Game Developers Try Hard To Appeal To Professional Competitors

Jun 17, 2016
Originally published on June 17, 2016 2:27 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Video game developers are tailoring their products to eSports.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

ESports?

MONTAGNE: Those sports for people who are our professional video game competitors.

INSKEEP: You mean, like, professional athletes.

MONTAGNE: Except they're not doing much that's physically, you know, athletic.

INSKEEP: OK.

MONTAGNE: ESports were a big topic as electronic game companies gathered here in Los Angeles for the annual video game trade show, E3. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: It was not Michael Valore's original goal to be an eSports athlete. He wanted to be a Marine.

MICHAEL VALORE: I ended up getting injured playing soccer. That required a pretty extensive surgery that ended up disqualifying me from any sort of armed service requirements.

SYDELL: As part of his recovery, he had to ride a stationary bike for hours a day. To keep himself from getting bored, he started playing the mobile game "Vainglory."

VALORE: That amount of time, while I was doing cardio, ended up making me a really strong player. And that's how I ended up getting to where I am today.

SYDELL: Where Valore is today is the floor of the LA Convention Center to compete against Asian and European "Vainglory" teams under the name FlashX as part of Team SoloMid. Valore is captain of a three-person team that's getting ready to play. Here's team member Nick Verolla also known as CullTheMeek.

NICK VEROLLA: Totally psyched up - you know, the event's only in a couple hours. You can feel the tension. You can feel the pressure. It's really intense.

SYDELL: If they win, there's a $10,000 prize. Though, in the world of eSports, prizes have gone above $7 million, and athletes can make money doing commercials and getting endorsements. The American team has backing from Logitech, GEICO, HTC and others. ESports teams have professional coaches, and they also have analysts who use spreadsheets. Jeff Chow (ph) is an analyst who specializes in mobile eSports.

JEFF CHOW: We crunch a lot of numbers. We look at what is the most effective and highest damage per second because the more damage per second that we can maximize and optimize for our players, the better they will be in team fights.

SYDELL: As SoloMid waits to go on stage to play, they're still practicing, seated on couches, heads down, fingers tapping their tablet computers, more like pianists moving across the keys than athletes running around a field. "Vainglory" is a newer game on the competitive circuit. It only came out two years ago.

KRISTIAN SEGERSTRALE: We were hoping that it would grow. But the rate of growth and how quickly it's grown has completely taken us by surprise.

SYDELL: Kristian Segerstrale is the COO of Super Evil Megacorp, which makes "Vainglory." Segerstrale says like a lot of game makers these days, they designed "Vainglory" in the hope that it would catch on as an eSport. So it has teams. And the object is to work together to destroy the enemy's base. Segerstrale says they tried to make it easy to follow for spectators.

SEGERSTRALE: And so we think a lot about the pacing and creating a game that's super-fun to play but also really engaging and entertaining and understandable to watch.

SYDELL: "Vainglory" is among the few mobile games to become a pro eSport. ESports have been around for a while, but in the last couple of years, it's really grown. Analysts estimate a global audience of 100 million fans. Two of the biggest game makers, Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts, have set up eSports divisions. And this year, Activision said it was going to create an ESPN for eSports. And an eSport game can sound an awful lot like any other sport.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: But Flash caught out (unintelligible). That's a lot of damage. Flash isn't even the first to go down.

SYDELL: The announcer was saying that Flash, also known as Michael Valore, was going down. But in case you were wondering, team SoloMid won its two rounds against the Chinese team. Laura Sydell, NPR News, Los Angeles.

INSKEEP: This is super-evil-megadeath MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.