Video Gamers In Georgia Compete In Front Of Live Studio Audience

There’s a new, lucrative industry that has found its way to Georgia: electronic sports (e-sports). It’s competitive video gaming, and it’s attracting a growing audience.

The state’s first e-sports studio ─ Hi-Rez Studios in Alpharetta ─ hosted the SMITE Spring Finals on April 25 to 26. 

During the first round, Europe faces off against North America. Five members from each team sit on opposite sides of the stage. Everyone has on headsets and types quickly on keyboards. About 100 people sit in folding chairs and watch the SMITE match on two large monitors. 

The goal of the SMITE game is to destroy the enemy base by taking down as many towers as you can. And then there’s the giant warrior named Titan. You have to kill him, too, to win the game. 

Thomas Badinger is an e-sports analyst with Hi-Rez Studios, the company that developed the SMITE game and this new studio.   

“This fight seems to be going the side of North America,” Badinger said. “So there’s a little bit of trade going on right now. But it looks like it’s all about this one player who is MVP, Cyclonespin. He came out of nowhere really early on in the season. And he just got a quadrakill, so you can hear the round of applause. There’s only five members on the team and he killed four of them.”

There’s a lot at stake here. The teams are competing for a share of $60,000 and a round-trip ticket to the next match in São Paulo, Brazil.

Normally, a competitive video game event like this would be held in other countries, like Germany, said Gabe Mughelli with Hi-Rez Studios.

“A lot of the teams were already kind of in the European region, but now the fact that we can just fly them in here to our hometown, our own studio, it just gives us more control over everything like where they’re staying, what they’re doing,” Mughelli said.  

Sponsorships And Prizes

So being in Alpharetta, Georgia, is a big deal, David Piner said.

“It’s really impressive to have something as awesome as this in Alpharetta,” Piner said. “I think it’s really good not only for Georgia, but it’s also really good for the gaming community because this entire industry is growing and people can make a career out of games.”

Piner has certainly made a career out of it: He’s managing editor of TenTonHammer, a website about video games. He says it’s great for local high school students who are looking into a professional video-gaming career. Some colleges now offer scholarships for e-sports athletes.  

Marcus “Realzx” Vining, 22, from London quit his job as a golf coach to become a professional video game player.

“Since there was more money involved in SMITE, I had to put in time to be the best,” Vining said. 

He and his team were in fourth place earlier this year at the world finals at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta. But they still walked away with more than $260,000. He says London is behind other European cities — it only recently launched its first e-sports bar – but he says it’s catching up.

“It’s great. I don’t even watch TV,” Vining said. “I think I only watch e-sports.”

Live Analysis

And an e-sports studio is more than just a stage – there are three very animated sportscasters or “shoutcasters” narrating the games. Two more anchors provide post-game analysis. Not only for the studio audience, but also for the 10,000 fans watching the live stream.

Aubrey “Bosten” Miller came down from Boston to watch. She says it’s interesting to see the different playing styles between Europeans and North Americans.   

“A lot of the Europe teams aren’t aggressive – they’re passive,” Miller said.”So, that’s why you’ll hear us joke with the passiveness of the Europe teams: Oh my God, this is so boring Z-Z-Z.”

At the end of each match the participants take off their headsets and, just like any other sport, both teams hug and shake hands.

Professional Video Gaming

David “Allied” Hance was asked if he considers himself an athlete. 

“Umm … yeah, a cyberathlete,” Hance said. “I think that’s a term, right?”

Whatever you want to call a professional video game player, there’s not much physical activity involved here – except for rapid-fire finger movement with your keyboard and mouse.

But it is tough on the brain. SMITE, for example, requires a lot of quick decision-making while talking with teammates through a headset. And of course, you won’t get far without exceptional hand-eye coordination.

Hance has been a competitive gamer since he was 16 and has gotten really good at it. Now, he plays the SMITE game up to eight hours a day with his team members from Arizona, California, Utah and Maryland.

“It’s been about a year, not even kidding,” Hance says. “I’ve just been hardcore practicing every day.”

And the practice paid off. His team, AFK Gaming, came in first, winning $20,000 and round-trip tickets to Brazil for the next tournament.