Explained (2018) s01e08 Episode Script


1 [dragon snarling] [roars] [narrator] Spoiler: this dragon isn't real, but this stadium is.
This is the opening ceremony at the League of Legends World Championship in Beijing, China.
This is a Dota 2 tournament in Seattle, Washington.
And this is the Counter-Strike Global Offensive final held in Katowice, Poland.
- 173,000 people went.
- [audience chanting indistinctly] League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike, these are all video games, the kind that, 20 years ago, most people would just play at home.
Today, eSports, that's electronic sports, is a global phenomenon.
In 2017, 60 million people around the world watched the League of Legends finals.
In 2018, Luxor, the Las Vegas casino, dedicated an entire new space to eSports and gaming.
All of this is for playing video games.
- [announcer shouts indistinctly] - [cheering] [narrator] But where exactly does eSports fit in? ESports players are nerds.
If you don't break a sweat, I don't consider it a sport.
Let's talk about the 20 million people who are watching the damn thing.
They gotta be crazier than the ones playing.
[narrator] So, how are these sports different? And how did eSports become a phenomenon? [theme music plays] [crowd chanting indistinctly] [cheering] [man] We're ready for some Rocket League action, are you ready? [cheering] [man 2] There's too much! Too many! There's no stopping Rogue now! - [announcer shouts indistinctly] - [loud cheering] [man] I literally went from player to caster, based off a suggestion of one of my teammates because he thought me yelling at him was entertaining and good and that I should do commentary, and that was it.
There's technically hundreds of disciplines that exist in the world of eSports.
But I think you can actually bucket them into some very specific categories.
First Person Shooters, or FPS, would be the first one.
Real time strategy: that requires you to have an incredible mind.
But also, it requires you to be incredibly fast with your hands.
Then you've got MOBAs.
That is typically a team of five that are getting together to complete a certain goal.
Usually that goal is going into someone else's house and completely destroying it.
And then you've got sort of an emerging category, which would be considered the Battle Royale category.
The idea is that 100 people drop in and only one come out or one team comes out.
[narrator] Fighting Games are a force in tournaments.
And some games are difficult to categorize, like Rocket League, which is best described as "competitive soccer driving" Starcraft is like if chess and symphony were like, to get together and Starcraft popped out.
My favorite eSports game to play is Dota 2, like basketball and chess, but on steroids.
League of Legends is kind of like soccer, except there's towers and dragons and a forest and monsters.
Yeah, it's nothing like soccer.
[narrator] They're all video games, but the rules and techniques involved in playing them are as different as basketball and croquet.
So players usually specialize and compete in tournaments and leagues specific to their game.
That's why eSports is plural.
And while eSports is pretty new, competitive gaming isn't.
The American story in particular is a microcosm for how all eSports developed and how they're starting to change.
The video game company Atari made this infomercial in 1982 to try to convince people that video arcades were wholesome fun.
I think they're neat.
That's what I do in my spare time.
You could claim that Atari's 1972 invention of Pong started eSports.
That would be a dumb claim.
But as the first blockbuster video game, Pong was the start of a competitive arcade culture.
In the early '80s, TV shows like Starcade introduced competitive gaming to a wider audience.
But a glut of home gaming consoles caused the industry to crash in 1983, as gaming moved into people's homes.
It took one influential genre to keep the fighting spirit alive.
[game chimes] Fighting games, to me, will always have that special place in my heart as "you're the real OGs.
" Some of the true early moments of eSports were hands down in the fighting game community.
This is legendary shit where so-and-so from So Cal heard about the skills of so-and-so from Nor Cal, and they arranged a meeting to get together at Funland.
[man] FGC stands for Fighting Game Community.
We were the first ones to the pool on competitive gaming.
In the arcade days, there was definitely something to be said about when you would show up and you would see black kids sitting next to Asian kids sitting next to white kids and Latino kids, just playing the same game, all talking to each other.
Probably don't know each other's names, but they know they play the same game.
And that was the common bond.
[narrator] In 1997, there was a turning point between arcade play and the future in online gaming.
It happened when eSports found a legend.
['80s electronic music playing] One of the best of them is the gamer named "Thresh.
" His real name is Dennis Fong.
