They’re the closest thing to an adrenaline rush you'll get.
Goosebumps will develop on your skin. ‘Wha... what is happening to me!?’
Trembling with excitement, in part due to the fact that you no longer have to hide that you're a nerd, you’ll realise that it’s quite unlike anything you've ever done. No number of pills popped, speed limits broken, skydives taken or successful accomplishments can replace the feeling a gamer gets when they’re at a huge live event.
You may be thinking to yourself: surely that night I was at Revs triumphs these ‘nerd chills’ you speak of?
You thought wrong.
Competitive video gaming — ‘eSports’ as most Eastern cultures now recognise it, or ‘egotistic, immature teens playing video games in their basement for a living’ as Western culture refers to it — holds an increased significance with each passing day. If you've read this far and still don't understand the term ‘nerd chills’, let me explain.
The day I took the plunge finally arrived earlier this year: I eagerly booked flights to Seattle for The International, a massive competitive video gaming championship held in August. No longer did I want to hide the obsession I had. Instead, in embrace of something I'd spent — some may substitute this word with ‘wasted’ — a ridiculous number of hours on, I decided to attend. The game being played was Dota 2, a strategic onslaught of wit and reflexes.
The International 2015 is the largest eSports event to date. This year, sixteen teams of five players each battled for a whopping prize pool of almost $18.5 million USD over the space of six days. Read that again. Yep, you read correctly.
‘Where are you going in America?’ friends and family asked. I quickly rebutted: ‘I'm going to the world’s biggest eSports tournament in Seattle.’ A select few understood the importance of this, but most of the following questions were predictable. Still lacking an understanding of why I was going to this event, many people offered counterfeit responses.
‘Oh, that sounds great,’ they mustered.
Great? This was possibly going to be the highlight of my life thus far. Great is a fucking understatement.
The doubtful questions kept coming. The uncertainty of my decision could be smelled in a party or family gathering when I was provoked. Eventually, I actually stopped telling most people.
The conversation was so dry that I'd rather talk to a brick wall for two hours.
However, there was a select minority of committed gamers who knew what was up. They knew what I was in for, the people I'd meet and the nerd chills to come.
The three-month period before I left for The International made me decrepit, as the serotonin in my body went into hibernation. I didn't even care that the event’s tickets had been sold in less than two hours after release, assuring myself that the community wouldn't let me down and that I would find a ticket when I got there. The wait was painstaking.
I can’t really summarise the excitement I felt one day before The International started. I left my accommodation to go to the ‘Secret Shop’, the merchandise store for the event, still faced by a big problem: I hadn't yet bought a ticket. Initially hesitant to talk to people waiting in line to collect their pre-orders, the realisation that this was my only chance at getting a ticket finally hit me. I waited two hours trying to find someone, without any luck.
Five hours passed before I finally found a ticket.
Boom! This was it.
Good fortune had tilted my way. Heading back to my accommodation, my perseverance plummeted into exhaustion. Not knowing what to expect the next day was frightening, but if worst came to worst I knew I would be able to watch video games for five days. I was pretty happy either way.
With a crowd of 18,000 people, the opening day began. Pouring into KeyArena in Seattle, groups full of happiness and positivity surrounded me. Not once did I see an unhappy face. We'd been waiting all year for this. Life outside of Dota 2 did not exist for the next six days.
The opening ceremony saw the Seattle Symphony Orchestra play the game’s theme song. Following this, Gabe Newell — co-founder and managing director of Valve, the company that created Dota 2 — recounted a story. He had been in a corporate box watching the Superbowl with colleagues a few months before. They had as many free drinks a human could desire, along with expensive food.
You'd think they would call it a day after such a huge event, but all they could talk about was DAC, a major Dota 2 event being played in China at the same time.
After rushing home, Newell and his colleagues huddled around a laptop conspiring about who would win. In their eyes, there was nothing better than seeing top-tier strategic minds battle it out on a virtual playing field. As he recounted this story, a sense of belonging rushed over me.
