eSports is an untapped well of creativity and storytelling. The competitive gaming scene is growing at an exponential rate, so where are the stories?
Video games have been the subject of countless novels and films over the years. Tron is an early standout that many are familiar with. The movie stars Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who was zapped with a laser and transported into a digital world. Ever since the early successes of films like Tron and Wargames the gaming industry has had highs and lows in both film and print.
It was not until the millennial generation threw in their financial support and fandom that gaming brands saw real success in expanding to other mediums. Since the year 2000 there has been an explosion in gaming stories with franchises like Pokemon, Warcraft, Resident Evil, Angry Birds, Minecraft, and many more taking over the entertainment markets. The latest buzz is surrounding Ready Player One which is an original story written about a fictional gaming world. The upcoming film based upon the novel is receiving enough hype that it may even surpass Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider as the #1 video game movie blockbuster. The gaming industry has proven itself to be legitimate avenue of story creation and revenue.
In this episode I look into the rise of eSports, both as a competitive sport and a new setting for fiction. I am Arthur McMahon and this is Paracosms.
It took decades of petitioning and arguing by passionate individuals for video games to be considered a true art form, for the stories and characters to garner the respect they deserved, and now games are evolving beyond a simple canvas for interactivity, beautiful graphics, and elaborate scripts. Video games are becoming more about the people who play them. Many thousands of fans pack into large arenas to watch eSports teams battle each other on digital warzones. Games like League of Legends, DOTA, Heroes of the Storm, and Hearthstone are attracting millions of views every day on live Twitch streams and pre-recorded YouTube videos.
People are watching eSports all-stars compete at professional levels similar to how the mainstream media has showcased sports like basketball and boxing over the years. The same viewers also tune in to watch charismatic individuals like Day, Lirik, and PewDiePie as they play games from their homes, much like watching a morning talk show.
These gamers have stories to tell. Documentaries like King of Kong, All Work All Play, and Free to Play demonstrate the passion some of these players have for their games. The history of eSports is ripe with underdog stories, struggle, strife, and conflict. ESPN has started profiling eSports stars and uncovering their real life stories, showing the humanity behind the usernames and on-screen personalities. But where is the creativity? Where is the fiction? I’ve had a difficult time finding much, though it is admittedly annoying to Google search for eSports fiction when there is a competitive team called Fiction eSports clogging up the search engines.
Turning back to the title currently in the spotlight, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One has competitive plot line set in a virtual game world, but I would associate its story and setting more with an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) like World of Warcraft than with modern competitive eSports. Cline’s more recent novel, Armada, is more in line with the eSports scene. The early stages of the novel really hone in on the protagonist’s video game obsession and competitive spirit, turning his special set of virtual jet-flying, alien-destroying skills into a coming-of-age adventure and a fight for survival. It’s one of the few true eSports-related popular works of fiction I have found, and I suggest you check it out.
Another book I found is a young adult novel called In Real Life by Lawrence Tabak which directly addresses the modern eSports scene. In Real Life is about a teenager who spends all of his free time honing his skills at a fictional competitive game called Starfare and hopes to get good (git gud) enough to travel to South Korea and compete with the true gaming professionals for money and fame.
Another that I enjoyed was Arena by Holly Jennings. Kali Ling stars as the first female captain of a modern-gladiator gaming squad that fights to the digital death for the world to see, and though the deaths are digital, the pain they feel is real.
Most every other gaming novel I can find focuses more on the role-playing element of video games, the plots leaning more towards generic science fiction and fantasy rather than the reality of virtual sports. Many of these books came out years ago when World of Warcraft was the most played game on the market, but the gaming world has changed, and authors have failed to keep up. Competitive gaming seems to be all but ignored in the realm of fiction, which is unfortunate because it truly is a fantastic foundation for old genres to find new stories to tell.
