This week I’m at Gamescom participating as a finalist in the Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (MRKB) Grand Championship e-Sports tournament. I thought it would be both appropriate and interesting to discuss my experiences. But I don’t want this post to be about Gamescom as a whole. I plan on doing a post for that after the show has concluded. It will hopefully be published next week or the following week at the latest. What I want this post to be about is specifically my experiences as a participant in this specific e-Sports event for this specific game.
This is my first real foray into competitive e-Sports. I’ve never really been fond of or even that interested in the e-Sports industry as a whole. I’ve said many times that I hate the culture, management, and general style of modern e-Sports. Just a few weeks ago I published a post about how much I dislike the mostly repetitive and limited genres often synonymous with the professional e-Sports community. And as I’ve said before without hesitation, I also find the idea of giving a minor millions of dollars for playing video games a detriment to society for more than one reason. So I sort of entered into this whole endeavor kind of ambivalent.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the inside of the competitive e-Sports community. I’m still not exactly sure if it’s accurate to even compare competitive MRKB to the rest of the e-Sports community. It’s a much different game that anything else we’ve seen taken seriously in the internet era of e-Sports. I’m still shocked that I was invited to play it competitively at Gamescom on stage. There may not be a $3M prize, but just the fact that it’s being featured at such an important annual event legitimizes it as a part of the ever growing, but rarely evolving, pantheon of e-Sports titles. So while I do consider this tournament a legitimate part of e-Sports and by extension this game, I acknowledge that many people won’t. At least not until some real money is offered for winning events involving this game.
What I like about competitive MRKB is that it functions the way I believe competitive gaming should function on a number of levels. For starters, age. Gaming was supposed to be a mental task. Games were supposed to provoke your mind the way sports provoke your body. As technology has developed, the physical aspects of gaming have evolved but only to increase the fulfillment and challenge of the experience on your mind. When games become all about physical performance rather than mental challenges, I think something has gone wrong. Most younger gamers would probably disagree with this opinion because they were raised in the era of fast paced, reflex driven gameplay experiences. The fact that it’s called e-Sports was a topic of debate for a long time. I always focused on the “e” portion of the name. But today too many people seem to focus on the “Sports”.
The average professional gamer ranges from 18 – 25 in age. This is because the games commonly played are more about performance speed than tactical thinking and strategic implementation. This is why e-Sports consists more of FPS titles and fighters than tactical ones. These genres are much more about speed of implementation than anything else. Whoever can push the correct buttons fastest or aim the crosshair accurately first tends to be the winner. So of course the youngest, most agile gamers in the population would be the best. But put those same kids up against a 40 year old man whose been playing Chess for 30 years in a turn based tactical game and I’d be shocked if any of those kids win a single round once that man understood the ends and outs of the game being played. That’s the kind of e-Sports I want to see. That’s the kind of e-Sports I want to participate in.
I’ve had opportunities in the past to play games competitively. Never anything as big as my current steps into competitive MRKB, but there have been moments where I could play games like Smash Bros. in a local competitive setting. But I’ve never really been interested. And as a now 30 year old man, I would have little chance of winning at competitive level in most of those games. That’s exactly what makes this MRKB competition so special. In a group of eight finalists, I’m one of the youngest at 30 years old. We are all adults with real responsibilities, burdens, and normal life experiences. We all have real jobs. We’ve all graduated from college already. Some of us have wives, children, and mortgages. Every one of us has been gaming longer than the term e-Sports has existed. In my opinion, we’re the types of people that should be given opportunities to win large sums of money for playing video games. We’re the type of people who best represent the gaming community as a whole. Especially when you consider that the current average age of gamers, as reported by the ESA, is 32 – 34. This is why I think it’s really special that Ubisoft has created and invested in an e-Sports event that caters more to the thinking aspect of gaming rather than the reflexive physical aspects; and even more so the fact that they have given actual gamers with realistic lives the chance to be recognized for the achievement of mastering a game while also having to deal with the burdens of adulthood at the same time.
Along with my general joy at being given the opportunity to participate in any legitimate e-Sports event at my age for playing games I actually enjoy, I also have really enjoyed this particular group of players, both in the finals and the Summer Games seasonal qualifier. I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t follow e-Sports too closely. I only hear about the big headlines like “16 Year Old Wins $3M Playing Fortnite”. I know some of the teams like Fnatic, but that’s more a byproduct of my job than personal interest. From what I’ve seen, most e-Sports pros aren’t people I’d like to be friends with. Like many popular YouTubers, a number of which I have personally met, again through my job, pro gamers seem disconnected from reality, fairly arrogant, and unapproachable. To be honest, those all seem like qualities that would make you exceptional at games but not at life.
I’m willing to admit that I haven’t actually met any top tier pro gamers personally so it’s quite possible I’m reading them wrong. But if they’re anything like top tier tech YouTubers then I think I have them pegged fairly well. So I wasn’t actually sure what to expect from the competitors in the MRKB Grand Championship. But I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.
This group of gamers is great. Though they all come from different countries across the world, these are some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve ever met in the gaming community. They are down to earth, humble, and thankful just to be included. Though they’re all 30 or older, they took to the experience of attending Gamescom and competing on stage with the whimsy and excitement of children. We were all scared, nervous about embarrassing ourselves on stage by playing terribly, and unassuming about our abilities compared to each other. Some of the players didn’t even really care about the tournament and were just excited to be able to meet other people who also enjoy playing the same game they like. It’s the gaming community everyone wishes the gaming community actually was like all the time. While we were all there to compete against each other, we didn’t meet and become adversaries. We became friends. A week before the event we were put into a Discord group and little was said about the competition or the games. The bulk of the conversation was eight guys genuinely interested in learning about each other’s lives. None of this was what I expected.
Like with the seasonal finals, I probably took this Grand Championship more seriously than anyone else. I put in several hours of practice time. I developed strategies for each map. I honed my skills. I have to admit that I was extremely guarded in how I interacted with the other players on the Discord for fear of giving them an edge in some way. I wanted to win more than anything else. But I was the outlier. The rest of the players just wanted to have fun. They hoped to win. But none of them needed to win and really that’s the way gaming should be. The gaming community and the world at large are better with more people like them, who just want to enjoy themselves and make friends, than more people like me, who focused on obtaining victory above obtaining friendship.
I am truly thankful to have been invited to participate in this event. I’m grateful that I was finally able to attend Gamescom after years of not being able to go due to financial limitations. I’m glad that I was finally recognized in some way for the more than 20 years of gaming I’ve put in. But in the grand scheme of life none of that matters as much as having made new friends. And because of Ubisoft and the MRKB Grand Championship I made new friends. If this is what e-Sports is like in general, then I need to get more involved in e-Sports. If this isn’t what e-Sports is usually like and my original thoughts are more accurate, then e-Sports really needs to change.