Professions generally materialize when there is a need or want for them in a basic supply and demand ratio, and the multi-million dollar video game industry is no exception. With so much interest and income, it’s only natural that the video game industry expands its appeal. Enter the world of professional video game players.
It used to be common belief that games were just for nerds to enjoy in private. While this is still true for some, many have endeavored to earn a living by way of playing video games.
Professional video gaming is a more recent permutation when it comes to gaming as a career, along with the proliferation of televised card tournaments such as ESPN’s “World Series of Poker.” As electronic games evolve, people have devoted their lives to achieving excellence, in hopes of avoiding “real jobs.”
A professional gamer is someone that not only has skill, but also dedication to make the game their primary source of income, developing games into “e-sports,” or electronic sports. Some may see comparisons between video games and sports to be reaching, but the financial disparity between the two is shrinking. At the height of his career, Korean “Starcraft” player Lim Yo Hwan made almost $400,000 a year.
Chances are slim for players to become e-sport pros in Alaska. Venues aren’t proportionally large enough to fund the professional gamer lifestyle, or to make more substantial money than pocket change. If Alaskan players get interested, the only option is to go out of state, such as UAA student Michael Phang Chung Kye, who recently attended two tournaments in the Lower 48.
“Just the big ones though. In major gaming areas like California, Texas or New York, they have smaller tournaments every weekend,” Kye said.
Professional “Starcraft” players in action exhibit sports-like physicality. In order to reach 300 APM, or “actions per minute,” an acute mixture of speed and precision is required. The best players are able to interact with the game 300 times in a minute, or 5 times in a second.
E-sports have begun to mirror almost all aspects of high-level professional sports. In terms of athletes, teams, sponsors, championships and even broadcasting, e-sports have a correlation to their real-world counterparts.
Known athletes spring up in various genres of games, much like brand-name pros do in their respective sports. The only difference is, instead of baseball, basketball or football, there are are first person shooters (FPS), fighters, and real time strategy (RTS) games. An analogy could be: Kobe Bryant is to basketball, as Daigo Umehara is to “Street Fighter.” Players rise to fame due to the same aspects that athletes are known for, such as skill, popularity or showmanship.
Team play is also important to pro gaming for uniting different games into competitive leagues. Teams monitor rosters and even engage in drafts in an attempt to gain the best players for themselves in order to win, and make money. The more successful a team is, the more sponsors want to put their logos on the team’s clothes, booths, computers, etc.
“For some fighting gamers and especially for first person shooters, you can be sponsored kind of like an athlete would in a sport. Your travel and rooming fees would be taken care of if that was the case,” Kye said. In addition to prizes awarded for victories, these sponsorships are often what fund player wallets, and big names are on board.
From “Pepsi” sponsoring a well-known European Counter Strike team, Team NoA, to Samsung-based “Starcraft 2” team Samsung KHAN, name brands are taking notice of professional e-sports as a mostly unexploited market for advertising. Even the Korean Air-Force has its own “Starcraft’ team, so that those serving their mandatory military duty can continue to play.
Another important aspect of sports is the spectator side. Only a tiny fraction of Americans play pro football, but millions watch it. All of the most popular e-sports genres have large championship tournaments in which the best players in the country, or the world, are decided. This summer, the Evo Championship Series was held in Las Vegas, where players from around the world gathered to compete in various fighting games for cash prizes upwards of $25,000.
At the first ever International DOTA 2 Championship, the grand prize was a whopping $1 million (split six-ways amongst the victorious Ukraine team); second place was $250,000.
In Korea, e-sports have their own television networks that play nothing but e-sports 24-7, with names such as Ongamenet Starleague covering live “Starcraft” games, televised in stadiums in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Domestically, competitive gaming has become a spectator sport as well, with e-sport events streamed online in real-time from around the world, complete with American commentators. Through streaming, it is possible to enjoy e-sports without leaving Alaska. UAA senior Stuart Smith never misses a pro “Starcraft” game, tuning in even to imported all-Korean streams to keep up with the season.
“Whether you’re a sick nerd baller who appreciates high-level play, or a first-time viewer who just appreciates the visuals and clash of armies, ‘Starcraft’ is just like any other professional sport,” Smith said.
At MLG Orlando, an event held in September by Major League Gaming, the live stream reported 180,000 unique views from all around the world, figures that MLG co-founder Sundance DiGiovanni described on their site as, “truly elevating the global presence of e-sports, placing MLG viewing in the same ballpark as traditional TV viewing numbers.”
Not only is the dream of playing video games for a living becoming a reality, but with the increase in notoriety the e-sport medium is achieving through fans and spectators, the lines between this ambition and an otherwise “normal” career is becoming more and more blurry, and the definition of “sport” a lot broader.