Coin-OpEd: Who cares about pro gaming?

Major League Gaming's Sundance DiGiovanni clues me in on why it's worth tuning into e-sports or competitive gaming, or whatever you want to call it.

I'm watching this fight between Daigo "The Beast" Umehara and Justin Wong again. Two small men sit at the front of a cavernous ballroom at EVO 2004. In front of them sits a wall-sized projection-screen television. Behind them are hundreds of like-minded individuals slavering at the bit to see a good match of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike.

Ken and Chun-li flit across the screen in round one, the two contestants feigning, pushing, pulling, looking for an opening. The advantage goes to Umehara, as his Ken transitions seamlessly from seemingly unblockable jabbing kicks to shoryuken uppercuts. Round two goes to Wong, who works Chun's lightning legs and head-stomps to devastating effect.

And then, round three. Glorious, glorious round three. Words can do it no justice. YouTube has documented this precious moment forever. Dear reader, I implore you, click this link (and/or this link) before we move on.

After watching those clips a few years ago, I felt like a hillbilly taken to his first cock fight. The draw of lethal combat, a raucous crowd caught in the bloodlust of a moment, two men enter, one emerges victorious. Dead chickens! Wait, no dead chickens. Living chickens. Ignore the chickens. Let's move past the chickens.

Professional gaming is a subject that's piqued my curiosity on any number of occasions over the years. I'll come across a clip like the one above--and to be sure, it's a common occurrence--and I'm wowed, stupefied. I think to myself, "Why isn't this being dissected by talking heads in suits on some cable news channel?"

But then the clip ends, and I get distracted by some .gif of a cat assaulting a hapless dog from the relative safety of a glass vase. I know I'm not the only one. Still, it appears as if an increasing number of you have attention spans that don't rival that of a squirrel when it comes to e-sports.

A few weeks ago, the Major League Gaming circuit held its third weekend-long tournament of the year, setting up shop in Anaheim, California. When the dust settled, the MLG sent out a press release titled "Major League Gaming Delivers Record-Breaking 35 Million Online Video Streams of Anaheim Pro Circuit Video Game Competition." A bit wordy, sure, but 35 million online streams, huh?

Now, as a veteran Internet writer, I know a thing or two about stream counts and page views, and the playing fast and loose thereof. So rather than once again spouting off rambling, often factually inaccurate, opinions on what can be derived from this figure, I decided to put some effort into this Coin-OpEd. No, really! I spoke with Sundance DiGiovanni, CEO of Major League Gaming and possessor of a name quite possibly more epic than GameSpot's own Giancarlo Varanini. As an Italian half-breed, I feel shame in their company. I really do.

"That stat is the easiest stat to generate quickly, so that's why we've led with that with the last two events," DiGiovanni said. "But then when you dig into it, you start to see the depth of it, the fact that we had over 20 million hours of video and [an average of three hours of streaming per user]."

"And then you do a little bit more digging, and you find out that we were right at 1 million unique [users] across our player. Factoring in our partnerships with Justin.tv and some of our international distribution folks that we had partnerships with, you find out the fact that we hit 171 countries."

To save you all some googling, there are 196 countries in the world. Or 195, if you're like the US government and don't count Taiwan. And while that seems pretty impressive, what I need here is some perspective. DiGiovanni, if I ran a major television network, how would I feel about these figures?

"To quote a television executive that I just had a call with. He said that's insanity. There's no way that I can explain that to somebody within the traditional broadcast world, and they'll understand that a live-to-broadband gaming event can generate that level of engagement."

Right, but these are basically low-value international viewers, I'm sure. Basically a bunch of Uzbekis, right?

"Number one is the USA, and then Canada. Germany is the third largest, followed by Sweden. And Sweden jumped up quite a bit. It used to be the UK was number three, number two or number three for us."

And it's not just Swedes that are coming around to competitive gaming. Males of mating age may be interested to know that about 17-18 percent of viewers, be it on-site or online, are female. ("You know, it used to be 97 percent and 3 percent.") DiGiovanni also said that an increasing number of older folks--that is, men and women that fall outside the 18- 34-year-old demographic--are tuning in online.

