Game changer: New documentary highlights growing esports community and careers in Vancouver

Competitive video gaming is emerging as a booming industry in Vancouver, with huge international events and millions of dollars in prizes. 

Last year, the city hosted one of the biggest esports events in the world — called The International — which has a cash prize pool of nearly $25 million. Professional players can earn thousands more through sponsorships and social media.  

“There’s been recent stigma about ,” said Melissa Dex Guzman, who directed a new documentary about Vancouver’s esport scene. 

“A lot of parents don’t understand it — they just think it’s about the games.” 

The filmmakers won $50,000 from Telus’ StoryHive fund to make the documentary about Vancouver’s booming esports scene. (Smash Forward)

She interviewed more than 400 people for Smash Forward, released this week, which tells the story of the community around the games.

In particular, the film focuses on fighting games — player versus player — like Nintendo’s popular Super Smash Bros. 

Gaming is not the solitary or anti-social activity many seem to think, she told CBC’s On The Coast.

‘People sometimes use [gaming] to connect with each other when they’re going through hard times,’ says Guzman. (Smash Forward)

“With fighting games, you actually have to sit next to the person to play, so it’s social just by nature,” Guzman said.  

“People sometimes use that to connect with each other when they’re going through hard times.” 

But sometimes, as the documentary shows, finding a location to host events and gather together can be challenging, especially in a city like Vancouver where real estate and spaces come at a premium. 

Guzman says gaming is not necessarily the anti-social activity many people think. It can also bring people together and create community. (Smash Forward)

Guzman highlighted one house in Burnaby that’s become the de facto gathering place for gamers in the area to come together, practice and compete. 

Spaces like these become “social community centers,” she said. 

Aside from the community aspects, there’s also a whole other side relating to jobs in the gaming industry that Guzman says is often overlooked by the general public. 

She grew up playing video games with her father and brother before turning it into a job. 

Finding a large enough venue for the events can be a challenge, says Guzman, and so players sometimes have to ‘just … find some place and make it [work].’ (Smash Forward )

“People don’t realize that there’s other career opportunities in games beyond just playing,” she said, highlighting jobs from graphic design to game production to marketing and streaming opportunities. 

Ultimately, she hopes to highlight a community and industry that’s gaining traction in the city with Smash Forward. 

“You don’t [usually] see the grassroots community,” she said .

“That’s where the real passion is and that’s where the hearts are coming from — all these people are coming together to make something.”