Thursday 20 February 2014

Film Review: Rise of the eSports Hero: a documentary

by Marla Desat 
credit: Erica Landrock

I started watching professional StarCraft in university. My friends and I would stay up late to watch matches being broadcast online from South Korea, where StarCraft has a huge professional scene. Explaining the allure of watching someone play a video game is tricky, and even my gamer friends sometimes struggled to understand the appeal. When I watch professionals play, I am seeing the highest level of skill and strategy in a game I love to play. It isn't always easy to explain, and that's why I am so excited about Rise of the eSports Hero, a Canadian documentary by filmmaker Erica Landrock that explores the subculture of professional gamers from an outsider's perspective. Rise of the eSports Hero premiered on Global TV on October 26, 2013. The full documentary is available online from Global. 

StarCraft is a science fiction real time strategy game from Blizzard Entertainment, released in 1998. Players must collect resources and construct an army, and then battle each other to claim victory. The game was hugely popular, and in 2010 Blizzard released its sequel, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.

credit: Erica Landrock

I contacted producer Erica Landrock about the film, and she told me the idea came from her co-director, Stephen Gillis. "Stephen is an avid NHL video game player and I would enjoy a round of Super Mario Kart or Guitar Hero now and again, but never have been one to really get into gaming," says Landrock. "This in part is what attracted me to the documentary idea so much. It is a world I really knew nothing about and every piece of information I learned about it blew my mind."
The documentary follows Chris "HuK" Loranger, Greg "IdrA" Fields, and Geoff "iNcontroL" Robinson from April to December 2012. Loranger is Canadian, and that was a big selling point for Landrock. The documentary follows the gamers to five tournaments, and to Seoul, South Korea. Living out of suitcases and struggling to acclimatize to different time zones before a big tournament, Landrock told me that she was impressed with their dedication and passion for the game.
Behind the scenes. Credit: Erica Landrock
Some protest that professional gaming is not a sport, but Landrock disagrees. "Is poker a sport? Is Nascar a sport? Is chess a sport? What defines a sport? The players that we followed definitely are professionals and masters at their game," says Landrock. "Many would argue they aren’t athletes because of the lack of physicality of gaming, but I’d challenge anyone to go to a tournament or follow these players for a few days and you may just change your mind. The high level of skills, technique, strategy and mental agility would rival other “traditional” sports any day."
The documentary is available for Canadian viewers online from GlobalTV, and the filmmakers are working on making it available internationally.  I highly recommend giving it a watch, even if you are unfamiliar with StarCraft. Landrock and her team have made an accessible and entertaining introduction to the world of esports.

Learn more about the documentary on Facebook.

Marla Desat is a recent University of Waterloo grad living and working in Ottawa. When she isn't playing the latest video games, she's geeking out over comic books, board games, tabletop roleplaying games and science. Marla also writes for The Escapist as a freelance news writer. You can follow her on Twitter @mrdesat.

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