Despite being a huge fan of esports, and Dota 2 in particular, I've never actually sat down at an esports competition from beginning to end. I'm a journalist. I usually have a job to do: Running about, doing interviews and meeting executives to hear them talk about the future of competitive gaming.
Dota 2 is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game that pits two teams of five against each other. The aim of the game is not to kill the other team's heroes, of which there are 115 to pick from, all with different skill sets, but to destroy the enemy's main building. And with each hero sporting their own unique abilities, the game can often be confusing and chaotic for a new viewer. But I digress. Where were we?
Oh yes. The future of esports. I'm always talking about the future of esports.
This time, however, I committed to the present. At this year's first competitive Dota 2 Major tournament in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I found myself sitting down. Enjoying the experience. Instead of, you know, doing work.
And it was then that I realised what I've been missing out the entire time I've been covering esports: The event itself. The exhilarating atmosphere that you'd only experience by sitting with a massive crowd and cheering for your favorite team. The present.
I've watched Dota 2 tournaments from home on my comfortable couch, with my two cats beside me, whooping as my team kicked butt. I found myself wondering if I had wasted time and money flying up from Singapore, unable to go through with my planned interviews.
But it was a lower-bracket game, a battle between two hot favorites, Evil Geniuses and Ninjas in Pyjamas, that had the crowd unified in excitement. Regional Southeast Asia teams had been eliminated, so with no local team to root for the crowd took the initiative and cheered everything. Every single play, every kill. They drowned the Axiata Arena in wild hoots of excitement. Watch the clip to hear just how hyped up the crowd was.
I sat up, fists pumping and screaming with the crowd as one team's plays cancelled out the other team's lead. Even though the in-game AI predicted a 97 percent win probability for NIP, things quickly turned around and EG took the lead.
Soon we were set for a third game. A toilet break and dinner beckoned, but no one wanted to give up their seats to the touch-and-go match. And go it went. NIP made yet another play, resetting the game. The crowd screamed as the tables were turned.
It ended in a loss for NIP in game three. The team was eliminated from the tournament but fans were satisfied, calling it the best series so far. And that was even before the grand finals were due to be played on the last day.
With Russian team Virtus.pro beating Evil Geniuses in the semifinals, the crowd picked Team Secret by default to root for in the grand finals, as it featured star Malaysian player Yeik "MidOne" Nai Zheng. But Virtus.pro drew plenty of cheers for some amazing plays as well.
I was sitting next to a Malaysian blogger, who'd brought her husband along. She told me they had met through Dota, and that while she was rooting for Virtus.pro, her husband was cheering for Secret.
She laughed at her husband as Virtus.pro drew first blood, taking the first game. Her husband teased her as Secret took the lead, winning games two and three. With Virtus.pro winning game four in style, I jokingly told her the losing supporter had to sleep on the couch tonight -- she told me he'd be sleeping there anyway.
Virtus.pro fought off Secret in style, clinching the top spot in a nail-biting match, and my newfound friend couldn't be happier. And it's memories like this that I found myself taking away from the event.
It was exactly the same atmosphere as you'd find at any other sporting event: Some crowd members glowed with delight, others were disappointed. People discussed the players' mistakes as we streamed out of the arena. There's been so much buzz about how esports is shaping up to be a multibillion dollar industry in the near future, but in terms of passion and excitement the future is already here, and we're on track to watch it all unfold.
Fans of League of Legends, Overwatch and CS:GO's competitive leagues will know exactly what I'm talking about, we're already passionately devouring the content produced, lining up to meet players and talent, who have become stars and idols in their own right. We've developed our own memes and jokes, laughed or cried when our teams won or lost.
There's no need to wait until esports becomes an official Olympic sport, or for the rest of the world to realise what it's missing out on. Sure, games could be made more accessible -- Dota 2 is complicated and somewhat hard to pick up -- but I'd argue the same thing about cricket or football's offside rule.
So take the plunge, head to one of the big events coming up in your area, and discover a whole new world.