Intel Extreme Masters brings eSports to Oracle Arena

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Forget the squeaking of high top sneakers, because this weekend, Oracle Arena will echo with the sounds of keystrokes and mouse clicks.

Saturday and Sunday, thousands are exepcted to attend Intel Extreme Masters: one of the biggest tournaments in "eSports," the rapidly growing world of elite competitive video gaming.

"What these guys do with the keyboard and mouse is amazing," said Intel VR marketing lead Lisa Watts.

There's a good reason for that: this is their job. Many practice 8 hours a day, making a living from corporate sponsorships and prize money, to elevate the pastime of gaming to a level few people will ever attain.

"They spend their entire lives dedicated to competing at this one video game," said Electronic Sports League VP Michal Blicharz. "Not just video games -- a single video game."

Being the best at a game like Counterstrike or Leauge of Legends can garner players both fortunate and fame.

"Any airport around the world, if they go there, they're gonna get recognized and stopped for pictures and autographs," Blicharz said.

This weekend's competition includes a Counterstrike tournament with a $300,000 prize pool, plus another $200,000 tournament in a new game called PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds -- or PUBG (pronounced "pub-gee") in gamer lingo.

"It feels really cool," said Keiron prescott, who goes by "Scoom" in the gaming world. "Growing up, you see all these professional athletes with all these sponsors, and now I'm one of them, right?"

Scoom is the in-game leader -- sort of like a quarterback -- for Team Liquid, a group of four young men from all over Europe who came together here to play in this game's first major eSports event.

"Oracle Arena is just crazy," he said. "The fact that i'm here talking to you in this stadium is just amazing,"

For the first time this year, a section of Intel Extreme Masters will be devoted to a whole new kind of game: virtual reality.

"I firmly believe it IS the next frontier in esports," Watt said.

VR means eSports athletes need to be more athletic than ever.

"I need to aim, I need to shoot, I need to put gestures, I need to quickly block over here," said Ryan Shaw, better known as Charizard. "It definitely incorporates a lot more physical activity than your traditional video games."

Charizard is competing in The Unspoken -- a one-on-one VR dueling game that's played standing up.

"It's all on the individual," he said. "And yes, that's a lot of pressure, but I think that also gives you a lot of room to really make a name for yourself."

While thousands are expected here at Oracle, millions will watch the broadcast online, and listen as it's called by live announcers. There's a full camera crew and control room on site to broadcast video of the real world, and another group dedicated to capturing video in the virtual world.

"You have a whole second crew, almost, inside (the game)," Watt said. "So you've got the first dimension and the fourth dimension kind of happening at the same time."

Tickets and live streams for this weekend's event are available on the Intel Extreme Masters website.
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