Directed by: Jonathan Boal, Artem Agafonov
Running time: 69 minutes 19 seconds
Not too long ago, I watched a documentary on the status of American e-sports called Frag. Frag covered most of the hardships that 'e-athletes' have to face. In order to be able to travel and play in the big tournaments to make money, you have to get a sponsor, but the sponsors don't care about the players and rip them off. Plus, the gaming leagues also screw over the players by not paying winnings or holding winnings for a long period of time. Frag paints an industry that is rife with exploitation. Kids want to make money playing video games, and big businesses are welcome to exploit that.
E-@thletes skirts all of this. The film focuses on two Counter-Strike teams that are already established, have big sponsors, and are already at the top of their (popular) game. We get some background on the players and their families. There's some sappy stories of small town guys using their video game skills to be able to travel to Europe and Asia to play Counter-Strike. There's some segments with their parents, who are, of course, surprised that all that video game playing amounted to something.
E-@thletes glamorizes the potential of e-sports. Both of these teams, Complexity and 3D, are already winning big tournaments worth as much as $40,000. These guys are travelling the world, winning big tournaments, and making money off video games. It's certainly a very appealing concept. It does show some hardships of the lifestyle. The players' girlfriends don't like their constantly playing the game, and the team manager's wife and law firm partner don't appreciate his focus being so much on his gaming team, but there's nothing on the issues that Frag raises. How much money from the tournaments they're winning do they get? If you win a $40,000 tournament and there's six players on the team, that's ~$6,666 each. And how much does the team coach get? He doesn't play, but it's his team and he's supporting it, so I imagine he's going to get a big chunk of the winnings. This all assumes the league pays in a swift manner. What happens if the league doesn't pay you until a year after you win?
The fundamental problem with e-sports is that the games industry is ever-changing. Regular sports don't radically change. Soccer, baseball, football, and other sports are roughly the same as when they first began. Very few video games are fortunate enough to have a long enough lifespan that there would be a large number of people that would care about who the top players are. If there's no widespread interest in who the top players are, companies aren't going to sponsor the top players, no one is going to broadcast the matches, and the careers of 'e-athletes' are going to be incredibly short.
Overall, I'd say Frag is the better documentary on the status of the industry. E-@thletes is sort of a hopeful longing that the e-sports industry will grow and prosper to become a big deal, which it probably will, but the issues in Frag are going to have to be tackled first. The e-sports industry needs credible leagues and tournaments/matches need to be broadcast in order for people to care. Towards the end of the film, the Championship Gaming Series, which aired on DirecTV, is used as a means of showing the growing legitimacy of e-sports. The Championship Gaming Series has since been discontinued.