Mary Ratliff, a Pulaski County native who now lives and works in Reston, has developed a career as a filmmaker since leaving the area, and is now screening her most recent project.
The film, a documentary on the world of professional gaming, has premiered, and is now being distributed digitally. The documentary is titled “Good Game,” and follows a team of Starcraft 2 players who navigate the competition circuit between June 2011 and March 2012.
“It was a ‘year in the life of the team’ sort of film,” said Ratliff, who produced and directed the film. “We wanted to introduce the idea to people who don’t necessarily know about gaming as a sport, and really competitive gaming in general.”
Specifically, Good Game follows the StarCraft 2 squad of Evil Geniuses; an American based professional gaming organization comprised of international players. According to Ratliff, Evil Geniuses is one of the premiere teams on the scene, mainly based on their number of sponsorships.
“They were the ones we followed because they were the best example of how this could work,” said Ratliff.
Good Game, which is being distributed by Devolver Digital, debuted on March 6, with its first actual screening on March 11 in Austin, Texas. Coincidentally, the film premiered on the three-year anniversary to the day Ratliff and her crew started shooting.
Ratliff, a gamer herself, got the idea after attending a major league gaming event in 2010. During the event she noticed that the passion and energy during those competitions is comparable to that of traditional sporting events.
“It was just really fascinating,” said Ratliff. “I’ve never really been into traditional sports, but it just interested me how the feeling was identical.”
As Ratliff was finishing up her graduate studies at American University, she decided to pursue the project.
“I wanted this to be my project that I worked on out of grad school, and I felt like there was a documentary in the making in there somewhere,” said Ratliff.
After that, she started making phone calls to get the project up and running in October 2010.
According to Ratliff, she realized her fascination with the sport’s energy was confirmed when the cameras started rolling.
“What really struck me about it was how much it reminded me of the narrative of traditional sports where people want to go pro,” said Ratliff. “Obviously, growing up in Pulaski, we’ve had our high school football and everything, so people talked about making it to the NFL.”
During filming Ratliff learned there are a significant number of gamers who want to go pro. However, she also learned that the world of professional gaming is not something that one falls into casually.
“It’s a hard life, it’s almost impossible to get into, and it’s actually a really short career,” said Ratliff.
The players in the film were on the older end of the spectrum for most gamers, which range from the late teens to early 20s. By the time most players reach their mid to late 20s, they end up dropping out of the sport for one reason or another.
Ratliff included the fact that a lot of players retire due to the difficulty of making a living playing professionally. Others even have to retire due to physical effects, such as severe carpal tunnel, which slows them down during competitions.
“StarCraft is a game in particular where speed determines how good you are,” said Ratliff. “Once you get older, your speed slows down a little bit, and that little bit matters.”
As Ratliff has kept in touch with the team since wrapping up filming, she was surprised to find out that many of the Evil Geniuses gamers haven’t called it quits just yet. Some have left the competition, but still play the game casually.
Some of the players who have stopped competing have traded their controllers for microphones, becoming commentators for the competitions. According to Ratliff, those commentators serve a very significant purpose in maintaining interest during the events through play-by-plays and analysis, just like a traditional sporting event.
“That’s a large part of what makes it so exciting and accessible to people who don’t play at that level,” said Ratliff. “The commentators really make the game.”
According to Ratliff, StarCraft is a very complex game with an infinite number of rules, and the commentators help less experienced viewers understand how the game works.
The filming for Good Game also took Ratliff and her film crew to a competition in South Korea, where one of the Evil Geniuses was invited to participate. According to Ratliff, StarCraft 2 is actually a regulated sport in the country.
“Playing StarCraft in South Korea is kind of like going to Brazil to play soccer,” said Ratliff. “They actually have television stations that air these competitions all day. South Korea is like the Mecca for StarCraft players.”
There are also some leagues that have popped up throughout Europe as well, particularly in Scandinavia. According to Ratliff, the U.S. and South Korea are the big hitters on this particular professional gaming circuit.
Now that the filming is wrapped up, Devolver Digital has the film available to download, and they are working on distributing the film through different video on demand services, as well as more screenings.
“Basically our plan is by the time we’re done in a couple months, wherever you like to get your movies, you will be able to get this one.”
Ratliff has about 10 different ideas for projects that she wants to pursue in the future, but at this point, it’s all a matter of them coming together, and will all depend on funding.