The biggest change between grade 8 and grade 9 was that once I started high school I was allowed to leave school property on lunch. And leave I did. Every weekday from noon to 1, my friends and I walked to the nearest arcade. When I had quarters, I spent them, and when I was out, I watched others feed the machines. Many different games came and went during that year, but one of the mainstays was Street Fighter 2, in one flavour or another (it seemed every three months there was another version of it, from Champion Edition to Turbo to Super to Super Turbo). There was always a crowd around the Street Fighter console, and it seems that 20 years later, the crowd has only grown.
What is the appeal of watching others play video games? It’s hard to explain. The closest I can come is this:
Evo Moment #37, as it’s called, is an iconic moment in competitive gaming. If you have ever played Street Fighter, you know how insanely hard it is to parry one hit from a super move, let alone 15 in a row. If even one of those kicks had landed then the match would have been over. What a remarkable display of timing and hand-eye coordination!
The two players in that match were Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong. Living the Game is a documentary that follows them and a few other top players over the course of a pro gaming season. It’s fascinating to see this unique spectacle where two headset-wearing players look at a small screen while a thousand or more boisterous spectators watch on and cheer wildly.
These top players are doing well for themselves, earning sponsorships and salaries, supplemented by cash prizes of $100,000 or more for a big tournament win. Despite their success they are remarkably aware that this gravy train will not run forever and that their chosen profession is not well-regarded. That sort of honesty should make Living the Game an interesting watch even for those who are baffled by pro video gaming, elevating it beyond its subject matter. While there is no big revelation to be found within, it is interesting to get to know the players through this film, who as it turns out are not much different than you or me, except they happen to be ridiculously good at video games.
Living the Game screens as part of the Hot Docs Film Festival on May 2 at 8:30 p.m., May 4 at 8:45 p.m. and May 7 at 6:15 p.m.