Junior Drew Sylvester works to take his video game skills to the next level, hoping to some day play professionally
By Evan Smith ‘11 & Parijat Jha ’11
The main event has finally arrived—bright spotlights shine from the ceiling as the players step into position. A hushed silence falls over the crowd. The tension is building, the sound of heart beats thud through fan T-shirts and the smell of sweat and anticipation fills the air.
Standing in the crowd waiting for the start of the day’s game is junior Drew Sylvester. He has toyed with the possibility of competing in the event. After all, Sylvester has the natural skills, as well as the smarts, to face off against any one of today’s players.
The realm of Major League Gaming—a world of quick reflexes, on-the-fly strategy and heavy trash talking—is a difficult one. It is, however, an increasingly popular and rewarding outlet for gamers to take their skills to the next level.
KNOWING THE LINGO:
Commonly Used Gaming Terms
SCRUBBED: To be defeated by your opponent, often in a manner that is especially embarrassing to you personally.
CAMPER: A player who skillessly hides out during most of the match, only popping out to get a surprise attack on his opponents; some find them annoying to play against.
DOUBLE KILL: Killing two opponents in the span of five seconds.
TRIPLE KILL: Killing three opponents with no more than five seconds between each kill.
KILLING SPREE: Five consecutive kills in a row without dying.
NINJA: A move in which one player jumps over his opponent’s head and then hits his opponent from behind, thereby both defeating and embarrassing said opponent.
NASTY / DIRTY: A quality of a gamer who is especially skilled.
With the growing influence of video games on the lives of the modern-day teenager, students now balance school, work, extracurriculars and social lives along with their interest in video games.
For Sylvester, the appeal of playing the video game Halo on the professional circuit is an aspiration just within reach—if he has the dedication to make it.
FROM NOOB TO NASTY
Sylvester’s first experience with video games came when he was in kindergarten and his older brother received a Nintendo 64 gaming console for Christmas. It was at that time Sylvester realized he was naturally skilled at playing video games.
“I found that I could pick up and play just about any game and be instantly good at it,” Sylvester said.
In 2001, when Sylvester was in third grade, the hit video game Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) was released, causing an international sensation. Receiving unanimous praise upon its release, the game puts the player in the role of a super soldier called Master Chief whose mission is to help fight off a hostile coalition of alien forces known as The Covenant.
According to Sylvester, the main draw of Halo, other than its story line, is its intricate and well-developed multi-player mode. Players face off against one another in different maps, playing a wide variety of team based games, most notably the Team Slayer mode, in which two teams attempt to outscore one another during a set time limit.
In 2004, three years after the release of Halo: Combat Evolved, its sequel Halo 2 was released, again accompanied by widespread adoration and success.
With the advent of Halo 2 also came the ability for gamers to play online by connecting their Xbox to an internet connection and purchasing an Xbox Live account. Halo 2 players were suddenly able to sit in their living room and compete against someone living across the world, all through the Internet.
Sylvester, like many others, took part in the Halo craze.
“I loved Halo 2’s game play so I decided to buy an Xbox and bought Halo 2 along with it,” Sylvester said. “I played online and realized that I was actually pretty good, even against people from across the nation.”
With the success of both Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, it was inevitable that Bungie Studios, the creator of the Halo series, was hard at work on the final game in the Halo trilogy. In November 2007, Halo 3 was released on the Xbox 360, and for the third time in the row fans lined up to get their hands on it, Sylvester included.
“When Halo 3 came out I decided to upgrade to the Xbox 360 so I could get the new Halo game,” Sylvester said. “I ended up playing a lot during the first month…consequently I ended up getting really good, which spurred me to keep playing.”
With millions of online Halo 3 matches being played daily, the competition can get pretty steep. Players from around the world are able participate in tournaments, gain higher levels in the Halo community and if they are skilled enough, can gain access into the world of Major League Gaming.
Beginning in 2002, Major League Gaming, or MLG, was originally a tournament organized by two friends, Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sepso. The duo travelled across the country, organizing the events and gaining a following amongst the hardcore gaming community.
In the span of seven years, the league has gained international recognition. According to IGN, a video game resource website, MLG is currently the dominant video game league in the world. ESPN shows MLG highlights on TV, pro teams have endorsements and earn cash awards in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Professional players are even gaining a celebrity status, especially in the online community.
