Have you ever thought that professional gaming doesn’t get the coverage it deserves? E-sports industry has seen massive growth in otherwise bleak economic times. Events like UK’s Insomnia or American Major League Gaming constantly announce record attendance. Videogames have become a solid part of popular culture. And yet there are people who have no idea you can earn a living playing games. We have to educate them, right?
The competitive gaming scene is more vibrant than ever, and now there will be a film which shows it in all its glory. Star Nation, a feature documentary by Justin Agnew, will explore Star Craft 2 multiplayer in-depth, featuring interviews with professional players, team managers, spectators and game commentators. It will cover at least four MLG events, visit Blizzard headquarters and quite possibly travel to Korea.
KitGuru had an opportunity to chat with director Justin and producer Andrew Lee. The crew is based in Austin, Texas. Between us – six time zones and 15°C temperature difference.
What made you choose Star Craft as the topic for your first feature?
Justin Agnew: Well, I am a gamer, a big fan of Blizzard. I have never played the original Star Craft. I picked up Star Craft 2 when it came out, and before that I never realised there was a pro-gaming scene, in any game. Yes, I’ve heard that Korea had professional players, but that was it. I was one of those guys who play casually, and eventually somebody put me on to Day 9 and other professional casters. When I began watching replays of the games, I slowly discovered that there’s a huge Star Craft 2 community in the US and Europe. I started following it, and found it absolutely fascinating that there are people who are playing this game professionally. I found it just as fascinating that there are casters out there doing play-by-play replays of other people playing the game, and that they were able to support themselves, doing this full-time. I think this is pretty incredible subject matter for a documentary.
You used to be an architect, right?
JA: Yes, I have a Master’s degree in architecture. I’ve been in construction since I was 14.
What got you into filmmaking?
JA: It was something I used to do for fun. When me and my friends were growing up, we used to make little improvised short films all the time. And then I was able to create an opportunity through Kickstarter.com, to do this on a professional level.
Yes, Kickstarter.com. You needed $9,750 to fund the film, and last time we have checked, the donations were at $23,961. How did that happen?
JA: I was toying with the idea of a Star Craft 2 documentary for a couple of months. I knew the first MLG event would be held in Dallas. A few days before it kicked off, I decided to take a last minute bus there, get some camera equipment and just go shoot, see what happens. I did that, assembled the proof of concept and put it up on Kickstarter. We had a very strong response from the community, and it just took off from there.
You attract donations with some unusual rewards. For example, in addition to other benefits those who donate $175 or more will get an hour long coaching session with a professional gamer.
JA: Kickstarter is a crowd funding website. What we try to do offer something that people in the community will enjoy. We have had a number of professionals approach us and say they would do anything to help the project. So yes, we have some unique rewards, that allow us to give something back without costing too much on our end.
Do you think competitive gaming is becoming more mainstream?
JA: Each MLG event has been progressively larger. It attracts a whole different set of people now. I feel like Star Craft 2 will always remain a niche culture, but it has the potential to become a lot bigger. How big, and how soon, remains to be seen.
Would you recommend going to a big multiplayer gaming event?
JA: Absolutely. To anyone who plays games. Even if you play games casually, go check these events out. They are a blast. I haven’t met a single person I don’t like there. And right now there are so many spectators. It’s an eye-opening experience to see people cheering and holding banners. I have never been exposed to this, and I think it’s wonderful.
How much more do you plan to do and when will the film be released?
Andrew Lee: We don’t want to jinx it. But if everything works out, the next six weeks are going to be the busiest weeks Justin has ever had. *laughs* We are really excited to have an opportunity to meet a lot of the players, see where they live and what they do. And we’re hitting up BlizzCon in late October. The film is going to be released sometime next year, but we are still looking for the central story.
Star Nation is set to appeal to both gamers and non-gamers. It looks visual and poetic, and its heart is in the right place. Could it change the way people look at games? We think so. Could it attract new people to the professional gaming scene? Definitely.
“I finally get it. I always meet people who know every single player on some football team or the forward of a professional basketball team and I was always awed by the depth of their knowledge of the sport they love. I, for one, have never had that and I could not understand the love of watching sports, until I started playing/watching Starcraft. Now I finally get it. I f*** love Starcraft.”
- Kelly Bracha
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KitGuru thanks Justin and Andrew and wishes them luck.