2011: The Year of eSports

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Seth Killian, Online and Community Strategic Director, Capcom USA

To many gamers, Seth Killian is the face of Capcom--the game company that produced and developed the Street Fighter series. Street Fighter was a pioneer in the fighting-game genre, and it started an international trend in the early 1990s with Street Fighter II.

Is Capcom involved with fostering competition on a day-to-day level?
Capcom runs tournaments at larger events such as E3 or Comic-Con, and I attend dozens of tournaments personally, but the primary focus of our support is on providing early builds and resources to make sure the core fans get a chance to go hands-on with the games at events. They tell us what's working and what's not, and are basically a great way to help steer the development process.

Capcom also runs "Fight Club" events that have proven insanely popular. While they aren't tournaments per se, the intent is to try and recapture some of that same exciting arcade atmosphere and the "I got next" competitiveness that spawned the worldwide tournament scene.

Who sponsors competitive Street Fighter events?
MadCatz has been incredibly supportive, and the massive success of its products is a reflection of how valuable its very personal involvement has been to its sales. We've also seen top Street Fighter players being sponsored by apparel and lifestyle groups, and now by more traditional eSports groups, such as Evil Geniuses and Borderlands Gaming, so that's an exciting development as well. Overall though, for my money, the raw enthusiasm you see at a Street Fighter tournament is unmatched anywhere in the eSports world. As a result, rightly or wrongly, I think if you asked a lot of the Street Fighters, they'd say it's the traditional eSports crowd that needs to take a lesson from them.

Tom Cannon, Evolution Championship Series Director

Evolution Championship Series
Tom Cannon is one of the three people in charge of the Evolution Championship Series--a series of high-profile tournaments held throughout the year that culminates in a multigame open tournament on a Las Vegas stage. (For more, read the full interview.)

How did you get started organizing tournaments? Is this your day job?
Organizing tournaments has never been my day job. By day I'm a software engineer. I first started running Street Fighter tournaments back in the early 1990s in arcades like Sunnyvale Golfland. This was before even the very first competitive online games, so in a way Street Fighter is the granddaddy of competitive gaming. Many people forget that there are guys playing Street Fighter today who have been hard-core competitive gamers for over 20 years.

When did you realize these tournaments were going to be a big deal?
"The moment" has got to be the "Daigo parry" at Evo 2004, which you can find on YouTube. The crowd response from Daigo's incredible comeback was no less than what you see at traditional sporting events.

That's when I knew that fighting games could ignite people's passion in the same way that sports do, but the problem was that we didn't have the right game yet. The fighting games that we had back then were too targeted at the hard-core fighting-game fans, not gamers in general.

That all changed when Capcom released Street Fighter IV, with fantastic 3D graphics and gameplay that was simple enough to appeal to casual gamers but deep enough to hold a competitive edge. Now, nearly every week there is a pretty big Street Fighter IV tournament going on somewhere in the U.S., and most of these events are streamed online with tens of thousands of watchers. Street Fighter IV has become a budding spectator sport.

Evo took off like a rocket in 2009, where we had over 3000 attendees and over 1600 competitors across all our tournaments. We shattered those records in 2010 with over 4000 attendees and over 3000 tournament competitors.

How does sponsorship work for tournaments and players? Where does the money come from for the SF side?
The sponsor pool isn't as big for fighting-game players, but that is changing with Street Fighter IV's boom in popularity. Our 2010 stream was watched by over 2.4 million unique viewers. G4TV did a piece on Evo 2010 that featured several top players decked out in their sponsor's shirt. Exposure is exposure. Fighting-game players don't need PCs and components to play their game, but they're watched by an awful lot of gamers who do buy those products. That's why you're starting to see traditional PC-gaming teams like Evil Geniuses pick up top fighting-game players.

Alexander Garfield, Team Evil Geniuses Executive Director

Team Evil Geniuses is arguably the highest-profile professional gaming team in North America, with over a dozen sponsors and over 30 players across seven games on its roster. (For more, read the full interview.)

What does an eSports "team" look like?
With Team Evil Geniuses and other similar teams, the word "team" is meant to be interpreted quite broadly. While we refer to ourselves as Team Evil Geniuses, EG actually consists of a group of different gaming teams. A good analogy is that EG would be the gaming equivalent of the Yankees, if the Yankees weren't just a baseball team, but a larger parent company that supported many different kinds of professional athletes; and for example had a Yankees baseball team, and a Yankees basketball team, and so on.

So, Team EG has a StarCraft team (or "division"), and another for World of Warcraft, and another for Counter-Strike, and another for Street Fighter, and others as well. Some of these teams/divisions really are teams in the sense that they play team-based multiplayer games. However, we do also have teams/divisions for games that are one-versus-one, like Street Fighter and StarCraft. Those function more as collections of affiliated, mutually supportive players.

What does it mean to play as a member of Team Evil Geniuses?
Every player on the team receives comprehensive travel support to many tournaments over the course of the duration of their contract, as well as full hardware support from EG's sponsors. The majority of the players on the team are on salary as well. They also all have access to our fine managerial staff so that they can focus on practice and performance without being distracted by logistical duties. Players who aren't on salary usually split their practice time with another focus, like school or an ordinary job.

Are players cut from the team for underperforming?
We don't cut players easily. We put so much time and effort into scouting new players that by the time we actually make an offer to someone, it's a long-term offer, and we believe in the person just as much as we believe in their past results. All of our contracts are at least 12 months long, and it takes more than a bad tournament or two to be released. Due to our comprehensive scouting procedures and what we think is a good eye for talent, the players we bring onto the team usually end up playing for us for a while.

How does Team EG make money?
Mainly sponsorships, but not entirely. EG as a company has several wings to it, with the team being only one of them. Our fans are mainly interested in the team and its players, but to EG's sponsors, EG is not only a team but an all-in-one marketing agency solution for the gaming demographic. We provide access to pro players, but we also run our own gaming tournaments, run our own broadcast streams, produce tons of interesting content, and do a bunch of other boring corporate stuff as well. Historically, our sponsors have mostly been endemic, but we've had a couple of general consumer brands in the past, and we're hoping to bring on a few mainstream accounts for 2011.

What's in store for the future of EG? Where do you see eSports going in the next few years?
People in pro gaming have a very bad habit of trying to forecast the exact moment at which eSports will "arrive" on a mainstream level. We're not those guys. We just focus on working as hard as we can to support our players as best we can, and improving everything we do as a company month by month by month. When players are happy, well managed, and worry-free, they tend to perform the best. The combination of tournament wins and excellent account management tends to leave our sponsors quite satisfied as well.

Patrick Miller is a staff editor for PCWorld. Add him on Twitter, "Like" him on Facebook, or message him on Battle.Net (pattheflip.729) for a game.

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