“I want to know what sacrifices must be made to become a professional gamer, what they’re risking for this career and what rewards it brings.”
That’s the opening line from popular YouTuber Dan Howell and the host of this BBC Three TV show, Supergamers, which sees him follow top British eSports players around the world as they compete in various gaming tournaments.
It provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look into the lives of three young pros in particular: League of Legends players Raymond “KaSing” Tsang and Matt “Impaler” Taylor, as well as Team Dignitas’ Hearthstone player James “Greensheep” Luo.
However, it’s seemingly designed to provide a snapshot of the competitive gaming scene for those unfamiliar with it, without exploring the topic in too much detail. For a one-hour show it’s a decent watch – and recommended viewing – but it focuses largely on the players’ lives rather than the appeal of eSports as a whole.
It does reach a high note towards the end, touching on the magic of eSports and what makes it so great right, with a climatic scene featuring KaSing and his then team H2k spectating Fnatic and desperately hoping they win (thus qualifying H2k for the League of Legends 2015 World Championship).
“Impaler talks openly and frankly about everything from getting pissed off with his team mates, to playing for 17 hours a day and even being made to wear Supa Hot Crew underwear by female fans.”
Unfortunately, Dan ends the show with this somewhat tacky line while grinning at the camera: “They have skill, passion and dedication. They’ve proved they’ve become the best; they’re not like you or I – they’re supergamers.”
Dan Howell is obviously a superstar YouTuber and I’m not denying his success, but he’s a bit of a Marmite person when it comes to hosting a TV show. At times he comes across as passionate, others he just detracts from the focus of the show. There’s a part where he’s at Gamescom and talking about the games industry being worth $100bn a year one minute, then playing Farming Simulator the next, saying: “Why digitally murder people when you can digitally harvest crops?”
There’s also this point – it’s all a little strange (but hey, that’s probably one of the reasons why his viewers love him):
The weirdest part of the BBC eSports show so far is the host watching KaSing shaving… still, pretty good so far pic.twitter.com/bpOCkad7mX
— Dominic Sacco (@Dom_Sacco) February 2, 2016
The life of a pro
But enough about Dan and his peculiar ways. KaSing is arguably the most well-known pro of the three highlighted, and the show follows him during the 2015 EU LCS Summer Split, as he trains with H2k and looks to qualify for Worlds.
It makes for interesting viewing, and lets you step back and realise just how huge eSports has become (one scene in particular shows KaSing being interviewed while a make-up artist adds blusher to his face – because hey, gamers need to look good for the cameras too, right?). Then there’s a shot of him getting ready in his boxers. Er…
On a more serious note, KaSing speaks about what it’s like playing in front of a live audience: “It’s such an amazing feeling. The first time I ever experienced it was in London. The entire stadium was shouting and the stage was shaking as well. I love that feeling so much because you feel so good after everyone is cheering for you – I think that’s one of the main reasons why I still enjoy playing League of Legends.”
I feel KaSing’s story could have been fleshed out a little more, with a greater focus placed on the UK scene and how he got to where he is today, and the fact that he ‘went against the will of his parents’ to pursue a pro gaming career.
The eSports industry can be unforgiving and there are many challenges players face when pursuing a successful eSports career. Thankfully this topic is captured well by the BBC – particularly during the interviews with Impaler.
He talks openly and frankly about everything from getting pissed off with his then Ex Nihilo team mates, to playing for 17 hours a day, and even being made to wear Supa Hot Crew underwear by female fans.
“I feel KaSing’s story could have been fleshed out a little more, with a greater focus placed on the UK scene and how he got to where he is today.”
Impaler mentions his ‘brutal’ exit from Ex Nihilo and the frustration of having to decide whether to make a long-term commitment to gaming or not – which to him means things like missing out on relationships or making new experiences with his friends.
“There’s always going to be someone hungrier than you looking to get into the scene, and you have to prove you’re better than them,” he says.
But Impaler admits later on: “I don’t want to spend another year of my life doing something which isn’t going to relate to anything. When I’m done with League, how will that relate to a real career? I’m going to be two years behind university already, maybe three now. I don’t want to fall behind with my friends and everyone I know. I’ve had so many great experiences, but maybe normal life is pretty cool as well.”
