Presented by: NBC News

Part of Esports: Inside, from Simone Boyce

The first-ever Overwatch League Grand Finals takes place at New York’s Barclays Center and NBC News’ Simone Boyce is there to capture Esports history. Some of the biggest players in the industry tell us how competitive gaming is leveling up in the years ahead.

NBC News present The World Of Competitive Gaming

This is the very first Overwatch grand finals in Brooklyn 20,000 seats sold out. This is my first time at something like this. So I'm here taking it all in.
In Korea, these players are total rock stars, but here in the states the concept of eSports is still kind of foreign to a lot of people, if you look back in history though competitive gaming has been around for a lot longer than you might think.

Competitive Gaming started in where else? Silicon Valley in October 1972 the world's first video game tournament was held at Stanford University's AI labs the game? Space war riveting, eight years later gaming giant Atari hosted the first major video gaming tournament over 10,000 people showed up eager to see which sharpshooter could save our planet from pixelated aliens.
Now the 80s that's when we saw gaming competitions popping up in mainstream media, and it was the premise of the 1982 sci-fi hit Tron.

- Stop I'm warning you, I'm gonna have to put you in the game grid. (-Tron 1982).

Where gamers competed in a life-or-death tournament.

Like with everything else in the 90s the rise of the personal computer and the internet changed everything, more people left the arcades to play at home and connected virtually to build online gaming communities.

It was also around this time that first-person shooters like Quake and Counter-Strike and real-time strategy games like Starcraft ammased huge following.

The turn of the century brought it's fair share of panic about the end of the world, uhm Y2K anyone?
So the world obviously didn't end and that's a great thing because the 2000s kicked off an exciting new era of competitive video gaming thanks to improved graphics and the rise of giant eSports organizations like Intel Extreme Masters and Major League Gaming.
Almost a decade later came the launch of Twitch TV a literal game changer for the first time gamers could livestream their gameplay becoming the entertainment viewers chat with each other and their favourite gamers while they watch or play. This idea of an interactive experience was an instant hit and a massive gaming community formed around it games like League of Legends, Fortnite, Dota 2 and Overwatch showcased complex strategies pulling in millions of new gamers with each new release.

Today gaming revenue tops money made in both the movie and music industries and major businesses are paying attention, the next big olympic superstar may not come from gymnastics, swimming or track the International olympic committee says it's exploring the possibility off eSports in future games. And why not? the audiences are huge the stakes are high and the emotions are too real eSports appear to stay.

- Oh its crazy people are absolutely going off like I didn't expect to be this wild.

The energy in here is just nuts I mean you can literally feel it vibrating and this is the very first season of the overwatch league so how do you go about generating this level of intensity in such a short amount of time it's all about the teams and the cities that rally around them.

  • - There's something about the connection the people have it's either the city they live in, the city they grew up in the city they went to college like having that connection I think it's really powerful it's a great driver of fandom. (- Nate Nanzer).
  • - I started to bring the building team and they recognised that I was always there so it's really just having the passion and the commitment win or lose supporting your team.
  • - All of our fans are like really passionate so we are pretty lucky I guess I think its a good idea and it brings love like new fans to the game. (- Joona "Fragi" Laine).
  • -That's really what it means to be a superfan it's bringing that community all together and then being able to actually experience this together.
  • - We've getting this like incredible support from our British fanbase it's been working on, its really all for us. (- Robin Seunghwan Lee).
  • - Who are the loudest fans, Korean  fans or Western fans?
  • - When you go to the Korean games it's generally a lot of females coming up, there’s alot of shrieking and high pitch, high-pitched shrieking going on but here there is still some shrieking but it's alot of you know bro yelling what do you call that just alot of low-pitched yelling.
  • - More of like a deep belly rumble;
  • - Yes yes, so there was like a difference in tone but I think both fans are fabulously loud.

So you get inside the arena and it's amazing how much it feels like any other sporting event you could just tell how much money they pumped into the production of this.
With that kind of attention comes high profile investors our boy Lawrence has the numbers.

Esports is legitimately all the rage right now

Esports is legitimately all the rage right now drawing in tons of gamers but also some huge investments there's movie stars music moguls and sports legends. I mean can you blame then revenues closing in on 1 billion dollars this year that's with a beam that's nearly twice as much as eSports made 2 years ago you got JLo taking some bets you already know Arod there with her on this company called NRG Sports it's the one Shaq back in March of 2016.
Ashton Kutcher is now an actor turned venture capitalist after buying into Unikrn which has a platform that lets eSports fans bet on pro games even Turtle from entourage you know Jerry Ferrara is helping the Knicks with their new eSports team after apparently playing NBA2K Neohart.

  • - Of course you got DJ Legends Steve Aoki he's been gaming and streaming on Twitch for forever now but finally put some money where his game is back in 2016 after buying huge stake in Rogue a league that teams out there it's are absolutely crushing it, in counter-strike. And yes Fortnite, Fortnite is the hottest most addictive game period right now with over 125 million players.
  • - Are you still not convinced this isn't a huge deal?.
  • - Like why don't you come watch basketball, why do you go watch soccer because you want to see people play live you want to have the crowd experience you want to be here and be a part of this it's crazy.
  • - You just get really pumped up about it because it's so like a sport it's still like one team being more skilled more thoughtful more planned out then the other team it's just that atmosphere you just get really pumped up with other fans too.

