Esports documentaries are perhaps the most approachable way for wider audiences to experience the industry’s highs (and lows).
In recent years, we’ve seen plenty more esports-focused documentary series released than in the past from the likes of the BBC, Netflix, and other major production studios and broadcast platforms. These cover a wide range of games too from MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota to CS:GO and the fighting game community (FGC).
In this article, we will discuss some of the most notable esports-focused documentaries around, as well as some honourable mentions.
Perhaps one of the best-known esports documentaries, this is also one of the oldest on this list. The documentary follows three Dota 2 players as they prepare for The International in 2011, the very first edition of the tournament best known as TI. TI 2011 took place in Cologne with a prize pool of $1.6m (~£1.3m) and was also the first major tournament played in Dota 2 after its release.
The documentary was mostly well-received by critics and audiences alike, with critics crediting its approach to the topic, as well as the fact that it portrays esports players as actual athletes, not just as gamers.
Netflix’s ‘7 Days Out’ series was a documentary series that covered a week leading up to an important event, such as horse racing’s Kentucky Derby — or the finals of the 2018 League of Legends Spring split. The documentary does a good job of covering the production aspects of the tournament itself, while still painting a personal picture of the players involved with the event.
Considering it covers a fixed time period, viewers can see what is happening behind the scenes as the last-minute preparations for a large League of Legends tournament ramp up.
Both shows are very similar in approach. Ready Up shares a story of tournament organiser BLAST and the BLAST Fall Finals in Copenhagen. Meanwhile, Game and Glory talks about the 2022 IEM Rio Major in Brazil.
The documentaries share a story about the events portrayed, and are valuable in that they offer the viewers a slice of not just the atmosphere, but also the supporting staff, fans, and organisations within these events. Game and Glory also includes statements from fans that visited the Rio event.
Differing from most esports documentaries, Breaking Point is perhaps the most ‘direct’ of all the movies and series on esports. The documentary follows Team Liquid’s League of Legends team in 2016, but its main appeal is that it is largely uncensored and unscripted, allowing viewers to see what goes on behind the scenes of an esports team.
The movie is also well known for being direct and not making the situations appear any better than they actually are. It is highly regarded for its honesty, and for its approach to relationships between the players, their mental health, and the stress of competing.
Its value comes from the fact that it does not intend to present esports teams or players as perfect stars, but rather as ordinary young people with their own problems and limitations, which is not the case in a lot of esports content.
Super Smash Bros. is one of the cornerstones of the FGC, and one of the most popular fighting games of all time. The Smash Brothers is a documentary series that focuses on this global phenomenon, telling an in-depth story about the game, its competitive scene, and players. A nine-episode series, The Smash Brothers follows six professional players, but also the EVO 2013 tournament and the game itself.
Interestingly, the series was crowdfunded in its entirety, and had a budget of just $12,000 (~£9,900), but has since become one of the most detailed and in-depth documentaries across esports as a whole. The series is worth watching not just for FGC fans, but esports and gaming fans full stop.
A documentary telling the story of one of the oldest esports games in the world, Starcraft: Brood War. The movie follows three distinct stories: one of a veteran player on the top of his game, a young talented player hoping to be successful at a high level, and a new player in a well-known team. The movie was named Best Documentary at the New York City Independent Film Festival in 2014.
Being a documentary about Starcraft: Brood War, it shows a side of a competitive game not a lot of Western viewers are very familiar with – but a game that was (and still is) very popular in South Korea.
The documentary series Fight for First is notable because of its importance in bringing esports to BBC viewers. The series concentrates on EXCEL, one of the UK’s best-known esports brands, with behind-the-scenes content and everyday life at the company. The documentary was one of the first times that BBC worked with an esports brand on a documentary series, and the program was broadcasted on television in the UK in 2021.
Players: Although it is not a documentary, indeed it’s a mockumentary, the Paramount series Players is a notable example of good esports cinematography. The series is the first one to completely focus on esports players and is rather unique in its own right.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters: A documentary about competitive gaming, but on arcade machines. It follows a group of players, and two in particular, trying to beat high scores in some of the most popular arcade games, most notably Donkey Kong. A huge rivalry, perseverance, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears, this doc has it all.
Esports, Explained: The Netflix Explained series is one of the most popular short-form documentaries around. The esports episode talks about the basics of the industry, making it great for newcomers.