Video games are often a casual pastime best used to unwind after a day of work or school. But some Canadians are taking their skills on the competitive circuit, chasing tens of thousands of dollars in prize money.
On Sunday afternoon, Cineplex and World Gaming are holding their first-ever Canadian championship finals at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto. Top gamers from across the country will be flown in to compete in the popular first-person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for $ 50,000 in cash and prizes, including a crisp $ 20,000 for the champion.
It’s a bit of a thrill to see something that’s normally on your modest TV blown up on a giant movie screen and the event could attract a diverse audience, if the regional finals last month are any indication.
They hope to attract people who already play the most popular games on consoles and might be willing to join a tournament (it’s free to enter) — or cough up the $ 9.50 ticket price to watch the elite players blow each other up live on the big screen from the comfort of their cinema seats.
Most of the players and the event itself were pretty casual by international e-sports standards. League of Legends finals can fill stadiums in Asia and the U.S., with teams vying for millions of dollars in prize money, even though the game itself doesn’t have much mainstream appeal.
Dee Motton and Alex Robb, who competed in the Cineplex regional event in Toronto, started out as avid gamers but weren’t necessarily interested in playing for money until others reached out to them.
“I went out to a first event with them, and I got hooked on the environment, and the competitive level.” Since then she’s travelled from her home in Alliston, Ont., to events across the continent, sponsored by e-sports group Sway Gaming.
World Gaming CEO Rob Segal has no illusion that curious or bored moviegoers will fill up the theatre at this weekend’s event.
“Most of the people who are attending today are rabid gamers that have been competing in their basements or with their friends,” he says. But the importance of dispelling the dudes-in-a-basement trope is not lost on him.
“This really helps legitimize it, and I think gamers respect and appreciate that.”
The marketing goes straight for the intense vibe gaming is usually known for. Loud music, big explosions and phrases like “U Mad, Bro?” dominate the trailers on Cineplex and World Gaming’s YouTube channels. A host points to the competitors’ seats, lined up in front of the theatre screen, as “battle stations” in one video tour.
Many players’ parents were also in attendance cheering on their kids, giving it a tinge of a community hockey game feel. No surprise, really, since most of the players were in their late teens to early 20s.
Call of Duty on the big screen. Quite a sight, but fast camera movements gave me “seasickness” in about 45 minutes pic.twitter.com/Ivk4T37kbh
But with the action moving so fast, it was difficult to get a sense of any single match from start to finish. It felt like watching hours’ worth of highlight reels with only a rudimentary idea of the ebb and flow of each match.
The audience didn’t seem to mind, however, cheering loudly at multiple tense standoffs and crack headshots during the four-hour event.
Other problems might prevent Call of Duty from reaching the widest audience possible. For one, it’s rated M for players 17 years and older — the equivalent of an R-rated movie. Unless you’re Deadpool, that can limit your audience and ticket sales.
More pressing is that games with a first-person camera, especially those with quick and twitchy movement like Black Ops 3, can cause nausea in as little as 30 minutes for some players — and for some audience members, myself included. According to the Guardian, this affects between 10 to 50 per cent of gamers.
Games with a fixed camera, like most sports games, will not have this problem for would-be audiences.
???The Cineplex experiment won’t approach the top tier of e-sports just yet. But it hopes to grow its slice of the gaming pie with countrywide e-sports events at its theatres on a quarterly basis, with additional smaller events taking place throughout the year.