Esports arenas are a booming form of spectacle entertainment, but who are the people behind the curtain cultivating the scene? Patrick Creadon's latest film explores the history of esports events and the people that make it all work.
People are being attracted in droves to watch talented youngsters, mostly between the ages of 16-25, do what they do best: play video games. However, enjoyment in this scene really depends on your understanding of the game or the players that play. That's the goal of Patrick's new film All Work All Play, which was screened as a work in progress at Tribeca 2015. I spoke to Patrick and the Cloud 9 team about the world of esports, the presence of cameras and what it takes to create an accurate portrait of a subculture.
NFS: League of Legends has a huge community, but I've seen it often marginalized as too niche to really garner a broader understanding. What was your motivation to cover a story like this?
Patrick: We love telling stories about people with a real passion for some really specific thing, but we like to share that with a general audience. Finding the sweet spot for this particular story has been challenging. I hope gamers and fans enjoy the movie, but we're not only making it for them. We want it to be more than that. Whatever story we're doing, if it's a tiny niche or a giant niche like esports, we try to get a window into that world and get other people into it.
You can't just show up for an hour, hose down the room and say, "I've made a documentary."
NFS: How did cameras affect the teams?
Patrick: When we make our films we spend a lot of time with our subjects. A lot of the time we don't even have our cameras with us. We work very hard at trying to develop a trust between them and us because the best kinds of moments in our films are when people reveal themselves. I love when you're watching a movie and it just feels very personal and very immediate. The camera, the music and the editing just fade away and there's a person on screen just telling you about their life and sharing their experience with you. It takes a lot of effort to get to that.
You can't just show up for an hour, hose down the room and say, "I've made a documentary." With our films we always try to get in really close with our subjects and live our lives with them. With esports it was a little bit easier because there are a lot of cameras in that world. We can be in someone else's world and they are comfortable enough to just be themselves and forget about we're doing. I know when we've achieved that and I know when people are hamming it up for the camera.
NFS: This world is covered a lot, but rarely in this form. Why tell this story as a feature documentary?
Patrick: To me it's an endlessly fascinating process. Our subjects are really our collaborators, they are telling their story with us. There is something about a feature length film -- a snapshot that is enduring -- that television can't quite do as well. When you can play it in the theater it's just a very unique experience. Documentary films just have a very, very long shelf life. Ultimately if you do the story right it becomes the defining portrait of that person, and we take that responsibility very seriously. I think documentaries can help us get to a deeper understanding of the world around us, and I love trying to do that.
NFS: It's great to hear that that is your approach and that you're applying it to a world that doesn't generally get that treatment. Riot Games has its whole way of showing the world and it's very bombastic, very gladiatorial -- more akin to your traditional sports broadcast.
Patrick: In any sport industry ultimately those companies and organizations are making entertainment. It's not a bad thing, but for our movie we want to look behind the curtain. We wanna see how they do that, why they do it, what are they afraid of, what do they love? What is their ultimate goal? What kind of an effect does it have on the rest of their lives? What kind of risks and sacrifices did they take to go down this road? I'm always sensitive to not overly polishing or overly sensationalizing our stories. I want our movies to be entertaining, but I also want it to feel like you're sitting in a room with that person.
So many of our problems in the world stem from a lack of understanding of each other, and I think documentary filmmakers play a very important role in opening up a window into the world of someone else.
The stories that we tend to do be drawn to there are no scripts and you have one take. Hopefully you find someone who is on an interesting journey. You can tell when you watch a movie if that filmmaker has empathy, if they listen to people. If they're engaged in something, versus someone who is just cranking stuff out. It's important for us to try to achieve empathy and having respect for our subjects.
NFS: The way I qualify it is that cinema is not about taking, but it's about giving.
Patrick: You're trying to give them the highest quality of the attention you can give them. If you bring that to the table, then chances are you're gonna have a successful story, and that approach brings an audience to a deeper understanding. So many of our problems in the world stem from a lack of understanding of each other, and I think documentary filmmakers play a very important role in opening up a window into the world of someone else.
Our story is about a game that people play, it's very different, but at the same time video games are a very big part of a lot of people's lives. And I hope our film allows a deeper understanding of why there's a love for these things, where that passion comes from, why people play these games, what people get from them.
[I also talked to the entire Cloud 9 crew, the team heavily featured in All Work All Play, including the players Hai, Meteos, LemonNation, Sneaky & Balls, and the founder Jack Etienne.]
