of the league. They listen to no one.

Everyone wants the Chimera to win.

As we head into the final game, it’s almost neck and neck. Each team contest is a medley of games, with points awarded for performance in each, and a different player or squad specialising in each title played. Core’s Nick ‘peekay’ DePalmer, until this point possibly the worst FIFA 07 player in the league, has kept them in it against the odds, and so their route to the world championship, as well as almost half a million dollars in prize money, will be settled by this final Project Gotham race.

I’m in the commentary booth, still pinching myself. We’re live, on air to millions of homes across the world. Up until this point I’ve usually been sat at the back of a sweaty hotel conference room, a disused warehouse or even a racecourse pub, hunched over my laptop, mostly being ignored and almost definitely not being paid. But the Murdochs, no less, the Murdochs now see what I’ve been saying all along: that competitive video games aren’t just as exciting as any sport, but maybe even the sport of the future. The Next Big Thing. And mainstream TV is esports’ big break.

Introduced by the booming voice of BattleBots ring announcer Faruq Tauheed Jenkins, the players come out onstage, hunker down in their pods and grab their gamepads. I start calling the play by plays. The art of winning in Project Gotham Racing is to stay ahead of the pack and avoid rival teams’ players deliberately taking you out on hairpin bends, and Chicago’s Wesley ‘Ch0mpr’ Cwiklo is peerless when it comes to burning virtual rubber. He drives clean, fast, constantly checking his mirrors.

He inches ahead, extends his lead further. The crowd see the lead Ch0mpr’s built. Halfway round the last lap, it suddenly dawns on me: Chimera are going to win overall, and by a single point. 22-21. Goosebumps. You couldn’t script this.

I still remember my commentary coming out of the last corner. I was possessed. It matched the moment – what every commentator, or ‘caster’ as they’re known in esports, dreams of. As Ch0mpr blazed across the line, I simply said: ‘Chicago Chimera wins the North America championship.’ Then I just laid out. In my headset, I hear Mike Burks, my producer.

‘Let that breathe.’

Mike is a revolutionary figure in sports broadcasting. He’s changed the game when it comes to how everything from the Olympics to NFL to March Madness is shown. He’s already won a dozen Emmys by this point. What he says goes. I do what I’m told. 

Around me, the players lose it. The celebration of Chimera, the commiseration of Core. They’re dumbstruck. I’m sat there, meanwhile, just savouring the moment. We’ve shown all the sceptics, all the haters, that competitive gaming is human competition at its finest. Esports has arrived.

* * *

What you need to understand is not just how promising the CGS seemed for esports, but how much I needed it to be at the time.

Most of the competing gamers at tournaments in the early to mid-2000s weren’t getting paid, so you can imagine what crumbs the commentators were being thrown. For the first three years of my career, I wasn’t making money, I was paying to work. I was covering my own flights and, if it came to it, sleeping on convention centre floors. My family and I were in a lot of debt. My car exploded, and then its replacement broke down right next to it on the driveway. I was pixels away from calling it quits and going back to work as a financial compliance manager, and I did not want to return to the nine-to-five grind. So when I got a call from Neil Porter, one of the CGS producers, I wasn’t just incredulous. I wasn’t just thinking, ‘How the heck has he got my phone number?’, though I was wondering. I was over the moon and a few nearby planets too. This wasn’t just esports’ moment, but mine too.

The producers had seen a video of me and my colleague Marcus ‘djWHEAT’ Graham calling the EuroCup Finals for team shooter Counter-Strike in Denmark a year earlier and thought we had potential. Things moved rapidly. It was Tuesday, and they wanted me in LA for Thursday. They sent a driver to ferry me all the way from Cardiff to Heathrow Airport. In a limousine. I remember getting on the plane, leaving my family behind, flying over, fretting that this would be my last shot. This seemed like it was going to explode, prove to be what we as an industry had been after for years: mainstream TV exposure.

I was cast, and before I knew it I was in the queue at the American embassy in London to get my work visa (it literally says ‘Shoutcaster’ as my profession, and until someone shows me otherwise, is the first O1 visa to the US for esports ever granted, anywhere in the world). That took several nerve-racking weeks, but somehow time still seemed to fly, and esports suddenly went from first to sixth gear in the space of a few months.

