Before PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, first person shooter games started with a mouse and a monitor in the comfort of your home. After launching in 1999 Counter-Strike quickly became a game that fans gathered at cyber cafes to challenge opponents. Over the last 17 years and four versions of the games later, it has turned its direction to competition as a paid sport.
For the first time the company FACEIT, which is like a "Facebook for gamers," will bring eSports Championship Series to Orange County. This competition will be held this weekend Dec. 10-11 at the Anaheim Convention Center and Arena and focus solely on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Between two seasons a year, FACEIT pays their players a combined total of $3.5 million, and has over six million users playing over 12 million game sessions every month, making them globally the largest eSports platform. The upcoming event will showcase the highest level of gaming with the top four American and top four European teams one stage competing for the top cash prize pool in front of a large audience. For anyone watching, especially for the first time, the atmosphere of the event will be much like a UFC fight with cheering, announcers and cameras everywhere, except fans will surround two teams of five intently focused on a computer rather than a brutal beat down of live men.
"I think for people that never traditionally have gone to an eSport event, what strikes people's first experience is the passion of the fans," said FACEIT COO and co-founder Michele Attisani. "People don't expect fans to be so passionate about the games, the amount of cheering and screaming of all the fans and how much they support their idols and how they really look up to these players as role models for them."
The 28,140 sq. ft. arena will hold up to 4,500 people and the $75 premium tickets are almost sold out. However, students are able to attend the event at no charge with a valid student ID. The league is making this option available to encourage a younger age group to get more involved with competitions. Removal of the parental stigma about too much gaming is something FACEIT would like to see more of. Attisani was drawn to online play and spent most of his adolescence gaming, but despite his passion for it, he experienced pressure to leave the games alone, when his parents "forced him to study and find a real job." But his position as a consultant only lasted five years.
"When I saw an opportunity to get back into the space and do something that was meaningful for the online communities and for the gamers," Attisani said. "But at the same time could turn into a real business, that's when we decided to get together and start FACEIT."
It's more than just online gaming, the players have a "digital persona" in which the player-fan interaction is constant through chatting and live streaming as well as a strong social media presence. In comparison to traditional sports the fans have more of an opportunity to connect with the players. The online gaming community is large and welcomes its fans just as much as the players. In addition, eSports now have training facilities dedicated only to their athletes. They spend a lot of time going over strategy and tactics. It's a misconception to think gamers don't have to be in shape, they compete for 10-12 hours a day, so physical conditioning is just as important as mental.
"These gamers have been measured against traditional athletes," Attisani said. "There are a lot of examples that when you measure their reaction times and their hand-eye coordination or some of the skills you measure in traditional athletes or fighter pilots, some of these players rank even higher."
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Those that cannot make it to this weekend's event, can stream live action play on Twitch.tv/faceittv, Valve made Counter-Strike easy to follow to the unfamiliar viewer and because of that FACEIT has partnered with Turner Sports to show the competition on TBS. They plan to make some big announcement about the company moving forward with the type of competitions that will be available on all skill levels.
"We still have a lot of preconception when it comes to online gaming and eSports for the general mainstream audience,"Attisani said. "We still see it as activity for nerds that are locked in a basement, but the reality is very different, it's as mainstream as it gets, everyone is gaming nowadays."