eSports rising

I’ll admit that I am not a sports nut. I enjoy the Stanley Cup as much as the next Canadian, but I couldn’t recall my favourite player or game or anything. I do, however, envy those with the fan fervor and the capacity to really get into the game.

I do not want to open the “do video games count as a sport” debate — this isn’t really the issue in play. But I enjoy my fair share of darts and poker on the supposed sports networks, watching intense competitions of aim and bluffing, respectively.

But when I watch a good match of <em>Street Fighter IV</em> or <em>League of Legends</em>, while I&rsquo;m sure it doesn&rsquo;t take the same level of physical exertion as a good game of hockey or football, I wonder why a video game can&rsquo;t exist on the same channels as poker or darts.

The supposed &ldquo;eSports,&rdquo; video gaming at a highly competitive level, is complete with stages, avid crowds, sponsorship, and prizes.

It used to be that a video game tournament was some token gesture by a company to drum up hype for their product. Now, games are being developed with the competitive community in mind, and the community has the greatest pull in what gets to be called a great fighting game.

At the time of writing, the <em>DOTA 2</em> International just finished, an unprecedented eSports event with a first place prize netting the winning team over $5 million.

Even before this, eSports has gotten plenty of showing this season. Evolution, largely known as EVO, the famous fighting game tournament in Las Vegas, featured another showcase of eSports and their potential.

It&rsquo;s very much the stories that make the game, and EVO was the best for this. There was the story of the <em>Street Fighter IV</em> tournament, where a typically low-tier character was able to take first place. The <em>BlazBlue</em> finals featured a true comeback hero tale, coming time and time again from the brink of elimination to take the Grand Finals.

Even smaller moments like <em>Marvel Vs. Capcom 3</em> player &ldquo;Filipino Champ&rdquo; being a massive troll, drawing out a match by pushing back the opponent relentlessly when he could have just ended the match, or the <em>Smash Bros.</em> finals, where Pikachu would ceaselessly punt his opponent into oblivion only to jump back to safety, were exciting. It&rsquo;s just fun to watch.

So far, competitive gaming has remained relatively isolated. Even with some prior knowledge, my head boggles at the &ldquo;FADCs&rdquo; or the &ldquo;OTGs&rdquo; of a match at EVO. That said, I cannot tell the variations of a tennis serve or a football formation, even though those do not change.

Anyone who&rsquo;s played or watched a fighting game can tell when a combo is amazing, or can tell if a <em>DOTA</em> match is going one way or the other when the kills tally up and the team pushes towards the enemy side. And people are aware of this disconnect, with videos and articles explaining the more complicated aspects of the game to become more accessible to viewers.

It&rsquo;s just a demonstration of gaming becoming a more established part of society. Five or ten years ago, we were more concerned with getting a proper story in a story-based game. Fighting games were more or less dead until <em>Street Fighter IV</em> came out, and <em>DOTA</em> was still only a mod of <em>WarCraft III</em>.

ESPN2, at least in the States, aired the <em>DOTA 2</em> championships on TV. While we will continue to watch these competitions online &mdash; and being televised is by no means an indication of importance &mdash; the popularity of gaming seems less likely to be ignored by broadcasters and the general public. ESports are becoming less of a niche and more of a full-fledged aspect of competitive sports, or games, if you prefer.

Gaming is growing up. We now have an indie scene. We have game with the production values and sales of a blockbuster movie. And unlike conventional mediums, they can be used in competitions. It&rsquo;s an artistic medium that can be played and used as a platform for a sport. That&rsquo;s extremely interesting, and one of the reasons that I love gaming.