Digital Demigods: A look at the 2020 eSports Olympics
As it opens its doors for the first time, the newly finished Monster Arena looks much like a major sports center should. The clean steel construction, a ring around it filled with vendors and food carts, bars and people. The motif is personal, sure -- great neon green claw marks flash across gigantic monitors, telling the crowd below to "unleash the beast". Even outside, though, you can hear, even feel the cheering and stomping in the stands as teams are walked in and introduced for the first day of the games.
It's the PC eSport OIympics 2020, and the fans don't mess around.
Spanning three weeks of matches with the best and brightest electronic competitors countries have to offer, it starts off this year (and every four years after) with more bang than a Frag grenade. Nations send their very best overseas in a knock-down, drag-out brawl of digital destruction to see not only who can bring home the most Diamond Medals (or Platinum, or Gold), but to decide then and there which country has the honor to hold the next - all wrapped up in the Trophy.
Is there a respect for form? Sure. Is it about the spirit of competition, triumph, and excellence? Absolutely.
But this is eSports, and the players are here to claim victory. Their country's pride (and their MMR) depend on it.
A hush falls over the crowd as the Power Ceremony begins. It's tradition, lifted from the old Physical Olympics -- though each country manages it a little differently, millions are poured into the "On Button" shows. Dancers, performers, lightshows and more add their own national bend to the ceremony.
Red, White, and Blue flash over the crowd as Michael Giordan, the single highest Rated player of the last PC Olympics (and the reason we just edged out Korea for the Trophy) solemnly walks towards the Megamonitors in the center of the arena. Fireworks and lights flash over the walkway and guitar and bass pound through monolithic speakers in the ceiling as the Power Core -- an incredibly large, impossibly neon blue cylinder visible even from the nosebleed seats -- is inserted into the center of the column of screens and wires.
A thrum of bass hits the crowd as the screens light up, flickering then stabilizing as they ascend to their place above the field. "SYSTEM ONLINE" thunders from the speakers over the arena, the lights and pyrotechnics make the dark center as bright as day, and the crowd goes wild.
The lights dim as the MOBA week begins. League of Legends, DotA2, SMITE and more are here, spanning a full seven days of nearly nonstop play before it turns over to FPS, with the traditional game Counter-Strike leading.
CCGs like Hearthstone take over after that, in Singles and Team settings. Then Real Time Strategy has a solid five days of 1v1, 3v3, and 5v5 before the miscellaneous/"retro" category finishes out.
Word is, Super Mario Maker is up for addition in 2024.
Now, though, parents bring their drinks and children back to their seats, teenagers click off their smart-watches and drain the last of their energy drinks, and the last bits of spring are shut outside as the crowd quiets to whispers. While the Americans may be king of the Console Olympics in the fall, Spring is PC season -- and Germany's DotA 2 team is looking strong.
The players settle into their soundproof booths as the first HUD of the Games comes to life on the megamonitors. Fans cheer and stomp as Picks and Bans are selected, but one watcher, Serena Smith, only looks on quietly.
"See...this week is where I'm worried."
She says, adjusting her press badge before leaning forward from the reclining seat.
"Shooters, sure. Some of the European zone teams, they can be trouble, but I trust our Players on that front. I mean hell, Michael just owned Counter-Strike last time. But MOBAs? MOBAs are Europe and Asia's game. Japan, Korea, China, Germany, France...they all have a lot of good rosters."
The noise from the crowd nearly drowns out the speakers as FIRST BLOOD booms from the ceiling. That's extra Rating - for the Player and the Team - and judging from the HUD, it was Germany that had scored.
"We make it out of this week alive, I'll be happy. FPS, some of the CCG games, some of the Guild Wars events… I have confidence there."
The melee continues, ending 3-1. Favor: Germany. Only four minutes have passed on the clock.
"We just gotta survive MOBA. We can do this."
Five months later, sitting in the Day 3 stands of the Console eSports Olympics 2020, Serena can only shake her head. On screen, Brazil is piloting Necalli into Japan’s Nash as the Street Fighter V event approaches its halfway point.
“We didn’t do it. We survived MOBA, sure, but we dropped Hearthstone when we shouldn’t have, and our poor Starcraft II team…”
As the stands cheer for a well-timed Critical Art from Nash, she shudders.
“We don’t talk about what happened to our Starcraft II team. But here? Consoles? We might be in Paris, but this is our turf. Undefeated so far in Street Fighter, we’re doing fine in Halo and Call of Duty and I think we can manage Smash Brothers.”
Far from the neon and flashing lights of the Monster stadium, Paris offered a theme fit for the men and women of the Console Olympics – well-set but hard and gleaming, this wasn’t the traditional eSports Stadium. It was a modern-day metal Coliseum.
The coming days and weeks would broadcast the victors and the fallen: those countries still in contention would have their flag outlined in green on the dozens of monitors scattered around the walls, while those no longer eligible for a Ratings placement would fade to grayscale before cycling to the next flag in line.
The Console Olympics were a battlefield – and the casualties were mounting.
The teams had been seated – America would be squaring off against Brazil in a best of three FIFA set for the last console match of the day. The FPS and Fighting Game segments had finished days ago, Action-Adventure had been squared away, and the sports from Madden onward were the remainder.
These were long days -- hard-fought days for the Players and their cheering fans. New friends were made here. New drinks consumed, new words picked up as the last day of the Console Olympics (and the eSports Olympic year) came to a close.
As the lights flickered over each player, as they had for both Singles and Teams events, each name was called over the soundsystem. If the songs, cheers, and chants in too many languages to count were any indication, none of these Players were alone.
The announcer’s voice boomed out into the audience, and the floor of the stadium itself flickers with an overlaid image of a real soccer field. Tickertape swings in the air with party favors and noisemakers, whole sections of the crowd are decked in body paint and national colors, and huge homemade signs swung back and forth in front of cheer drums.
After this, only one day remained for the Awards Ceremony. Then the eSports Olympics were over – at least for another four years. Serena looked out over the crowd all stomping and howling for their favorite Console Kings and Queens, four colored buttons and some joysticks deciding the future of eSports in an event every bit the measure of the Superbowl, or the World Cup, and she smiled.
“Exciting, isn’t it?”