Arenas filled with screaming fans. Athletes with rock-star swagger, and the skills to match. Multimillion-dollar prize pools.
This is the year the world saw that video games are a real sport.
James Grunke, our head of global eSports, has been operating on that assumption for some time. Just glance at the well-thumbed sports management textbook he keeps on his desk. Sometimes, innovation is all about having a different perspective.
And when you make the gear that powers these events, you get a ringside seat. eSport athletes require the absolute best equipment. That’s why our GeForce GTX graphics cards and G-SYNC display technology are the standard for the world’s highest-profile gaming events. And that reality has kept Grunke and his colleague, Clay Causin — the one sporting the NVIDIA green mohawk — on the road much of the year.
“When I look back, I think, ‘Yikes, we did all that?’” Grunke says. A few highlights from a frantic few months that have put the duo in the middle of some of the biggest events in eSports:
- Hearthstone Pro Am – Blizzard’s online collectible card game has sucked in tens of millions of players. It’s fiendishly fun to play or, when played well, to watch. Grunke organized our Hearthstone Pro Am in June, pitting 16 pros and 15,000 amateurs against one another, grabbing 36,600 concurrent viewers on Twitch.tv at its peak. The shocker: an amateur won the top spot.
- ESL Frankfurt – The face off between Team Secret and Team Evil shattered records with over a million concurrent viewers as they slugged it out to grab the top spot in a Dota 2 tournament with a $200,000 prize pool. Grunke and team were to help get our gear into the hands of eager gamers. His war story: ESL pulled off the event despite a crane tearing a 50-meter hole in the venue’s roof just days before competition began.
- Boot Camps – Why hit the road when you can bring the best gamers to us? One the top Brazilian League of Legends teams spent a week in early August in the GeForce eSports studio Grunke and Causin built on our Silicon Valley campus. INTZ quickly went from a scrappy competitor to one that dominated their next qualifying match. Weeks later, we brought the Cloud9 team in ahead of the Heroes of the Storm Americas championship. They won their qualifier from our studio, then flew to Las Vegas, where they won their tournament. Now, they’re coming back for another NVIDIA Boot Camp just ahead of the BlizzCon World Finals. Now, they’re coming back for more ahead of the BlizzCon World Finals.
- The International Dota 2 Championships – This was the big one. The event’s $18 million prize pool — the biggest in eSports history and one of the largest in any sport — grabbed headlines around the world. It drove Grunke and Causin, who herded tons of gear to and from the event, to the brink of exhaustion — and kept fans glued to the action at Seattle’s Key arena. GeForce GTX and G-SYNC gaming systems were used throughout the tournament and player warm-up areas.
- ESL Cologne – Another record breaker. The top Counter Strike: Global Offensive tournament drew more than 1.5 million concurrent viewers. Grunke was there to witness a huge highlight for us: in the finals, Team EnvyUS stormed onto the stage waving NVIDIA GeForce GTX foam fingers (link to blog post).
- ESL NYC – Dota 2 – Some of the sport’s top teams came to New York’s Madison Square Garden for the biggest Dota 2 event on the East Coast. Grunke helped make sure they were equipped with the latest G-SYNC displays and GeForce graphics cards.
More’s coming. More teams will be piling into our world-class eSports studio for boot camps.
In November, Grunke and Causin will be flung into the madness that is Blizzcon, Blizzard interactive’s annual fanfest. And then there’s the ESL’s China Hearthstone event.
Maybe in a few years we can convince Grunke and Causin to write their own textbook.