As the esports industry has grown, its tangential industries have also prospered. One notable area is content creation, particularly in video production. Teams, organizations, third-party content creators, and even players themselves create videos to promote themselves and leave a public record of their mark on the scene.
One of the best ways to do this is with esports documentaries: lengthy video features that cover certain aspects of the esports industry and recreate the environment with video footage and interviews. These esports documentaries help memorialize important moments and events in esports history.
Here are five of the best esports documentaries of the last decade that saw the rise of esports to a global phenomenon.
The Smash Brothers (2013)
The Smash Brothers is a 2013 documentary about the history of competitive Super Smash Bros., one of the longest-lasting fighting game scenes in the world, with a particular focus on Super Smash Bros. Melee (Melee).
Written and directed by Travis “Samox” Beauchamp, The Smash Brothers was an amateur film produced by East Point Pictures with a budget of 12 thousand dollars, 8.9 thousand of which was crowdfunded through Kickstarter.
The Smash Brothers is split into nine parts and begins with an overview of Melee’s competitive history. Each of the next seven parts focuses on seven of the most famous and accomplished players in its history.
They are, in order, Christopher “Azen” McMullen, Joel “Isai” Alvardo, Ken “Ken” Hoang, Chris “PC Chris” Szygiel, Daniel “KoreanDJ” Jung, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, and Joseph “Mango” Marquez.
Throughout, notable community figures like Chris “Wife” Fabiszak, Wynton “Prog” Smith, Kashan “Chillindude” Khan, Antoine “Wes” Lewis-Hall, Daniel “ChuDat” Rodriguez, Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, and Lillian “Milktea” Chen provide extensive commentary.
The final part focuses on the EVO 2013 fundraiser and the struggle to repeal Melee developer Nintendo’s decision to block the tournament from streaming.
The Smash Brothers is remarkable for its high production values despite its modest production background. The result of two years’ hard work from Samox, The Smash Brothers is one of the best esports documentaries in the 2010s.
The success of The Smash Brothers resulted in a spin-off documentary titled Metagame, which focuses on other notable players such as Adam “Armada” Lindgren, Kevin “PPMD” Nanney, and others. As of June 2019, Samox completed the post-production of Metagame and is in negotiations to approve distribution by Netflix.
Free to Play (2014)
Free to Play: The Movie, released in 2014, is about The International 2011: the first world championship for Dota 2. Produced by developer Valve, Free to Play is a 90-minute esports documentary that follows three professional players worldwide as they compete for the million-dollar prize at The International 2011.
One of the featured players is Singaporean team captain Benedict “hyhy” Lim, who struggles to earn the respect of his family and ex-girlfriend for his gaming career. He hopes that the one million dollar grand prize will prove his worth.
Another featured player is American player Clinton “Fear” Loomis. In his 20s, Fear is older than most aspiring professional gamers and struggling to support himself financially to pursue a full-time playing career.
The third featured player is Danil “Dendi” Ishutin, a Ukrainian struggling in the wake of his father’s tragic death from cancer. He throws himself into his gaming career to cope with the loss.
The most recent TI 2019 boasts a prize pool of over 30 million dollars. Free to Play reminds viewers that underneath the rapid growth of the esports industry, there are simple human stories of people struggling to find themselves in the world.
All Work All Play (2015)
The All Work All Play documentary, released in 2015, is about Season Nine of the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM). IEM is a pro-gaming tour that features the most famous teams across multiple titles (including Starcraft 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive) competing for their respective championship title.
With locations all around the world, Season Nine of the IEM circuit culminated in the World Championship at Katowice, Poland, in March of 2015.
Produced by tournament organizer ESL, the 90-minute esports documentary centered on the esports industry’s growth. It tracked the evolution from the small online competition in players’ bedrooms to sold-out stadiums with thousands of fans attending.
All Work All Play featured interviews with key figures in esports. These included team owners like Jack Etienne, founder of multimillion-dollar organization Cloud9, and notable broadcast talent like Paul “Redeye” Chaloner and Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere.
The documentary also focuses on players, some of whom are as young as 17, giving their all to become professional paid players.
Directed by Patrick Creadon, All Work All Play is available to view on online distributors like Amazon, Steam, and Google Play.
Breaking Point (2016)
The Breaking Point is a 2016 documentary that centers on the League of Legends team for professional esports organization Team Liquid during a tumultuous 2016 season of the North American League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). It results from a collaboration between Team Liquid, production company 1UP Studios, and sponsor HTC Gaming.
The two-hour esports documentary covers the entirety of the season and shows the dramatic conflicts between almost everyone on the team.
The central figures are jungler Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett, bot-laner Gwang-jin “Piglet” Chae, and head coach Yoon-sup “Locodoco” Choi.
Dardoch, a headstrong American player, is a star talent whose competitive nature and pride causes him to lash out following losses. He butts heads with fellow players, his managers and coaches, and even Team Liquid owner Steve Arhancet.
Piglet, a South Korean import, is a previous World Champion whose still-impressive ability is offset by a lackadaisical attitude. Cultural and linguistic barriers only worsen his blasé behavior.
Locodoco is a 23-year-old former player with only one year of coaching under his belt when he takes the position as head coach for Team Liquid. His inexperience exacerbates the strife between players.
The conflict between these three stubborn, prideful individuals is the central theme that runs through the documentary.
Breaking Point was an unprecedented dive into the intense drama kept hidden from fans. It is one of the best esports documentaries for its frank, transparent exposure of the ugly reality behind closed scenes.
7 Days Out: League of Legends (2018)
Netflix’s 7 Days Out: League of Legends is part of the 2018 7 Days Out series. This esports documentary by Netflix focuses on the week leading up to the finals of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) 2018 spring season.
The 45-minute documentary focuses on the four teams competing in the LCS playoffs as they aim for the title. 100 Thieves, Echo Fox, Clutch Gaming, and Team Liquid are all in the race for the top.
The most memorable portion of 7 Days Out focuses on Team Liquid’s bot-laner Yiliang Peter “Doublelift” Peng. Doublelift learned in the direct aftermath of his semifinal match, one week before the finals, of a heartbreaking family tragedy.
His 30-year-old elder brother, Yihong Peng, had stabbed their mother, Wei Ping Shen, to death with a knife and seriously injured their father, Guojon Peng.
7 Days Out shows how Doublelift, his team, his friends, and the League of Legends fan community at large reacted to the tragic news. The Netflix documentary treats the matter with the seriousness and gravitas it deserves.
7 Days Out is one of the best esports documentaries for its high production value and touching handling of a very sensitive topic.
These are but five of many esports documentaries. As the industry develops, content pieces that serve as time capsules will become ever more important.
These documentaries will help introduce newcomers to esports, help old fans reminisce over past times, or provide crucial context to understand notable moments in esports history.
Esports documentaries are vital for preserving this industry’s history, which has a rich past and present that must not be forgotten while still young.