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As Video Gaming Goes Pro, Viewers Pay Up


Video gaming has become a spectator sport. There are now pro video gamers who play for money. Viewers watch online - sometimes at an arena, even on a Jumbotron. Well, this weekend in New York City, 32 of the world's top gamers are gathered to compete. A man named Mike Lamond, also known as "Husky" - maybe the Joe Buck of video gaming. He's what they call a shoutcaster who does the play-by-play for the audience of the games StarCraft: Wings of Liberty. He joins us from the studios of NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

MIKE LAMOND: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I'm so glad to be here.

SIMON: We got some audio of you shoutcasting from your YouTube channel. Let's listen to it.

LAMOND: He is, you know, manning in the guns. He still has no gas on the way. He does have a bunch of drones. He's still on two base. But his army is very, very large. Here comes the attack right now. The protons are trying to get back to his base, force field to protect his army. One StarCrafter (unintelligible) take it out. Now, the immortal really needs to be focused on firing down the...

SIMON: Wow. Now, Mr. Lamond, a lot of people find baseball jargon incomprehensible. What were you just saying there?

LAMOND: Essentially in that clip, StarCraft II, there is basically two sides. There's going to be the building up of an electronic army and having those armies engage each other. So, the part where I tend to get most excited and scream my brains out is the part where those armies are engaging each other.

SIMON: Yeah. And help us understand the significance of this week's competition. I gather it's the first time it'll use the pay-per-view format.

LAMOND: Yeah, and that is something that's going to be very interesting. MLG, which stands for Major League Gaming, very similar to Major League Baseball, they have a very similar model as well. And they're also attempting to do for the first time a pay-per-view model. So, if you want to view the event, you have to pay, I believe, it's $20 to view the events online. Everyone's really excited to see how well it goes.

SIMON: I got to tell you, some of us - certainly not hip young people like me - but some of us were surprised that video gaming has become a spectator sport.

LAMOND: Spectator sports, as far as StarCraft is concerned, that has been around in South Korea for over a decade. It's been one of their most popular sports in that country. And it's starting now to spread to the rest of the world. And for example, one of the last events that MLG did had around 240,000 viewers at a single time.

SIMON: And there are people who make their living competing in these events?

LAMOND: Yes, whether it's being a pro gamer themselves. So, just like in baseball you have, you know, your Babe Ruths and things like that from history, players that are very well-known in that community. And then you also have a handful of people who do what I do, which as you mentioned, was shoutcasting the play-by-play of the game.

SIMON: And give us the names of some Babe Ruths and Lou Gehrigs and Jackie Robinsons.

LAMOND: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, most of the players outside of Korea go by their gamer handles. You mentioned that my gamer handle was "Husky." And so some of the players are very well-known - IdrA and HuK, White-Ra - all these are names that, you know, you kind of make up. It's basically an alias for yourself.

SIMON: And if I were to meet one of them, I mean, without knowing who they are, they might be some guy behind a cubicle?

LAMOND: Oh yeah, absolutely. Now, a lot of the top players, they do play full-time. And what that means is that they're on a team, they're paid a salary. And so there's people who have normal jobs - quote-unquote - so, like a cubicle, like you mentioned. And there's also players who are in a team house where they essentially practice all day. It could be 12 hours a day where they're practicing, depending how much time they want to spend on basically getting better.

SIMON: Is there a steroid scandal in these sports?


LAMOND: You know, I bet steroids scandals would probably hinder your ability as you have to be, you know, super flexible and to have lightning-fast reflexes. So, if you're all bulked up, I don't know, it might get in the way a little bit.

SIMON: All right. That's Mike Lamond - "Husky" - shoutcaster, joining us from the studios of NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

LAMOND: Oh, thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.