One week I was stocking up on tins of Tesco Value baked beans in the supermarket, the next I was commuting to California for work. I was living in a luxury gated apartment complex near Venice Beach, with my own car, stylist, wardrobe assistant, even a pronunciation specialist. We held the player draft for CGS at the Playboy Mansion, of all places. There were cameras everywhere (though all I could hear were Hugh Hefner’s screaming monkeys), and security swept the bottom of cars, not for bombs but for stowaways.

We got recommissioned for a second, even bigger season in 2008, with more teams for more countries, and things were looking promising for the third. I was poised to move up out of the commentary booth to become the league’s European commissioner, in charge of the teams, the games, the rules. Esports had hit prime time.

But there were tensions, conflict, between the producers and the online esports communities. The games played were picked not for the fan base, but for how telegenic they looked. The producers went with Counter-Strike: Source instead of the much older (and uglier) Counter-Strike 1.6, even though all the best players and teams had stuck to the latter until that point. They shortened FIFA games to fit between ad breaks. The racing drivers never crashed into each other at other tournaments (bad form) – but they weren’t punished by the CGS showrunners, simply because crashes are more exciting, at least if you’re channel-hopping. Hence the calculated collisions.

At some point, these issues – and, more importantly, the global financial crisis – brought matters to a head. Investment was pulled. One day I was reading the news online when I saw that CGS had shut down – before I even got a phone call.

That was that. With it went not only esports’ shot at the mainstream but also most of the big early teams, like Team 3D and Complexity, who’d sold their names to DirecTV for a franchise. And back at home, the strain the work had put on me cost me my family. Esports was dead.

Or so I thought. It turns out that like a character shot dead in a first-person shooter only to be resurrected and returned to the melee, it was just respawning.

* * *

Jump forward a decade to The International 2018 (or TI8 for short), the premiere esports tournament for the team strategy game Dota 2, and in some ways esports has grown and evolved beyond recognition.

We’ve graduated from a backlot to the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, normally the home of the Vancouver Canucks ice hockey team. There’s no ice, no pucks, but two teams of five players doing battle over a virtual map instead. No goal mouths exactly, but an ‘ancient’ in each team’s home base that has to be destroyed – or protected – at all costs.

I’m still there, presenting. I just about weathered the storm in the years that followed the collapse of CGS. But now I have a desk, co-presenters, analysts, roving reporters. And this time, the fans are here too; 17,000 through the doors, every day for a week, with costumes, foam gloves, even LED signs, from every corner of the globe. The entire floor of the main stage has been transformed into an LED screen.

The esports teams, too, are actually from all over the world this time – the cities given teams in the CGS were picked seemingly at random. No fewer than 24 countries are represented across the 16 competing teams. The grand final of TI8 sees Chinese heavyweights LGD (sponsored by French football team Paris Saint-Germain, no less) take on wild cards OG, comprised of a Dane, two Finns, an Australian and a Frenchman.

OG have won plenty of tournaments before, but here they’re the underdogs. Unlike LGD, they weren’t invited to TI8. They scrape through via European open qualifiers, and their coach, Sébastien ‘Ceb’ Debs, is standing in as a player for lack of any other signings. Ceb hasn’t played at The International for six years. This is the esports equivalent of Ryan Giggs having retired for Wales and then six years later taking them to the World Cup final. OG really shouldn’t be in form, and yet here they are, one match away from the world championship.

In Dota 2, you win by selecting the right mix of characters, or ‘heroes’, from a pool of over a hundred, then having them compete for resources (like gold, to buy more powerful items) and fight each other; whichever team takes the others’ base (or ‘ancient’) first wins, to put it simply. It’s a best of five, and on paper it looks like LGD should have won four of these, based on the lead they built up. But nope. OG snatch back wins to keep them in it, and suddenly it’s 2-2. It all comes down to the final game.

Then in the draft, or hero selection phase, Ceb makes a questionable pick out of nowhere, Magnus, a walking rhino that packs a powerful punch but only up close, and can be all too readily manoeuvred around – the hero is seldom seen in big finals for good reason. I’m not on air when it happens so I can scoff and swear: What the fuck is he doing? He’s thrown it all away. He’s looked a gift horse in the mouth and then kicked it in the teeth.