Looking around the arena I see tons of female fans in the stands female cosplayers and female characters actually in the game but on stage all the players are men they may not be as visible but there are woman holding it down in eSports like Emily she's a nurse by day and gamer by night.

- I wouldn't really say gaming is my hobby it's a passion it's kind of what I live for. (- Emmalee "EMUHLEET" Garrido).

Behind the screen she goes buy her gamer ID EMUHLEET she leads an all women's Counter-Strike team and like any other sport it takes practice we're talking 6 hour training sessions 6 days a week.

- I used to play volleyball soccer and dance and you know soccer is great and all but just with gaming the feeling of where it's all on to you to win a round your face to face with your enemy and the look on their face when you beat them or you know sportsmanship where you shake their hands afterwards I was just a feeling that I never got from playing a traditional Sport.

Her squad just wants to win and in the process settle the score on gender diversity in eSports.

- When I first started playing almost 14 years ago I was playing with all the guys and I was kind of showing that I could compete with all of them and now we're seeing a lot more women that are playing We kind of have a little bit of intimidation factor because guys don't want to lose against girls in a video game so we kind of make them nervous when they're playing against us.

But before female gamers reach a level like hers toxicity in the community can sometimes push women away the overwatch league commissioner says this is something his team is working on in the months ahead.

  • - As an industry we need to do better.
  • - Right.
  • - To make sure that our games not just our eSports leagues but our games are welcoming inclusive places everybody feels safe to compete.

With the trainers of the NBA 76ers by their side Emily's team Dignitas claims the title of number one women's team worldwide.

- We had all the resources that the NBA player's had and I think that really prepped us and that's what really helped us get the win is the hard preparation with the sixers and just being treated like regular athletes too.

These competitors remain confident that playing video games is their destiny.

- There was always been female fans of gaming but now we want women to be more competitors and teams like my team were really role models and pioneers in this and showing that you cannot only be fan but you can compete.
So I'm having a lot of fun just so much happening at the same time and I'm having a hard time following it.
But thanks to Golden Boy and Malik Forte I'm learning it's more about the characters then anything else.

- What makes overwatch so awesome it's the universe it's the world what Blizzard created were characters that were relatable to all walks of life that are fun colourful it's not a gritty realistic war shooter right like it's a fun game where a giant monkey can go up against a hamster in you know metal ball right like that's silly but like it's fun and then the thing that I think attracted players to it was that there were these it's a team game but there's like these moments where you get some incredible skill skillful plays that can be you know done by some of these players it's it's honestly like awesome. (- GoldenBoy).

- I feel like in this game every role makes sense so it's easy to watch because you understand like oh the big character is supposed to be the guy who's like helping block all the damage that's coming in and the person in the back is just healing everybody and it's a super accessible game to play like it's not hard to just jump in because you're jumping in with other people is very teamwork driven so yeah I think that's what makes the game pretty popular. (- Malik Forte).

The players on this stage are literally at the top of their game a million dollars on the line this is a level of success that might seem impossible to a young aspiring gamer that's just starting out but there is this 25road entrepreneur out there who's trying to help younger kids get the skills they need to get on this stage.

  • - So I guess this may be a dumb question but are you competitive?
  • - Oh yeah yeah I'm taking it pretty easy right now.
  • - You do not have the traditional venture capitalist resume how how did you do it all.
  • - A lot of it I would say I would chuck it up to just hustle yeah it was like look i want to be able to take care of my family.
    I want to be able to take care of myself for me one of the things that I always think back when I was a kid it was like I never wanted to be wasted potential. I would look at some of the guys in my neighborhood Who had all of these legendary backgrounds I'm like oh this guy was an amazing basketball player number one in the state but started selling drugs at high school and so now he's like living with his mum so those stories of like what if's really fueled me like don't become that and so built a wall and by any means possible really look like the key metric for success.
  • - So the idea of your company Playvs for someone who is not familiar with eSports can you break it down?.
  • - We're introducing eSports are video games sanctioned high school sports it's a 20,000 high schools across the country so kids can play different video games for state championship as they would basketball football.
  • - So are we talking jerseys are we talking practice, sweaty gym clothes.
  • - Jerseys practice physical regimen yes and I think structure is important and that's what we're providing today kids just game with no structure really no oversight from parents no overtime from administrators so what we provide this an opportunity for them to do it in a safe environment.
  • - Have you gotten any pushback from parents kind of saying eSports is not a legitimate Sport I don't want my kid playing eSports have you heard anything like that?
  • - Yeah what we know is that we have not received any backlash from parents or PTA groups.
  • - How would you like to see it changed lives?
  • - I think the biggest thing that we can add in terms of being a positive having positive impact on kids lives is to create a safe environment which they can do something that they are passionate about and that they love and be recognised for it and that's most important to us.

I'll be honest I love playing video games but I've never quite understood the appeal of watching other people play once your here though it all makes sense it's got all the energy and the excitement of my Alma Mater’s football stadium and then some only this is way more accessible for people who never felt at home in traditional Sports Arenas and that's something nerds like me totally relate to.

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