However, if I can say this in the least creepy way possible, it isn't the old folks that DiGiovanni is particularly concerned about.

"The acceptance of competitive gaming or e-sports or whatever you want to call it, it's not about the current group of 24-year-olds or 30-year-olds, or everyone in that group adopting it. It's about the kids who are 8-years-old right now. As they grow up, what do they think of it, because they're growing up in a universe where in their minds, it's always existed."

(DiGiovanni cofounded the MLG with Mike Sepso in 2002, for those wondering what's so special about 8-year-olds.)

"There's no preconceived notion of whether it's cool or stupid, it's just about whether or not it's fun and entertaining. I don't really worry about the average Joe on the street today. I worry about building something that's going to be compelling to audiences as they mature into it."

The MLG will make its fourth stop in the 2011 season next week, when it sets up shop in Raleigh, North Carolina, from August 26-28. It should come as no surprise that the pro-gaming executive expects Raleigh to be bigger than Anaheim. In fact, DiGiovanni believes it's only a matter of time before pro gaming is grappling with player lockouts, salary caps, and all the other consequences of being as big as more traditional professional sports. But hurdles remain.

"Like with any business, [its maturity] has to involve scale and stability. We've run our business as a primarily sponsorship-driven [one] for the last seven years or so, and there's a finite amount of brands who will sponsor things and there's a finite amount of advertisers.

"And I think for us, the real thing has been locking into a structure that's stable. The very nature of a traveling circuit is it's a rough life out there on the road, so we're doing what we can to move away from that a little bit. Still have it as part of our business, but execute in a manner more similar to what you see from a more traditional sport. I think over the next 18 months, people are going to see a really big shift in what we do and how we do it, and I think the numbers will reflect that."

"My number one request to anyone and everyone who has a question or hears the phrase competitive gaming or the phrase e-sports is, just take a look. See what it actually is. And I'm not saying just MLG. Just explore the community, explore why there are millions of people that are so engaged, why these events are so popular, and you might find something that you appreciate."

What I appreciate about e-sports is the enthusiasm of those who follow it. As I look back at that EVO 2004 clip, for sure, The Beast's absurd skill in being able to time each and every parry is a sight to behold. But it's the building roar of the crowd that sets my skin tingling. It's the reaction of, "Wow, you should have been there."

That question in the headline, I don't ask it from a place of flippancy. I'm actually curious. Who out there cares about pro gaming?

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193 comments
mclebron23
mclebron23

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

dah_master
dah_master

@mclebron23 I guess Americans really are hopeless if they say they can't be sporty and be able to play games at the same time. Well I'm tired of this pointless arguing which really isnt arguing anymore since most of your posts are more insulting than expressing something valid. BYE

mclebron23
mclebron23

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mclebron23
mclebron23

@dah_master...If you "couldn't care less if I'm convinced" than why do you keep replying to me? Because obviously YOU CARE!. jesus christ you're dumb. Like I said before, if you think "definition of a "sport" is ANY competitive activity which is to say is gaming." That moronic logic basically says wacking off is a sport as long as you have 2 people compete against each other and the person who busts a nut first wins...Now do you see how moronic your logic is? Probably not because you're an idiot and too dumb to realize what you're even saying. BTW, I have nothing against nerds or fat people. Only nerds that consider playing a video game a sport and fat people that don't care about their health. Gaming is not a sport. period. Bye. =)

mclebron23
mclebron23

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

dah_master
dah_master

@mclebron23 And i know nerds who play basketball... Anyone can get into a soccer/tennis varsity in America because the only sport in America that everyone cares about is either basketball or baseball and prolly you and your sister made it because their team sucks that bad. Luckily I'm not from America. Soccer and Tennis takes more effort than basketball. Why? Soccer involves running on a soccer field, end-to-end, for around 1 1/2 hours. I believe a basketball court is not even 1/2 a soccer field and the longest basketball game was only 78 minutes. Tennis games on the other hand can last for more than 10 hours of running and hitting. I couldn't care less if you are convinced or not because obviously you are in denial and have some sort of hatred towards nerds or fat guys. But like i said before, the UNIVERSAL definition of a "sport" is ANY competitive activity which is to say is gaming.

