The medium of video games is one like no other. They can have production values and stories in the same way that movies and TV shows can, but they also are beginning to be played professionally. Players all over the world train for years in certain games in the hopes that they will win some big gaming tournament.
With the advent of YouTube in recent years, competitive gaming has become more popular than ever. Games like Starcraft, Hearthstone, League of Legends, Halo, and Defense of the Ancients have become competitive mainstays in tournaments, some of which have offered upwards of a million dollars as their grand prize to the winner, and the prize pools are only getting bigger.
Gaming tournaments have existed almost since the beginning of video games, though. Kids would make impromptu arcade competitions out of games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, but these were usually more for bragging rights than anything else. Competitive gaming, sometimes known as e-sports, really began to take off with Blizzard’s real-time strategy game Starcraft. Players around the world would, and still, gather in huge tournaments to compete at the highest level.
This continues to the present day, with more and more games getting their own tournaments, and the e-sports label is getting more and more true. It really is a sport – not physically, but in that these events are beginning to draw in crowds by the thousands. They even get play-by-play commentators. Blizzcon’s Hearthstone tournament in November was commentated by well-known Hearthstone players around the world, and some of the contestants were even considered fan-favorites. People came out to support them in droves, as fans do for other sports teams.
It’s this odd connection between the geek world and the jock world. It proves, in a way, that sports culture really isn’t so different from geek culture. Geeks get dressed up in a theme and yell about our favorite teams, or contestant, or player. Gaming tournaments get surprisingly intense, and there are multiple 12-hour-long videos of Blizzcon’s Hearthstone tournament.
Personally, I don’t usually get too much into competitive gaming – except, of course, for Pokémon. With both video games and a trading card game, Pokémon is one of the most prominent games in the competitive world. Its deceptive simple-on-the-outside, complex-on-the-inside strategy mechanics has made it a go-to for nerds like myself who want to compete, and the same could be said of Hearthstone.
With all that said, though, I feel there’s a little bit more to the “competition” aspect of games. Sure, we compete against each other. Pong, one of the first video games, was basically just tennis – AKA a sport. But less obviously, video games are very different from other visual mediums like film and television in that the goal of (most) games is to win. There’s a reason we always refer to finishing a game as “beating it,” right?
I believe that’s a huge part of what makes games so unique. Even in a solely single-player experience, like Mass Effect, the goal is to beat the game. It’s like we set out from the start with the mindset that we are going to beat the developers at their own game. They put the challenge in front of us to overcome, and after beating a particularly difficult part, we get that “aha, I beat you!” feeling.
You don’t hear people say that they “beat” a book, movie, or TV show. Games are so different from anything else because they merge the competition of sports with the visual and aural artistry of film. More and more people are arguing that games are art, and I certainly agree with them, but games are their own unique kind of art. Right now there’s nothing else quite like them, which why they’re here to stay. And make tons of money.
Joel Wallick is currently pursuing a degree in film studies at Bowling Green State University with a minor in creative writing. He has been gaming since early childhood, beginning with Pokemon Silver. Follow him on Twitter @SuperNerdJoel
Header image of BlizzCon’s 2007 opening ceremony originally taken by Flickr user tinyfroglet.