LGD, meanwhile, can’t believe their luck. The final game kicks off, and sure enough, LGD are ahead in gold at 20 minutes, usually a good indicator of which side is stronger. But OG dive into a huge team fight and in an instant there he is: Ceb’s Magnus comes wading in to devastating effect. It’s a slaughterhouse. LGD lose valuable time and gold reviving their dead heroes. Suddenly OG snowball and at 36 minutes they lay waste to LGD’s ancient. They’ve done it. They lift the Aegis of Champions.

The next year they return, no longer the underdogs, and win the whole thing again, an astonishing, unparalleled feat in professional Dota.

* * *

Why do I single out these two events? On one level, a decade’s a nice round number. It’s how long the Odyssey took, and esports has certainly been on a journey in that time. So have I. I thought we’d arrived in 2008. I thought I was made for life, I thought we’d be on live TV every week. It turned out I was hopelessly wrong about all of those things, blinded by faith, passion, ambition.

But here we are now, and it’s finally happened. We don’t need to pay fans to show up any more. We are worldwide, we are global, we do have big-name sponsors, we do go out to millions of homes, and – crucially – fans in those homes are actually tuning in now. We’re not looking for the ESPN of online coverage for esports, that’s just ESPN now.

And this time, we’ve done it without bending the knee. We’ve done it without having to change the games and the format and how they’re played, to cater to the needs of TV (and TV advertisers). We’ve stayed authentic, and it’s finally working.

Just look at the numbers. The League of Legends World Championship tournament in 2018 brought in 76 million unique viewers across the globe. There were 3,446 paying esports tournaments held in 2018 alone, and $694 million was spent by brands looking to cash in on esports’ exposure, including Amazon, Audi, Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, DHL, McDonald’s, American Express and Gillette. (I call this the dad factor: Has my dad heard of these names? Then it must be big news.)

More than 300 sports teams have invested in esports so far, and in 2019 there was an estimated esports audience of 456 million people. Esports will even be featured at the 2022 Asian Games. And get this: as of the start of 2020, 83 esports athletes have made more than a million dollars in prize money alone across their careers. We’ve made 83 millionaires already.

Speaking of which, I was backstage when Ceb walked back in after winning TI8. He was shaking. He just kept saying the same words to me: ‘This isn’t real, this isn’t happening.’ He was a ringer for his own team, and now he’s a world champion – and a multimillionaire.

You see, that’s another thing that’s changed: the prize money. The Championship Gaming Series gave away $500,000 to the winning team in 2008. That in itself was unimaginable even 18 months earlier, but The International 8 prize pot still dwarfs it – a staggering $25 million, with over $10 million for the five winning OG players alone, more than the entire FA Cup winning football team gets for its efforts each year (oh, and at The International 9 in 2019, it was $34.3 million).

I’ll admit that in some other ways we’re still chasing that CGS dream. I still don’t have a stylist, and that LA penthouse is a distant memory – I live so close to the airport I can hear the planes landing. We do have those television production values now, but there’s no big TV contract, and we definitely don’t have 200 people working on every show yet.

But you know what? That prime-time TV dream was just an illusion. It turns out esports didn’t need the couch potatoes, the casual viewers who only want to watch for 12 minutes at a time before flicking over. We could turn watching other people play video games into a spectacle, something as exciting as any sports final, without them.

There was an audience of gamers out there who didn’t just love to play, but to compete, and to celebrate that by watching and learning from the very best. And not just create those magic moments, but the games themselves. We just needed the internet to connect them all.

I should know. In nearly two decades working as a broadcaster, I’ve hosted hundreds of events, including every major tournament in the esports calendar across nearly every game played competitively today. I’ve seen the highs, the lows, and everything in between. The last-minute Hail Mary plays, the underdog stories, the rivalries, the betrayals, the triumphs, the fumbles and fuck-ups, the cheaters, the careers made and careers crashed, the winners, the losers, the legends born.