The nerd chills I spoke about earlier are real. There are actually people like me who don't give a shit about the AFL Grand Final, Superbowl or V8 Bathurst. Boy, had I been longing for this day.
As the crowd erupted, Gabe ended his speech with words that rang throughout the arena: ‘I don't know about you, but I didn't come here to listen to me talk. I came here to watch some Dota, so let's get this going.’
And that was it. The event had officially started. Judging by the noise, it was apparent that everyone was just as diehard as I was. The effort Valve had put into creating such an event was mind-blowing. I hadn't seen light shows like that at a music festival, let alone a gaming event.
However, it wasn't the production value or the light show that really grabbed my attention. It was the sheer amount of hype and the friendliness of the whole community, including professional players and casters (eSports commentators).
You couldn't even try to wipe the smiles off the faces of the masses. They were just happy it was this time of year again.
The ensuing days were the same as the first, but better. This was partly because everyone travelling solo, like me, formed friendships with total strangers, stronger bonds than those of people who have known each other for years.
As I mentioned before, life outside the arena was non-existent. As the teams continued to play, they began knocking each other out. These were twelve hour days, but time flew by inconceivably quickly.
On the fourth and fifth days, the hype around who was going to win was real. CDEC, a team who had come through the qualifiers to make it to the event, were soaring and looked the favourites to win. Before the tournament started, they had been tipped to finish in the bottom two. Now they were in the top three, guaranteed roughly $1 million USD.
Could their Cinderella story triumph?
What strategies would they bring to the table?
Only the next two days would tell us, as frequent upsets meant that anything could happen.
As the last day of the tournament rolled in, I woke at six in the morning, unable to sleep. I was exhausted from watching over sixty hours of video games over the past five days, but that didn't matter. Plenty of people confirmed that their nights had been similar, if not exactly the same. Having arrived two hours before the arena's gates opened, a crowd of several thousand was sitting on what appeared to be a holy expanse of grass outside the event. Nothing about the grass had changed, but it certainly was more vivid that day.
I met with some new friends and we all agreed that we didn't want the day to end. We still had twelve hours left, but the journey thus far had been a rewarding one. In fact, it superseded any music festival I'd ever been to, setting a new benchmark for entertainment.
The casters of the event were also excited and worked off the people in the crowd, who seemed set to go insane were it not for their interest in the games being played. They listened to every word with bated breath.
The two teams facing each other in the grand final, CDEC and EG, were keen for blood. They had worked all year for this. Only the next five hours mattered.
First and second places paid $6.3 and $2.8 million USD respectively. The difference between first and second place was $3.5 million USD.
Nothing to be scoffed at.
As the players took to the stage to start what the crowd had been waiting all week for, I focused on their faces. Some were weary. Others were probably still peaking on adrenaline: they were already guaranteed a share in the largest eSports prize pool ever.
But it was a sixteen year old, Sumail from EG, who caught my eye. He didn't just glance at the crowd. Instead, he stood there for twenty to thirty seconds, relishing the moment. I'm certain he would have stood there for ten minutes had he not had to play.
The amazement on his face was heartwarming. You could tell he was hungry to win but also just happy to be there, surrounded by likeminded individuals who share a passion for the game. He was treated like a rockstar, but was humble enough to take a long, hard look at the fans surrounding him.
The result of the best of five series is something that you'll have to look up yourself, but it was relatively insignificant to me. I was just ecstatic to have made the decision to come.
The closing ceremony was nothing short of spirited: confetti everywhere, the crowd roaring, random people hugging and high-fiving each other. It was a moment I'll never forget.
The general scene surrounding eSports has grown considerably over the last two to three years, but it’s still a widely misunderstood niche.
This will no doubt be something that society looks back on in several years, pondering the bizarre thought that eSports would ever be scoffed at.
So, if you're considering going to a LAN event, don't listen to what anyone says.
You'll be the one coming back with an irreversible smile and a confident stride, and you’ll be hooked like a crackhead waiting for next year's event.