I try to fix things for a long time before I replace something. Usually when you replace something you get a whole new host of problems that you didn't anticipate.
NFS: How were you approached to be in this film, was it a gradual warming up process or did you jump right in?
Sneaky: We didn't have much of a say in it. It was all set up by Jack [Etienne]. We went to IEM and they were like, "You're gonna get filmed." And then they started coming to our house a bunch. So, it was interesting to start. We didn't know what we were doing, it was just a lot of talking to the camera.
NFS: As a filmmaker myself I'm always curious how the presence of cameras change the dynamic in a room. How was your acclimation to the presence of cameras and how did you cope with that?
Meteos: I think we're kinda used to having cameras around us. We're kind of accustomed to people following us around with cameras. At first it makes you kind of nervous, but after a while you don't really think about it and you probably say stuff you shouldn't when the camera is on you.
Jack: Do you remember the early interviews, like the one from Balls and Lemon? I think it's one of the most watched esports videos now actually. The transformation of the types of interviews they used to do then compared to now is night and day. There was a time when I was terrified for those two guys to ever be in an interview together. There's a Riot PR person that works with the teams and that interview is actually one of their examples of what not to do. It's amazing how far they've come since then.
NFS: You guys are now the team that has kept the same roster for the longest stretch of time. How do you account for that?
Jack: I've always been a relationship guy. I try to fix things for a long time before I replace something. Usually when you replace something you get a whole new host of problems that you didn't anticipate. There's also the relationships we've developed with each other have been really helpful in our ability to win. I think it's a really good philosophy. You have to be really careful with the whole "grass is greener" thing.
NFS: As a team, how do you handle the pressure moments?
Meteos: I don't think the pressure of playing affects us that much, because you don't think about it much when you're playing. You're just on a computer, you don't see the audience much. I don't think about what's on the line for these games, so it's just like practicing at home.
NFS: Historically, retirement for pro-gamers is at a pretty young age because of physical limitations, how do you guys mitigate the challenges of historically what's true?
Meteos: I think it will change in the future, because from what I've seen the only region that has had longstanding problems is Korea. There you'd have to retire for military service and by the time you come back after 2 years you're not as good anymore. In North America, being a pro-gamer has never actually been a career path, so all the people who have infinite time to put into the game -- which is what is going to make you good -- are like high school kids. But once you're out of college and have a job and are starting a family you don't really have the time to play video games all day. But now that there are more sponsors and more people getting invested in esports, I think people can stay pro-gamers for a lot longer. I don't think you physically run into issues with playing games at least until your 30's.
Hai: I go to physical therapy three times a week if I can. I ice it twice a day, take medicine for inflammation and wear these gloves as much as I can. I have other splits made by hand surgeon people, but they put me on this instead so I have better mobility.
Jack: People are doing tests on people in their 30's and they actually are physically still able to do it. I really believe that now that the money is good enough, we're going to see pros playing into their 30's. For me personally, it's a huge goal to make sure that every single one of these guys can continue working for Cloud 9 at their current pay or more. For me I can't find qualified guys that really understand how to work in esports right now, it's so hard to find. So when these guys are ready to say, "I don't want to play anymore," I don't want them going anywhere, because they have the exact skill set I want. They understand how to have a successful esports company run.
This is a job and you're not supposed to bring personal things into it. We just want to win, that's all that matters.
NFS: What does this film mean for your team? Do you see it as a summing up of your career or another stepping-stone?
Jack: They are so razor focused on what it takes to win that I don't think they really see how it fits. I'm starting to sense that it's a bigger deal than we all realized.
NFS: How has your friendship evolved and how did you know that you would be good friends and good teammates?
Hai: We all met in solo queue and for the most part none of us were super giant ragers. I'm sure there were cases where someone was an asshole back in the day -- a lot of the top players were, somewhat. But none of us are telling other players to "go die" or anything like that. So when you're trying to pick a player, you try to ask around about them and if there's nothing negative about them we try it out. We try to keep issues outside of the game because we're trying to win. This is a job and you're not supposed to bring personal things into it. We just want to win, that's all that matters.
ALL WORK ALL PLAY premieres with a live gaming event, two nights only, July 21st with an encore on July 30th. For participating cinemas and tickets visit Esportsincinema.com.
Thanks to Patrick, Jack and the Cloud 9 team for hanging out.