This is what makes esports so exciting. It’s what makes it the fastest-growing media phenomenon today. It’s the thrill of human competition, colliding with technology in a way that’s never been possible with a pig’s bladder and a bike pump, VAR or not.

Allow me to be your guide inside this world. In part one, I’m going to introduce you to the esports scene today – what the big games are, where they’ve come from, who plays them.

I’ll dig into the surprisingly long history of competitive gaming; video games have never been the solo activity TV and movies imagine them to be, and it turns out that even the earliest pioneers of the medium couldn’t resist skiving off work for a quick death match with money and bragging rights on the line, even if the computer they used happened to be the size of a house.

I’ll even attempt to define what makes an esport. You might think that sounds straightforward, but consider how many decades chess has been trying to make itself a thing at the Olympics, and how many people you know who will argue loudly and at length that it is or isn’t just a board game, and then let’s talk. And then there’s the bigger question: are esports even a sport? Are pro gamers really athletes?

Then in part two I’ll take you on a journey inside the lives of esports’ biggest stars. There are the players, of course, holed up in team houses and training through the night with monastic pursuit; the Korean prodigies; the grizzled veterans with retirement looming; the Twitch stars, and even those prepared to throw it all away for a quick buck in a match-fixing scheme. What’s it like to step into their shoes, to use their mouse and keyboard?

But there are also the coaches, managers and team owners finally reaping the rewards after years of paying players out of their own pockets. There are the developers making the games we love to watch the best athletes play. How do they keep tweaking games to make them not just entertaining but fair?

There are the mod makers, the hackers who tweak and change games to make them more esports-friendly. And then there are the tournament organisers and everyone else working behind the scenes – the referees, physiotherapists, psychologists, trainers, the whole fabric of esports. Oh, and the on-screen talent too (Hi).

I’ll attempt to answer all your questions along the way. What’s it like moving from tournament to tournament on the circuit? How do you stay on top when the rules – and even the games – keep changing? Where do the deals happen, and who makes them? Is esports really a boys’ club? (Answer: No.) And am I too old to get involved in esports? (Again: You, no. Me? Probably.)

But first, let’s start at the beginning: how to spell the damn thing.

PART ONE

1

This is esports (and how to spell it)

‘They need to be careful, SK, but the damage they’ve got they can probably finish this one off. They’re going to go for that middle inhibitor turret.’

It’s January 2013. The Intel Extreme Masters at the Spodek Arena in Katowice, Poland. Thousands of chanting fans are here to see two giants of esports, the teams SK Gaming and Fnatic, collide in the latest big title: League of Legends. You can barely hear the commentary over their roars.

‘xPeke still got 45 seconds until he can spawn back into this one.’

League of Legends is a very similar game to the one I’ve already described, Dota 2 (they are so similar, in fact, that lawsuits have been working their way through the system for years, but we’ll get to that): two teams of five, one map, two bases that need to be smashed up, and lots of different heroes (or ‘champions’ in League of Legends parlance) to pick from, each with different powers that counteract each other. And if you die, you’re forced to sit out a countdown timer before diving back into the melee, which is currently what Fnatic’s Spanish star Enrique ‘xPeke’ Cedeño Martínez is being forced to do, leaving his team at a big disadvantage in the meantime. SK should clean up right here.

‘They’re going to try and finish this as soon as possible.’

In the space of a few short years, Fnatic have already won the first ever League of Legends World Championship, had all of their best players poached, and struggled to regain the same form, winning just a handful of tournaments in the year following. Already, crunch matches between these two teams have been dubbed El Clasico by the community, in reference to the titanic clashes between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

‘Two men down for Fnatic now.’

This one is living up to that reputation. At stake this time: qualification from the group stage, and a shot at the title and $15,500 top prize. Despite the heavy losses, Fnatic manage to repel SK, led by fellow Spaniard Carlos ‘ocelote’ Rodríguez Santiago, out of their base. xPeke spawns back in and Fnatic immediately launch an ambitious counter-attack and take down several of the turrets around SK’s own base, leaving it exposed, but it’s short-lived, as SK slay Fnatic’s Christoph ‘nRated’ Seitz and Paul ‘sOAZ’ Boyer and leave xPeke’s champion

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