Imagine an NBA arena packed to the rafters on a Saturday. Stage lights flash across the at-capacity crowd. Monstrous displays broadcast the evening’s match-ups. An exuberant emcee walks onto the stage and announces the first bout. The crowd roars as the combatants go to their respective corners, put on headphones, and man their mouse and keyboard.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think I was talking about professional wrestling? A heavyweight bout? I was actually setting the scene for an eSports tournament. Professional gaming has become a worldwide sensation, attracting millions of fans through webcasts and live events. “ProGamer,” directed by Austin native Justin Agnew and premiering at this year’s Austin Film Festival, provides an inside look into this pixelated phenomenon and the personalities that make it tick.
Globally Minded, Locally Made
A life-long gamer, Agnew found a special passion in the challenge and speed of “StarCraft II,” a lightning fast real-time strategy game. After getting involved with local competitions and taking to the Internet for tips on how to improve, Agnew discovered the world of professional gaming. The idea for a film was born.
But how did he get so involved with the eSports scene that he was able to document some of the league’s most popular and polarizing players? By showing up and asking.
“[I got involved] through this documentary!” shared Agnew. “I bought a Greyhound ticket to Dallas, rented a DLSR with a microphone and couch surfed with a stranger. I introduced myself by asking for interviews.”
This DIY attitude, coupled with some help from local artists (like Austin band Mother Falcon, which provided the soundtrack), makes the film feel very Austin. Even if most of it takes place thousands of miles away.
Exploring an Entire Genre
But you don’t need to be a gamer to follow the story. The trials and triumphs in “ProGamer” are undeniably human. Youthful swagger, the price of glory and an athlete’s eventual end are all themes that run throughout the film. In a fair world, this would fit perfectly in the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary series.
And while the human stories are engaging and universal, it’s also a blast watching these players in action. Simply put, the skill required to excel in these games is staggering. While eSports covers popular games like “League of Legends,” “Dota 2” and “Counter-Strike,” the subjects of “ProGamer” play “StarCraft II.” Just looking at the trailer will make your head spin.
It’s also amazing to see how far this “niche sport” has grown. “ProGamer” producer Andrew Lee remembers back when Austin-based TeSPA (Texas eSports Association) was just a UT student organization that occasionally held international tournaments. The organization now has 150 chapters across North America with over 8,800 members.
ATX Gaming Isn’t New
While better known for UT football and disc golf, Austin has a rich video game history. Major developers like EA, BioWare (“Mass Effect”) and Bethedsa (“Skyrim,” “Fallout”) have offices here. Game companies like Arkane Studios (“Dishonored”) and Retro Studios (“Metriod Prime”) call Austin home. One of the first public “Doom” death matches was played at a gaming center above a coffee shop five blocks from UT.
Many of these brick and mortar locations, commonly known as LAN centers, still exist today. They consist of rooms packed full of PC’s, allowing gamers to compete in a live setting. While online gaming has reduced the need for these centers, Austin spots like Mothership Books and Games and Game Republik are still going strong.
Chris Tom, owner of Game Republik, believes today’s game environment needs in-person competition more than ever. “People say the LAN gaming scene is not what it was, but we are a part of a group that has over 200,000 gamers at over 150 gaming centers worldwide. Today it’s more of a hybrid model where you can play against who you are sitting next to, but you can also challenge someone anywhere on the globe. Meeting people offline which just can’t be replaced by online only gaming.”
ProGamer’s Stirring Story
The thrill of being face to face with your competitor is the core of “ProGamer.” If my opening paragraph sounded like an exaggeration, watch the film and see for yourself. The anonymity of Internet tough guys melts away when they’re sharing a stage, or a computer screen, with another person.
In his new film, Justin Agnew shines a light on the intensity and complexity of competitive gaming. An exciting and enlightening film full of powerful personalities and genuine heart, “ProGamer” will change your perception of an entire form of entertainment. You might even be inspired to swing by one of Austin’s LAN centers and give it a try yourself.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Are you a closet gamer? If so, what’s your game of choice?