Austin Film Festival 2016: Are You a PROGAMER?

It’s one thing to become obsessed with some aspect of nerd culture; it’s another to make a living from it. Such is the world of professional video game players as captured in ProGamer, a new film by Justin Agnew that explores this growing phenomenon.

Like all good documentaries, ProGamer goes beyond its subject matter and finds subjects. In this case, two European gamers become the vehicle through which the story unfolds.

NaNiwa (Johan Lucchesi–all of these players have professional nicknames) is a young player from Sweden, as off-putting as he is talented. His mannerisms are pure geek, born from a lifetime of sitting in front of a computer instead of talking to other humans. But he’s also the asshole jock, competitive in a way that makes him put down his opponents and refuse to find happiness in anything short of first place.

On the other end of the spectrum is White-Ra (Alexey Krupnyk), a veteran of eSports from the Ukraine. He’s old. Really old. Like 30. And yes, in this world (as in much of professional sports) he might as well be a senior citizen. What sets him apart is his enthusiasm, grace, and genuine kindness. As he loses his quick reflexes and deals with eSports-related injuries (leg blood clots!) we see one of the most-respected players in the game move into the next phase of his life.

There’s a broader cultural dimension here as well, and it involves international relations. By leaps and bounds, the world of eSports is dominated by Koreans, so much so that non-Koreans are referred to as foreigners. Seoul is the center of this particular universe. In the tournaments depicted in the film, NaNiwa is the only foreigner that even makes the cut. Still, ultimately, he falls at the hands of these superior players.

eSports is a heavily male-dominated culture; one look at the players and crowds make that evident. The events depicted in ProGamer came before the Gamergate controversy, but it would have been interesting to see how players and participants reacted to that particular blowup.

For something that most people would not be able to imagine as a multi-million dollar industry, the world of eSports is not only huge but continues to grow. ProGamer does a great job of revealing the humanity behind the games and might even convert a few new fans.

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the author

Rod hails from Austin, Texas where he currently works in software after a decade teaching English in a public high school. As a kid he watched a lot (A LOT) of television, and the older he gets, the more he romanticizes the act of going to the movies. Writing about television and film is a good excuse for him to watch television and film. Website: Twitter: @rodmachen