- How you doing, Dennis? - How you doing, Stewart? Thresh is a god.
[dramatic choral music playing] He is accurate.
He would surprise you.
He would know what you were going to do before you could do it.
You could be scared of this guy by watching him play.
My name is Dennis Fong and I'm also known as Thresh.
There was a period where this guy was unbeatable.
I've basically never lost a tournament.
He was the Michael Jordan.
The one that everyone wanted to beat, that everyone wanted to be, and that everyone looked up to.
I was, uh, on a 2400 baud modem for most my Quake career.
[dial-up screeching] I was a modem player going up against people that were playing on a network and I was crushing them.
[narrator] Thresh pulled moves that people had never seen before.
His strategies are now standard in first-person shooter games.
Other people just reacted to the game and mashed buttons, while Thresh controlled the field.
Like here, where instead of just chasing his opponent for a kill, he snags some armor to keep it from him.
[Thresh] If you have to use your reflexes, you probably did something wrong that led up to that.
[narrator] In 1997, Thresh was already famous amongst gamers, but a big tournament took him mainstream.
There was a Ferrari as the first-place prize, and it was actually put up by John Carmack, who created Quake.
His Ferraris were not normal Ferraris.
He would invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to soup them up.
Under the hood, it was basically like a rocket.
And I remember, at that moment, when I had realized I had the game locked up, I had won, I remember looking in the monitor and for the first time in the whole tournament I actually noticed that the Ferrari was sitting right behind me in the reflection of the monitor.
I actually didn't know how to drive stick.
[chuckles] No, I did learn in the first day that I got it.
[narrator] That prize was a big deal and put eSports on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.
Still, it was just one developer's giveaway.
But as broadband adoption increased in the US and worldwide, faster connection speeds made it easier to play and watch games, setting the stage for a sustainable eSports industry.
[man speaks indistinctly to crowd] [narrator] This game is part of the North American League Championship Series, or NALCS.
League of Legends, one of the most popular eSports, has its own league that feels a lot like the NBA.
Across a range of leagues, players have earned anything from tournament prizes to millions a year in fees and endorsements.
Throughout eSports, money is starting to flow to companies and players.
This chart shows the 25 biggest tournament prize packages in eSports history.
That top right dot? That's almost $25 million.
Game makers like Riot and Blizzard supplement tournaments with leagues.
And even the NBA has partnered to create its own eSports league.
In a lot of leagues, teams like Cloud9 are typical: fielding separate squads in many different types of games, all under the same name.
Imagine if the Lakers had a team that played in the NBA, and other teams that played hockey, football, and poker and you get the idea.
[intro music plays] [narrator] eSports seems different from sports like basketball in one way: they aren't as obviously physical.
But if physical exertion makes a sport, what's the bar? Is racing a sport? Or is chess a sport? The sports network ESPN broadcasts all of these.
The only thing everyone agrees on is that a sport involves a challenge with a score at the end.
For the sports industry, the question "what is a sport" isn't philosophical.
It's business.
Those are young, uh, predominantly male consumers and that's what matters to us, and so we entered the business [narrator] But there is something truly different about eSports.
A professional sport like basketball has a lot of different stakeholders.
But some eSports are controlled by just one company.
These are the true warriors of our team.
These are custom-made boxes that contain all of the equipment that we need to go and do a big show anywhere in the globe.
LAX to Vancouver, right here.
Boston to Wüjang.
I think that's a pretty common flight.
Oh, I missed this.
We have a sweet Riot Games Brazil tag.
That's a cool tag.
We are basketball, we are the NBA, and we are ESPN a little bit.
And so the role that Riot plays in the development of League of Legends eSports is kind of unpreced [narrator] Wait, let's go back.
We are basketball, we are the NBA, and we are ESPN a little bit.
[narrator] Gamemakers like Riot are building a cutting-edge model for professional sports where they control every aspect of the game.
We're the ones producing the broadcast and we're the ones shipping that broadcast out to be consumed by the end viewer.
So we're also ESPN in that regard.
[man] My job is a shout caster and I am either calling the action in the game or I'm the person who's on the desk afterwards who's then explaining the game again, but from further away.
ESports storylines, I think, in a lot of ways, are easier to craft than sports storylines, because eSports personalities are much more accessible than sports personalities.
