‘All Work All Play’ Review: Too Inside Baseball, But Not Enough

In 2013, over 32 million people watched the One World Championship for gaming’s biggest eSport, League of Legends. The numbers have only gone up from there, with Twitch.tv reporting over 100 million unique viewers in 2014, the vast majority of which are there to watch LOL players stream their matches out live to the world. Even more recent data from Superdata Research pegs viewership at over 134 million.  

When you start raking in the ludicrous amounts of dough that such numbers bring with it, is when you start building up your fame, and there’s no greater testament to this fact than the film under review, All Work All Play, the second notable attempt to document the rise and importance of the eSports phenomenon. 

Directed by Patrick Creadon, All Work All Play is in its worst moments a blatant eSports propaganda piece dressed up as a proper documentary, and in its best, a mostly competent though scattershot film about a worldwide social phenomenon that, like the Tin-Man of Oz, seeks desperately to find a heart despite already having one in the first place. 

All Work All Play eSports

That is assuming of course, that you’re not already a fan of League of Legends. While this documentary tries very hard to explain not only what LoL is, but why it’s important to outsiders in several prolonged comparisons to traditional sports, it never fully commits to a neophyte audience as its target demographic. Instead, it spends far too much time going into the nitty-gritty behind the scenes details of the 2014-15 Intel Extreme Masters 9th worldwide gaming tournament, with an eye on both players and organizers that’s going to be inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t already have a vested interest. 

If you don’t know what an “Anti-Carry” is, why a Pentakill is important or what “Acing the other team” pertains to, All Work All Play will educate you on these subjects, but briefly, before jumping back to the dramas that’s only a fan would find interesting.

When the film does work for general audiences, it’s usually following one Michał “Carmac” Blicharz of the ESL, or Electronic Sports League. Michał is the primary organizer of the IEM’s tournament and a former Polish pro-gamer, who obviously has a lot of passion for what he does and for growing the eSports community in both esteem and profitability. 

All Work All Play Documentary

There’s a relatable human drama with Blicharz. He’s a new father toiling in a field so burgeoning that its existence (and thus his livelihood) could seemingly evaporate at a moment’s notice, who wrangles everything together despite the chaos his task entails. He’s a guy with a lot to lose should he fail, so it’s easy to root for him. The rest of the players being followed however, are far less relatable if you’re not already watching their streams. 

They’re all young men with handles like “Balls”, “Lustboy”, and “Gorilla”, who, while as dedicated as Blicharz is, are younger, more obviously able to move on with their lives should they wash out of their pro-gamer passion, and so lacking in any real responsibility that it’s hard to care if they triumph or fail. The prime example of this being when the film dwells on teams who get eliminated from the tournaments it centers around; it’s just difficult to summon an ounce of empathy for a bunch of middle-class kids who willingly choose to drop out of college so they can play video games all day in order to hopefully become millionaires in the process (which, the film points out, is exactly how much money the biggest superstars actually do make) compared to people with real responsibilities like Blicharz (even if he’s just one of those kids all grown up). 

Which is, of course, the ultimate hurdle that not only this film, but also the very similar but better film Free to Play (and eSports in general) has to jump. Where Free to Play succeeded on this measure compared to All Work All Play is in not having someone like Blicharz prominently featured. Rather than looking at an everyman with realistic problems, that film zeroed in exclusively on the professional players and made their world of “who’s going to win the big match at the end” its entirety. So much so that in watching it, you quickly forget that this is all essentially a big corporate promotion that’s just a real life version of The Wizard

All Work All Play 2015

Spending at least a quarter of its running time in tutorial mode for newbs, another quarter on a likable family man and the rest on kids eschewing real-life and getting away with it may make it seem like All Work All Play grants a broad view on the subject of eSports in general and League of Legends tournaments in particular, but it just comes off as unfocused. If any one of these subjects had been more at its center rather than jumping around as much as it does between them, it would have been all the better for it. 

If you’re a fan who has already drank the dank memes of the world of LoL-craft, then All Work All Play might provide a sense of legitimacy injection for your passion, and be worthy of your time. If you aren’t, you’re just going to see an documentary that can’t decide which of its subjects is interesting enough to hold it up, and tries far too hard to convince you every ten minutes that what you’re watching is “really important guys, no really!”

Which is a sign of lacking confidence, and that’s never attractive.