Pictures & Photos from Free to Play (2014) - IMDb

The 10 best esports documentaries of all time

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Free to Play, the most anticipated esports documentary of the year, just premiered earlier today. The hour-and-a-half long film, which covers the 2011 Dota 2 world championship, The International, has already been getting rave reviews.

The smash hit is just the latest in a long line of great documentaries recording the long history of the esports community and industry that stretches back decades.

We’ve compiled the ten greatest esports documentaries of all time that serve as the best history lesson you'll ever get on the subject. And yes, it includes Free to Play—we admit, it's great—but also nine other docs that are required viewing for veterans and newbies to the esports scene.

1) Free to Play

Valve’s Dota 2 masterpiece follows the 2011 International, a milestone tournament in esports history thanks to its million dollar first place prize. Better yet, the stars of the show are some of the best and most entertaining players in a booming scene.

2) The Smash Brothers

The Smash Bros. esports scene is entering a new golden age. The franchise has been an underdog for 15 years. Nintendo has done precious little to support it and even fellow fighting game fans view it as undeniably different from classics like Street Fighter. Now, as the game re-enters the spotlight, this movie does a brilliant job of articulating why so many people never stopped loving the game.

Watch the rest here.

3) Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade

The world of competitive gaming is decades old. From the first roving pixels in university computer labs, there were always players lining up to compete against one another. It took until the early 1980s for real organization to emerge out of the chaotically popular arcades that dominated the day. Chasing Ghosts chronicles the rise of the greatest arcade players of all time and the culture that surrounded them.

Watch the full movie here.

4) FRAG

 

With the rise of online PC gaming in the 1990s, esports finally began to resemble its modern form in the Western world with games like Quake and then Counter-Strike. FRAG is a wonderful film that spotlights the emergence of the Cyberathlete Professional League, its founder Angel Munoz, and its first superstar, Jonathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel. FRAG never loses its keen sense of history, something that is more and more essential with each passing day and new fan to esports.

5) King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Many competitive gaming movies are great overviews of a fascinating world but few if any can claim to have as great a story as King of Kong. Resembling something like the battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, King of Kong shows us that even after 30 years, the drive to be the best in the world never leaves some people.

Watch all parts of the movie here.

6) Beyond the Game

East vs. West is a common theme in esports. South Korea and China have both dominated more than their fair share of games, making their superstars legends in their worlds. Here, we see WarCraft 3 player Xiaofeng “Sky” Li face off against his European foe Manuel "Grubby" Schenkhuizen in a film that offers rare insight into what it means to be at the center of an intercontinental rivalry.

7) Focus

Street Fighter events are, in a word, hype. The crowd is screaming, the players are smashing their sticks and gritting their teeth, and the commentators are loving every minute of it. It’s a world made for movie magic. Focus tracks pro icon Mike Ross on his journey through Street Fighter’s biggest championships against some of the best players of all time. There’s nothing quite like the fighting game community and no movie gives you a better look inside than this one.

8) MTV True Life: I’m a Gamer

Once upon a time, getting anything about esports on TV was a huge deal. When MTV decided to put Jonathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel on their popular documentary series True Life, it was a milestone moment in competitive gaming history.

The episode, which features a few other well-known gamers at the time, follows Wendel when he’s at the absolute top of the esports world. And if you didn’t already know how high his peak was, here’s a hint: Wendel dropped from the highest earning esports player of all time to second only late last year, nearly a decade after he put the keyboard and mouse away. This is required viewing for all esports fans.

Watch the full documentary here.

9) Day[9]’s WCG 2005 Journey

Before Sean “Day[9]” Plott became the voice of the StarCraft 2, he was merely the best StarCraft 1 player in America. It was a small game in the Western world back then, bringing in virtually no audience to the United States' World Cyber Games national finals. But this short movie proves that even when the seats in the arena are empty, the game and its players are what matter above all else.

10) e@thletes

Here’s an iconic esports image for you: Jason Lake screaming so loud standing behind his Complexity Counter-Strike squad that it looks like his red tie and white shirt are on a little too tight. Counter-Strike is undergoing an incredible renaissance right now. But we shouldn't forget that last decade, guys like Lake and teams like 3D defined esports for a good reason: You can never forget about them.

You can watch the full documentary on Netflix.

Photo via Valve