I have been covering sports for some time now.
In my career, I have watched a lot of sports matches. But very little–even the roar of Bryant-Denny Stadium –can compare to the passion and energy of an eSports audience. Last week, I covered the 2015 SMITE World Championship, and the experience blew me away. Here are three reasons why everyone in eSports should watch at least one tournament in person.
As I have said in several other articles, eSports players are among the most passionate and driven individuals I have ever met. When they play, they play to continue. They fight for respect. For most, it is hard to game professionally and be taken seriously. And a lot of people–friends, family, and significant others–are not supportive of their careers.
Last weekend, I had a long talk with a couple pros from team compLexity. On being accepted by non-gamers, team captain Riley “Incontinentia” Unzelman was very candid. “For me,” he said. “my friends were the most accepting…. but grandparents are like, you know, they are very driven to get me to finish college.”
Kurt “W3aken” Schray agreed. He added, “For me it was money– [it was] explaining that there was money. That made my parents more accepting. For my friends, it’s the same way. You know, like, if I mention [the SMITE World Championship], it’s amazing. If the money wasn’t there, they might not understand as much. My girlfriend hates it. She doesn’t care about the money.”
In a lot of ways, pros like Riley and Kurt are trailblazers. Like mainstream professional athletes, they watch gameplay film and practice every day. They wear jerseys. They endorse products. But, unlike other athletes, they must fight to stay alive. They are alone with their teams, struggling to make ends meet between prizes.
In the end, that’s what makes them so incredible to watch. In the audience, we are there with them. We are fighting with them. When we applaud, we validate them; we help them push forward. When they win, we cheer for them. When they lose, we cry with them. By standing in the audience, we feel like we are making a difference. It feels great.
With great players come great fans. eSports fans are insane. They dress up. They make noise. And they travel across the world to do it.
After the SMITE World Championship finals match last weekend, I grabbed one of the Cog Prime fans for a quick word. When asked about his favorite moment in the tournament, he said, “When I screamed so hard for [my friends], my throat bled. I loved it.”
And maybe that’s what makes gaming fans so incredible. They aren’t just nameless props in a stream of faces; they are friends. Thanks to the internet, the line between fan and athlete is very thin. Athletes frequent forums alongside casual gamers and lurkers. They are accessible, and people view them for what they are: people. As a result, fans make deep connections with their favorite players and teams, and they are willing to travel across the world to root for them. For them, the game is personal.
Last year, Titan (formerly Cog Aquila) managed more upsets than any other team in the SMITE Pro League history. Their comeback in the Regional Championships was particularly impressive. With no Phoenixes and only 15% Titan health remaining, Repikas managed a quadrakill that gave Titan enough time to push the middle lane and storm the enemy base. The victory sealed their places in the SMITE World Championship. Their strength: the fans. “We love [the fans], you know?” said Nate “Ataraxia” Mark in a postgame interview. “Even when we’re down, we’re not out. The fans fuel us.”
And it is this relationship between the fans and the players that makes sitting in the stands so enjoyable. It’s addicting, listening to the beating boom sticks and rabid cheers. Even journalists like MSLJ from The Economist, who had no forecast of the game, the event, or its fans, found herself cheering during the picks and bans during the World Championship finals. It’s easy to rouse when the air is full of lightning.
A lot of professional and college sports have great communities. It is hard to go anywhere in Alabama without hearing “Roll Tide.” The name “cheesehead” is a term of endearment in Minnesota. And “Sweet Caroline” is an anthem in Boston. But few communities hold a candle to eSports.
The eSports community is, in my opinion, one of the most creative and interesting communities in the world. Their love for both the games and the players is stirring. And their creativity is inspiring. Nothing sums up the community, though, more than cosplay.
For those unfamiliar, cosplay is the practice of dressing up as a character from a book, movie, or video game, often for conventions and competitions. Men and women put weeks of work into costumes worn only for a few hours. Often, the costumes are very expensive.
While standing outside the Hall of the Gods room at the SMITE World Championship, I talked briefly with professional cosplayers Angie Starr and Christina “Lady Blue” about dressing up and the amount of work that goes into each project. “Mine, exactly, was a team collaboration,” said Starr. “A lot of cosplayers make their own, but I had a friend help me with the staff and then I had a seamstress do the costume and I did the wig. It took us all probably about a week. We were all slaving that week.”
Lady Blue added,
“You spend most of your time doing research. The most important thing in my eyes is accuracy and knowing what materials are going to look best. Depending on the cosplay, it can take anywhere from two or three days to six months. It depends on what you choose, how detailed it is, and if you want to buy pieces or if you want to hand make everything.”
As Madison Chapman said in her article earlier this week, the SMITE World Championship held a cosplay competition this year. The prize was $5,000. Despite the competition, over one hundred community members traveled to Atlanta and dressed up to show support for the game. The result was staggering. The Hall of the Gods room near the main stage felt less like a convention area and more like Walt Disney World. And all of it was done for free, out of love for the game.
I have worked in sports in some shape or fashion for nearly five years. The eSports players, fans, and community are unlike anything I have ever seen. Everyone that watches games on Twitch and YouTube should try and catch a tournament in person. The experience is unforgettable.
Related: Column, eSports, Event (Real Life), MOBA, MOBA Monday, Real Life, SMITE, World Championship
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