mclebron23
mclebron23

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

dah_master
dah_master

@mclebron23 First and foremost, I do play "sports". Maybe not basketball because its too mainstream for me but i play alot of soccer. Insulting me with "you don't play alot of sports" is stupid and irrelevant. YOU MAD? I am in a Soccer varsity and tennis varsity as well so don't you dare say i dun play "sports". Your definition of a "sport" is something that requires strenuous activity. The universal definition of a sport is a competitive activity. Archery is a sport, Hunting is a sport, Chess is considered a sport, so yes gaming is a sport. What i meant with my previous post is that you don't learn as much from watching basketball than from watching Starcraft 2. Why? Because Starcraft is an RTS. Real time STRATEGY.

perlox
perlox

eSports is the best thing ever. You're missing out big time if you haven't looked into it. And if you have looked into it but don't like it, it's just because you haven't given it a legit chance.

keech
keech

@T00MuchRazMataz It's true that developers patch games. But problem is most developers cannot possibly patch them fast enough. They just cannot keep up with the players who are actively TRYING to find broken mechanics and exploits. Also unless you're Capcom or Blizzard, there comes a point when developers stop patching and updating a game and move onto their next project. In short I just don't agree with the idea that a competitive video game league's meta game should entirely revolve around breaking a game.

T00MuchRazMataz
T00MuchRazMataz

@keech I understand your standpoint on games having some "broken" aspects, but that is another reason why these games are great. When something is broken, it gets noticed and gets fixed. SC2 has undergone a number of huge patches for the 3 races to continuously keep the game balanced. You have new maps, some get trashed, other just get recycled out, and some get modified to keep play fair. Just like MTG banning cards. These games keep things balanced too.

T00MuchRazMataz
T00MuchRazMataz

@mclebron23 haha what pros are YOU talking about? I would say maybe 1 our of every 10 PRO gamers is not very in shape. We're talking about pro gamers here, not stereotypical gamers sitting in their basement or college dorm room full of pizza boxes. You find me 5-10 PRO GAMERS that are not in shape and I will find you 50-100 that are. And if not in shape, then at least healthy enough to run around and do a little bit of physical activity and not fat pigs or something. I'm not saying they are about to go try out for the Denver Broncos.. except maybe InControl.. talk about beast of a man...

T00MuchRazMataz
T00MuchRazMataz

@agitatedchimp Skills involved? I'll try and make a list off the top of my head that I see some pro gamers use... must be fast and precise(both hands, individual fingers with eye-hand coordination, hotkeys, SC2 players are doing 300 actions per minute without even spamming), extremely quick reaction times, high intelligence on how to react to something, strategic (requires smarts, planning, etc), high endurance (not from running, but the physical and mental exertion it takes to play even one game is extremely taxing on a person, especially in such fast paced games where so much can happen), then there are simple things that come with it like practice, teamwork, stress and all that. I'm not saying these guys deserve a fortune, but I'll pay $10 here and there to watch some entertaining matches, learn some things, and support the industry overall.

T00MuchRazMataz
T00MuchRazMataz

@Agitatedchimp I can't say that people are born with a talent, but it does take certain skills, like anything else, that you accumulate and build on over time. I doubt Pro Gamers will get paid more than Doctors, and I admit that it sucks that a pro gamer might get paid more than a soldier. I do not agree with our society in that situation, but it's not my call. If I had more of a say in things I would find ways to get soldiers more money. But there are TONS of professions that do get paid more than they should. I don't know why Pro Gamers are getting crap for this when it really doesn't compare to others. Only certain individuals get to decide where money goes, and we live in America where are morals might be a little off (price of freedom). If you're asking what talent is involved in pro gaming besides looking at a screen and pushing buttons, you obviously don't understand what all is involved and have never tried to play competitively. I'll reiterate that I'm mostly arguing from a SC2 standpoint, but I can give respect to some of the others. I personally don't like CoD though.

