By Phil Hornshaw
Ryan Towey sat in his suburban Chicago home in a darkened room illuminated only by the ambient glow of TV screens, watching intently as four 20-somethings played hour after uninterrupted hour of Halo 5. This is his job.
He and his crew—the Halo squad for professional gaming team Evil Geniuses—were there, in the house where they live and practice together, for not just the rest of the day, but the rest of the week. They played many matches of Halo, and when they were done, they watched hours of footage of their matches. There was a lot on the line — specifically, the $2.5 million prize pool for the Halo World Championships. If the team wanted a chance at some of that money, they had to play. And play. And play. This may be eSports—organized, multiplayer video game competitions between professional gamers—but they spend most of their time doing what any athletes does: training.
“[Training] was a grind. I cut out everything else. Twelve hours a day, it was all film, all gaming, all practice,” Towey, the pro player-turned-coach of the four-man Evil Geniuses Halo squad, says of the build up to the championship. “It was seven days a week for over a month.”
In recent years, eSports has experienced an explosion in popularity throughout the world. As online viewership via game streaming services like Twitch and YouTube has skyrocketed and team-based video games became more popular, leagues and tournaments have responded with increasingly lucrative cash prizes for players. With a new eSports-based reality show premiering on cable network TBS and media outlets highlighting the fame and glamor associated with the gaming phenomenon (VICE recently did a documentary “The Celebrity Millionaires of Competitive Gaming”), a narrative was born: for eSports athletes, life is about jet-setting across the country, wild tournament afterparties, huge winnings, and an easy life.
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