The truth is that I’m not that familiar with eSports, or competitive gaming, though I do enjoy watching other people play videogames and admire those who can make even the most complicated movesets and strategies look like a breeze. Thankfully, my intertwined hobbies made watching eHero much more relatable than it might seem to others not completely immersed in the culture of videogames and those who play them. There’s no need to worry; it ‘plays’ more like a traditional underdog sports drama, albeit one with more robots and skillpoints.
22-year old Tyler Conway (Greg Hovanessian) is an upcoming gamer who spends most of his free time playing Reflex, a first-person shooter with lots of robots and explosions. He’s a natural blessed with the ability to decimate his opponents with quick dukes and lightning fast reflexes to win every round. Tyler’s been staying with his uncle when a horrible tragedy forces him to confront the demons of his past while charting a future as a professional gamer.
While playing Reflex with a friend he hears about a local competition and decides to drop by and give it a shot. In a surprising twist, he makes short work of current Reflex champion and leader of team Nefarious, Jonathan Spencer (Sean Colby). Not only does this stunning upset turn him into an overnight sensation, but he quickly replaces Jonathan as the team’s captain and renames them Omen. Now Tyler is about to learn that it’s not all just “fun and games” in the virtual world.
I’m sure many viewers will relate to Tyler’s massive ego when it comes to learning to work together as a team instead of going it alone. He’s the type who prefers flying solo and from the start clashes with his new teammates. While practicing for a big match he snaps at teammate Steve Wilson (Landon Norris) for zoning out during the practice match, which escalates into another argument with friend Dave (Victor Verbitzsky) about him interfering. This leads to a brief breakup of the team where Tyler has to face the facts: is he arguing with his teammates because he has something to prove to them – or to himself?
eHero isn’t perfect by any means. The scowling antagonist doesn’t leave much to the imagination about the outcome. He’s barely relatable and while his ex-girlfriend Kate (Chloe Rose) and manager Richard (Sean Astin) attempt to redeem him, this effort falls flat. The movie shines brightest showing the gameplay of Reflex, a 90s-inspired first-person shooter. There’s nothing quite like watching a slow action replay of a robot throwing a grenade and leaping sideways followed up with a fiery explosion echoing in the background.
These intense moments are followed up with rapid fire movements of players responding to each other as they leap about a map and are moving in for the kill. I’m terrible at shooters myself, but seeing a close up shot of a cannon being powered up before a blast made me want to pick up a controller and go a few rounds.
The buildup of Tyler working alongside his team and learning that they have to work together felt typical of other sports movies like Rocky or The Karate Kid. That’s not to say it’s a bad choice, in fact I enjoy these storylines, and the relationship the characters have with the videogame is where it’s shines. No spoilers, but this spurred me to watch eHero again after my first viewing and catch the small signs of why Tyler reacts to the people around him like he does. It’s intriguing to see the pieces click into place when the realization hits people don’t always play videogames for fun, but as a coping mechanism for when life deals a blow that can be impossible to recover from.
Unlike a videogame, however, you can’t hit the reset button on life if you mess up; nine times out of ten you have to deal with the consequences. Both good and bad sides of eSports are showcased throughout eHero, and despite a certain predictability and questionable acting it manages to nail certain aspects of the culture with astounding clarity. For gamers and sports fans alike, it’s definitely a movie you should watch, if only to see the epic robot battles and strong character development.