Known mostly by their Xbox Live nicknames, or gamertags, players such as Walshy (David Walsh), T-squared (Tom Taylor), Snipedown (Eric Wrona) and iGotUrPisto1a (Justin Deese) are some of the central figures in the Halo MLG circuit.
To reach the level of these professionals requires skill, dedication and a little luck. When MLG came to Columbus, Sylvester was able to see firsthand the very best players the game has to offer.
“Going to MLG Columbus was a great experience,” Sylvester said. “I got to walk around and compare myself to some of the best players in the world, and I found out that my individual skill is just shy of that of the pros, but that with a little more work I could be right up there with them.”
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PWNING
In the past few years, video games have risen in both sales and influence over the culture of the modern day teen. With the release of the Nintendo Wii, a game console designed for casual players, video games have gained popularity with a new audience: females. With the increased acceptance of video games, the overall culture has become more mainstream.
In an age where the nation is currently dealing with an economic recession, the video game industry seems to be immune to the recession, growing by 15 percent, according to the results of NPD, a sales and marketing research firm.
But not all are enthusiastic about the rising popularity of video games. Many parents suggest that video games are taking a central focus in the lives of their children, overtaking both school and extracurriculars.
Peter Debellis, a parent of a UAHS student gamer, said that video games can often distract and preoccupy kids from their studies and responsibilities.
“Every kid is affected differently,” Debellis said. “The most important thing is that they learn to balance their time properly and not let video games interfere with their lives.”
Junior Luke Treece, a varsity lacrosse player, notes the difficulties of balancing a heavy sports schedule, academics and a social life along with his interest in video games.
“During lacrosse season, lacrosse comes first, school second and in between when I find the time, I play [the video game] Call of Duty,” Treece said. “In the winter last year it affected my grades negatively, but that was because I was playing too much video games and not managing my time properly.”
Additionally, according to multiple studies conducted by the American Psychological Association, violent video games can induce violent behavior in young kids.
“New information reveals that young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games,” said psychologist Craig A. Anderson.
In contrast, a nationwide study led by psychologist John M. Grohol, director of Psych Central, revealed that video games can increase business sense as well as many other practical skills.
“We found that professionals who grew up playing video games actually make better business people,” Grohol said.
“They are more serious about achievement, more attached to the company they work for and the people they work with, more flexible and persistent problem-solvers and more willing to take only the risks that make sense.”
Sophomore Amira Hummer said she agrees that video games can have a positive effect on the modern teen. She says it is a fun and safe way to enjoy oneself during free time.
“Some say that video games are a waste of time, and especially as a girl people think it is a little weird that I am a gamer,” Hummer said. “But I do not care about it, because I think they are fun and entertaining and they keep me occupied.”
SCOPING IN ON THE FUTURE
While the overall opinion on video games is still mixed, Sylvester has found many reasons to continue playing. He is able to meet new people and enjoys the confidence boost video games offer.
“Everyone enjoys having something they are good at,” Sylvester said. “With video games, I have always had a knack for them, and knowing that I am good at something has really built up my confidence.”
While the possibility of making it to the professional circuit is currently viable for Sylvester, he said that real-life issues, such as the money it requires to travel to the various tournaments, as well as simple time constraints, are a factor in how far he decides to compete in Halo.
“I would love to play on the MLG circuit,” Sylvester said. “However, school is still my number one priority. And in order to be a part of the MLG circuit I would have to play a lot more than I do now. This November though, when the next MLG event is coming up, I will definitely think about participating, but I do not have any long-term goals for my Halo career.”
Whether or not Sylvester makes it to the professionals remains to be seen. However, it is clear that the affect of video games on today’s youth, whether that affect be positive or negative, is very real.
“Playing Halo and following MLG has been an interesting experience for me so far,” Sylvester said. “It makes me realize how fast our culture is changing, slowly turning from traditional sports to electronic gaming and the Internet. It is really eye-opening to see how much things have changed and I can only wonder what the future holds.”
Teaser Photo: Juniors Jeff Shy and Drew Sylvester, and sophomore Morgan Harky concentrate on their game play during a match of Halo 3. Sylvester’s headphones and mic help him to communicate with players around the world. Photo illustration by Nicole Wagner and Evan Smith, background image courtesy IGN