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Video game competitions take it to the mainstream

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By Josh Compaan
Collegiate Web Editor

Over-caffeinated teens and adults, aliens, gunshots and a “mature” amount of blood filled the Dallas Convention Center this past April fools weekend. No longer were the geeks of America banished to their parent’s basements. Instead, they took their favorite mouse & keyboard or controller and brought their A-game to the Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Starcraft 2 stages of this year’s first Major League Gaming Tournament.

One player, Johan “Naniwa” Lucchesi from Europe, did exactly this. Naniwa entered the Dallas Convention Center for his first appearance at a Starcraft 2 Major League Gaming event on April 1. Compared to the other players at the tournament, Naniwa was an unknown, an underdog. After winning the tournament, going 26-2 against the biggest names in the North American Starcraft scene, Naniwa had changed all of that.

Starcraft 2 was release July 27, 2010 by Blizzard Studios and is the largest real-time-strategy (RTS) game being played online at this time. Starcraft requires players to manage an economy (macro) and build an army to defeat their opponent (micro). Unlike other RTS games Starcraft is unique because players are able to play as one of three races. Each race has a unique set of units and mechanics. Zerg focuses on quantity, Terran is a balanced race and Protoss focuses on quality.

“The stigma of a lazy gamer is still in the eye of society,” said Mat Rodriguez, a skilled Starcraft player from GRCC. “If you’re a hardcore gamer you’re not a lazy gamer.” Professional players often spend 50-60 hours every week practicing.

“You have to be aware, you can’t do that and be lazy,” Rodriguez said.

The mental and physical dexterity required to play Starcraft competitively is immense. Players are required to physically maintain over 200 actions per minute (three actions per second). The mental strain is similar to a professional game of chess.

“It’s a lot less forgiving than other sports,” Rodriguez said.

Rarely does a single action win or lose the game. Starcraft is the opposite. A single mistake or delay of a routine action can quickly cascade to a loss. “Starcraft requires so much attention, it forces multitasking, if you can’t do it – you lose.”

Once a player learns how to multitask at three actions per second the “game of chess” begins. “It’s a game of mind games, you win by making your opponent make mistakes,” Rodriguez said. The mental decisions being made by players lead to complex and unique games. Nearly every game presents a new situation that players are expected to manage on the fly. Thousand dollar decisions are constantly being made based on small amounts of information and approximations.

A unique aspect of e-sports is the growth outside of the professional scene. Tournaments are easy to participate in and they don’t require a large team. Local LAN centers are often hosting tournaments over the weekends with dozens of local players vying for the prize pool. “I’ve actually paid for three months of rent from video games. I bet I will make more money from my hobby than a majority of other college sports players,” Rodriguez said.

For the professionals, the income potential is very different. MLG, The Global Starcraft 2 League (GSL), Team Starcraft 2 League (TSL) and Gamebattles tournaments provide professional gamers the opportunity to earn over 2 million dollars in prize money.

The prize money being snagged by the best is only one part of the pot. With sponsors like Stride Gum, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Red Bull, Intel, Blizzard, Monster and many more, a top player or team can quickly be earning a comfortable salary.

For many, competitive gaming is not about the money. Competitve gaming is a lifestyle. In the same way that a partier may look for the best party on a Friday night, a competitive gamer will meet up with their friends for a Friday night of games.

Gamers sit down and talk about the latest strategies, upsets and tournaments similar to athletes discussing March Madness or the latest playoff results.

What may best demonstrate this is the mindset that many professionals take. They participate in discussions with the rest of the community.

Perhaps the best example of this can be seen on www.teamliquid.net. Many professional Starcraft players regularly participate in conversations, discuss the new strategy trends and offer advice to new players.

The competitive community is more than just players. Commentators are quickly making names for themselves as well. The best example of this is Sean ‘Day[9]’ Plott, a member of the Starcraft community for over 11 years. In addition to commentating tournaments, Day[9] hosts a daily webcast that regularly sees over 7,500 viewers. These webcasts often discuss Starcraft games in depth in a lighthearted setting. Day[9] has often been referred to as the ambassador of e-sports.

With the recent releases of Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Starcraft 2, the popularity of video games has continued to rise. As the popularity continues to rise, e-sports will follow.
“You have to go into it with an open mind,” Rodriguez said. The dynamic and intense games make for great spectator entertainment. With the growing community Rodriguez said, “The hardest thing about competitive gaming is to humble yourself, there are people better than you.”

For one player, Johan “Naniwa” Lucchesi, there wasn’t anyone better. As he took the main stage and accepted the Starcraft 2 trophy a round of applause from his peers rose up. Later, as the lights at MLG Dallas faded, thousands of gamers packed up their gear. A sense of anticipation filled the air as they looked forward to June 3 when MLG will visit Columbus for the next major North American e-sports tournament.