But that’s not to say that the movement hasn’t already begun. Dan Harmon of Rick & Morty fame has teamed up with the hit YouTube gaming stars of Game Grumps to produce a half-hour scripted sitcom series around a fictional eSports team. The show will focus on a new team that wants to become famous but has no idea what they’re doing, despite having found themselves in competition with some of the biggest teams and corporations in the world of eSports.
With Dan Harmon’s new sitcom and ESPN adding eSports channels to their lineup and TBS launching its new competitive gaming show called E-League, writers really have an opportunity to explore this new avenue for creativity while it is still in its early stages, before the big boys really dig in. There are countless personal stories that can be told focusing around the players and the teams which compete in these grand tournaments. Real money is being put on the table at these events. Real people are making a living playing and broadcasting these games. Real emotions are being felt, everything from the tremendous joys of victory to the devastating heartaches of defeat. Heroes are being born.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to watch some of these epic contests and unique personalities just to give yourself an idea of how large this scene is. I have found myself becoming a fan of certain competitive teams and devoted to individual streamers I connect with. The games are interesting and exciting, but it’s the people, the unique personalities and their stories, who keep viewers coming back. They have tales to tell. Check out the top streams on Twitch right now.
I’m excited for authors to explore this new frontier of storytelling, this new setting for creativity. The Ready Player One film is expected to be released March 30th next year. As the movie promotion kicks in I expect we will see a rise in video game and eSports related content. The viewership on Twitch and YouTube gaming channels is constantly growing with no end in sight. Arenas across the globe are selling out for major gaming championships, the eSports industry is projected to be worth nearly a billion dollars by the end of
2017, and it’s expected to keep on growing after that.
It’s time for content creators to cash in on the market. Live gaming events may be the turkey on the table, but books, TV shows, movies, podcasts— they’re the side dishes that complete the dinner. With celebrities like Mark Cuban, Steve Aoki, and Shaquille O’Neal dropping their dollars on eSports teams, and authors like Ernest Cline getting Hollywood movie deals, you know that more attention, and money, is on its way to eSports. Expect to see more digital domination, more stories of virtual villains, victims, and vigilantes on bookshelves and Kindle libraries in the years ahead. I’m calling it right here, right now. eSports is on the rise, and its going to rock the entertainment industry like a fnatic gale force tempo storm.
This has been an episode of Paracosms. I really am pumped about the growth of eSports and it’s potential for creative minds. I dabbled with it myself in my book Deceit of Humanity, but just as a brief setting piece for a couple of early scenes. I have a new project underway which delves deeper into the eSports scene, taking a down and dirty perspective on the future of competitive gaming in a time when corporate overlords have taken all of the fun out of it. I’ll have more on that story in the near future.
The closing of this episode marks the end of the first season of Paracosms as I’m going to be taking a break from the show for the rest of the summer. I’m going to use this time to work hard on my next projects. There’s the cyberpunk eSports story I just mentioned, but I also want to wrap up the third volume in my Shadow Assassin series. I’m hoping to have both of those projects completed before the year is out.
And I’ll also be heading out on 300 mile hike this summer. I backpacked the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail back in 2015, but there was a section I missed due to injury. So I’ll be finishing that part from Oregon’s Crater Lake to California’s Mt. Shasta here shortly. You’ve heard plenty about my science fiction books on this show, but I also have a trail journal on Amazon chronicling the day to day of my Pacific Crest Trail hike, and I’ll be putting together another trail journal for this hike. Check them out if you’re interested in seeing what a real-life adventure is like. You can fine all of my books on my website at arthurmcmahon.com, or just search for me on Amazon.
Before I go, I just wanted to throw out a big thank you to all of you who have supported me and this show. I appreciate all the tweets and messages. They’re a joy to read. The biggest shoutout of all goes those of you who have purchased my books and supported me on Patreon. It’s all about you guys, everything I do. You mean the world to me. Thank you so much.
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Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this world and I look forward to seeing you again in the fall.
(this episode used most of the content from a previous article I had written: eSports is the New Setting for Fiction)