For professional gamers, a dress rehearsal
In this photo taken Friday, June 21, 2013, legendary "WarCraft 3" player, Jo "Golden" Myeong Hwan, from South Korea, left, joins seven of the world's best "StarCraft II" video game players to train at Red Bull Training Grounds, held at Red Bull North America headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif. The Red Bull TV e-sports series included live-streamed scrimmages and a tournament with $8,600 in prize money. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Past desks covered with extreme sports magazines and refrigerators stocked with energy drinks, a small isolation booth has been erected smack dab in the middle of Red Bull's airy offices in Santa Monica, Calif. It's not for hosting meetings or employee breaks. It's for playing video games — very competitive video games.
The beverage company's North American headquarters played host recently to the chummy Red Bull Training Grounds ahead of this weekend's Major League Gaming Spring Championship in Anaheim, Calif. Red Bull is betting this new take on training for competitive gaming — or e-sports, as it's known — will give its players, to borrow Red Bull's slogan, wings.
The company, which is probably better known for sponsoring action sports stars and race cars than gamers, has previously hosted other e-sporting events, but Training Grounds marked the first time it focused on schooling players.
Despite being stationed amid cubicles, the inaugural Training Grounds event had most trappings of a typical mammoth e-sports event: lights, cameras, competitors, commentators and prize money. However, there was no live audience to cheer on the eight international e-athletes, and the gamers were only competing in one title, the real-time strategy game "StarCraft II."
"The idea behind Training Grounds is to find that happy medium between competition and training," said Rob Simpson, Red Bull's e-sports program manager. "While we do have a prize pool on the line ... focus is really on analysis and growing as players. I think it's a positive thing that people want to consume this kind of information."
In this photo taken Friday, June 21, 2013, legendary "WarCraft 3" player, Jo "Golden" Myeong Hwan, from South Korea, left, listens to casters Sean “Day” Plott, and Mike “Husky” Lamond at the Red Bull Training Grounds, held at Red Bull North America headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif. The Red Bull TV e-sports series included live-streamed scrimmages and a tournament with $8,600 in prize money. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Simpson isn't just referring to the eight "StarCraft II" players who were gearing up for the MLG championship but also the 200,000 spectators who watched more than 20 hours of matches broadcast online by Red Bull. The inaugural event was as much of a promotional affair as it was preparation for players who will be battling in this weekend's MLG contest.
Since the e-sports genre first pressed start with arcade face-offs in the 1980s and LAN parties in the 1990s, there are more competitors than ever before, with a growing gap between seasoned pros and newbs. Those involved agree the more time gamers play in championship settings, the better they fare against the ruthless Zerg alien race in "StarCraft."