Attending the Super Bowl of Esports

Attending the Super Bowl of Esports

The first thing many of us think when we hear the word esports is: “why would someone want to watch someone else play video games.” And this is often just referencing Twitch streamers or YouTube gaming channels, let alone going to a stadium to watch a bunch of 20-somethings sit in front of a computer playing NBA 2K19. However, this is not how an increasing amount of esports fans see it, and this trend has implications greater than it first seems.

Today, we are going to take a look into why esports fans are traveling across the world to watch their favorite gamers compete. And thanks to avid esports fan and up and coming Dota 2 pro-player, Paul Bocchicchio aka Speeed, we’ll hear about what it’s like going to the biggest esports tournament in history.

How Competing in Person Changes the Game (Literally)

Before we dive into why fans attend esports competitions in person, it is also interesting to note how an esports match changes when teams play sitting next to each other as opposed to online, thousands of miles apart.

The most common problem in online tournaments is the distinct lack of geographic diversity in the participating teams. A North American team can never play in an Asian online competition and vice versa due to the smallest fraction too much of network latency (colloquially known as ping). The amount of time required for the competitors’ computers to send a packet of data to a server located on another continent would simply be too long to have an equal playing field when competitive level matches can be decided by fractions of seconds.

As we see at the Olympics, to be considered the best of the best at your craft, you need to prove it on a worldwide scale, not just your corner of it. And like the World Cup, qualifiers are held to determine the top one or two teams of each region to represent their geological fanbase in the international finale. Top teams then travel to a host nation to compete side by side on lightning-fast LANs (local area networks). LANs allow the culmination of the world’s best players not held back by technological limitations. Add in an arena full of die-hard fans and what you have is a spectacle unlike any other.

What It’s Like to Attend an Esports Event

Paul aka Speeed had recently come back from the Super Bowl equivalent of esports, The International 8, or TI8 as fans call it. Nearly 20,000 fans from all over the world gathered at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia to witness the best and brightest players of Valve Software’s multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) hit, Dota 2, compete for over $25 million in prize money. Another 15 million watched the event’s livestream primarily on Twitch. Most Dota 2 tournament purses are crowdfunded by the Dota 2 community via its battle pass feature. TI8 was the largest purse in esports history though we don’t think this record will hold up for long.

Immediately upon entering Rogers Arena, there is a noticeable difference in atmosphere from a traditional sporting event. A blend of Comic-Con and the Super Bowl, this 5-day long tournament at times felt less like an intense and nerve-wracking battle for $25 million and more like a convention of online friends who are finally getting to meet each other in person after years of Skype calls and group chats. TI8 doesn’t have assigned seating, but you could see the sections forming by nation. And unlike Yankees vs. Red Sox games, the camaraderie between even opposing team fan bases gave the Rogers Arena an energy hard to replicate. No booing (unless the arena became “triggered” by a comment in an interview or “memey” skit), only cheering in celebration of the incredible moment in esports. We can’t help but wonder how long it will be until this amity from the brotherhood of early esports adopters turns to animus as inevitable rivalries form.

The Match Experience

There can be over ten matches in a day, so in order to keep fans entertained, Kaci and SirActionSlacks, two well known Dota 2 personalities, have a slate of complementary content planned. Between matches, the pros participate in refreshingly transparent interviews, comedic skits (like this Dota 2 take on the SNL “Dear Sister” skit), and meet fans as if they were regular people and not exclusive athletes. In addition to the main and side shows, there are also many smaller incentives to attend the tournament. Long awaited new game announcements are made and each attendee gets a physical and digital gift bag to take home. One of the more popular digital presents was an exclusive in-game voice pack of Gaben, the worshiped founder of VALVE, which gives players the option to have Gaben become the commentator of their Dota 2 matches. Physical “loot bags” contained bobbleheads, pins, Dota PopSockets, playing cards, and codes to redeem more digital prizes. But perhaps the most anticipated opportunity for fans is to get their precious mousepad signed by their favorite player and in most cases, idol. Times are changing!

The Financial Case for Esports Tournaments

There are no dedicated Dota 2 or League of Legends stadiums, yet. But the case for the host city of an esports tournament is compelling. Contrary to popular belief, many gamers do have jobs and have the means and the desire to travel around the world to support their favorite teams. Hotels all around the Rogers Arena were packed full and local restaurants had lines out the door. Esports tournaments function similar to conventions like E3 or Comic-Con, so fans can enter, leave, and re-enter the arena as they please. Since the events can last up to a week with matches going on the whole time, the entire local economy gets a nice, prolonged boost. Pros get a nice paycheck as well – pictured below is Speeed with Notail, one of five players from Team OG, the underdog team who defeated powerhouse squad, LDG, in a grueling five-game grand finals series. Notail left the Roger Arena with $2.2M+ in his pocket.

Conclusion

The monumental rise of competitive gaming is often viewed as a newer generations’ more antisocial take on spectator sports. As we tried to show today, this just simply isn’t the case. We believe as esports continue to gain in popularity, similarly to the recent rise of Fortnite, the appeal and economic impact of in-person gaming tournaments will be tremendous.

Thanks again to Paul Bocchicchio aka Speeed for his insights on the topic. Stay tuned for an interview with Paul about his journey to become a Dota 2 pro and compete at future Dota 2 Internationals.  

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