This is the first review I’ve ever written that I can recall. Reviews are a funny thing as they are only meant to evaluate something, a movie, a book, a video game, or what have you. And at the very end, the reviewer puts in a grade or a number rating. For the casual viewer, that is what they want, that is what they crave: an evaluation that can be summed up, digested and analyzed within two seconds of seeing it. I find that boring and useless. Instead what I’ll do is explain my own views about esports documentaries and what I thought of the first episode of ELEAGUE’s “Road to The International,” the first in a four-part series about Dota 2’s largest tournament. I won’t tell you what I think you will think of it. There are too many of you to consider whereas there is only one of me, so it’s easier to think that way.
So what to say about esports documentaries? I’ve always found them a bit strange. Nearly all of them are targeted for a casual audience that focuses on introduction of the game, the player and their history. I don’t think I’m a casual, so I have come to the conclusion that none of them exists to try to get my interest. That’s fine, but since my point of view is so far removed from a casual fan, I can’t really get into that mindset. I know for instance that a casual fan might randomly cheer “USA!” or “TSM!” for no apparent reason, but I don’t understand the impetus of it. But I can tell you what I like, what I like about esports. And the answer is a question and the question is thus:
Who are you?
“Ultimately martial arts means, honestly expressing yourself. Now, it is very difficult to do. I mean, it is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky…or I can show you some really fancy movement. BUT, to express oneself honestly not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly, now THAT my friend, is very hard to do.” — Bruce Lee
Finding the answer to that question is hard to do, potentially one of the hardest questions to ask both for yourself and for others. There are an infinite amount of things that can influence us, and if we experience them at different events in different emotional states, we come across different conclusions to what a person is. We inhabit roles and personas in our life. Do you act the same as you do with your family, friends, colleagues and strangers? Are you the same person you are when listening to music, playing video games or reading? Your mind is at work in all three, but in different ways. All aspects of you, all different from each other, but all you.
Too many aspects to cover, too many aspects to think about, too many aspects to analyze and dissect. When you write or create a piece of content about a player or a team, you have to pick and choose what you wish to portray, what you think is relevant. And when it comes to the big mainstream media or the Valve profiles, I usually get bored. The only Valve profile I ever liked was the rOtk one because the emotion was so raw and unexpected. But for the rest, I haven’t found any I cared about. I don’t care about whatever big name player they decide to write about because they give the simplest “who. Who is this person, what strange video game is this person playing to make millions, did he have a normal family life, what is his personality. I understand why they do it, but I’m not interested. I’d have to say that I enjoyed reading this Reddit post from a hardcore fan over that. In it all he does is articulate what invoker is as a hero and what he thinks EternaLEnVy’s methodology is about learning that hero.
Why is that? Because the Reddit post is showing me the who I am looking for, while the others do not. If I asked Michael Jordan who he was, he’d say the basketball player. If I asked Roger Federer, he’d say a tennis player. If I asked Filip “NEO” Kubski who he was, he’d say a Counter-Strike player. When I ask the question “Who are you?” to an esports pro, he needs only wave at his game. He is his game. That is who he is that got him those millions of dollars and fame and glory.
The story is about the player, and the player is about the competition. The competition is about your game, your individuality. sAviOr once said this, “Take full advantage of your individuality, and with it surpass your competitors.” That is the who I am looking for, the answer to the question.
And this is something in which the ELEAGUE documentary — which follows compLexity’s attempt to qualify for The International 7 through regional qualifiers — succeeds, given the scope of what it can do. After all, every producer must make a choice of what they can and cannot show given the time restraint and the audience concerned — in this case a wider TV audience that knows neither the game nor the players. It does a great job introducing every person in the show, but more importantly it ramps up and recreates the tense atmosphere of what makes competition great. Do or die, sink or swim. In that high pressure no-holds barred moment, we go along with the players’ journey as they play in and prep for the biggest tournament of the year. The execution and conciseness is well paced, with depth without going to deeply into every player’s personal history.
After all, it is a documentary about a moment, one of the tensest and most difficult moment of their lives. We know how this story ends; compLexity loses at the end. So the story here isn’t the ending, but the telling of it. So what did I think?
The question I always ask is thus: Who are you? The answers I’ve always received from these documentaries are these are esports players. This is the game they play. This is the money the make. It is now accepted and widespread. Now lets go talk about their childhoods, hobbies, sports, families — anything except about the game they play, the competition they face.
So when I ask the question, the documentary answers me thus: “This is Moo, this is Feero, this is melonzz, this is DeMoN, this is Zfreek. They are Dota 2 players. They are going to play in the most important qualifier of their year.”
It still has those things about their lives outside the game, childhoods, hobbies, families, etc. But just like in competition, just like in the game, when you start to play, you start to compete, all of that fades away. The only important moment is now, and the only goal is to win. That is what makes this documentary succeed.
P.S. Funny bit at the beginning where they are explaining TI and JerAx says, “So many people are watching you and so many people are expecting you to do well.” They then cut to a frustrated RTZ face.