robfield
robfield

I don't care about pro gaming, but I acknowledge that gaming is a hobby that many people are enthusiastic about. If people can watch fishing on TV then they should be able to watch gaming too.

kytomasi
kytomasi

Its cool to hate on MLG, same way its cool to hate CoD and Justin Bieber. Being apart of MLG is no different then professional sports or anything. Kids call them "Try hards" but that is the dumbest statement ever. Trying Hard at something you enjoy is normal. I "Try Hard" at my job for years hence why im in a Lead IT security position at my job. I tried hard and it paid off. Try hard at an game/hobby/work is all the same. Trying hard should not seen as a negative thing. MLG is full of people that "try hard" at a video game and its nothing wrong with that.

commander1122
commander1122

i only enjoy gaming...not act like pro or hardcore on gaming~~

Morf_uni
Morf_uni

I enjoyed the live stream of the Dota 2 tournament. Does it have to be more complicated than that? If you enjoy watching it, then watch it, if you don't, then don't. it's easy. No reason to be biased about it. If you are scared of the consequences of pro gaming becoming more mainstream then do some research and see for yourself whether or not it actually have a bad influence on the viewer(s).

lovinghearty
lovinghearty

if (progamingMadeItIntoASportsChannel) { progamingIsASport = true; } else { progamingIsASport = false; } lol....

Koushin
Koushin

I personally don't care. I enjoy playing games with my friends online or enjoying a single player game and utilize that time playing and not watching others play (regardless of how good they are). However, I do see why some are into it, it's just not for me.

NeoEnigma
NeoEnigma

@stsk8ter29 - you do realize that pro gamers actually make salaries to do this for a living, right? they aren't sitting around on a sofa for hours on end. they're actually WORKING. a starcraft 2 progamer was recently given a salary over 6 figures to sign onto a team. question is... are you sad, or just jealous?

StSk8ter29
StSk8ter29

I don't care at all about pro gaming. So two guys spent their lives getting really good at a videogame. To me it's more sad than exciting. Instead of sitting on a sofa for hours on end playing a digital martial artist they could have actually gone out and learned a martial art for themselves and gotten some really good exercise.

Chibithor
Chibithor

@mclebron23 I know they're at MLG. I'm not really trying to argue for MLG but rather for pro gaming. My point is that there are good games played at MLG. The bad games don't discredit the rest as competitive games that require skill to play. And yeah I figured he was mostly talking about the recent CoDs, didn't take 2 or 4 into account. @keech That's true to a degree, but good competitive games are pretty balanced on release and/or are continuously getting patched for improvements. Rarely does anyone find something that absolutely breaks the game or is considered an exploit. If those are found they are normally patched quickly. There are no additional rules or referees because all the necessary rules are coded into the game, and can be changed if necessary. Magic equivalent for example would be Wizards somehow removing the banned cards from existence, though maybe not as drastic. Some additional notes: Nobody including the pro gamers themselves refer to them as athletes. Whether gaming is a sport or not in your opinion is irrelevant, e-Sports is a word that refers to competitive gaming. I don't see any point in arguing semantics. Would you be happy if it was referred to as only pro gaming instead?

Darth_Vader1_4
Darth_Vader1_4

@ klitfelt The streams are usually free to watch. The quality is subjective depending on the tournament, the Intel Extrem Masters from last week was in 360p quality and you needed to pay like 19 dollars for 720p quality. Other events may give 720p quality for free but offer other services for money. If you really like SC2 check out teamliquid.net you'll have plenty of streams from pro gamers and also streams from the tournaments when they go live.

klitfelt
klitfelt

Im a huge sc2 fan, but I dont know so much about live streaming of these events but how much does it cost to watch an event like this?

keech
keech

Overall I don't really care for "pro gaming". Mostly because in my experience It's more about figuring out how to break a game than it is actually playing it. To find the easiest exploits, ways to circumvent game mechanics, move and ability combinations that give you an absurd advantage, ect. The biggest problem I have with it, in a football or basketball game, you have ref's watching everything, making sure the players aren't doing anything shady. Heck even card games like Magic: The Gathering have lists of banned cards that aren't allowed to be used in tournaments because they create an unbalanced format. Pro-gaming doesn't really have this. To my understanding the mentality in pro-gaming is basically "if it's in the game, It's okay to do it." and that sort of mentality just doesn't do it for me. It may be good and fine for the types of gamers who only care about the competition and winning. But not so much for someone like me who just likes playing the game and doesn't really care if I win or lose.

