Wednesday 14 November 2018

'Call of Duty' at next Olympics? You can bet on it

Brenda and John Romero
Brenda and John Romero
Doom has an enduring influence on modern gaming
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

It's 2020 and billions are tuning into the Tokyo Olympics - will Michael Phelps come out of retirement to hoover up more medals? Will the wise-cracking O'Donovan brothers win the rowing? And, most importantly, who'll take the gold in the Call of Duty deathmatch final?

Sound like fantasy? The surging popularity of esports may beg to differ and so does John Romero, the brilliant, flamboyant programmer who helped define the first-person shooter two decades ago with Doom.

He should know. The 48-year-old American spent 10 years as chairman of one of the pioneering global esports competitions, the Cyberathletes Professional League. Now the daddy of Doom and his wife Brenda (49), a renowned developer and coding education advocate, have settled in Galway where their company is making the next generation of shooter.

The Romeros both reckon it's only a matter of time before the wider world wakes up to the pulling power of the €100bn-a-year games industry.

"Esports at Tokyo 2020 would open up all kinds of stuff," said John as the pair visited Dublin recently. "If they do allow computers into Olympics, they've changed the Olympics. Now that (Call of Duty publisher) Activision and other companies have jumped in, esports is a thing."

Brenda chimed in: "There's no way we're not going to see it. There are whole groups of people already devoted to making games actual Olympic sports. What they're trying to do is build the infrastructure for it so they can say: 'Hey, here's the teams, let's go'.

"I keep thinking what my son Donovan would like - he would love to play Team Fortress 2 for a living. Donovan does not care about being a pro-soccer player. I can't imagine esports at the Olympics not happening."

The Romeros moved from the US last year after falling in love with Ireland during a brief visit in 2014.

"When we were leaving Ireland, we knew we were going to do the crazy thing - go back to California, sell everything we own and come to Ireland," explained Brenda. "We fell in love with every place we went all over Ireland.

"There was the people and the amazing game developers here and the development scene. Ireland is an egregiously creative place. We just both wanted to be here.

"There's such a level of intensity and passion from smaller indie game developers. There were some really great art games coming out of Ireland at the time, like Owen Harris's Deep, Llaura Dreamfeel's Curtain.

"There was a sense that it was just bubbling up. Something big was going to happen. We felt the scene was on the verge of breaking out."

Ireland still seems to be on the cusp of that elusive breakthrough, despite the burgeoning number of games companies here. Yet the Government doesn't realise it's sitting on a potential goldmine.

Brenda said: "Canada and the UK provide all kinds of subsidies for games, as art, as these creative things. Plenty of people have made successful games with no support at all. Minecraft was made with no support, Doom was made with basically no support. So support isn't necessary to make great games.

"But the Government has to pay attention to the supports other countries are providing."

The lack of direct assistance didn't stop the Romeros from setting up shop here, with John returning to the genre that made him famous. His new shooter, named Blackroom, won't hit the shelves until 2019 but he's already excited about it.

"I haven't made a shooter in 16 years," he said. "My thought was, I want to make another one but I want to make a shooter that is different. We teach classes all the time and one of the biggest things we tell students is you should be making a game that has a reason to exist because there's something different or innovative in its design."

Blackroom is set in a troubled future, where the holographic simulations created by a company for leisure have gone horrifically and inevitably wrong.

"There's something cool and different about it that people haven't seen before."

John and Brenda Romero were speaking at a ComicCon panel hosted by Pulse College, which offers Dublin and Galway-based creative media courses. See

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