The real drama of DreamHack, the annual esports tournament that brings some of the world's biggest fans and players who compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes, isn't just made by the pixels on the screen. It's also made in the stands like any great spectator sport.
DreamHack pits some of the world's most competitive gaming players and teams in some of the sport's most popular titles like Psyonix's octane-fueled soccer showdown Rocket League, Hidden Path and Valve's military-style first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and EA Sports' pro football sim Madden NFL19.
The globe-touring esports convention made a stop in Dallas last weekend at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center offering over $2 million in prize money for the top players. That's not a bad haul for just playing video games on a weekend with friends.
"We wanted to go for pure immersive action on every level and all 500,000 square feet of space," says Justin Varghese, the North American marketing manager for DreamHack. "We have plans to cover all of the convention center in the next three or five years. Really, our plan is to take over the whole city. That's the end game and it's going to happen when we start to get more and more people."
The con offered opportunities for seasoned pros and attendees looking to get their foot in the door a chance at a portion of the prize money on popular competitive titles like the first-person military shooter Counterstrike: Global Offensive, fighting games such as Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat II, and Super Smash Bros. Melee, sports games like Madden NFL19 and even mobile titles like Clash Royale and PlayerUnknown: Battlegrounds.
The competitions didn't stop on modern consoles and other playable devices. The convention offered chances to win competitions on older games like Halo 3 and beat and watch speedrunning records on classic games like Super Smash TV, Metroid and several Mega Man games.
"We're not joking when we talk about the entire world of gaming," Varghese says.
If you were just watching the fans, the events would look like any high-pressure sports battle. Fans crowded the floors and in some cases forced people to stand or sit on the floor to watch some of the masters battle in games like CS:GO and Rocket League. They bring placards and wear their favorite team's jersey to root them on as seasoned pros snipe, punch and race each other to glory.
The fan response also fuels the players as they compete for that key edge to help them destroy their opponents and take home the trophy. The action can get so intense that players often wear out their mouse or controller mid-game.
"Throughout the entire series, it was a nail-biter," says Keith "NAF" Markovic, one of the star players on Team Liquid based out of Santa Monica, California, who won the $100,000 CS:GO Masters tournament over Team ENCE of Finland. "We came back and unfortunately, we couldn't close it out. It dropped our hearts inside that we had it so close and they took it away from us, and going into the final map, we had it and they started coming back."
Of course, it requires a ridiculous amount of focus and concentration to compete on a professional or even amateur level. Some players are so focused on scoring or killing that they don't hear the roar of the crowd until they score that crucial, final point and the confetti rains down on those watching.
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"Sometimes you don't notice it but sometimes you can hear the roar of the crowd and it felt great," says Jesus "Gimmick" Parra from Cloud9 Gaming who won DreamHack's Rocket League Master tournament, "everyone just standing and cheering us on."
It's easy to get lost in the drama these games present even if you're the type who wonders why anyone would sit in one spot and watch someone else play a game for more than a few minutes. If you watch someone who knows all the nuances, moves and strategies the same way a quarterback knows his playbook, it's easy to lose a couple of inches of fingernails before the final score. The same can be said for the players.
"Always when you're playing finals, there's a different type of tension you feel, and it's something we've worked on because we've been here plenty of times and failed plenty and learned a lot, of course," Markovic says. "If you failed, you've got to know that you're learning and playing this final, we took what we've been through plenty of times and got the trophy."