Depending on whom you talk to the term Professional Gamer either garners very positive or very negative responses. Some people look upon professional games as nothing more than nerds with too much time on their hands. Those who have seen the good ones play and win respect them for what they do and maybe even wish they could do it themselves.
What is it really like to be a professional gamer? Many people think they know based on something they read or someone who knows someone, but in reality few people actually know what goes on in the professional gaming world.
Exploited, abused and sometimes abandoned most gamers fail to reach the top, but like all sports heroes exist. FRAG is the true story of professional video gaming outlining the evolution of the 1980’s arcade game competitions to the elite tournaments of today for millions of dollars around the globe. Much like the dream of becoming a professional athlete, young cyber-athletes dedicate long hours to achieve their dreams. They spend hours training and preparing themselves for tournaments knowing their future depends on it.
FRAG sheds light on the struggles these cyber-athletes face while breaking into professional video gaming and maintaining success. At a young age, professional video gamers are faced with making adult decisions impacting the rest of their lives with sometime little or no support from their families. Deeper below the surface, you will see much more, an underbelly of corruption, money and drugs. FRAG pulls back the curtain on one of the biggest sports industries in the world, one that’s just evolving and you know nothing about.
Obsolete Gamer had a chance to talk with Judd Saul executive producer of FRAG and get some insight into the world of professional gaming and the making of this documentary.
Obsolete Gamer: Frag is a documentary about pro-gamers, what made you want to tackle this specific subject?
Judd Saul: I have always been a gamer ever since I was a kid I have owned every major console from the Atari to the PS3 and Xbox360. And I can’t leave out the PC, Duke Nukem through Quake Live.
After starting my production company, I did a lot of corporate gigs and some minor TV stuff. I got bored with it. I wanted to do my own project and I wanted to do a film on a subject I was familiar with. At this time, I ran across news of pro gamers getting paid to play. After feeling somewhat jealous, I decided to research and it was quite clear to me that this is a story that needed to be told.
Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us a little bit about the development process behind the film?
Judd Saul: Well, I believe you start at the top to get information and work your way into the industry. At the time, the CPL was the biggest league in the business. I went to a CPL tournament in Dallas and started to meet some of the key players involved in the pro gaming industry. We started to collect information and decided that we were going to film what was going on around us and let the story tell itself. But as I was 1/3 into filming, I decided to bring in director Mike Paisley. I realized that I was getting to close to the industry to make an objective film. I needed to bring in an outsider who was not a gamer. What we realized is that we wanted to make a film that was not filtered. We wanted to make a truthful raw film about what we saw and experienced.
Obsolete Gamer: How long did it take to research and film the movie?
Judd Saul: It took a good 2 years from start to completion. 1200 hours shot and condensed to 90 minutes.
Obsolete Gamer: What is Frag’s definition of a Pro-Gamer?
Judd Saul: A gamer that gets paid to play. Whether it’s being sponsored or winning prize money.
Obsolete Gamer: What did you learn about the people who try to become pro-gamers?
Judd Saul: To be a pro gamer takes a lot of tenacity and risk. Like any sport, if you want to be the best and actually get paid to be a pro gamer, you have to practice, and you have to sacrifice. And most people including friends and family will ridicule you for trying. The best gamers have overcome adversity to get to where they are. But at the same time, most of them lack business sense and get into contracts they should have never signed.
Obsolete Gamer: What about those who do not consider gaming a profession or a sport, what has your experience in creating the film taught you about opinions such as those?
Judd Saul: Well, I will say this. I have been playing games all my life. I definitely do not consider myself a noob. But when I play someone like Stermy in Quake and lose -3 to 50, there is an obvious ability over another. I still cannot grasp the incredible hand eye coordination and strategy it takes to be that good. Pro Gamers athletes. They are intelligent, creative, and have the ability to process and react to more information than the average person.
Obsolete Gamer: What is the profile of a pro-gamer if there is one?
