As I have already blogged about, I had fun at the Romics convention, and I managed to talk to several folks without making them too ill at my poor Italiano…
In my previous post, though, I didn’t mention the e-sports exhibition hall. The competition was fierce and the crowds were huge (it was easily the noisiest hall), and I spent way more time than was healthy there.
Comic and gaming communities have been integrated since the beginning – by necessity, when games became reliant on graphics (with 2d, heavily pixelated characters) they owed a lot to comic books and comic book plots. The limitations of software tools made realism impossible to capture (I still remember watching The Incredibles and taking nothing away from that film except that their hair moved), and while the art in comic books blew away anything that could be produced on a tiny greenscreen dumb monitor, we could still connect to what we saw on those screens with what we grew up with in the comic books.
The integration feels almost seamless now, which brings me to the title of this post. At Romics there was an aircraft hanger-sized room devoted to eSports, and there were two tournaments happening – League of Legends and FIFA soccer. Both had prize money, huge audiences, teams playing, and announcers breathlessly explaining the action.
The virtualization of soccer was pretty wild too. The action was more individually focused since there were no big teams playing (FIFA soccer is player vs. player, not team vs. team), but there were just as many people playing as there were at the LoL tourney. The action was more difficult to follow because a) soccer (not as many points) and b) with so many playing there wasn’t a single screen for the audience to focus on. I didn’t hang around for the finals, so I’m guessing that with just one match being played there was a bigger crowd.
The LoL tourney was easy to follow, even if there were multiple games going on, because of the announcing and the single screen showing just one game. The fact that the tourneys are 5v5 probably helps as well – the number of teams gets whittled down quickly. I don’t know what the qualifying criteria were for this tournament for either game, so I don’t know where they started at numbers-wise, but the combo was fascinating to watch.
I’ve written on sports games before (co-written with one of the Monsters of the Midway of game studies), so the evolution of sports games to this point isn’t a shock – sports games have been huge for a long time. At one point there was an argument made that Tony Hawk was the most widely-recognized athlete in the world because of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater developed by Neversoft and published by Activision for the PlayStation (remember those?), news which must have come as a shock to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, and his popularity came from the fame he received from this line of games. The LoL piece has surprised me, though, in part because I do not personally like playing PvP and associated it with 11 year olds tea-bagging each other and bragging about their e-peens. PvP though has become a thing of its own, and the gaming world has moved far beyond folks like me who don’t want to play so they can build up other player’s stats, of course.
At this point I could quickly dive into the weeds of the South Korea Warcraft competitions, so I’ll back away gently. Still, there might, just might, be something to all of this…