Major League Gaming brought its World Finals to New Orleans for the first time last weekend.
I took a translator with me.
Seriously, decoding the unique language of eSports (as it’s known) begs for help. So that’s how my amiable son-in-law, Armand Samuels, spent his Saturday: Explaining to me, as we circled Hall J of the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center, the finer points of things like Call of Duty (there’s a zombie version), gaming collectibles (think handcast ceramic ocarinas drawn from The Legend of Zelda), character backgrounds (yes, that’s a Pokeman name) and player tools (camouflage patterned joy sticks, anyone?)
Video gaming has come a long way in the decade or so that MLG has been around. The New Orleans event offered more than $500,000 in prize money to the top winners in four games: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Dota2 (the most-played game in the world), Super Smash Brothers and SMITE. The play-offs were broadcast live on a trio of giant screens, with team members tucked behind individual monitors onstage and audience members seated in row upon row of folding chairs to catch the action. Professional eSport analysts gave running commentary on the play; those in the know would have recognized such acclaimed announcers as Tobiwan, Merlini or Kotlguy.
Elsewhere, numbered cordoned areas offered both free play and tournament play, with contenders trying to either rack up qualifying points or earn smaller purses in competitions they had qualified to enter online.
“These people are celebrities,” said John Spiher, who was manning a booth purveying scarlet, yellow and electric blue and black DXracer gaming chairs designed to improve your scores by decreasing muscle strain. “They have huge followings.”
With the advent of channels like MLG.tv and Twitch that offer live streaming of video game tournaments, fans can sign up to follow the play of top gamers – and hold interactive chats while they do so.
“What if you could watch Michael Jordon play basketball and learn tips and tricks from him, and get to ask him questions at the same time?” Spitner explained.
And though live viewing of online video gaming may seem a stretch to the uninitiated, “it’s not unlike people going to watch the World Series of Poker,” Armand said.
Only bigger. MLG.tv reaches 27 million users per month, and has sponsored some 45 million online matches.
The eSports world falls broadly into four kinds of video games. There’s the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), which features games such as Dota2 or League of Legions. First-person shooter games like Call of Duty or HALO are played through the eyes of a single protagonist. Fighting games, favored by the FGC, or fighting game community, run to titles such as Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. And the outliers, a catch-all for the rest, have idiosyncratic themes, from the hot new Rocket League, a sort of soccer played with cars, to Hearthstone, based on a card game.
While others may argue whether or not eSports competitors truly are athletes, there is no question that topnotch hand-eye coordination, instantaneous reaction times and strategic thinking separate the novices from the pros. To that end, convention booths offered player edge through such paraphernalia as the aforementioned ergonomic chairs (top gamers sometimes spend 24 hours at a stretch in practice), amber-lensed glasses that cut screen glare, or game controls not only designed for the lightest touch but also jazzed up with decals and colored patterns.
At press time last night, OpTic Gaming and Denial eSports were battling it out live in the Call of Duty title match, while Evil Geniuses and Team Secret went head to head in Dota2. Despite my tutoring, I’m not sure who was winning, although I was quite taken with an awesome dragon creature wreaking havoc by spitting fire in the Dota2 matchup. And I did come home with a great pair of amber-lensed computer glasses.