Sunday, November 20, 2011. Providence, Rhode Island. The Civic Center. For team Instinct, this day would be like many others—the four young men would spend a large part of it doing what they do best: playing videogames. The only difference? This was Major League Gaming’s National Championships, the biggest event of the year. It was day three, the final day of competition, and Instinct held the number one spot. They were now within 10 games of claiming the 2011 title and taking home the trophy. At stake: reputation, fan adulation, bragging rights… and a cool hundred grand.
That’s right: $100,000. For beating another team at a videogame.
Okay, while you let that sink in, consider this: that was less than a quarter of the prize money up for grabs. By the close of the event, professional cyber-athletes would walk away with more than $600,000. Not exactly chump change.
Now, many of you may be saying to yourselves, “What? You’re joking, right? All that money for playing videogames? How hard can that be?” Those of you who are gamers might even entertain the idea of going pro yourselves. Maybe you’re really good at first-person shooters and think you can compete with the big boys.
Allow me to disabuse you of that notion: You can’t. Sorry. As a delusion, that ranks slightly above believing that, because you’re good at slow-pitch softball, you can step into the batter’s box and hit a major league pitcher who’s throwing heat faster than most people drive. It’s just not going to happen.
Like any other sport—baseball, football, soccer, you name it—reaching the upper echelons of pro videogaming requires practice, dedication, determination and, yes, skill. Imagine trying to shoot a moving target the size of basketball from 100 yards away while jumping in the air and avoiding getting hit yourself, and you get some idea. That’s only one piece of the picture, though. To be the best—to win a national championship—a pro gaming team has to master a variety of games types—capture the flag, slayer, king of the hill—on different maps (think of them as virtual arenas) that all require different strategies. They have to know the locations within those maps of special items and beat the other team to them. Most importantly, they have to function and communicate as a team—that means knowing where everyone is, who needs backup, who has what weapon… no longer sounds easy, does it? And winning a $100,000 prize purse doesn’t sound like much—especially when you consider that many pro athletes in traditional sports make more per game for doing far less.
At this point, cyber athletes are still on the fringe. Mainstream audiences are not well-aware of their existence. But for the fans, players like Pistola, Walshy, Ogre 2 and Snipedown are household heroes. They follow the stats, collect autographs, sport T-shirts with their favorites teams’ names on them. For sheer thrill factor, victories rival anything the NFL, MLB or NBA have to offer—and defeats in the game world are just as real, and no less heartbreaking.
For more on Major League Gaming, check out their website here:
You can stream video from the 2011 National Championships here:
And for more on team Instinct, check out MLG’s wiki here:
Oh, and by the way, Instinct took the championship—and the hundred grand—after beating two teams in three straight games each. And they were brilliant.