E-@Theletes. Directed by Jonathan Boal. Produced by Artem Agafonov
I had the opportunity through this blog to review a screener copy of E-@Theletes, a direct to DVD documentary about professional gaming.
The subject matter is quite frankly, fascinating. Regardless of whether you’re the kind of inner circle gaming geek (said with love!) that this documentary is geared towards or not, this film’s subject matter is just captivating…if only because whether you think professional gaming applies to you or not, in some way in the future it probably will. There are people out there that never thought mobile phones or home computers would affect their way of life, and I think it’s safe to say that even if you hate mobile phones or home computers and choose not to have them, they are simply a way of life at this point and absolutely affect everyone. I suspect professional gaming will be in a similar category one day.
The Good: As mentioned, the subject matter is fascinating and this documentary comes at the very beginning of what I expect will eventually be a huge industry as we slowly replace much of real life with online life, which is already happening in the form of games like Second Life. The documentary covered a lot of different aspects of the gaming industry, including opinions from authors and experts, interviews with gamers and their families and girlfriends, as well as with some industry people and borderline visionaries. It’s hard to imagine, but in their own way these people are not unlike the guys who first tried to get a sport like basketball going…and I have little doubt they’ll be successful and that someday competitive gaming will be mentioned in the same sentence as more mainstream sports like basketball, football, and baseball. It’s not going to be in the next five years, but eventually it will happen, it’s the direction we’re all headed. That said, I’m still waiting for my freaking hoverboard…
The Bad: The music is not so good and the needle drops are sometimes oddly placed, often overpowering the actual interviews, which, in a documentary, is not a good thing. Several times I lost whole sentences from the interview because the bad music was too loud or started at a strange moment. I’m sure the budget could not handle the cost for buying the rights to a couple awesome songs, but it’s unfortunately for such a small thing really could have brought this piece together. There were a couple moments in The King of Kong a similar documentary film about gaming, most specifically when Joe Esposito’s extremely cheesy Karate Kid jam “You’re The Best Around” is played and literally the entire theater lit up in smiles…for so many reasons. This documentary could have benefited hugely from a few moments like that.
Early on the documentary did feel a bit unfocused. It felt at times like Boal shot every single thing he could in an effort to figure out what the story was here – and that’s probably how it happened – as often does in documentaries as you wait for the story to emerge – but as a viewer I don’t want to feel that in the final product. For the uninitiated to the professional gaming community (me) I felt kind of thrown into the deep end of the pool in the first scenes. There is no real explanation of how the system works, or what they’re trying to accomplish, and the competitive gaming community IS pretty complicated. I’m a fairly savvy viewer, and I’m familiar with less mainstream stuff like comicons and such, but as I’m not well versed specifically in competitive gaming I found myself lost and a bit confused for the first twenty minutes. Perhaps Boal didn’t want to risk alienating the insiders he knew would be interested in his film, but I have to believe there’s a happy medium somehow where you can appease the fantatics and the uninitiated at the same time and with minimal frustration for either group.
Once the story solified as a focus on two US competitive gaming teams (3D and Complexity) and their intensifying rivalry, it really started to get a focus and became far more interesting. The human element, as always I think, really helped drive the story forward. Once Boal focused on 3D and Complexity and less on the larger scope of gaming it was easy to see that though many people probably consider professional gaming a silly waste of time, the people we met in E-@Theletes have invested serious amounts of time, money, and love into the venture, and it really helped me care both in regards to who was advancing and winning big prize money and also about the future of professional gaming in general.
The Ugly: The packaging is not pretty. I think the distributor made a real mistake here, though I’m sure it was all budget and cost related, much like the music limitations. All the images on the front and back of the DVD are very dark and far too small, and the pictures sit on a black background as well, making everything extremely muddy and dark. The summary on the back is also not so compelling compared to the actual content of the film, which is strong.
Additionally, as a woman, I found the summary on the back to be a little misogynistic, and it turned me off immediately even though the film itself proved far less offensive than I expected based on the summary. It’s unfortunate that women do take such a back seat in this film, they are literally only featured as mothers and girlfriends, but considering the very thorough interviewing done by the filmmakers I can’t blame them…I think women just aren’t into competitive gaming enough yet to be anything other than side characters. I look forward to the follow up documentary in a couple years where women have definitely stepped up in the gaming community and made their presence known.
In the end it is a shame for all the work that went into this documentary that the packaging is not doing it justice. When you go straight to DVD it’s more important than ever I think to have some powerful packaging and an excellent (accurate) summary. Don’t be fooled in this case – the actual film is far more interesting than the packaging would lead you to believe.
Overall, I give it 3 stars (out of 5) for the fascinating subject matter. I’m sure the director, Jonathan Boal is a little burnt out on the professional gaming community, but I for one would love an update in a few years showing us how that industry has advanced.
The DVD releases this Tuesday, January 27th and will be available to rent from Netflix and to buy from Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, and Best Buy. The DVD is a two-disc set and includes Director/Producer commentary, deleted scenes and a making of documentary.