AUSTIN, Texas -- Off to the side of the festival area at X Games Austin, in a tent named the "Gaming Shack", an intense battle of virtual bullets, animated bombs, and coordinated strikes against opponents has been raging all weekend.
In a first for an X Games, Major League Gaming held an invitational tournament for Call of Duty: Ghosts where gamers played for the prize of a real-life X Games medal. And when the dust cleared and carpal tunnel set in, OpTic Gaming walked away with the first X Games gold medal awarded to a video game team.
When the MLG event was announced, a debate commenced about whether eSport gamers deserved medals and if gaming belongs at the X Games like skateboarding, BMX, and other action sports.
Whether or not gaming is viewed by the public at the same level as other competitive sports, after spending time in the Gaming Shack it was clear that a strong base and a passion for gaming exists in the shadows of the Big Air ramp and the RallyCross scaffolding.
Security at the tent wrestled with maximum capacity as the line to enter wrapped around the side. Some fans waited up to two hours in the hot Austin sun for an opportunity to watch their favorite gamers play. The stands were packed, and many sat on the floor to watch the matches on TV screens scattered around the tent.
Fans would cheer loudly with every big play as they watched Call of Duty: Ghosts played at the highest professional level. After all, these were the top teams in America with some of them coming fresh from the Call of Duty World Championship in March where eight teams split $1 million. The top team took home $400,000.
Just like professional athletes, after every match, gamers signed autographs and took pictures with excited and passionate fans. People of all ages would smile in delight that they met the gamers that they idolize. Being there was not the only way to watch, MLG reported on Twitter that its streaming platform had more than 152,000 people watching on Day 3.
The MLG tournament held at X Games featured the top three teams from the World Championship and the top five teams in points from MLG's Call of Duty league, which is in its second season.
The favorite was Evil Geniuses, who had won the World Championship and made every final at a major tournament for the last year and a half. But, Evil Geniuses were upset in the semifinal round by third-seeded OpTic Gaming. On the other side of the bracket, fifth-seeded Team Kaliber upset second-seeded EnVyUs.
OpTic Gaming would end up making history as the first gaming team to win an X Games gold medal by defeating Team Kaliber 3-2 in the finals. Evil Geniuses won bronze winning 3-2 against EnVyUs.
The next major tournament will be June 20-22 at MLG Anaheim, California where MLG will be the main attraction. But one thing is certain: If X Games embraces gaming as quickly as the rest of the world has, they won't be relegated to a festival tent for long.