Playing video games is emerging as a major sport, but competitors at tournaments are usually like that neighbor on the TV show "Home Improvement": People can only see their eyes and above.
Players sit behind computer monitors or televisions, leaving spectators online and in person to see little of them and zapping some of the potential emotional attachment that viewers could have toward them.
That’s just one of the reasons that Super Evil Megacorp -- yes, it’s a real name -- says the opportunity in competitive video gaming, or eSports, goes far beyond what’s visible today. The San Mateo, Calif., start-up’s video game “Vainglory” runs exclusively on smartphones and tablets, which means that a big computer doesn’t obscure players.
There are also way more smartphones than high-powered gaming computers. To Kristian Segerstrale, Super Evil’s chief operating officer, the bigger market for smartphones should lead to a mobile game that generates several times more usage and revenue than any PC game has.
“That to us is one of the most tantalizing transformations in video games,” he said.
Super Evil’s on its way. “Vainglory” has attracted millions of players who battle against one another as squads of three, controlling virtual characters in an effort to destroy the opponent’s base. Games last about 20 minutes. Victories boost a team’s ranking, which matters to get into tournaments.
About 650 teams in North America and Europe signed up for a first-of-its-kind competition that culminates over the next two weekends with matches in Santa Ana and then Katowice, Poland.
On Saturday, the team that comes out on top at the eSports Arena gaming venue in Santa Ana gets $10,000. The event is funded by Super Evil, which has raised $41 million from investors, advertisers and hundreds of people who have bought $10 tickets to attend.
Some players compete hunched over their smartphones. Others lean back and stick their tablet on a stand or a pillow. Either way, Super Evil thinks that more viewers will gravitate toward mobile-game competitions because they can both better see the players’ reactions and relate to the gaming device.
Segerstrale said two other key elements should help “Vainglory” attract fans: a simple visual language and a tournament structure dependent on grass-roots organizing.
Super Evil has aimed to make what’s happening in the game easy to understand through visual cues, like how NFL broadcasts have a digitally rendered yellow line to show the marker a team is striving toward. One of the examples in “Vainglory” is color coding similar virtual items such as weapons or shields.
On the tournament side, Super Evil is working with outside groups to organize low-level tournaments more than other game makers have. Super Evil has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few months to help increase prizes and improve equipment. Partners include South Korean media company OGN and two German entrepreneurs who run Vaingloryleague.
Regional champions will be crowned quarterly, with world championships probably taking place twice yearly. There’s demand, Segerstrale said. In September, more than 1 million people watched online videos of people playing “Vainglory.”