January 17th, 2016… It’s a day that will go down in my own personal history books. That’s the day I officially became a competitive gamer.
No, I didn’t have some sort of epiphany regarding my future on this Earth. I wasn’t recruited by a top esports team. I actually really didn’t do anything to earn the label of “competitive gamer.” Let me give you a little bit of back story.
This year Cineplex, a Canadian movie theatre company, is making a big push in the esports scene. About a year and a half ago they invested $15M into growing esports in Canada. They saw how big competitive gaming was becoming and wanted their theatres to be the place where esports happens in the great white north. This year, they finally launched their first major tournament: the Canadian Call of Duty Championship.
Some big sponsors got on board including Sony, Acer, and Plantronics. A $50k prize pool was set including a cool $20k going to the winner. This was shaping up to be a pretty legit tournament for Cineplex’s first foray into the esports scene. They even bought up World Gaming, an online tournament host similar to UMG or Gamebattles. That’s who would host the online qualifiers for the Canadian Call of Duty Championship.
That brings us to January 17th. Well, actually… It brings us to January 16th. I signed up for free online through World Gaming for the first qualifier bracket. The format was a little strange. 1v1 free for all. No teammates to rely on. “Whatever,” I thought, “I’m a lone wolf anyway.” My first round match was set for 11AM. There were over 60 people in our bracket! I wasn’t nervous to play. I only joined this tournament because it was free and I had that Saturday wide open. I’m no Canadian Call of Duty Champion. Hell, I don’t even know if I’m good enough to be called a pubstomper. The number of hours I put into Black Ops 3 every week is probably similar to what my opponents put in every day.
I logged in a few minutes early for my match which was surely going to be my opponent’s free pass to round 2 and… World Gaming’s servers promptly crashed. Apparently they weren’t prepared for people all across Canada to log in all at once.
I felt like a person on death row who had their execution postponed to a later date. I was expecting the band aid to be ripped of nice and quick so I could move on with my life. World Gaming rescheduled online qualifiers for the next day and staggered the different regions to ensure their servers didn’t have to manage all of Canada at once. I went to sleep prepared to wake up and take the beating I was supposed to take earlier that day.
A new day rolled around and my rescheduled match time did as well… Except it seems World Gaming was having issues again. Luckily, this time, the delay was only an hour. I checked in for my match and awaited my opponent. They never checked in. I earned a bye to round 2! I excitedly checked the bracket to see who my next opponent was. It appears my first round opponent wasn’t the only one who decided the new date and time of the qualifier didn’t fit his schedule. A large majority of players didn’t check in for their first round matches. I had no opponent for round 2. I looked ahead through the bracket. I had no opponent for round 3, either. I actually wouldn’t meet a fellow player until the final 4. The top 4 players in the tournament got an invitation to the regional tournament on-location at Cineplex in Calgary. I had made it to regionals without firing a single virtual shot! When my final 4 match rolled around I decided I had better things to do like buy groceries and walk the dog. I conceded my final 4 match without playing and accepted my completely undeserved invite to the regional tournament in Calgary.
I had over a month to prepare for the regional tournament. Suddenly, I took my Call of Duty time a lot more seriously. Logically, I knew I had no place being in this tournament. I knew there was absolutely no chance I was going to win and move on to the national Championship bracket in Toronto. Yet, I still trained like I had a shot. I put in work. My hours spent gaming greatly increased. I watched streamers on Twitch and caught up on highlights from the professional Call of Duty teams. I studied their movement around the map, their class loadouts, and how they used their specialist abilities.
If I had put this much effort into my studies at university back in the day then I might be running a Fortune 500 company right now.
My ultimate goal with all of this time spent practicing and studying my craft was really just to somewhat fit in. I didn’t want to play my match in front of a theatre full of people only to get completely embarrassed. Perhaps, if I put in enough work, I could have a respectable match with my opponent and walk out of that theatre with my head held high.
When the day of regionals finally rolled around, I was nervous. I could close my eyes and picture an entire theatre of people laughing at me as my opponent racked up kills at will. When I checked in, I only got more nervous. A quick glance at the other competitors wearing lanyards just like the one I was given revealed people who took their gaming seriously. A couple of them had shirts on with their Playstation Network usernames and sponsor logos. These guys had sponsors! They talked about their Twitch streams and YouTube channels. Most of all, they looked confident. I was standing by myself near the registration table listening to my “Certified Bangers” Spotify playlist hoping it would hype me up and maybe stop the uncomfortable feeling I had in my stomach. The thought crossed my mind to pull the fire alarm and disappear in the chaos.
Before I could decide my best course of action, they called us into the theatre where the tournament was being held. There was no turning back now.
As my competitors and I walked into theatre 10 you could feel a hush wash over us. The setup looked sick. 12 Acer gaming monitors set up on an illuminated red display that stretched the entire width of the theatre. The appearance was on par with anything you would see at a major esports tournament.
They sat us in the front row and began to do some housekeeping before the theatre opened to the general public. We got our first round opponents and what station we would be playing at. 36 people had qualified so there would be 3 sets of competitors for round 1. They went over the rules which were largely unchanged from the online qualifiers. The only difference is that each match would be a best of 3 played on 3 maps while the qualifiers were a one and done type of thing. I was set to play in the first wave of matches on station 9.
The doors opened and spectators began to walk in. I had 3 supporters come out. My brother, future brother in law, and my best friend who has been watching me do dumb stuff like this since we were 4 years old.
The casters introduced themselves and the tournament was underway. They called the first wave of competitors up. I stood at station 9, looked out to the crowd, and then got told to go back to my seat in the crowd.
“Only 4 people are playing at once.” One of the tournament coordinators told me.