At another point, he states: “Don’t have a girlfriend [if you’re an eSports pro], it’s not good for you, it’s not good for them. No one can understand the amount of time you have to put into this.”
Dig for victory
Team Dignitas’ Hearthstone player James “Greensheep” Luo is the third pro followed extensively by Dan in this show.
As a 17-year-old and the youngest of the three pros featured, James is still studying his A-levels, and the show follows him as he attempts to juggle his educational work while attempting to get his pro gaming career off the ground.
“I’m starting to think it’s impossible to make it in eSports and be in full-time education at the same time,” he says. James comes across very genuine and his interviews successfully portray the challenge of younger pros going full-time.
Team Dignitas also gets a look in on the show, with owner Michael O’Dell (ODEE) hosting a UK Hearthstone gamer search and talking about the challenges of running an organisation, as well as his ambitions.
Still, I would have loved to see the BBC go deeper here and actually film parts of the gamer search interviews (what would Dignitas have asked the players: “Hmmm, so in this situation, do you trade, or go face?”).
But the show does prove to the masses that gaming can be a real career avenue nowadays, as the gamer search winner Todd “Anakin” Rolls says: “I’ve been sitting behind my computer doing nothing with my life, and now that has turned into sitting behind my computer doing something with my life.”
“It makes for interesting viewing, and lets you step back and realise just how huge eSports has become.”
Other people in the scene featured in the program include Hearthstone player Ying-Ying (aka Munchkin) and shoutcaster Lauren Scott. It would have been nice to see more of a focus of the whole eSports ecosystem, including a greater focus on casters, sponsors and organisations.
Lauren says: “We basically try and highlight and accentuate the important moments within the game itself. I just have to frame that; I tell a story. That’s all I am – I’m just a storyteller.”
The show wasn’t without its critics. Former League pro Snoopeh and veteran caster Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner threw some light criticism at the BBC ahead of its broadcast.
— ReDeYe (@PaulChaloner) January 28, 2016
However, Paul seemed to change his tune after the show aired.
Solid effort on BBC Three about esports tonight. Good to see something genuinely showing esports off on the BBC.
— ReDeYe (@PaulChaloner) February 2, 2016
Second opinion – by Craig Robinson
The above is Dom Sacco’s take on the show, but what did another member of eSports News UK’s editorial staff think about it? Here’s Craig Robinson’s view:
The story of Greensheep (Dignitas Hearthstone player) shows his life and how he has the whole world ahead of him, but has to make risky life ambitions as a pro player. Most young people have difficult life choices to make and his story captivates that ambition. His ambition was to win a title at an event to show the world he can be a success by playing games.
However, his grades were falling because of that dream. His A-level tutor understands the dedication he has for his dream but feels that his performance at school has declined because of it. As Greensheep looks to win his first tournament, this creates the feeling of challenge. I feel one of the most important aspects for the wider world to understand is just how important eSports is to those that are pursuing it.
Looking at the show overall, I feel that the biggest negative of the documentary was the portrayal of eSports culture. When the BBC visited Dreamhack, they showed the world that there are events where people can stay and play with their PCs for the whole weekend. They filmed a number of people consuming burgers and energy drinks, whilst filming pizza stands and other food stands, while saying gamers aren’t being anti-social or staying indoors all in the space of a few minutes.
“Looking at the show overall, I feel that the biggest negative of the documentary was the portrayal of eSports culture.”
I feel this plays on the sort of nerd culture stereotype too much and that may affect the opinion formed by people watching the show. I feel that they should have missed out that part and just cut to the next bit of the documentary – as it stands I feel it may reinforce a stereotypical belief.
Despite that, another major personality involved with the documentary is the owner of Team Dignitas, Michael O’Dell (ODEE). I think his addition to the documentary really helps to show how eSports is not just something for people aged 15 to 25 to be a part of, but rather it extends into other age categories as well.
It shows that ODEE is a working man with a family to provide for. I feel that presentation really helps to show the legitimacy of eSports to people who are not well involved with the scene – and puts it in a more accepted light.
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.