This month Valve hosted its annual Dota 2 International, hosting qualifiers and then the main event over 2 weekends, with a total prize pool of over $24 million. I know all of this because my boyfriend went missing in the middle of the night for 2 weekends in a row (but more than made up for his absence later). I already knew that professional gaming or ‘eSports’ was a big industry, with a whole world of spin-off industries like streaming or ‘casting’. What I didn’t know was that it’s an industry worth almost $900 million annually (and growing), or how seriously the gamers at the top take their careers.
State of Play follows the life and career of Starcraft megastar Lee ‘Jaedong’ Jae Dong, shining a light into the intensity of life as a professional gamer in South Korea. The documentary catches the drama and emotion of the players in a way that makes them accessible and human, despite their elite status and unorthodox careers. As we watched, I was blown away by the dedication these guys (even today, eSports is male-dominated) put in – leaving home young to move into corporate-sponsored team houses, training 12 hours a day.
I grew up in south-east Asia, so the intensity and commitment shown by the players in this doco, as well as the blow to their pride and loss of face from failure, is something I understand. This documentary got me wondering why esports is perceived as a uniquely Asian phenomenon? Who are the top players? Who are the most avid viewers? Who are the biggest fans? State of Play shone a spotlight on the fangirls who flocked to gaming superstars – their love, their gift-giving, and their loyalty really tugged on my heartstrings.
Well, 190 million people tune in to follow their favourite eSports every year, most often to watch League of Legends or DOTA 2. Those viewers come from all around the world (and wake up across all time zones to tune in). In LoL, Asian teams still dominate, but 3 of the top 10 teams come from the USA or Europe. In DOTA 2, which has larger prize pools, 6 of the top 10 teams come from Europe or the USA. In both games, commentators, or casters, come from all over the world to accommodate a global viewership in multiple languages.
While the popularity of gaming as eSports spawned in Asia, technology and passion have converged to make it a massive worldwide industry.