Darth_Vader1_4
Darth_Vader1_4

I actually tuned in to MLG Anaheim on all 3 days and watched all the Starcraft 2 tournament, if I was a resident of the US I would probably have went there in person. I have to say it was a lot of fun, the games where fantastic and the commentators where great, but the atmosphere was beyond words to describe. So much passion, so much enthusiasm under one roof, you could feel it trough the stream, it was incredible. I don't get all the negative feelings towards e-sports and especially this stupid notion that e-sports breeds a community/following of people "useless" to society. First of, you can be a full time worker, businessman, etc and still come home and enjoy watching the pro gaming scene, its just like coming home and tuning into a game of football or basketball. While e-sports might raise hype and encourage kids to try it, its the sole job of the parents to make sure their kids don't become video game junkies, that they grow up with a clear focused mentality. If the kids fail in life, the parents failed their kids, you can't trow the blame squarely on the likes of TV, e-sports, drugs or others. The majority of the pro gamers are actually in their early to late 20s, they are fit, healthy, they have strong personalities a lot of focus and great dedication. You can't call pro gamers parasites to society since they do provide one benefit, entertainment.

immortal-wolf-
immortal-wolf-

LMAO yet again Street fighter 3 third strike been out for years i have it on xbox over 8 years ago its lame game old fashion game why people still play out dated stuff it strange want a modern fighting game try Street Fighter X Tekken.

Phil-teh-Pirate
Phil-teh-Pirate

@Enexs Yeah you do. You have to have a proficient knowledge of games before you can rate, compare and critique them, unless you like your game reviewers to know sod all about gaming then well atleast you're on the right website. Like this, you also have to have a good knowledge of movies to critique them. Many fans of movies and critics (to be a movie critic you have to like movies, kinda in the job description, on page one of "how to be a critic of something"). If you like a movie, even as a critic, you watch it again and yes they may even know exactly whats going to happen next (lines and all) just because they like it. Would you say a music critic never learns the lines of a song or learns how to play them on an instrument, then they don't have their own band, which in turn you go and pay to watch? I think you're just blowing hot air.

vengefulwilberg
vengefulwilberg

@Aeriscloud99 Good point. I guess it just comes down to those players who want show off their skills. But then again there are those who don't play games to just showoff but have fun.

Pownage5232
Pownage5232

Pro gamers are the best of the best; the individuals with the innate talent and incredible dedication that results in the domination of the lowly commoners. The games between pro gamers make for amazingly tense competition that push the potential of the respective game engines to their limit. To the followers of pro gaming, it is mind-blowingly beautiful to watch, essentially a work of art. Is there really that much of a point in becoming a pro football player? So many work so hard, and sacrifice their integrity to even have a shot (HGH, steroids, etc). They worked hard, and have natural ability. It's the same thing with e-gaming. Don't hate on gamers for loving what they love. It's ridiculous, judgemental, and frankly, hypocritical and pathetic.

Neo_Sarevok
Neo_Sarevok

@ Vrygar777 I gave you a thumbs up just for the awesome avatar.

KillerSlothLol
KillerSlothLol

its obvious why more people tune into live sports like football or soccer, is because you grow up with these sports which were around way before main stream gaming came into play, why watch two people head to head battle button mashing, when you can just jump on the same game yourself and give it a go, you cant really just jump into a professional football or soccer game, that means leaving the couch...but with these massive win prizes like $1mil for dota 2 they are drawing a bigger crowd these days especially in South Korea where starcraft players get paid just as much as any sporting teams in their country.

