Friday, March 13, 2009

New eSports documentary: Beyond The Game

I few days back I had the pleasure of seeing Jos de Putter’s Beyond The Game, his new documentary about professional Warcraft III players. My review will pop up somewhere next week (in Dutch, sorry), but let me just say that I enjoyed De Putter’s film a lot. It refuses to get all sensational about the eSports phenomenon, instead treating it as a fact. You might think professional computer game playing is strange but, as De Putter seems to say, millions of players don’t, resulting in a professional scene where the best players are superstars able to make a living from playing these games.

The main protagonists are Dutch top-player Manuel ‘Grubby’ Schenkhuizen, rising star Li ‘Sky’ Xiaofeng from China and, to a lesser extent, retired veteran Fredrik ‘MaDFroG’ Johansson. Beyond The Game follows them, their parents and their romantic partners through their daily lives as we discover what pro-gaming means to these people culturally, professionally and emotionally.

By taking eSports and its players entirely serious, Beyond The Game manages to pierce deeper into game culture than most other media reports and documentaries made from the ‘outside’ of gaming (apparantly, De Putter had no prior knowledge about or direct interest in eSports or computer games before making this film).

One thing is sure: being a Warcraft III pro involves a LOT of training. Never will you see a documentary involving so much typing, mouse-work and staring intensely at screens. As the trailer below shows, these players even continue playing while brushing their teeth.

Beyond the Game will be released in selected Dutch cinema’s march 19. I’m not sure about the availability of the documentary outside of The Netherlands but I suggest keeping an eye on the film's blog, or local film festivals.

For those still thinking that eSports are just a weird underground thing, think again. It was just announced that one of the best Warcraft III players from Korea signed a contract for 700 million Korean won, almost $475.000. And that does not even break the standing record for highest paid eSports ‘athlete’. No wonder player from all over the globe try to flock to countries like Korea and China to compete.

UPDATE: review online now. Click here, or in the sidebar.


Guillermo said...

Hi there. Saw the movie last weekend at the "É Tudo Verdade" festival here in São Paulo, Brazil. I must say I didn't like it "Beyond the Game". It's all completely superficial. You need one scene or another to state that they can click and type their codes faster than anyone, and not one hour and a half of it. This movie is a good idea that was not very well approached. Characters are not given the attention they might need, thus I ended up wanting to learn a lot more about their lives and relationships. To be fair, I can remind of two shots that were good, one of them being Sky's parents arriving home with their export utilitary (which the movie makes clear to the audience that it was bought with Sky's money with a shot before, and that's where the intelligence of the take is in).

As I watched this Dutch effort, I couldn't help but remind at every minute of "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters", that's a movie to applause. The games they play are 50 years older than this Warcraft crap, the story itself has everything to put one to sleep and yet the movie-makers deliver a extremely well crafted narrative with numerous shots to remember.

Really, what was that with the veteran player? The guy is shown one minute and that's it? Does not he has something to tell us about this so-called industry? Those pathetic girlfriends, did they learn about the games with the geeks or were they fans already that got to know better their idols? I could just go with this kind of questions, but you got the idea.

If you haven't done it yet, bear with me, get "King of Kong" somehow and see what it's like to tell an excellent story with a so dumb story.

René said...

Hi Guillermo,

Thanks for your comments. I have seen The King of Kong and love it. And yes, that is a better documentary. It is also an entirely different documentary in structure and style. It is a film-like crowd-pleaser which happened to have the most perfect set of main characters you could possible ask for in a documentary. Beyond the Game is a more contemplative affair with less charismatic protagonists.

De Putter’s direction and interests lie more in showing the behind-the-scene instead of the scene itself, and yes, that includes a LOT of typing. The way the endless keyboard action is integrated into the film through sound editing is, in my opinion, fascinatingly done, drawing the viewer into the players’ state of mind. It could, however, also put viewers off who want to see more of the actual action happening on screen, or those who’d prefer substance over style.

I agree with you on the lack of attention for the veteran player, especially as he is set up as a legendary person by the others. The film does not let him reflect enough on what has come before (both in the film as in his own life as a player). However I did not feel the attention for the main characters was that lacking. I’ve forgotten the specific scene you mention with Sky’s parents (I did however dislike the scene of them driving through a busy Chinese street, which was milked too much for its comedic value), but their struggle between tradition and modernity is fascinating, particularly during the moment where they face their neighbors in the street about the nature of their son’s ‘work’.

Guillermo said...

Hi, René. Thanks for replying, indeed.

Well, I see your point and think some things are a matter of taste, actually. However, the scene with Sky's parents was that one, indeed. Yes, the audience laughed at the constant horning, but I just think that shot and the subsequent (the very one with neighbors you've mentioned) are excellente. I mean, first they hate what their child does for a living, and then they are riding that contrasting automobile and very proud of their son in front of their people.

I do not know if you're that into documentaries, but I must tell you that "Mianmar VJs" won the international grand prize, but you can be nationally proud as Coco Schrijber's "Bloody Mondays & Strawberry Pies" was surprinsigly regarded as runner-up and the only one mentioned besides "Mianmar VJs". I liked "Bloody Mondays" a lot but could not expect that it were mentioned, really. Maybe because of the so wide theme and slow flow of the picture, but it is a extremely beautiful movie, indeed.

Best regards and keep up the good job, René.

Taco said...

Hey this is a late comment, but you might see the reply.

It's cool to hear the movie is shown in Brazil.

To compare beyond the game to the king of kong in that way is not completely fair.

The king of kong is an entertaining film. And just watching the trailer makes it clear that it's much more entertaining than beyond the game is.

You make some good points and it's understandable that you don't like a movie if you think warcraft is crap.

The part where you don't do the documentary justice is saying that it's about typing and clicking codes fast and that it's superficial. Donkey kong may be about speed more than anything (and the guys from the king of kong are amazing), but warcraft is more about strategy and tactics.

Speed helps, but it alone does not win you the game.

I agree that they could have gone deeper into the relationships.

I found the rivalry and contrast between sky and grubby fascinating. We have the first who is being beaten by his parents and still continues and the second who is supported by his mother and doesn't spend every single waking hour on warcraft.

It got me thinking that if I were in grubby's shoes, would I be willing to sacrifice more to win?

Would I be willing to give up more comfort if it was necessary to win?

Did Sky deserve to win more because he sacrificed more?

It wasn't just a hobby or just a game or just an obsession: for them it's the most important thing in the world. It's their job AND their passion.

But maybe your point is that that's what you wanted to see. That's what I saw when I watched the movie. I'll check out king of kong and see how that narrative goes.