Events like the 2017 ELEAGUE Major or 2016 International have a weight and magnitude behind them. When tournaments reach this size they have a tendency to unify the various fans and figures of eSports into one collective group that can simply appreciate what their overarching scene has produced. Whether it be a Dota 2 fan, Overwatch analyst, or Heartstone player, we can all take a step back, look at the size of the crowd, the emotion after the game, and the passion in the room and say “this is eSports”.
The ELEAGUE Major was hyped like the return of an estranged father. With only two Majors in 2016, fans were hungry to once again gorge on the amplified storylines and bigger-than-life plays that Counter-Strikes biggest stage brings. And as fans, boy did we have a feast. It delivered on every front, including breaking the concurrent viewership record on Twitch and receiving a nod of acknowledgement from a member of Danish parliament.
Shout-Out til Det danske Counter-Strike: GO (CSGO) hold, Astralis, der er i finalen i en af årets største turneringer @astralisgg
— Anders Samuelsen (@anderssamuelsen) January 29, 2017
The penultimate end to what had been nearly a full week of non-stop, top-shelf CS, was the Grand Final between Virtus.pro and Astralis. To hardcore fans of CS this experience was A.) Sheer Jubilation? B.) A Constant Blood Rush to the Head? C.) A Potential Religious Experience? Or D.) All of the above
Hint: it was always going to be D.
However, the Grand Final catered far beyond to just the people that semi-permanently changed their sleep cycle to watch the group stage (something I definitely did not do), it appealed to people who just like eSports as a whole.
People who have never watched a CS game in their life turned on their tv’s or streams to watch some of the action. Whether you knew what the phrase “boost me cat then I’ll scout suicide” meant or not, the fans of eSports turned up at least in some force.
The roots of this support around a big event regardless of the game can be traced deep. For the longest period of time, eSports had a problem with its own identity. Stigmatised by mainstream press, and broken down with terms like ‘internet addiction’ and ‘temporary’, eSports in the beginning, sought validation.
Confetti cannons, big cheques, and big personalities propped the legitimacy of eSports as a competition to those outside the scene, whilst also catering to the expectations of fans who grew up watching games over players shoulders in LAN cafes. The bigger and more spectacular the event, the more nods of approval from those that worked at traditional media outlets, and the more positive forum posts from fans in attendance.
Regardless of your game alignment, this validation seeps across eSports as a whole. Although the scene in its current state definitely does not need validating nods from others, despite what NBA players might lead you to believe, the attraction to the spectacle still exists in droves.
Seeing eSports on TV, with a stage as big as EVO 2016 or ELEAGUE, as a whole still far exceeds our relatively low expectations as fans, fighting game fan, CS fan, or otherwise. The big events of eSports are transcendent of simply the game, and can help unify a scene with just their overwhelming showmanship and production value.
This is a characteristic that exists in traditional sports to some degree as well, largely because it’s a very human quality. We want to see our hobbies, jobs, and passions blown up to the highest possible degree, for the validation of whether we need it or not. And so as eSports fans, when we see that the International has millions of dollars on the line, we’ll watch. When the League of Legends World Championship finals are held in sold out stadiums, we’ll watch. One day, when eSports as a unified whole makes the final leap from massive sub-culture success to mainstream norm in part through the spectacle of big events, we’ll watch.
Authors Twitter: @max_melit