May 4, 2011
Two teams of four have come today to battle against one another.
Each team has made it through three grueling days of non-stop carnage to get to this stage.
As the match commences and the two teams start to close in on one another, the crowd starts to come alive. The first bullets are fired and this convention center full of video-game aficionados turns into a mad house for the next fifteen minutes.
This is the world of professional gaming, and at the end of this Major League Gaming match, a champion will be crowned.
The majority of people that compete in MLG’s tournaments are not considered professionals, but they all have a chance to achieve that recognition.
Alex Chavez, a sophomore at Bakersfield College, competed in MLG’s pro circuit for three years until deciding to focus on getting his Associate’s degree in culinary arts.
Chavez got his foot in the competitive gaming door through games like “Street Fighter” and “Halo,” and it wasn’t until he was noticed during an online session with other players from MLG that he got his first invitation to play on the pro circuit.
“They asked me to play with them in these tournaments, and I was like, ‘what tournaments? You can get paid for this shit?’”
For the next six months following his introduction to professional gaming Chavez prepared for his first appearance at an MLG event.
“It was just hours upon hours of non-stop playing,” he said. “I remember playing 15 hours straight seven days a week. It’s just tiring, your eyes get tired and start to strain, your hands get cramped up, you want to sleep but you know you can’t because you have to be ready.”
After months of pushing his mind and body to the limit, Chavez was finally ready to take on the world’s best in a game he had spent more time playing than he had been outside: “Halo 3.”
“At times there was [a celebrity] mentality. When you’re up there you’re like, ‘everybody’s watching me play right now,’” he said. “You get a little nervous, but you’ve also got that adrenaline pumping through your blood, you’re like, ‘I’ve got to perform, I’ve got to show them, that’s why they are looking at me and that’s why my teammates wanted me here.’”
As Chavez’s career in the pro circuit progressed, and the tournaments piled up, he started to notice something about what goes on behind the curtains at the events.
The underbelly of the MLG beast started to show its scales, and Chavez wasn’t sure how to take it.
“I’d say at least half of the players use Adderall during the events in some way.
“They just get focused, you can see them just get in the zone immediately and block everything out,” Chavez said of how Adderall can affect a player’s skills.
“My teammates were on it constantly, and for the majority of the time I had no idea it was going on.”
One incident in particular, that took place during MLG’s Dallas tournament in 2008, opened Chavez’s eyes to the underworld of professional gaming.
One of Chavez’s teammates had been using Adderall, known as Addys’ among gamers, along with energy drinks that their sponsor had provided for them. While the team was competing on stage Chavez’s teammate fainted and was rushed to the hospital where his stomach was pumped. The team was forced to bow out of the competition.
Adderall is a drug used to treat Attention deficit disorder and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
It is abused by gamers to slow down everything that is going on, and lets them focus on one thing without having to worry about the constant pressure and distractions they can face during the competition.
“When you’re up there [on stage], you just got to really focus,” Chavez said. “If you can get any leg up in terms of focusing you can ride it forever, especially in the amateur’s bracket where everyone’s not on it—so there isn’t really a balance in competition.”
MLG has done little to prevent the use of Adderall. A spokesperson for MLG also declined to comment on the issue.
“They should at least test the top players, since they’re under contract with them,” Chavez said. “Other than that it’d be hard for them to test 800 gamers at each tournament, and a lot of them are minors.”
It’s things like this that could hamper the progress that MLG has made, as it has been seen with so many leagues so many times before.
Like steroids in baseball, Adderall has the potential to seriously damage the popularity that so many people have worked to build for professional gaming. The video game culture is exploding with today’s youth, and that can often be attributed to the constant outflow of new products to the market.
A total of 635 new video games were released in 2010, compared to more than 1,500 films being released in the same year, but the gaming industry surpassed Hollywood in revenue some time ago.
The industry has grown substantially compared to where it was 20 years ago.
There are obvious contributors to the industry—from the companies who create the games, to the companies that distribute the games to the masses, everyone is working together to build the industry.
