For love of the game

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014


E-SPORTS. A lot of people scoff at the term, but there are those of us who know that it is in fact a trend on a meteoric rise.

As popular as e-sports has become, it is also well known that it is still in its infancy and investing in it is a risk, as is evidenced by the prize pools in most tournaments reaching about tens of thousands of dollars at most.

While it may seem like a hefty sum, this amount is usually divided among a number of people especially with most e-sports tournaments catering to team based games such as Call of Duty, Counter Strike, League of Legends and of course, Dota 2.

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In August of 2011, however, Valve, the developer of Dota 2, made history in e-sports as it announced the first installment of The International, a tournament that offered the champions a million US dollars as a prize, giving hope to professional Dota 2 player hope that their hard work would not be in vain.

This and the rise of e-sports is the focus of the newly released documentary "Free to Play." The hour and 15-minute long film is a love letter to the humble beginnings of e-sports and the pioneers who saw it all began, and the struggles of their journey.

Free to Play focuses on the individual stories of three of the top Dota 2 players in the first year of The International, which just saw its third installment in August of last year. The focal characters in the documentary are Clinton "Fear" Loomis, Benedict "hyhy" Lim and last but definitely not the least, Danil "Dendi" Ishutin.

While not a masterclass of documentaries, the individual stories of the three players hit home at a wide audience, especially gamers, focusing not only on their games in the tournaments but also detailing their personal struggles.

Fear having to leave home due to his gaming career, hyhy defending his passion for gaming against his family, and learning about the real reason why Dendi began to play games so much gives the audience ample time to get invested in their tales. As a result, the audience can genuinely empathize with their successes and failures in the tournament as they understand each of the players' reasons for pursuing their passions.

The experience is further enhanced by reenactments of key moments in the tournaments' games. Instead of the regular top-down view of Dota games, more dramatic angles are explored in computer-generated sequences, most notably with what has been heralded as the original "Million Dollar Dream Coil."

For gamers, this documentary is a must-see. For those who wish to understand the struggles of gamers, in my opinion there is no greater insight into their lives than the one hour and 15 minutes of Free to Play. Free to Play is free to download on Steam and also available on Youtube.

Ultimately, the title Free to Play isn't about not having to pay for a copy of Dota 2, but about professional gamers and having the freedom to pursue their passion in gaming.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 26, 2014.

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