Gamers Joe Montoya and Tyler Davis present a Green Light Gaming banner.
Competitive gaming—of the video game variety—powers up in Reno
Electronic sports—also known as eSport, professional gaming and competitive gaming—is considered by many to be a misnomer. Video games have long had a reputation of being the hobby of choice for the nerdy, the lazy and the socially inept, and while this reputation is changing rapidly with the diversification of the industry, eSports still carry a stigma. How does sitting at a computer and clicking on a mouse constitute a sport, which, by nature, refers to more physical activities?
But competitive gaming is much like any other competitive sport. It requires specialized gear and hours of practice. The best of the best play professionally and receive sponsorships from major companies around the world. Spectators can watch in person or online. In certain competitions, it can be quite athletic. (Try playing Dance Dance Revolution. It’s a pretty hardcore workout.)
There are different leagues—most notably the Pro Gaming League and Major League Gaming, the logo of which looks nearly identical to the Major League Baseball logo, swapping a baseball player for a console controller. There’s also the Electronic Sports World Cup held in France.
Gaming competitively began in 1980 with the Space Invaders Tournament. This event is largely regarded as a crucial event in the history of video games, showing the public that there was interest in the—at the time—niche activity. More than 10,000 people attended the tournament. The culture and gameplay of arcade games facilitated a naturally competitive environment, which then shifted when gaming on personal computers and consoles became the norm in the 1990s. Around this time, LAN (local area network) parties became popular—gamers would transport their computers to their friends’ houses and play collaboratively. Now that internet connections are reliable and most average computers can run fairly intensive games, many players choose to play online with people from around the world.
Generally, participants compete either on their own or with a team. Games are played on computers and consoles, and run the gamut of genres, from real-time strategy (RTS), first-person shooters (FPS) and fighting games, as well as dance games.
Competitive gaming has a huge following in other countries, especially South Korea. Reality show World Cyber Games Ultimate Gamer aired on the SyFy Channel a few years ago and brought eSport to the mainstream.
Rather than spending the time and money trying to go pro, many avid gamers find a middle ground, playing on amateur leagues within smaller communities. This allows them to use the equipment they can afford. The cost of competitive gaming is high—gaming company IGN spent more than $1 million on its annual IPL 5 (IGN ProLeague competition) held in 2012. 10,000 people attended the event. But IGN was forced to cancel their IPL 6 event in March because the event was a money sink. The IPL 5 tournament was held in Las Vegas, and while Southern Nevada is no stranger to the culture of competitive gaming, it’s taken longer to make a mark here—until now.Power on
There are conflicting views on whether or not the sport is in its prime, now that gaming technology continues to thrive. But others say that the future of competitive and collaborative gaming is heading in a different direction, especially with better gaming on mobile devices.
Local gamers Matt Allan and Joseph Montoya think that competitive gaming is just getting started. They’re the founders of Green Light Gaming (GLG), an organization that seeks to foster active competitive gaming culture in Northern Nevada. After attending a small tournament in February, they decided that Reno could benefit from a more professional league that would adhere to the global standards.
“We just had a different idea of what it should look like here,” says Allan. “We saw that there was a need for an official organization dedicated only to running a video game tournament.”
Allan and Montoya started gaming competitively a few years ago after playing games casually for many years. Allan discovered the sport through amateur gaming events. “I didn’t even know that video gaming had become a sport.”
While Reno has an active gaming culture (“Game on,” Nov. 24, 2011), showcased at last month’s inaugural Game Expo, it’s mostly comprised of individuals or small groups gaming on their own time. Both Truckee Meadows Community College and the University of Nevada, Reno have gaming clubs, including Nevada eSport, which hosts tournaments on the UNR campus.Achievement unlocked
GLG’s first tournament is the Power-Up Event, which will be held on July 20 at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Putting on a pro-grade tournament is resource-intensive, says Allan. He and Montoya plan to put on two tournaments a year.
“It’s really important that the settings are fair for everyone,” he says, referring to the need for pro-grade computers, controllers, headsets and more. Power-Up will have 12 computers and 16 Xbox 360s. Gamers will compete in League of Legends, Starcraft II, Call of Duty Black Ops II and Halo 4. Eventually, they plan to add more games. There’s a $5,000 prize pool, to be split among the first, second and third place winners. The event is structured as a single elimination bracket using the best game of three.
Players have to bring most of their own equipment, although some items will be available to loan. GLG is collaborating with We Got Gamez, an organization that helps sponsor tournaments by providing equipment with its “mobile gaming center”—a truck packed full of gaming gear that travels to tournaments in Sacramento, Roseville, Reno and Folsom. We Got Gamez is based out of Sacramento. To participate in the tournament, gamers will pay a small entrance fee. Allan and Montoya will then verify the stats of each player and team by checking their online ratings. They’re looking for the best players, but don’t plan on excluding people.
“We have to work with the skill levels of people available in this region,” Montoya says. They hope that having regular tournaments will raise the standards of participating gamers by giving them incentive to practice. Several scrimmages are being planned to give participants practice time before the tournament.
“We want a standard system where people can compete,” says Allan. “People can play and hone in on particular skills.”
Montoya and Allan eventually plan to expand Green Light Gaming into storefronts—setting up internet cafes where gamers can practice and train on pro equipment. As part of Reno’s larger technological scene, they’re hoping to also generate a few jobs.
“Reno was a gambling and a tourist community,” he says. “People are already here with that competitive mentality.”