You look at an NFL game, they play on the field with helmets and you maybe hear from two of them in the post-game interview, whereas, eSports, you have all the guys right in front of you on stage.
A lot of them stream online for hours after games, where they're just interacting with the fans constantly.
So their stories are way more present, and storylines are super important.
[narrator] But game companies don't just cover their own matches, they organize them too.
You know, the NBA takes an existing sport, basketball, and organizes the competitive play of it.
And that's their whole responsibility.
They market against it.
We do that as well.
The role models that we looked to were the other major sports in the world.
So I actually downloaded the operating manuals or the rule books for the top 50 sports in the world.
Everything from cricket to darts to the UFC to the World Series of Poker, to the traditional sports: soccer, basketball, baseball, football, hockey, and read them all.
[narrator] Now, Riot has stuff like a penalty index, with a $500 fine for removing your headset too quickly.
But the biggest difference between traditional sports and eSports is that a company actually owns the game.
And it can change the rules with just a click.
Imagine this basketball player could shift from six feet tall to eight.
Imagine the hoop itself could change, or if there were suddenly a second basketball.
And imagine how that would change the strategy and the way the game is played.
In eSports, adapting to changes is key to the game.
I'm in charge, ultimately, of game design, so whether we make a bad champion or the game is not balanced, it's ultimately my fault.
[narrator] Designers use data and issue patches to completely change characters and rules.
If a certain character or a certain strategy has become too dominant or has fallen off, we make adjustments to that character to kind of keep them relevant.
We refer to buffing and nerfing as changing the stats in the game.
So if you have a champion you like and we nerf that champion, we're making it weaker, lowering their power.
And buffing is the opposite.
"Nerfing" originally came from the idea of Nerf guns, like, the champion is so weak now that it can't do real damage, it's firing Nerf weapons instead of actual weapons.
[narrator] Riot even designs the characters to play differently for players with different skill levels.
Among the stats we look at, one of the most important stats is win rate.
Like, win rate for Garen starts at, say, something like 52% at the lower tiers.
[narrator] New players have a good win rate with Garen.
They win in a lot of fights, usually because they're playing other new players.
When they start playing better players, his tricks don't work, and he fails.
As a new league player, you learn that you can hide in the plants where no one can see you, then you jump out, spin your sword around, and you can get a lot of kills that way.
Any experienced player knows that trick and won't fall for it and knows how to stop Garen in his tracks.
You compare that to a champion like Twisted Fate, you can see his win rate starts out much lower than Garen's, but at high tiers of play, he can really start to come into his own.
[narrator] So, players have to adapt as they get better at playing and as the game itself gets tweaked.
In League of Legends, all that happens every two weeks.
People say that "eSports is just pressing buttons.
" eSports is just pressing buttons in the same way that chess is just a board game or soccer is just kicking a ball around.
If you think about what your favorite parts of sports, is the spectatorship and the competition and the ability to be able to cheer and how it gets your heart pumping and like how it's entertaining to watch.
So eSports has all of that.
The best moment in an eSports game is the clutch moment.
It's one guy on one team and four guys on the other.
And it's this insanely tense moment.
No one's breathing, no one's moving.
Everyone's just watching, trying to see what this guy does.
[Fields] It's a whole generation of people after generation of people getting together and enjoying fake violence.
Now, when you say it like that it sounds weird as hell, right? Like a cult or something.
But it's no different than, like, MMA and soccer and basketball.
The only difference is that you can play fighting games forever.
Gotta stop playing soccer eventually 'cause your knees'll go out.
[narrator] By 2020, 300 million people will watch eSports online.
As more game makers realize eSports is key to their success, more stakeholders see an opportunity and more players turn into fans.
Almost definitely, it's going to be in the Olympics.
I think as a professional sport, it'll probably be the second biggest sport in the world behind soccer.
I do come from an era where there wasn't regular work, there wasn't big payouts and streaming, sponsors weren't necessarily buying in.
I don't get salty when I think about now people are playing for $18 million purses.
I'm fucking happy.
I am so stoked because we made it.
[cheering] It's so awesome that it continues to grow.
The future is bright, and all of that time spent was worth every second.
[theme music playing]