Friday, March 15, 2013
Gamers battle for cash and prizes at this weekend’s Major League Gaming competition
Gamers will test their skills at Call of Duty, League of Legends, and StarCraft II.
DALLAS When nongamers hear the term “competitive gaming,” they may not know exactly what to expect.
Playing video games is stereotypically seen as a solo activity, performed quietly in a dark room. At best, someone not familiar with video games’ competitive nature might imagine something akin to the World Series of Poker, where the action is slow but the stakes are high.
What most nongamers may not realize is that professional gaming has become a world not unlike that of many other sports you may follow. There are teams, sponsors, live commentators, huge spectator events, and a lot of money on the line, not to mention a lot of energy in the room. Perhaps the biggest competitive gaming name in North America right now, Major League Gaming (MLG), has been to Dallas many times before. It’s back this weekend with $170,000 in prizes spread across three huge games: Call of Duty: Black Ops II, League of Legends, and StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm (released just days before the tournament begins).
MLG was created in 2002 by its president, Mike Sepso, and its CEO, Sundance DiGiovanni.
“Mike and I had worked together previously on a few Internet companies and played video games together,” DiGiovanni told me in an email interview. “As Microsoft released the Xbox, the popularity of connected gaming consoles surged and online gaming began to take hold, we recognized an opportunity to harness technology and the excitement of competition.”
The two started with small events in New York. Since then they’ve expanded across the U.S. and have broadcast to a global audience via both the Internet and TV.
Since sporting events are typically seen as family-friendly affairs, I wondered how MLG currently approaches the topic of things like age restrictions for its events, considering many of the biggest names in gaming (and one of the games being played in the upcoming tournament, Call of Duty) carry the M for Mature label, marking them as appropriate for ages 17 and up.
“Our events are geared toward a family audience and offer something for everyone,” DiGiovanni said. “While a few games are M rated, we also have strategy based games, and present everything as entertainment. Our programming is modeled after traditional sport and is centered on the overall experience, energy of the competition and live commentary. Any competitors that are under the age of 17, must have adult permission to enter the tournament.”
But watching a game alone, just like watching a physical sport alone, isn’t as exciting as when you have commentary. For that, there are “casters” like Chris Puckett, who give viewers a detailed and fast-paced play-by-play as the action unfolds.
“I actually just kind of fell into it,” Puckett says of how he got into casting. “I started off as a tournament director, and when MLG decided to create The Major League Gaming Pro Circuit TV show in 2006, I took on the new role of associate producer. In this new role I was responsible for preparing the lines for actor Penn Holderness and MLG’s DiGiovanni, who would later record play-by-play and color commentary in post-production.”
The obvious comparison to be made is to more traditional sportscasting, like you hear when watching football or baseball on TV. “I think there are a lot of similarities,” Puckett said. “Both tell the story of the action unfolding on screen, add excitement, and provide unique information on players and teams that the audience may not know. The biggest difference I see is in the pace and mood of the cast. Sports like football and baseball are much slower than most video games and the focus is primarily put on the ball … First-person shooter video games on the other hand are jam-packed with action from the first second of the match to the very end. With eight or more players to follow there is never a dull moment.”
So would Puckett ever make the jump to more “traditional” sportscasting? “I’ve been told by several cameramen and people in the production industry that I should pursue a career in sportscasting,” he said. “I’m a diehard football and MMA fan, but I’m not as passionate about traditional sports as I am about video games. For now I’m focused solely on first person shooters, but would love to eventually do play by play for the NFL or UFC later in my career.”
The MLG Winter Championship marks MLG’s ninth time in Dallas, says DiGiovanni. “We keep coming back because of the warm reception from the city. It has become a hub for competitive gamers, it’s easy for gamers and fans from around the globe to travel to and its proximity to universities makes it even more appealing.”
So what does the future hold for MLG? Will a game like League of Legends one day be the most popular sport in Texas? “I think it would be hard for any sport or pastime to top football in Texas,” DiGiovanni told me, keeping his expectations in check. “I do think that eSports will become as big and as mainstream as traditional sports within the next 10 years. It takes time to build a sport and we are just reaching our tipping point.”
The Major League Gaming Winter Championship will take place March 15-17, with general admission starting March 15 at 2 p.m. and March 16-17 at 10 a.m., at the Dallas Convention Center, 650 S. Griffin St., Dallas. Spectator passes for the weekend are $35 in advance, $50 at the door. The event will be streamed online for free at majorleaguegaming.com.
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