In my all encompassing media role at
Tricked I do a lot of talking with, and more importantly listening
to both players and fans. This often turns into a bit of a lecture
when I surprise them by saying that the industry's glitz and
glamour are relatively new, as are the salaries involved and the
rock-star status that comes with success. I've personally played
close to the top of the world in two different titles, attended a
long list of LAN events and so far effortlessly eluded fame and
fortune. This one then goes out to all the eSports professionals
from before eSports was professional.
Speaking fondly of MLG Anaheim in 2012, Sundance DiGiovanni famously remarked that the games create "moments in time that fans will hold on to for their entire lives." It saddens me then to think that the hard work of those that brought us this far and allowed the creation of those moments can often be forgotten. I once said that it's hard for me to watch personal heroes retire and then meet the next generation of fans who never knew they were relevant. As social stigma begins to subside and the commercial machine moves to swallow us whole, I want to steal the limelight from modern day personalities and temporarily redirect it, paying homage to the forgotten nicknames, the obsolete experts and the behind the scenes workers that led us to where we are today.
Fans would easily be forgiven for forgetting that DreamHack was originally a nameless gathering of 40 students in a Malung school cafeteria. History grants us a window into just how much the scene has changed. Perhaps not surprisingly, providing a venue for people to compete in their hobbies became a smash hit, but the truly explosive popularity came much later - largely thanks to Twitchtv, Hitbox and their somewhat defunct list of predecessors. Before live broadcasting of games became commonplace, tournaments were limited to their attendees meaning smaller prize pools and limited justification for sponsorship involvement.
If live broadcasting was the spark that ignited the eSports fire, the people who came before it were the kindling that allowed it to really start going. Untold amounts of time, effort and money went into creating those initial LANs, most of which have now been superseded by fully booked convention centres and jam packed arenas, but it's a very recent development to see any tangible return. The question then remains, why did anyone bother in the first place?
In my search for Sundance's exact quote I found myself reading through archives of older interviews and reminiscing on fitting several players into a summer tent for an event taking place in the middle of winter, wandering in half frozen during the early hours of the morning we were greeted by volunteer staff that had never slept after the previous day's network outage. After winning our share of a prize pool which barely dented the travel costs, it's fair to say none of us were in it for the money.
Now that large events regularly hit virtual crowds comparable in viewership to an entire NBA season it seems unthinkable to believe stories of unfed insomniac staff members working dilligently through the night or players disowned by their families for pursuing their talents. Sleeping on a rather sturdy table in a makeshift press area I hypothesise that perhaps most of us weren't attracted for the chance of fame either.
I suggest that the driving factor back then was simply passion, a cheesy yet obvious answer to a seldom asked question. It's the best explanation for the mad brilliance that allowed digital sports to lay it's foundations before it could later thrive. Without playing Counter Strike on beige boxes in old sports halls I doubt any of us would be watching E-League's Counter Strike: Global Offensive tournament on televison, so my respects also go to the people who never made it far enough to see it. Now a larger than life personality, Richard Lewis once coldly shared stories of time spent 'couch surfing' and the damaged friendships that came with daring to dream. For an untold number it's a dream that was never realised.
Just over a decade ago I skipped school to play World of Warcraft and met a talented player seemingly forever confined to a hospital, hooked up to machines after a work accident had burnt most of his body. I realised early on that many of us might not see what future games had in store, if there was a future for them at all. A recent reddit post by the Counterstrike community gave us a solemn reminder of the existence of Josh "Brundle-Fly" Switzer, a player who passed away after a tragic accident in the source era. In rememberance of both players and staff who moved on and those taken far too soon, the undeniable common ground always seems to be their love of the genre and the people around them.
Most of the efforts put in to creating the scene were happily given by people who collectively just wanted it to exist, so the next time you feel the chants of the crowd and see the dazzle of the stage lights spare a thought for the unsung heroes that brought us here, happy in the knowledge that their efforts were not in vain.