1.2 billion people play video games across the globe in 2016. To some degree, the reason for playing video games can be distilled into two separate camps: entertainment and competition. New media plays an integral role in distinguishing these two very distinct factions, so it makes sense that in order to be successful in gaming today, one must participate in some way or another with live-streaming, YouTube, cosplay, or another other form of first-person media creation. To people who play games for entertainment– something to do with their friends– it matters less about what game you’re playing and more about who you’re playing with. In that respect, it’s decidedly less serious. Their livestreams are goofy, and their YouTube content is opinionated or humorous. It’s fun, and their livelihood depends on how entertaining they are.
With competitive gamers, there’s much more at stake: as with any competition, it matters if you win or lose. Your team-mates depend on you doing your best at all times so they, too, can pool their efforts into winning a match. Their content is far more straight-forward and direct, while still speaking to the underlying humor that seems to be found in all of gaming. However, it is very vital they take it seriously. Their livelihood depends on how well they compete. Two distinct mind-sets, two very different ways to approach success. And yet sometimes, somehow, you get a fluke. Someone who can balance both sides with the grace of an acrobat.
11:42am, Day 3 of PAX West. Stephanie “missharvey” Harvey stands in the cushioned, jarringly quiet Ubisoft booth just adjacent to the ASTRO booth. She’s doing an on-camera segment with a small team. Behind them, the newest South Park game, The Fractured But Whole is being demoed. On the dais, underneath a Jumbo Tron displaying the in-game footage of Mrs. Cartman, the players wear masks over their faces. It’s a spectacle.
People are packed in the booth, and the crowd presses in tightly behind a handful of cameras as bright lights rain down like heat lamps. It’s hot and loud and everything you say will be seen by thousands of people. And you have to remember to smile. No pressure, right? Later, she explains those masks were piping in fart smells: “I get it. It’s a great technology. But right now in the game, it’s just a gimmick.” She’s not wrong. Her Québécoise accent makes even the crassest of words sound downright sophisticated.
She’s in and out of the crowd with such speed we lose her briefly, until she stops for a photo with a fan. It’s something with which she does graciously and efficiently. It’s clear this isn’t her first rodeo.
She weaves like a wraith through the crowd, in desperate search of Internet service, she explains quickly over her shoulder. The girl walks fast. The blue Intel booth provides a brief reprise. She’s able to check the score for a moment, and eases visibly. CLG Red team members are currently playing 2v2 CS:GO matches against fans, so missharvey powers up her handheld camera to do some quick vlogging.
She’s interrupted by fans asking her to sign their gear, though. Everyone who comes up to her is incredibly polite and well-spoken, patiently waiting their turn to speak to her. A gaming mouse, a mouse pad, and a shirt are brought out to be Sharpied.
She doesn’t get to finish vlogging.
We’re off again at 12:04pm, being pulled along by the crowd in the direction of the Twitch booth across the Sky Bridge. Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days of the expo, and while we walk, missharvey is trying to follow her friends’ tournament online. With between 75,000-100,000 attendees, however, there’s simply too many people around to maintain service. It’s a common complaint, one you hear at least once an hour in the Expo Hall, and many people loudly lament that the cell companies “haven’t figured their shit out yet.” I am a sponge as I walk in a sea of surly, ill-tempered gamers. They are funny, and it’s delightful.
We beeline towards the purple and white behemoth, boasting two Jumbo Tons as usual. Flashing spots illuminate a huge crowd of established broadcasters and aspiring streamers who buzz around networking. Missharvey’s next appointment involves the PJSaltan Competition, which is where top Twitch broadcasters battle against one another for glory of Saltiest Streamer. Clearly, this segment is purely for entertainment.
Missharvey darts through the swinging doors sectioning off the VIP Lounge. We remain outside, watching the swirls of people mill about on thick white carpet.
The purple swag is highly coveted: the purple hoodies in particular seem to be worn by a privileged few. The envy of the have-nots is palpable. Everyone is rallied for a quick pow-wow about the upcoming segment. At least half of the group has brightly-colored hair. The Twitch broadcast goes live at 12:39pm. The premise for the show: 16 competitors all have to learn how to play a random, new-to-them game live. Snow Horse, the snowboarding game you never asked for, where the points are made up and you are a horse riding a snowboard, is today’s game.
There’s a flurry of activity between each game on the stream, a kind of changing of the tides as it were. Show producers with earpieces and clipboards flutter around the dais, ensuring everyone knows their cue and keeping the show on-track now that it’s begun. The VIP Lounge does not want for comfort.
It’s 1:13pm when missharvey takes her place on stage with her team. She is a natural, considering the training she’s had as a world-class champion, and particularly juxtaposed against streamers. Interestingly the casters for the competition, djWheat and Anna Prosser both point out her pro gamer reputation, and even toss out some tips for her, as if her background lends itself to getting help. Later, I asked her if she noticed. She chews thoughtfully on it, smiles, and said she was just trying to help her team.
Her round is over in less than 5 minutes. It’s back to the VIP Lounge. She sits watching the beginning of Round 3, and around 1:40pm she ducks out to glean Internet from Intel so she can check in on her friend. Clearly, you can take the girl out of the competition, but you can’t take the competition out of the girl.
It’s 1:57pm, and missharvey returns to the lounge, just in time for the show to take a break while the top 8 players are determined. She doesn’t move on to Round 2. No giant salt lick for her this time. She plunges back into the fray, her mind already on what’s next. I imagine not dwelling on the past must be the mind-set of a world-class professional gamer.
Her next appointment is at 4:30pm as a panelist at Intel Core i7 PAX West Daily Wrap Up, followed by a few other scheduled events for the evening. She flies to Montreal in just over 24 hours. She’s got a rare window of time, so we cruise around the show floor for the time being. I ask her how she is able to be so genuine and authentic given the sheer amount of work she does in one day. The amount of energy she spent in the short time we shadowed her was tremendous. And that’s only the first half of her day.
“It’s all about balance. My parents raised me with a lot of balance: in my activities and schoolwork, and home life,” she explains. She pauses for a photograph with a fan. “My parents knew how important it was to make sure when we had a physical activity, that we had a counter with some sort of academic or art activity. I think it helped us growing up as kids, too.” We both chew on that for a moment. She continues: “It definitely helps me now.”
At this point, missharvey decides a nap is in order, given her schedule for the subsequent few weeks. As our time drew to a close, her mantra of balance percolated outwards. Indeed, it was the engine that drove everything she does, and how she was able to be such a genuine person. And I think that is why she is such an incredible gamer.