I really like gaming. There is something beautiful about immersing yourself completely in the game. Losing yourself completely in this reality, and escaping the physical world. It is the same feeling I try to get to when I'm listening to music. Bliss.
Lately, I've been following the emerging e-sports scene; gamers pushing towards making gaming a sport, a thriving, sustainable industry with actual careers. The main game responsible? StarCraft.
For the last 14 years, StarCraft and StarCraft:Brood War (I will refer to both as just BW), has been a huge commercial success. But only in South Korea, where the best progamers compete in packed stadiums in front of screaming Korean fangirls, for huge grand prizes and honour, in two competitive proleagues, with top salaries in the 100K's. That's just, ridiculous to think about, but it's happened.
But this success was not met across the globe. While the Korean community thrived, the Western community was much more recluse. StarCraft wasn't as big; actually, Counter-Strike was the thing. But there were many strong contenders underground, who moved to Korea to train with the best. The Western scene was okay, but left much to be desired for the players.
With the launch of StarCraft 2 (SC2), Blizzard, the developers, decided to take the huge success of BW and expand it across the globe; the push for e-sports began. 2 years later, it's really obvious how much of an impact this has had. Competitive gaming has become mainstream. Popularized by League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients 1 and 2, Heroes of Newerth, Call of Duty, Halo, and StarCraft 2, gamers across the globe have ridiculously easier access to these games. It's easy to talk to a few friends about what's going on in the competitive scene, participate in some fantasy leagues, and even attend live events.
So what's missing for the Western world? Taking a look at Korean BW, and European Counter-Strike, you can see something that's really surprising. Gamers, and the people around them, are surprisingly professional. Not only in actions, but appearance. Most people still have the idea that gaming is only for 'nerds'. And currently, it's hard to disagree with them. While the competitive scenes have a fair share of exceptions, they are still the exception. It is difficult for the mainstream society to enjoy watching a scrawny, freckled teenager with mismatched clothes win several thousand dollars, as bad as that sounds. Western society has this huge emphasis on appearance that many gamers lack.
However, it doesn't have to be that way. This is SK|HeatoN, who was part of a very successful Counter-Strike team. And he looks and acts perfectly. If you watch Korean BW on television (yes, this exists), you'll see the commentators are exactly like that as well. Casual, yet professional. Same with the players, respectful and professional. Some of the players have even modeled. Image sells.
While it's really enticing to have a thriving competitive scene where everyone is judgment-free and accepting of the geeky and nerdy tendencies of many gamers, it's important to the mainstream (and the sponsors) that there is some sort of professional image put forth. There must be some agreement between all gamers that gaming can be your career, your life's work; if you take gaming seriously. If you treat video games like just a game, how are you going to convince someone it's also a sport, and more importantly, how can you convince someone to make it a career?