The team looked stricken, the sweat of exertion dripping down their faces. The long stretch of fierce competition had taken its toll on each member and it was clear that they were near collapse. Their rivals, the opposing team that had bested them in recent events by a terrible margin was now making a run. The bitter taste of defeat was tickling the back of their throats. Would they choke? Would they allow their nemesis to defeat them once again? Could they reach that last shred of stamina, that extra bit of adrenaline that their bodies were holding in reserve for just such a moment, wipe away all fatigue, and drive that last bullet into the heads of their enemies?
Except for that last bit, I could have been describing a moment in a pastime with which 90 percent of the world is intimately familiar: physical sports. Be it the 2004 American League Championship Series when the Boston Red Sox finally defeated the rival Yankees, or the Celtics recaptured past glory by beating the L.A. Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals (I'm biased, shoot me), drama is a big reason why we find competitive sports so compelling. The players' battle for supremacy becomes our battle. When we watch a team defeat the opposition, part of their victory becomes our victory, just as their defeat becomes our loss.
At the latest Major League Gaming event held in Raleigh, NC, I witnessed the team called Final Boss defeat Instinct in the final 4x4 match of Halo 3. Before attending that event, I had only a passing interest in competitive videogaming or e-sports; as a gamer, I was happy that such leagues existed but I had never taken the time to watch or follow the proceedings. It was just a lot of noise.
But when I heard the stories of the competitors and saw their dedication, I felt some of their emotion. More importantly, when I saw the looks on the competitor's faces when Final Boss began to feel that victory was slipping away, I found myself rooting for them; I wanted them to win. And in that moment, I became a fan.
"It's actually little overwhelming to think about the fact that in six or seven years, we have gone from an idea to this established professional circuit that has the ability to draw in so many gamers," says Sundance DiGiovanni, the CEO and co-founder of Major League Gaming (MLG), when I spoke to him in the crow's nest above the arena where Instinct and Final Boss would later compete. "This is an incredible event for us because it's our 50th event. It's a milestone. It's a really big deal for us."