Televised professional gaming, for a variety of reasons, has never had much success here in North America. After last night, I feel like I know the secret to making pro-gaming a phenomenon: Make it exactly like E-@thletes, a new documentary that follows two teams of pro-gamers as they battle through a year and a half of tournaments.
Over director Jonathan Boal's 75-minute film, you'll became acquainted with Team 3D and Complexity, two gaming squads that (in 2006 at least) always seemed to end up facing each other for the top prize. Their game of choice is Counter-Strike. In fact, other games hardly get so much as a mention.
There is big money in these tournaments, but when that cash goes to travel and is split up amongst the team ... well, let's just say that no one's getting rich. But that adds to the film's drama when you know that the prize money up for grabs isn't just a nice bonus -- it's a plane ticket to the next event, or a way to excuse blowing off a part-time job to make money gaming.
"When they go to China, the contrast between the rock star reception they get there vs. the empty convention halls they play to in the US is just staggering"
The stakes are high between the two teams, both populated with some interesting characters (as well as their fair share of cinematic dead weight) but the real battle isn't being fought over CAT-5 cable ... it's the struggle to be accepted, to reap the kind of fame and rewards that teams in Asia and Europe are getting. Seriously, when you see these guys go to China, the contrast between the kind of rock star reception they get there vs. the empty convention halls they're playing to in the States is just staggering.
By the end of the film, you might find that besides picking your favorite squad, you're also rooting for pro-gaming to blow up in North America. Heck, I've laughed up my sleeve at pro-gaming so many times that my shirts smell like Don Rickles and even I wanted the teams to have their work rewarded.
While the drama of the teams and the struggles of e-sports to become recognized are pretty riveting, there's perhaps a bit too much time spent trying to justify their existence. I could have done with a bit fewer people telling me how taxing it is and how much skill it requires and a few more people actually showing me. Even with that slight stumble, there's more than enough goodness here to make it an easy recommendation.
By the time the film reaches its climax at DIRECTV's first televised Championship Gaming Series, players are being coached on celebrating on a neon-lit stage straight from The Wizard before being awarded what I'd swear was a piece of the Aggro Crag. It's "xtreme" in the most grating way possible, and you just want to shake the producers and show them that if they'd focus on the reality of the situation, everyday guys who are running themselves into the ground for a pot of gold that may not even exist, we'd be powerless to look away.