It’s 6:51 am as I start this blog.
I am surrounded by empty cans of (free) red bull, dim lighting provided by over a hundred PC monitors; the sound of muffled dubstep ringing through headphones, and incessant clicking and clacking of mechanical keyboards that are fading each minute as gamers give in to the fatigue of heavy competition play throughout the night.
This is Gamefest.
I have been up for the last 24 hours, without sleep, to take part in the University of Wollongong Video Games Association’s LAN convention, held in the uni itself. I personally did not partake in much gaming myself – I did come 3rd in the hastily arranged guitar hero competition at around 10pm last night – I was here to capture the event through the eyes of my lens. I bailed on actively taking photos at around 2am when all the cosplayers had left and the only action to be had was from intense competition play, which I opted to steer clear of to avoid blinding some very tired and very serious players with my camera flash.
So when the action died down, I trundled over to my computer and began to live edit the images that I’d taken over the night. 4 hours later, they are mostly done, and I feel like I’m going to pass out any moment like a few attendees scattered around me have already done. And then I get approached to start taking photos of the teams who have won the League of Legends and the DotA2 competitions. Which prompted me to remember the documentary we had watched earlier in the week: State of Play (2013). Seeing as I’d finally had a chance to have a look at the Ellis reading it would be a perfect opportunity to use what I’ve picked up from the article and write about this documentary.
If someone who’d never gamed in their life took a step into this room right now and looked at the spectacle before them, I doubt they’d understand. I’d imagine they’d shake their head, even turn up their noses in disgust (some of these people were notorious for forgetting that deodorant exists) and just think, these people are bloody crazy to dedicate so much time and energy to some videogames. Which is a thought that I almost echoed within my own mind after seeing State of Play. If you think Gamefest is insane, take a look at these guys!
The documentary follows a few hardcore competitive Starcraft gamers from South Korea; each at their own different level in terms of skill and fame. To me, the concept of this was so foreign, despite the fact I’d been a gamer (non-competitive) since before I was even able to hold a controller. Gaming was considered a full-time job to these guys. The professional teams had their own mini-buses. They were styled from head-to-toe; what they wore, their hair, even makeup for a few before getting on stage in front of thousands of people. The stages and arenas were fully curated from lights to special effects, screaming crowds, and cameras to broadcast the games to millions of viewers throughout the country. They were celebrities. They had fangirls screaming at the top of their lungs for the top players like the women would scream at the Beatles as they emerged onto the tarmac from their private jet.
But why did I find this so utterly outlandish?
Being a 90s kid, I was born amongst that first true disconnect of generations. We were growing up with rapidly changing technology that our parents would struggle to keep up with. Whenever I would play the playstation a little more than my allowable time, my parents would scold me for playing ‘too much of that Nintendo’. There was one scene in particular that resonated with my own experience; one of the more well-known players travels to his ancestral home and joins his parents and elders for a meal. They grill him about his choice of career; unbeknownst to them, he is practically a celebrity in what he does, and they struggle to understand the culture surrounding it; seemingly oblivious to the fact that he leaves in a Team house, surrounded by other players, who practice their sport from the moment they wake up, until they go to bed. They are sponsored for thousands of dollars. There have been instances of betting rings that have absolutely torn the sport apart, just like any other major league sport; it’s even more hardcore in South Korea than Football seems to be in the US.
When I think about that generational disconnect, I want to think about how long it would take to overcome. In South Korea, it seems mostly restricted to the more rural communities. But in Western societies, our gaming culture is no where near that huge. I know in the US they attempted to create a hype-train around the WCG Ultimate Gamer Championships… and THAT was cringy. From time to time, Western players will tune into streams of championships that are happening overseas – but the majority of these massive tournaments seem to happen in Asian countries for games like League of Legends or DotA. The Western FPS culture doesn’t seem to be strong enough just yet to gain that kind of momentum.
It will be interesting to see if this disconnect closes within the next few decades, as the aging population shifts into those who grew up surrounded by videogame culture. We are at a point now where we have parents with children who each have their own consoles; where young families are using Xboxes as a family-time tool instead of gathering around the TV and watching Australian Idol and calling that ‘quality time’. There are ‘gamer-mums’ out there, knowing which games can and can’t be paused almost instinctively, where as it took about a year of pleading and an account ban for my mother to realise that when my younger brother starts a League of Legends game, there are penalties for leaving your keyboard.
Perhaps it is something that I may choose to follow over these years. If I ever have my own family, it will be interesting to see the family dynamics behind videogaming. I’m not sure what I’ll say to my child should they come home one day and tell me that they are considering a career in videogaming; much like some of the parents in State of Play – will I ask my child to perhaps consider high-school over a career in gaming?