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Winners Of Esport Championship Will Divvy Up More Than $25 Million


So if your kid said, my dream is to be a professional video game player - alarming? Well, maybe not. The winners of a major esports championship this weekend will divvy up more than 25 million bucks. Teams are going to be playing a video game called Dota 2 onstage as fans watch. This event called The International is in Vancouver in an NHL hockey arena. Matthew Black, a CBC sports reporter, will be covering it, and I asked him if a video game championship feels anything like a pro hockey game.

MATTHEW BLACK: It's not all that different in some ways. It's still full to capacity. There's lots of cheering, lots of production value, pyrotechnics. But at a hockey game, you're not likely to dress up too much as your favorite player - maybe a jersey. This is a fantasy battle game, so dressing up is part of the fun for a lot of these people. And a lot of these teams, they're either from one country or they're from a particular part of the world, and so you see a lot of flags in the stands as well. It has a bit of a World Cup feel about it. So sounds a bit strange, but believe me, it is a true sporting spectacle.

GREENE: So fans are in the stands, and you've got actually the players, like, onstage who are actually doing the playing. Is that right?

BLACK: Yeah. Where center ice would be or the floor at the NBA game is basically covered up, and there's two podiums, and they're encased in glass, and it's soundproof so players aren't distracted. And so what will happen is, before a match, they'll announce the two teams. The five players will walk out to their respective booths. They'll hold a draft, where the players select the heroes they're going to use, and then they begin playing.

GREENE: I'm just still trying to get my head around all this. We have a producer on our show, Michael Radcliffe. He knows a ton about this stuff. He was telling me before I came into the studio with you that these teams train for hours and hours a day. They have people who, like, make sure they're staying physically fit. I mean, this is more organized than I ever imagined.

BLACK: Yeah. In a lot of ways, it's not that different than pro sports. They have sports psychologists. They have chefs. They have coaches who tell them about strategy. The prize pool for this is a ridiculous amount of money. I think it's north of $25 million now, and it'll keep growing in the days ahead.

GREENE: How does Dota 2 compare to other games? I mean, is this the game or are there other games that are just as big in the esports world?

BLACK: One thing I've learned about esports is that everything is very fleeting and that video games change a lot. And you hear a lot about the idea of putting esports in the Olympics, for example, and one of the obstacles to that is...

GREENE: What? What - really?

BLACK: Absolutely, yeah. There is a really strong movement. I think they even had some preliminary competitions at some events. But it's...

GREENE: That's amazing. I'm going to have to take some time to think about esports in the Olympics. But go ahead (laughter).

BLACK: Sure. But, you know, sprinting looks roughly the same as it did 40 years ago. Like, all of the traditional Olympic events look the same way. Video gaming looks dramatically different than it did five years ago, rather. So to answer your question, Dota 2 is one of about a half dozen or so really popular games, but really, the most popular game by far is Fortnite. Fortnite came out not all that long ago, and it's a runaway smash hit. It's everywhere.

The appeal to Dota 2, I think, is one of community. People have been playing this game for a long time. They kind of know each other. They know the scene. And the game really changes a lot, too. The developers update it; they patch it. And I was talking to one player, and he basically said, imagine if soccer added another ball. That's how significant some of the changes are, and it can ruin pro players' careers because they can't adjust to that.

GREENE: Is Dota 2 a Winter Olympic sport or a Summer Olympic sport?

BLACK: (Laughter) I think the Winter Olympics need more sports. I'm not sure the Summer do.

GREENE: (Laughter) OK.

BLACK: But we'll see about that.

GREENE: Are you good at it?

BLACK: No. The next - I'll be honest with you. The next game of Dota 2 I play will be the first.

GREENE: Oh, wow. OK.

BLACK: I come from a more traditional sports background. But it's something that I've found a really interesting world to explore. People have been very welcoming. They are kind of curious why I'm interested in it. But I think you can see, tens of thousands of people going to this and reacting how they do inside that arena - pretty clearly, there's a big appeal there, and it was something I was determined to find out a bit more about.

GREENE: All right. There you have it. Matthew Black, sports reporter for the CBC. Thanks so much.

BLACK: Appreciate it. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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