Competitive video gaming is about to enter a new arena: primetime network television.
On Monday, The CW Network will air a one-hour primetime special Mortal Kombat X: Machinima’s Chasing the Cup, which chronicles five of the world’s top players in fighting game Mortal Kombat X as they competed in January’s Pro League Finals hosted by eSports group ESL.
Five earlier episodes of Chasing the Cup — which was produced in partnership with digital site Machinima and Mortal Kombat publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment — launched on CW Seed, the network’s digital service.
The series follow the paths of five players as they push to qualify for the ESL Pro League Finals, which carries a $100,000 prize pool. Carl White, who goes by his gamertag “Perfect Legend,” started a career with competitive video gaming in 2005, joining local tournaments near his home in Toledo, Ohio. White, 33, won back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012 in Mortal Kombat while competing in the Evo Championship Series, considered one of the biggest tournaments in video games.
“You have to know everything,” says White. “You have to know all the matchups, who your opponents are, what your bracket is, your bracket path — your potential bracket path may change.”
White also notes physically taking care of himself ahead of tournaments, getting on a proper sleep schedule and eating healthy to help prepare. “You hate to go into a tournament eating anything so awful you’re gonna play like crap,” says White.
Brant McCaskill, who uses the gamertag “Pig of the Hut,” started playing professionally in 2011, juggling multiple jobs and a family with two kids based in Atlanta, Ga., to compete in tournaments.
When he travels for work, McCaskill says he watches videos of opponents and creates statistical flow charts to determine how opponents might react to attacks. “We have to memorize all the properties of every single move,” says McCaskill, noting the game’s 29 characters use about 60-70 moves each. “We also have to prepare for the player behind the controller.”
Most professional players specialize in one character in the game and master their moves. Players will also create tier lists to determine Mortal Kombat‘s strongest and weakest characters.
“Knowledge (of the game) is most important,” says White. “The rest is luck, decision making, reactions.”
Monday’s finale on CW is part of a big year for eSports, as more big names enter the fray. Video game publishers including Activision and Electronic Arts launched competitive gaming divisions to get a jump on the trend, while fellow TV networks ESPN and TBS plunge deeper into eSports programming.
McCaskill and White marvel at how quickly eSports has grown in such a short time. “We used to battle for $100 tournaments,” says McCaskill. “Twice this past year, we’ve battled for $100,000.”
White recalls early in his career taking 24-hour bus rides to compete in tournaments, and welcomes the ascent of competitive video game playing. “I’ve been praying and hoping for this to happen.”