Living near the Anaheim Convention Center, hundreds of events and conventions pass through each year. Occasionally, I get to go do some of the big ones, like NAMM, VidCon, WonderCon, and D23. The only one I’ve never been to is BlizzCon. An annual gathering of gamers competing to be the best at every title published by Blizzard Entertainment. This famously includes World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Starcraft.
I’ve never been to BlizzCon primarily because I don’t play any of those games, but the street of Anaheim are constantly jammed and a truly international crowd gathers to this little city. From producers, Peter Billingsley and Vince Vaughn come director John Keating’s documentary, Gamechangers: Dreams of Blizzcon. Gamechangers give a small but satisfying glimpse into the spectacle that is BlizzCon.
The documentary is not about the game of StarCraft, but a brief history of the esports phenomenon and follows the journey of two players Mun Song Wan “MMA” and Jang Min Chul “MC” and their attempt to win the 2014 StarCraft II World Championship Series (WCS).
The story starts in South Korea, the birthplace of eSports. Devastated by the economic recession in the 1990’s, Korea found success in the entertainment industry, K-Pop for one and eSports as the other. Riches and fame come to those who can “sing and dance” or can stay on top in the latest video games, in this case, StarCraft II.
“Players train and practice for long hours every day. Gaming is their full-time job…”
The documentary follows gamers MMA, the 27-years-old veteran known for winning Blizzcon early in his youth, and MC, the young upstart and the highest earning gamer in the history of eSports. In Korea, professional gaming is taken seriously. Players train and practice for long hours every day. Gaming is their full-time job.
For MMA and MC, their German sponsors decided to relocate them to Germany to free them from the distractions of life. Living abroad, the intense isolation, and a rigorous training schedule slowly takes its toll on the pair. But being one of the top 16 StarCraft players in the world and earning the right to compete at BlizzCon makes it all worth it.
At the age of 27, MMA is one of the oldest players in the league and most likely this is his last year before retiring. The prospect of growing older, not having a family, and knowing the flow of money is going to end weigh heavily on him. It also doesn’t help that he’s been pushing off his mandatory military service required of all Korean youth.
MC has already proven himself to be one of the best in the world. As a child, his father passed away in a car accident. MC’s mother carried the heavy burden of providing for her son with her depression leading to ideations of suicide. Worried that he’ll lose his only remaining parent and be orphaned as a pre-teen, MC took it upon himself to enter StarCraft tournament for the prize money. After his first win, there was no looking back.
“…don’t need to know anything about the game…or how it played to be drawn into the human story.”
Gamechangers: Dreams of Blizzcon is a fascinating documentary. I know nothing of the game of StarCraft II and after watching Gamerchangers, I still know nothing about StarCraft II. It’s not about that, it’s about the culture and profession of gaming. In my mind, the life of a professional gamer is exciting and as easy a life as it appears to be, I would never want to live it. The stereotype is that they’re nerds, who never had girlfriends…or boyfriends. While they may not be nerds, they clearly never had girlfriends, because of the life, they’ve chosen to live.
The documentary also looks at the gaming culture, (specifically in Korea). It all began in local PC bangs and grew into leagues leading to BlizzCon. Consider a room full of gamers physically close to one another, but connecting socially through the PC network. Then there’s the fight to the top of the ladder and the internet hate that comes with the fame and glory of competition. Finally, the personal life you choose to give up to come out on top. Few friends and far from family. Is it really worth it?
Gamechangers: Dreams of BlizzCon tells a riveting story of the life and dreams of hardcore gamers. You don’t need to know anything about Starcraft, how its constructed, or how it played to be drawn into the human story. MMA and MC’s story are easy to access and their stories will draw out your sympathies and root for them at the end.
Just a side note. I’m always fascinated when a documentary follows a sports story in progress and the fact that the filmmakers are gambling on their subjects to actually make it to the championships. What if they lost early? I’m sure they followed a few other players, but man, this is good stuff.
Gamerchangers: Dreams of BlizzCon (2018) Directed by John Keating. Featuring Mun Song Wan “MMA” and Jang Min Chul “MC”
8 out of 10 stars