One contributor often credited with building respect around the entertainment industry for games are the leagues that play host to thousands of gamers eager to compete with the best of the best.
Around the globe there are various professional leagues that the world’s top players can compete with one another.
In Korea they play StarCraft, in Europe its FIFA, and here in America, first-person shooters are the standard.
Major League Gaming is one of the biggest professional leagues in the world, and is the only credible league in America.
“Since its inception in 2002, MLG has helped spearhead massive growth in competitive gaming,” Adam Apicella,Senior Vice President of League Operations and Production at MLG said. “We have created a global business working with the world’s best game developers and publishers, as well as establishing partnerships with some of the most world renown brands.
“Over the last eight years, I have had the opportunity to witness the evolution and growth of MLG and one thing has remained constant, our fans are passionate and extremely dedicated,” Apicella said.
Along with fans that rival that of other sporting leagues, Apicella credits MLG’s “atmosphere and energy” as being a big contributor to the league’s popularity.
“As a spectator the one key difference is, if you purchase tickets to a professional sporting event like an NFL or NBA game, you are spending a lot of money to watch that one game for a few hours,” he said. “As a spectator at MLG, live or online, you get the chance to watch hundreds of games over the course of the weekend.”
Another attribute of the MLG system is the open-play style that they use for new players that want to give professional gaming a try.
“As a competitor, any player new to our event can sign, perform well, and eventually end up going toe to toe with professional players,” said Apicella. “The aspirational quality of being able to step on the court and play the equivalent of LeBron James is a huge part of why our events are great: anyone can compete and anyone can win.”
The competitors in MLG have a dedication that can be compared to any of the world’s top athletes.
“When comparing professional gaming to other sports, I think people initially recognize the lack of physical exertion that it takes to be a professional gamer,” said Mike Rufail, a professional gamer for the Call of Duty: Black Ops section of the pro circuit, new to MLG this year. “Although three-day tournaments can be a bit tiring, we definitely don’t have to put on as much wear and tear on our bodies as other professional athletes. However, there are many similar reasons why an athlete or gamer are labeled as a professional.
“The amount of training, the formulation of strategy, teamwork, communication, the travel. Really, the whole routine is very similar to what other athletes go through on a professional level outside of the physical training.”
Rufail attended his first MLG event in 2007, and has been involved with MLG since.
“There are so many moments that I have enjoyed, but playing on [the] main stage for the National Championship at MLG Anaheim in 2009 was probably my favorite moment as a pro player. I also had the chance to co-emcee the Call of Duty: Black Ops launch party with Ryan “Fwiz” Wyatt, Zach Braff, Kobe Bryant and Metallica headlining.”
The atmosphere around MLG can be compared to other major sports around the world as well, and the demands that is put on competitors is comparable also.
“There is a lot of pressure to win. We really rely on prize money and sponsorships to have a successful career. Winning is a major fuel for that success,” Rufail said.
The political landscape of professional gaming, where agents, contracts and sponsorships are concerned, is, in actuality, a lot different in professional gaming than other professional sporting leagues, according to Rufail.
“I think [MLG] has done a great job of focusing on the skill and teamwork that players use to obtain [popularity],” said Rufail. “In my opinion, winning or placing well is [crucial], but you definitely need to act like a professional alongside playing like a professional to obtain the bigger sponsorships. As far as agents are concerned, I know a few players who have management, but most big-name players are managed by the leagues, or larger organizations that fund their travel and fees. We are starting to see some really established franchises and organizations appearing who negotiate contracts with players to have them play for their team.”
Time will tell if MLG has enough on their side to get through—not only drug scandals—but a crippling economy that has taken out far bigger companies. They have the backing of their fans, their players and their sponsors, but if they don’t stop something they have the power to, like the Adderall use in the sport, then the future looks grim.
“I don’t think they encourage using [Adderall], but they are for sure turning their heads when it’s being done,” Chavez said.