I am not a video gamer. Let me put it in perspective: my gaming experience ranges from The Sims 2 (with about every expansion pack possible) and Game Boy Colour Pokémon Yellow to Donkey Kong 64 and Spyro the Dragon on the PS2. Basically, I was all over video games circa early 2000 with an older brother (an ’80s baby) guiding the way. That said, I’m friends with gamers, and looking at UTM’s course offerings I’m aware that the phenomenon is only growing as a form of narrative and, apparently, as a professional sport.
Right on trend, eSports Gaming Events was formed a few years back in Windsor by a group of eight friends who played video games together through high school. The event company organizes tournaments for PC and console games throughout the province with onsite and online spectators.
Where does UTM come into this? A member of the class of 2014 who graduated with an English specialist and professional writing minor, now a law student at McGill, Chris Laliberte is eSports Gaming’s editor-in-chief.
Laliberte has had an interest in video games from a young age. “Growing up, I either had a video game or a book in my hand,” he says. He too realized that the video game industry was picking up. It was engaging an increasing number of people, attracting sponsorships, and becoming genuinely lucrative. He wanted to get involved. Thanks to putting in time over the summers of his undergraduate degree, Laliberte wrapped up classes last December and, finding that he had some time on his hands, remembered this group of eight from high school. He checked out eSports Gaming’s website and saw an opportunity to develop their blog. Now he oversees a body of writers who attend their events and edits their coverage, and also contributes a monthly (sometimes bimonthly) feature.
This founding body of eight friends established a gaming club at Windsor University as undergraduates, for which they organized regular events and tournaments. They realized that they were turning a profit and decided to take a shot at a start-up. Since then that eight has become four and is now under the direction of CEO Shaun Byrne.
Laliberte provided an overview of competitive video gaming from a global perspective. Canada’s enthusiasm for the sport doesn’t compare to its popularity in China, South Korea, and the United States. Apparently, the US passed legislatures in 2013 to recognize League of Legends players as professional athletes. There are even scholarships for top gamers. After all, he says, some of the industry’s greatest are in fact high school students. (Or maybe this isn’t a surprise when I think back to the hours my high school guy friends spent gaming.) Meanwhile, streaming platforms such as Twitch have replaced TV as the main source of media consumption, having sold out 10,000-people stadiums to watch gamers compete.
I have to ask Laliberte, though: can professional gaming exist on the same level as traditional pro sports?
He defines sport as a “contest of athleticism and strategy” and argues that competitive video games fit this definition. They include a real-time element with such games as League of Legends and Call of Duty. They require communication, hand-eye coordination, and teamwork.
What sets a professional gamer apart from any old amateur? According to Laliberte, they play a lot and live for the sport. Like you might say of any Olympic athlete, they make up a small portion of the population. They recognize their own faults, can focus on self-improvement, and never shy away from failure. A professional gamer reviews footage and may play for eight to 10 hours a day. ZionSpartan (the handle of Darshan Upadhyaya) is an example of an extraordinary gamer. “He’s been playing pro since during his final year of high school,” says Laliberte. “Even his teachers call him ZionSpartan.”
However, Laliberte admits that despite the industry’s growth, it isn’t always possible to survive financially solely as a professional gamer. Teams that qualify for leagues hosted by gaming companies may receive a small salary. Otherwise, the majority of a gamer’s earnings come from sponsorships, event prizes, and streaming. The streaming platform Twitch generates ad revenue and also attracts viewers who can pay subscription fees for things like removing the ads. The platform allows gamers to receive donations as well. At this point, the most a gamer can earn annually might be around six figures—not a shabby income by any means, but not common in the industry. Laliberte also mentioned an incident in which donations became competitive and a gamer earned $50,000 over the course of an hour.
There’s plenty of opportunity for students to get in on the game. Laliberte said there will likely be a series of small qualifying tournaments in Internet cafes across the GTA and suggests keeping an eye on their website and social media pages, and signing up for the e-newsletter to get updates on their upcoming Toronto events.
For now, the next confirmed event is a qualifier in London, Ontario in partnership with Project Play on November 23. After the series of qualifiers, there’ll be a provincial championship to determine the best team and individual player of each game (League of Legends, Dota 2, and Super Smash Brothers Melee) in May 2015 with up to $2,000 in prizes. It’s still early in the season, with only two qualifiers having occurred so far.
Now two years old, eSports Gaming dreams of hosting a Canada-wide tournament someday. Laliberte imagines that as they continue to build interest, receive sponsorships, and develop a small capital, they can develop branches elsewhere in the country and eventually realize this ambition.
Putting the future aside for a minute, Laliberte told me his personal favourite game is Dark Souls, and that as far as competitive games go, it’s without a doubt League of Legends.
For me, it’s probably a tie between Crazy Taxi and my dear Spyro (up until I hid it from my sister in my sock drawer and never found it again). It looks like I might have a little catching up to do if I ever want to find myself competing in an eSports event. For now, I’m happy just watching.