Kou-Nurasaka
Kou-Nurasaka

If NASCAR is a sport, then I don't see why MLG can't be. Honestly, I've seen Directv sponser it before, and even games I don't normally play, like Halo, are really interesting. There are a ton of fighting game that can be used, SSB for one, Tekken, Soul Calibur.

super-hiro
super-hiro

Weird how a lot of people enjoy watching football, soccer or basketball but people who (are supposed to) love games aren't interested in pro-gaming. It does depend a lot on the game, but watching pro-gaming can be just as fun as watching soccer or basketball.

voods07
voods07

Who cares about MLG? Only men who aspire to be useless to society. If MLG had any class it would take those prize pools and donate it 100% to charity.

booty56
booty56

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Sportyfamilycar
Sportyfamilycar

I don't care about pro gaming, but I enjoyed this article. Nice work, Tom.

Enexs
Enexs

@Phil-teh-Pirate pro-gamers aren't game critics and you don't see pro persons that watch a movie many and many times until they know every dialog of that movie

skinntech
skinntech

Dota 2 international tournament netted the Ukraine team Na'Vi 1 million for first place. Riot games announced their intention to outdo valve and will be hosting a 5 million dollar tournament. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks about professional gaming with that kind of money on the line. It's absurd that college kids are making that kind of money, but if the sponsors want to pony up the cash I have no complaints. It's very possible to be seeing a StarLeague type show here in the us very soon. I for one am excited to see this happening, I like to think of the jobs that will be created in the industry. I think that's one area that alot of analyst overlook, the jobs being created by this revenue stream. We may not all have the talent to ever play for money but that doesn't mean we can't be the announcer or the guy working the camera.

agitatedchimp
agitatedchimp

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Vrygar777
Vrygar777

I don't know, MLG is interesting to watch (This was several years ago when they played Halo 2) but i'm like a lot of other people, I think that it may make an unhealthy trend even more popular. Trust me, I'm pretty sure I may have started to develop Carpal Tunnel, but luckily I preempted it and now I don't play games as much anymore lol.

TheRabbit196
TheRabbit196

@mclebron23 I don't know about other games, but I follow the Starcraft pro scene, and a lot of the pros are very fit and go to the gym regularly.

AaronThomas
AaronThomas

I don't care about pro gaming, but I enjoyed this article. Nice work, Tom.

BigMikeM77
BigMikeM77

Wow alot of hating going on about a gaming league on, wait for it, a GAMING website. Its simple if you don't like it don't pay attention to it so people who do like it can have their fun.

mclebron23
mclebron23

@MetalxHealthx...Just because you don't necessarily have to be "athletic" to play baseball, you still have to be in good shape to hit a baseball. Hitting a Baseball is one of, if not the hardest things to do in a sport. You also have to physically "hit" and "throw" the ball, which is why is called a "sport" @dah_master...been there done that? You obviously never "done" a sport in your life. When you watch the NBA or college hoops on TV you don't learn anything? If you actually played basketball (because you obviously dont) you would know that watching a game on TV can teach you a ton of stuff. They're pro athletes for a reason.

J0k3rf4c3
J0k3rf4c3

@mclebron23 Yeah, you're right kids don't watch it for those messages, but putting them in makes them effective at least a bit. I'm against the whole grow the pro gaming community thing if it only brings a generation of unhealthy people and if the pro gaming community keeps this size i wouldn't care about it. I just think they could at least try for the record right. Just so they can say to fat people that they tried.

txgamerwavg
txgamerwavg

I just wonder what Jack Thomson say about it? hmm??

mclebron23
mclebron23

@J0k3rf4c3...jesus christ SMH...If kids are going to watch MLG, they're not watching it to hear pros go "eat healthy everyday and take your vitamins" They're going to see the pros play video games and hear that they practice 8 hours a day for an event. If the kids that you're talking about want to here about being healthy and exercising, they most likely play sports and watch sports. When they watch sports they dont need the athlete to "say' anything about exercise, all they have to do is watch and that says everything.

txgamerwavg
txgamerwavg

I don't care MLG. I just playing online games with my friends. It's waste of time and money.