Video games are a technological evolution of a long line of board and card games. Many games, at their core, are about competition, and this is why, unlike the artistic games I mentioned last week, a majority of video games are also competitive.
It’s the player against a computer, or what I’m interested in talking about today, the player against another player ““ specifically, the people who play games against other people at a professional level.
The idea of professional competitive tournaments has its roots in the arcade days of games like “Street Fighter II” back in the ’90s, but with the advent of the Internet and the ability to test one’s skills against both the local populace and the whole world, the eSports community (as it’s come to be known) has exploded.
Heralding this explosion of interest is an organization known as Major League Gaming, which helps to set standards for how professional games are played, as well as pooling together sponsorships to help put together major video game tournaments with some of the best players in the world.
Major League Gaming also streams all of its professional matches online on its official website. To show just how popular professional games have become, Major League Gaming released this statement last year: “The recent 2011 Pro Circuit National Championships held in Providence, R.I., on Nov. 18-20, drew an all-time high of 241,000 peak concurrent online viewers.” To put that in perspective, that’s more viewers than most cable networks.
One of the most popular games played at these tournaments is “StarCraft II,” and while it might seem like a lot of attention is being paid to a single game, the truth is that a lot of the excitement toward eSports has been brought over from South Korea, where “StarCraft” seems to be a bigger deal than most mainstream sports in America.
South Korea’s first “StarCraft II” tournament awarded roughly $500,000 to the winner, and the game still holds the Guinness world record for “largest audience for a game competition” at 120,000 viewers. We have yet to meet those kinds of numbers with our tournaments here in America, but plenty of that fanaticism has spilled over.
While I’ve personally dabbled in “StarCraft II” myself, I don’t have any aspirations of going pro. But I do have friends who do. I also have friends who have never touched the game but follow the professional players with a passion.
This may sound strange, but the matches are exciting and entertaining even for those who don’t fully understand the fine details of the game. Just like people might follow a football team, even though they don’t play the sport themselves, some viewers follow their favorite players. In certain ways, video games are more well-suited to providing competitive entertainment. After all, a game will never make a bad call like a referee.
Still, while the eSports community continues to grow and gain fans, not everything is perfect. The genre of fighting games, such as the aforementioned “Street Fighter,” has been a notable exception from the Major League Gaming line-up for several years, despite their fundamental influence in the arcade days of professional video game playing.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the biggest is simply that there isn’t much money to be made from fighting games, and at the end of the day, profit drives Major League Gaming.
Nonetheless, eSports are an exciting new form of competitive entertainment. Even if you don’t think it’s your thing, you might be surprised to find how exciting a good match of “StarCraft” can be to watch.
If you would like more information on this topic, or want to beat Overstreet at a game of “StarCraft,” email Overstreet at [email protected] “Joy Sticks” runs every Thursday.