This post will at first have nothing to do with eSports, while at the same time, have everything to do with it. Neat trick, eh?
I was hooked by the World Cup. I went into work late (if at all) if there’s a match on (but don’t worry, I manage a small coffee stand and make my own hours – pretty cushy). I was jumping up and down when Sweden’s Ljungberg scored in the 89th minute in their match against Paraguay. No, I don’t have any particular affiliations with either nation, I don’t have any Swedish ancestry, and I don’t know any of the players. Yet that unbelievable goal scored in the closing minutes of the match got me to stand up out of my couch yelling and pumping my fist. I was LIVID at the two ejections tossed at the US team during the Italian match. My comment regarding the referee garnered a record number of pms on my XFire during the day after the match (194schetter). I couldn’t help but pull for Ghana, I’m following the German team with great interest, and I couldn’t help but smile while watching the Brazillian team. I can’t get enough of this stuff and I don’t play soccer, nor did I care until a few weeks ago.
There is something about this year’s World Cup that snagged me in a bigger way than the recent Olympics did (which really wasn’t very much at all). Meanwhile, both the Stanley Cup finals and the NBA finals ran practically in tandem; it’s a great time of year in a good year to be a sports fan. In all cases we’re witnessing contests between people and teams that are the best around at what they do. The CPL Summer event is coming up, long considered to be, alongside the Winter event, as the proving ground for the best around in gaming. And yet this event is not even close to garnering the sort of attention that it aims to grab. The CPL has been at it for nine years now and competive gaming has already recieved it’s 15 minutes of fame in the form of a 60 Minutes interview with “Fatal1ty,” and now is in a critial stage in its development. Can gaming build some staying power or fall off as one big passing fad?
“Hey, remember professional gaming in the early 2000s? That was cute.”
That could be the mainstream in 10 years. Folks like Angel Munoz, Matt Ringel, and Scott Valencia are in great danger of letting their work go to waste if the vision of professional gaming is not extended further than the just the next calendar year, as it seems to be now, and opt to continue throwing more money at the players and making shortsighted decisions regarding such things as media partners (although the CPL may have gotten something right with DirecTV – we shall see, however I digress).
Larger and larger prize pools have not been as large a factor in gaining attention as expected. Gaming events are starting to reach cable (and now satelite) broadcast channels in the States (which are, incidently, laging behind our cousins across the pond on this point), but it can be argued that the majority of those watching such broadcasts are at the least casual gamers themselves. The coverage is not necessarily the problem – whether it be TsN who did the CPL Winter event and the recent WSVG event (even though they’re now lacking a key personality or two, most notably Coltrane) or anybody else; if coverage of a gaming event reaches a large commercialized television station, it’s going to be done professionality and with at least a bone or two tossed towards the mainstream audience to try and hook them into what’s going on.
But it’s just not happening. Clearly it’s not the prize money. If there was a million dollar curling contest, would you watch? No, because it’s curlilng, and curling is boring shit. (At least to me it is.) And as I said in my previous post, most titles out there being played competitively are just that – boring shit – to anybody who hasn’t played the game.
It’s more than just that though – and this is territory that organizations like the CPL and WSVG need to get hip to if they’re going to be ultimately successful. The cultural and social integration of competitive gaming into the mainstream is being ignored (despite much rhetoric to the otherwise); simultaneously the gaming culture itself is still too much of an underground movement with such a largely immature community attached to it that it’s not even ready for cultural integration in the first place. Combine that with a whole slew of competitive gaming figureheads hellbent on taking gaming to the mainstream now and we have a volitile situation.
I’d like to take a look again at mainstream professional sports and spectatorship, because therein lies the key to this whole mess. Let’s take my least favorite team for example: the Chicago Cubs. The very reason why I dislike the Cubs with such passion is the very thing I need to prove a point here, which is the fans. Your average Cub fan doesn’t give a rats ass about how the Cubs are doing, as evidenced year after pathetic year in which Cub fans (which I lovingly dubbed ‘Cubtards’) pack onto Red line trains out to Wrigley and sell out every last goddamn game. This seemingly makes no sense when the statistic of yearly attendance is stacked up against overall record on the year, until you realize that Cubtards aren’t there to watch the game. Nay, these grinning Cubtards are there to meet up with friends, pack into the bleachers, and get drunk quick enough not to notice that the Cubs are down 5 runs in the third inning…so they can keep on smiling.
It’s more than just the overgrown frat party aura that draws people to the games, or to watch it on television – it’s also the history of the ballclub (maybe your pop was a fan), or the tight integration or presence that the team and the stadium has within the community. Bottom line is, when people go to the game, or flip it on to watch it on TV, it’s more than just watching the game, it’s participation in a social/cultural event.
Next time (and hopefully sooner than it took me to get this post out) – what direction the talking heads should be taking this whole thing if they were truly interested in advancing gaming as much as they were interested in advancing themselves.