Judd Saul: There is not one general profile for a pro gamer. But there are profiles for certain types of gamers. This is going to get me in some trouble and spark some debate, but what the hell.
MMO gamers are different from FPS players. And PC gamers are way different from Console gamers. I won’t get into it, but really, everyone knows what I am talking about.
Obsolete Gamer: What separates the “great” video game players from the “professional” ones?
Judd Saul: Discipline, Diet, and Focus on the strategy of the game.
Obsolete Gamer: Tell us about the lack of support these pro gamers sometimes deal with regarding their parents, friends and loved ones?
Judd Saul: Gaming is a new way of life, and it’s hard for some parents and loved ones to understand that. Even the most successful gamers still have rocky relationships with family. In fact, when we asked gamers about it, they would shut down and refuse to talk about it. It was like pulling teeth to get them to talk about it on camera. We even tried to get interview with some parents but they refused. (In hind sight, we should have done the Michael More ambush technique, but we didn’t)
Obsolete Gamer: What was one of the secrets of professional gaming that struck a chord with you?
Judd Saul: Well, when we really dug below the surface of the glamour and the sponsorships, we found that most gamers were basically gagged by contracts. They couldn’t speak about problems of not being paid with risk of never being able to compete again.
Obsolete Gamer: Was it difficult to get candid answers from both pro-gamers and their sponsors?
Judd Saul: Yes, it was. In fact memos were sent out across the industry telling gamers not to speak to us. (I found out after we were done shooting) But we still got them to speak out because of their frustration.
Obsolete Gamer: Enlighten us about the corruption involved in pro-gaming?
Judd Saul: Do you remember the movie Semi-Pro? When Jackie Moon gives the homeless guy a BIG CHECK for making a half-court shot, and he takes home the big check and learns he can’t cash it. That’s pretty much sums it up when it comes to pro gaming.
The heads of the different gaming leagues court the sponsors and promise them a great return on their investment and brand exposure. The Leagues make out like bandits, the sponsors after a while learn that their brand exposure is far less than what they were led to believe, then they pull out leaving the gamers hung out to dry because the same sponsors that sponsor the gamers, are the same sponsors that sponsor the leagues. And the leagues are the ones that usually negotiate the contracts for the gamers. At the end of the day, the gamers get paid (if they get paid at all) pennies on the dollar for every dollar brought in.
The other problem is that the gaming organizations/leagues who becomes a pro gamer and who doesn’t. The creation of “gaming organizations” has hurt pro gaming. These are groups in which someone usually with some money and some legal sense comes to the table and says, “Hey, if you sign with us, we will make sure you get paid and we will keep track of your sponsors”. The problem with a lot of these groups is that they get gamers under contract, they don’t pay what they promise and they usually enslave the gamer. If the gamer doesn’t like what’s happening they get kicked out, cock blocked from sponsors and in most cases they are not able to compete any more. I won’t name names, but I know of a gamer who has won over $300,000k in prize money and was only paid $2500 per month for 2 years, and he never saw another dime. Yeah, he got to be a pro gamer, but in my eyes, he got screwed.
I want to be clear; there are some good teams and some great sponsors out there. But for every good one there are 5 bad ones.
Obsolete Gamer: Was there something you wanted to put in the film that you could not?
Judd Saul: In hindsight, I wish I would have confronted some of the bastards of gaming directly. But, we couldn’t get interviews with them.
Obsolete Gamer: What was the biggest challenge you told that pro-gamers face?
Judd Saul: Protecting themselves legally is one of the biggest challenges. The leagues and gaming organizations hold the cards. The gamer has no power.
Obsolete Gamer: In your opinion what is the future of professional gaming?
Judd Saul: Pro gaming will get bigger, and become more main stream. To get it to where it needs to go is going to take a lot of money and someone with a pure heart to take charge. They are going to need to care about the sponsor and deliver what they promise to gamers.
Obsolete Gamer: What was your most memorable moment while filming?
Judd Saul: There are too many moments that have left an impact on my life. But the best thing was being thanked by gamers for getting the truth out.