OverKlocked Gaming owner Tim Cooper plays a game in his empty e-sports gaming shop in Edmonton on May 19, 2020. While the COVID-19 shutdown measures have impacted his business immensely, Cooper is planning a charity gaming event to raise funds and food for Edmonton's Food Bank on June 5, 2020.
Members of PSG.LGD and OG sit in their booths as they play in their grand final Dota 2 match on Day 6 of The International 2018 at Rogers Arena on Aug. 25, 2018 in Vancouver. Over $10 million in prize money was awarded to the winners. Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
At a first-of-its-kind summit in Lausanne, Switzerland, e-sports leaders met with International Olympic Committee executives, such as German IOC president Thomas Bach, seen here on July 20, 2018, to explore how the enormous popularity of gaming can draw more young fans towards the Games. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP Photo
We’ve all seen the memes of a grown adult sitting around the house all day in pyjamas playing video games.
In 2019, it was being irresponsible and lazy. But in the social isolation of 2020, heck, it might very well be saving the world.
And while social life shutting down in the face of COVID-19 may mean more free time to devote to those digitally dexterous exploits, don’t think about quitting your day job just yet.
When it comes to highly paid professional players, there are maybe 500 who make it, worldwide. That’s even fewer than the 690 on active NHL rosters – or as active as any of those guys are right now, anyway.
“It’s equally difficult, for sure,” said OverKlocked Gaming owner Tim Cooper, who nine years ago turned his passion for playing into a business after starting out on the systems-administration side of computer geekdom in his hometown of Fort McMurray. “After I moved to Edmonton, I realized there wasn’t much of a local gaming scene. If you look at places like Korea and China, it’s huge. The U.S., it’s a little bigger than here, or even Vancouver, where they have a more centralized transit system, there’s a lot of gaming centres.”
The gaming centre is meant, if not bring back the 1980’s arcade atmosphere of video gaming’s Golden Era, then to at lease recreate the notion of a community where like-minded finger twitchers can come together.
That is, until the pandemic sent everyone back into the dark recesses of their basements.
“That’s a lot of the draw nowadays, is you can play at home,” Cooper said. “But it’s a different experience when you can play in that local environment, just like when people watch a comedy at a movie theatre. It’s different than watching at home.”
And with the advent of YouTube and Twitch (not to mention the accompanying ad revenue), gamers can bring their at-home experience to the entire world, while at the same time, the elite of e-sports have risen to a whole new profession.
If you’ve ever seen it on TV, they’re the fresh faces in headsets who tend to go by impossible-to-comprehend gamer handles instead of real names, as teams square off in front of packed arenas for days on end competing for more money than their parents could even fathom back when video games were seen as nothing but a waste of time.
It’s since become a global phenomenon, complete with college scholarships and championship purses worth millions and millions.
“It’s nuts what they’re doing now for the national e-sports scene, and it’s kind of cool how it emerged too,” Cooper said. “The big ones that most people point to is either Fortnite or League of Legends. I’ve been involved with League of Legends since it basically first came out around the same time OverKlocked opened, so I’ve been running community events before there was, like, this big e-sports scene.
“So, we were actually really fortunate, some of these people who went on to be professional players played in local tournaments at our store.”
Only a handful of players from the province have made it to LoL’s professional ranks.
But let’s be clear, there is a tremendous difference between a video-gamer and an e-sports, um … athlete.(?)
“Video gaming is mostly done to relax and unwind, and e-sports is really to push yourself to see what you’re able to achieve within this game confine,” Cooper said. “So, you’ll see players who are e-sports athletes – or whatever you want to call them – do things in games that other players haven’t even thought of, didn’t think was possible and they change the meta-game.”
Think of it like Lawrence Taylor rewriting the rules of pass-rushing, or the triangle offence employed by Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls.
Only, these guys are doing it while the goalposts are constantly being moved on them by patches from game developers looking to keep things new and challenging, meaning those on top don’t stay there very long.
But are they actually athletes?
“If you call someone who devotes themselves entirely to a game to being the best they possibly can be at it and they work a regimented schedule, then, yeah, they’re athletes,” said Cooper, pointing out the New York Mets owners have bought into e-sports teams. “If by athlete, you mean someone who does something physical, then, no, they’re not.”
Regardless of the definition, the competition level and entertainment value can’t be denied. And that’s something that hasn’t wavered nearly as much in the e-sports realm at a time when their pro-sports counterparts have had their stadiums, ballparks and arenas across the planet shut down since mid-March.
“The national industry, it seems like they’re still going on-pace, a lot of the games are still happening, some of the games are being played from home,” Cooper said. “Because most of their viewership is online anyway, they’re not worried about filling stadiums.
“They get their revenue from viewership online. So they’re still able to do that, which is probably putting them at a little bit of an edge compared to other, traditional sports medias.”
SO, YOU WANNA PLAY E-SPORTS?
Just how do you become involved in e-sports, anyway?
It’s an age-old question some of the earliest generations of video-gamers were wondering long before what began as a hobby exploded into its own profession.
“Just like anything, if you want to be the best you have to practise,” said OverKlocked Gaming’s Tim Cooper, pointing out e-sports athletes tend to hit their prime prior to their 30s, while the average age is 18-22. “The minimum that most of these players play is 10 hours a day.
“They wake up, physical conditioning is part of their schedule, they’ll do normal practices, they’ll go out and do scrimmages against teams and then they’ll go back into normal practice at the end of the day. And then back to sleep.”
Who knows? There might be a star of the future in the Edmonton Quarantine Charity Cup beginning Friday, June 5, in an effort to raise spirits during the pandemic, as well as funds for Edmonton’s Food Bank. ICU Video will broadcast the League of Legends tournament on twitch.tv/okgtv, as well as the OverKlocked Gaming YouTube channel. Visit https://overklocked.com/eqcc for information.
Besides helping charity, it’s refreshing to see some sort of competition taking place at a time when events, leagues and businesses have had to shut down across the city.
“The local (e-sports) scene’s been pretty decimated, to be honest,” said Cooper, who is still in the process of reopening his centre. “We usually run an event or two a month and it’s going to be a long time before we are able to do events again, it looks like.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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