The industry has embraced various tournaments featuring games like Madden NFL Football and Street Fighter, with prize pools ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Free to Play, from Valve Films, follows the individual members of competitive DOTA 2 teams, as they compete for a $1 million grand prize during a 2011 tournament.
Competitive gaming has already earned a fair amount of respect in many Asian countries, and its popularity is on the rise throughout Europe. Free to Play peels back some of the internal pressures players face, conflicts with family, work/life balance, schooling and social expectations. These players are held up as the vanguards of a generational shift, often with parents who don’t quite understand what the stakes are. The film posits that soon we’ll look back at these earlier tournaments, and take competitive gaming for granted.
It’s not too far fetched an idea either. The video gaming industry now regularly unseats Hollywood in generating revenue, and we’re into our third generation of people living on this planet that don’t know a world without electronic entertainment. Just as physical sports like football generate incredible revenue, while we’re ostensibly watching grown men play a school yard game, there exists the potential for e-sports competitors to make a similar mark on fans.
While I’m not terrifically familiar with the game play of DOTA 2 (described in the film as a blend of Chess and Soccer) it’s easy to get drawn into the drama of what these players face. They carry the expectations of their fellow team members, their fans, and often their home countries.
The million dollar grand prize is important, but maybe not as valuable to some as defeating their rivals.
Valve has released the film for free to stream, and in a variety of languages. Embedded below is the USA (English) version.