Frag Review

Frag is a documentary that explores the rise of competitive gaming through the eyes of first-person shooter players and the people around them.

Before League of Legends filled giant stadiums and before millions of players watched the Evolution Championship Series online, the most popular competitive games were first-person shooters. Frag is a documentary that explores the rise of competitive gaming through the eyes of first-person shooter players and the people around them.

To better illustrate the rise of “e-sports”, the documentary shows the evolution of the video game industry since the 1980s, a time where people were competing in the arcades. Back in those days, players played against the games to reach the highest scores possible, but eventually, they started competing against each other. After the Golden Age of video games, arcades dried up and Nintendo (and other console manufacturers) developed platform where people could compete. Commodore and Apple II weren’t as popular as the NES and its console peers, but the few people who had access to games an those computers were really into them. John Romero was one of those people and his passion for game design led to the creation of some of the most beloved games ever made, including Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Doom II.

As most of us know by now, the first-person shooter genre took the world by storm. Doom had it all: it was brutal, you could make your own levels, you could kill demons from hell and the best part about it was that you could play against other people both locally or online. Doom was a seminal game not only because it was fun to play, but because it allowed the creation of other similar titles, such as Quake, Unreal Tournament, Halo and Counter-Strike. Of course, this led to the industry that we now know as competitive gaming or e-sports and this journey is fascinating to watch.

Frag 01

The best part about Frag is that it explains how everything in competitive gaming works, including teams, sponsors, tournaments, double elimination brackets, leagues and so on. The documentary came out in 2008, a time where first-person shooters was the most popular genre in gaming. Since then, a lot has changed (MOBAs and fighting games are at the forefront of competitive gaming,) but Frag manages to remain relevant film because it shows a part of video game history that’s fascinating. Anyone remotely interested in the humble beginnings of competitive gaming should definitely watch Frag, but I’d also recommend the film to people who want to know what being a competitive player means.

Of course, the existence of this games is important, but something that’s always fascinated me is the people who play them at a professional level. Frag has a series of interviews with people who established careers around games like Quake and Counter-Strike, such as Fatal1ty (at the time of the release of this documentary he was the most recognizable professional player in America and probably in the world.) As you’d expect, not everything is rainbow ans unicorns for professional players and the people around them. Team that abuse players, long hours of practice, women who are relegated to wearing skimpy outfits to promote products, deteriorated relationships, racism and easy access to drugs, alcohol and sex are some of the things these people had to deal with on a regular basis.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a short segment on Guitar Hero and how the game was becoming extremely popular in competitive gaming at the time. Although I enjoyed watching this part, I assume it was included here because the game was becoming increasingly popular at the time, but it doesn’t really fit in context.

I’d recommend Frag to anyone who’s remotely interested in the competitive gaming scene, playing video games professionally and for those interested in the harsh realities of this sub-culture and of the video game industry at large. There are some segments that feel out of place here and there, but for the most part, Frag is as relevant as it was back when it came out, even if the industry changed tremendously in just a couple of years.