As esports continues to grow, so too does the number of documentaries trying to capture the essence of the various cultures that inhabit the games being played at the highest level. With so many vibrant personalities both in front of and behind the stage lights, the documentaries tend to have very distinct voices—which helps showcase the complexity of the phenomenon itself.
Here are our top eight esports documentaries of all time.
1) State of Play
Steven Dhoedt’s documentary on professional Starcraft: Brood War has three different areas of focus: The life of the game’s most successful competitors, the aspiring pro-gamer, and finally the culture of fandom surrounding the top players. Being filmed at the same time as the game’s biggest-ever scandal had just been broken, the three separate storylines work in tandem to explain the impact of the controversy, creating a movie that is equally as gripping as it is crushing.
2) The Smash Brothers
The impact of Travis “Samox” Beauchamp’s four-hour-long documentary series about the competitive legends of Super Smash Bros. Melee is still palpable to this day. Offering an intricate, unfiltered look into seven of the game’s most defining players, The Smash Brothers is still a must-watch for any esports enthusiast.
3) Free to play
Three years after the inaugural iteration of Valve’s The International, this documentary focuses on three legendary Dota players that fought for the, at the time, largest prize pool in esports history. With $1.6 million up for grabs, the stories of Clinton “Fear” Loomis, Danil “Dendi” Ishutin, and Benedict Lim “hyhy” Han Yong are told in an informative fashion, bringing the history of one of esports’ most defining moments to life. If fans are interested in more behind-the-scenes material, competitor Jacob “Maelk” Toft-Andersen and commentator Toby “TobiWan” Dawson have recorded an unofficial commentary track to the film, which adds a great deal of humor and insights.
4) Breaking Point
Breaking Point is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial esports documentaries of all time. While being entirely produced by Team Liquid in 2016, the documentary follows the chaos plaguing the organization’s own League of Legends roster. Centered primarily on the roster’s star players, Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett and Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin, the viewers get to witness the team’s complete breakdown as a combination of egos, managerial issues, and poor results eventually spell the end of one of North American League’s biggest “what if”-stories.
5) Alias: Slayer
The early 2000s saw a minor surge of popularity surrounding esports, but while the primary focus was directed towards first-person shooters such as Quake and Counter-Strike, Codename Slayer puts the focus on Norwegian Starcraft: Brood War-phenom Fredrik “Slayer” Østervold. Travelling to South Korea, the documentary chronicles the, at the time, 16-year-old’s triumph at 2000 KBK Masters—making him one of the few non-Korean players to ever win an event in the country.
6) CompLexity: Redemption
In the early 2000s, compLexity were widely regarded as the strongest North American Counter-Strike team, but compLexity: Redemption follows the team before their biggest success. Consisting of almost guerilla-esque filmmaking, the documentary serves as a snapshot of esports earliest days, and also sheds light on the characters that were part in making it. This is particularly true for compLexity owner and founder Jason Lake, who is seen shouting and pacing behind the team as they achieve multiple upsets at the Championship Gaming League’s 2004 winter-stop.
FRAG is not a perfect documentary. It’s unfocused, cheesy, and in some instances horribly dated. It also doesn’t have a clear direction or intention, as it tries to cram the majority of esports history up until 2008 into a 90-minute feature, which is a guaranteed way of glossing over, or sometimes over-emphasizing some of the issues it tries to bring up. Ultimately, however, that is what makes it a fun watch, as the focus on rabble-rousing players and personalities are pitched against one of esports first major villains in Angel Muñoz. Similar to compLexity: Redemption, it works best as a snapshot of a bygone era of esports history.
8) MTV True Life: I’m a Gamer
The original esports superstar, Jonathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel broke new ground with his appearance on MTV’s True Life. Filmed during a string of incredible performances, Fatal1ty was unequivocally the first professional gamer that was not only able to dominate seemingly any game he picked up—he was also the first one to look cool while doing it.
Watch the full documentary here.