I was 99% sure they told me I was playing right away at station 9. Why would you set up 12 stations if only 4 people are playing at once? I wasn’t the only confused competitor standing in front of the theatre. We were instructed to sit back down in the crowd and wait for our match to be called. I made the walk of shame back to my seat while my 3 “supporters” heckled me.
Just as my ass touched the seat, another flustered tournament organizer called us back to the stations. They must have also realized that playing 4 people at a time when there are 12 stations available was dumb as hell. Not to mention, with 36 people qualified, that would take forever just to complete round 1.
I walked to the front and sat down again, this time at station 5. I wished my opponent the best of luck and prepared to accept my fate.
We played our first map. As expected, he beat me. But the score was close. I only lost by a couple of kills. Suddenly a wave of confidence washed over me. I can hang with this guy! My hands stopped shaking and we set up our second map. If he won, I was done. If I won, we went to a tiebreaker.
I won. You read that right. Somehow, I won a map. It was another close match but I got out to an early lead and held off any push by my opponent. I looked over at him and he seemed nervous like I did when I walked into the theatre. We set up our third and deciding map. The winner went to round 2 and the loser went home.
Again, I got out to an early lead. I racked up a few kills before he even got one. Then I used the map to my advantage and tried to avoid getting caught in any bad spots. It was only 1v1 after all. As long as he didn’t get the jump on me, no one could. The timer expired and I was victorious.
I couldn’t believe it. I shook my opponents hand and headed back to my seat in the crowd. Part of me felt a little bad for the guy. He had to legitimately win games to qualify for this tournament while all I had to do was watch my username advance through a largely empty bracket. Whatever, I had no time to worry about him or his feelings.
I knew it would be a bit until my second round match so I chatted with my supporters, went to the washroom, and waited. I tried to focus on the games but I was too excited. When I hear my username called for round 2 I practically ran to my station. My opponent greeted me and asked how I did in the first round.
“I lost the first map but I came back and won 2 and 3,” I told him. “How did you do?”
“I lost both of the first maps.” He said.
Wait. What? I must have heard him wrong. This was a single elimination bracket tournament so there’s no way he should be sitting next to me. He must have seen the confused look on my face.
“Yeah man, I’m out. I lost. I don’t even know why I’m still playing.” He said. Then he waved down the nearest tournament official and asked what was going on.
The official was flustered. He was clearly as confused as we were. He stuttered a bit and told us to just play the game out. Right then, I knew I was going to get screwed. I was rattled. Why the hell was I playing someone that lost? I couldn’t gather my thoughts and I promptly lost map 1 and map 2 quickly.
Now, being rattled is no excuse for losing. Any competitive player of any sport should be able to put distractions like incompetent officials behind them and focus on the task at hand. That’s why I’m not a competitive gamer. But still, why was I playing someone that lost? I must have had a bye or something and they just made me play a game for fun. I looked around for one of the tournament officials and made my way to her. As I walked toward her I heard the name of the guy I beat in the first round called for his match.
What. The. Hell. Why is he still playing too?
I got to the girl with the clipboard and asked her what’s going on. She looked at the scribbled mess on her sheet of paper and informed me I was out. I was done in the tournament. Dumbfounded, I asked why I had just played someone who lost in the first round and why the person I beat in the first round was setting up for his second round match. She was also flustered (this was a common theme among the people running the tournament). She told me I must be mistaken. No. The guy told me with his own mouth that he lost in the first round. I saw him say it again to a tournament official. I also know that I definitely beat my opponent in the first round. I was there. I participated. She brushed me off and walked away.
I was done. That was it. I opened my backpack and grabbed the rules sheet they handed us. Sure enough, it said single elimination bracket. There’s no way that my round two opponent should have still been playing. There’s no way the guy I beat in round one should have still been playing. Go Google “single elimination bracket.” No single elimination bracket in the history of ever allows losers to move on. If they did, then I should have magically ended up in round three.
I left the theatre. I was pissed off. Truthfully, I knew I had no chance of winning that tournament. Even if I had beat the guy who shouldn’t have still been playing, there were plenty of other great players there to end my run. It’s just the way that I lost that made me feel cheated. Part of me wishes I had argued my point to the tournament official a little more before I left but, at the time, I had no desire to talk to someone running a tournament who had no idea what they were doing.
That’s the shame of it all. I was left with a really sour taste in my mouth when I walked out of that theatre and I wasn’t the only one. Later that night I saw tons of complaints on Twitter. Disorganization and lack of knowledge by tournament staff were a common theme. Rules were being enforced incorrectly, inconsistently, or not at all. There were controversies about hardware with some regions banning SCUF controllers and Kontrol Freeks while other regions allowed them.
What should have been a fun experience for gamers ended up being really negative. I messaged a few competitors I had met through Reddit and they all agreed that the tournament was poorly run and the tournament officials were clearly in way over their heads. It’s a shame. Cineplex had something really good going. The setup was world class in appearance but the execution left much to be desired. Looking at those 12 awesome gaming stations as I walked out after being eliminated was an odd feeling. It felt like I had met a beautiful woman who turned out to be Nazi sympathizer; great outward appearance but garbage behind the curtains.
All that said; keep in mind this was Cineplex’s first crack at a big esports tournament. As far as execution goes; they blew it. However, this gives them a learning opportunity. A survey was sent to regional qualifiers asking about our experience so clearly they’re open to improving. With the kind of money Cineplex has put into competitive gaming, I would bet that their next tournament will be a massive step forward. There’s a solid foundation for them to build upon. Despite my poor experience, all things considered; the future looks bright for competitive gaming in Canada.
This article was written by Dex Dunford, writer and secret agent.