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Photos from: Dayton Kiwanis dives into esports with Keith Nealey

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A former Dayton resident and game enthusiast, Keith Nealey, talked about the world of professional esports at the club's March 25 meeting DAYTON-The Dayton Kiwanis Club met Thursday, March 25, at noon, for a regular meeting. Attendees heard from Dayton High School Alumni Keith Nealey, Director of Engineering at KIRO TV and esports enthusiast. Nealy has more than 30 years of experience creating graphics and integrating statistics for traditional sports broadcasts. He has worked with companies including CBS, ABC, and ESPN. He has worked closely with Seattle-based professional sports teams, the Sonics, Seahawks, and Sounders FC. Nealy said he got involved with professional esports in 2012 after working on graphics for The International, a world championship for Dota 2. Esports' roots stretch back to 1972 when students from Stanford University held a Spacewars! championship, vying for a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. In 2006, FUN Technologies hosted the Worldwide Web Games Championship, with more than $1 million in prizes, marking the first million-dollar prize in esports history. By the time the Dota2 championships were played in Shanghai, China, in 2019, the prize pool was more than $34 million. In that same year, when the New England Patriots played the LA Rams in Superbowl LIII, the pool was only $9.4 million, split between the teams. Nealey described the different categories of games played at the professional level. One of the most recognized genres is first-person shooter games, like Overwatch or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The objective of these games is to eliminate opponents by shooting or other combat means. First-person shooters range from fantasy-inspired characters and weapons, like those in Overwatch, to realistic war-scenarios with semi-realistic guns and other weaponry. Battle royale games, like Fortnite, tend to be played by individual competitors. Large groups of players are dropped onto a map where the boundaries shrink during play. "Eventually, like King of the Hill, only one person is left at the end," Nealey explained. "That last person is the winner." Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, like League of Legends and Dota 2, combine strategy with teamwork. Players move across a map with the objective of scoring points and dominating the enemy team. MOBA games are five-on-five teams, and the map is fixed, meaning it will always be the same. Digital card games, like Hearthstone, are the final category of professional esports, according to Nealey. Nealey finished up his presentation with a description of The International 2016, Dota 2 world championships, held in Seattle. He compared the gaming arena to an Olympic venue, reflecting on the amount of work that went into hosting an event of its caliber and the energy in the arena during the gameplay. The setup included 20,000 feet of steel rigging cable, 50 tractor-trailers worth of equipment, 3045 feet of truss, and 208,000 pounds of weight suspended from the Key Arena roof. Over 3,600 L.E.D tiles created a floor used to bring characters to life through augmented reality. Broadcasting over 70 hours, let more than 14 million viewers tune in from all corners of the world. Video games and esports have seen a recent uptick in participation as pandemic restrictions kept everyone home. One attendee shared that video games allowed her son to safely connect with his friends during the shutdown, letting them hang out virtually. While anyone can be a gamer and go pro, Nealey said that you would truly have to be the "best of the best" in your region, possibly your country, before making your big break. "These games are readily available for anyone to play. We can all jump in and join a team and do our best, and I think that is the amateur side of things," Nealey said. "There is an ability there, to play and to be good, but to get to that next level, it's just like any other sport nowadays. You have to be the absolute top player in your region, in America, or China, or England... and then you might get picked up to go pro. It's tough." Esports is quickly becoming a collegiate sport, complete with scholarship opportunities. Now high schools are joining in, creating teams and esport programs. Before in-person restrictions due to the pandemic, Waitsburg High School had an esports team that was part of the High School Esports League (HSEL), which dictates screen time, practices, and game options. In April of 2020, Twitch (a popular streaming service with gamers worldwide) saw a more than 50% gain in gameplay in a single month, hitting nearly 1.5 billion gaming hours as the world shut down. Esports is a waking giant, and you (or your gamer kiddo) could be the next pro.

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