What's up, doc? The rise of eSports hero subculture

Documentary highlights the lucrative new world of professional computer game players

Documentary filmmaker Erica Landrock: “there are people that travel around the world and make up to six-figure salaries playing professionally”

If you worry that your basement-dwelling 20-something offspring is already wasting too much time playing MMO (massively multiplayer online) games like Black Ops II or Starcraft 11, best not tune into Global TV on October 26.

He might just be inspired to turn pro.

Yes, believe it or not, video and PC games are now a professional sport, as Erica Landrock details in The Rise of the eSports Hero, her new documentary about professional eSports.

The documentary premiers October 26 at 8 p.m. on Global TV and will be available through Shaw's video on demand.

"It's this up-and-coming subculture that is all about professional video game playing," said the Vancouver-based independent filmmaker. "There are people that travel around the world and make up to six-figure salaries playing professionally."

In 2011, after learning about professional computer game sports, Landrock pitched the idea for a film at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and won a $5,000 prize from Shaw Media. That led to licensing deal with Shaw Media and Global TV, which helped leverage the money Landrock needed from the Canada Media Fund to produce the documentary.

Rise of the eSports Hero is the first feature length documentary produced by Landrock Entertainment. Her three-person film crew focused on the Evil Geniuses, a professional Starcraft II team owned by 28-year-old Alexander Garfield, who was recently featured in Forbes Magazine.

Garfield's franchise earns prize money in tournaments. But the team makes its real money through endorsements with big brands like Monster Energy and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq:INTC).

Landrock followed the Evil Geniuses – which includes Canadian player Chris "HuK" Loranger – around North America and South Korea as they played in Starcraft II tournaments. She is now working on a new three-part series on labour history in B.C. for the Knowledge Network.

"I consider myself very lucky, based on what has been going on in the industry, to have gotten not just one, but two, productions funded by broadcasters," Landrock said.

Those deals are getting harder to come by, said Vancouver documentary filmmaker Ian MacKenzie, who has been experimenting with crowdfunding and online distribution for his latest short documentary, Reactor, which follows a Canadian Buddhist monk to Fukushima in the wake of the nuclear meltdown.

MacKenzie's first feature-length documentary, One Week Job, was picked up by CBC. It followed college grad Sean Aiken as he worked at a different job each week for a year. MacKenzie's second feature documentary – the award-winning Occupy Love, which he co-produced – focuses on social movements around the world, like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.

That film was picked up by Super Channel.

But MacKenzie said fewer Canadian broadcasters are inking licensing deals with independent documentary filmmakers these days, making it harder to finance films.

A documentary typically costs between $500,000 and $2 million to produce, and without broadcast agreements, Canadian documentary filmmakers can't get the money they need through the Canada Media Fund, which will fund up to 49% of a documentary film's budget.

CreativeBC also provides funding for film development, but that too depends on licensing deals with broadcasters.

"The biggest challenge is there are so few broadcasters to unlock the actual funding needed," MacKenzie said.

His latest project, Reactor, is a low-budget, crowd-funded labour of love that he plans to distribute online through platforms like Vimeo on Demand and Yekra.

BC Film + Media CEO Richard Brownsey said filmmakers who produce documentaries as series – rather than one-offs – seem to be having more success with broadcasters, and adds that digital media is opening up new distribution channels for documentaries.

"As we see more and more productions going digital and having those digital extensions, I think there are things that are natural advantages for documentaries." •