GameStop Rise of the Players review: A feel-good doc full of unexpected heroes

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The new GameStop documentary Rise of players is a coda movie. You know the type – the kind of story that’s largely an oral history, with a feel-good climax that comes in a few lines of text, over a montage of smiles and laughter, right at the end of the film . It becomes clear that Rise of players goes in that direction about halfway through, having introduced nine ordinary people who aren’t just the good guys in this story, they’re the best kinds of subject matter a documentarian could want.

These nine are the ‘OG Diamond Hands’ who first invested in the beleaguered games retailer a year ago and then ran those holdings through a white knuckle market anomaly that sent the stock price plummeting. action near Neptune. The viewer’s obvious question is “How did these folks fare once the GameStop story stopped being national news?”

The eventual coda that answers that question is well worth the 90 minutes director Jonah Tulis spends laying out and explaining. Rise of players‘stars with a round heart. Among them is Justin Dopierala, a dairy fund manager who makes nurses and welders millionaires. Rigoberto Alcaraz, whose parents immigrated from Mexico to Batavia, Illinois, tells a Horatio Alger story for the ages. And Jenn Kruza’s indestructible smile is validated after she holds onto her GameStop stock long enough to turn a huge profit, even while she’s undergoing chemotherapy treatment without health insurance.

The “heroes” of GameStop: The Rise of Gamers imagined in video game cinematics, clockwise from top left: Rod Alzmann, Justin Dopierala, Dmitry Kozin and Farris Husseini.
Photo: Super LTD

The final lines of the documentary unabashedly label these nine investors “heroes,” which is a bold label for a group whose struggle is to make big bucks. But the title fits. A year after GameStop’s short squeeze, which involved Reddit brothers, excellent memes, hedge fund billionaires and congressional hearings, Tulis and producer Blake J. Harris (who made Console Wars for Paramount Plus in 2020) have finally reshaped history in a way that makes us bother to cheer people on.

GameStop: The Rise of Gamers is like one of those sports movies that’s great because it’s not about sports. In that case, Tulis and Harris aren’t here to tell the definitive story of how GameStop’s stock price rose from $3.25 in August 2020 to $325 the following January. They’re smart enough not to bog the audience down with short-selling concepts, and they don’t build their storytelling on the stock’s horse racing coverage itself. Nor does the film dwell on critiques of capitalism, manipulated markets, or any of the reluctant conspiracy theories that arose when online brokers curtailed trade.

The buildup is simple: Professional investors had a low opinion of GameStop, beating its stock price with confirmation bias more than analysis. The discussion of how GameStop was perceived by the investment community is very similar to the scene of silver ball where a room full of baseball scouts cannot explain why a certain player is good beyond “He looks like a good player”. GameStop was considered a dinosaur waiting for a meteor strike, because someone slapped the bricks and mortar company with the label “Blockbuster 2.0”, and it repeated itself until it was considered as an empirical fact.

Rather, the film reveals that the smart money in all of this doesn’t come from the likes of Gabe Plotkin, the short seller whose hedge fund lost billions of dollars betting against GameStop and other stocks. Rod Alzmann made the smartest bet. The trucking company strategist led the due diligence effort that keeps the film’s heroes at the casino table when the big scores start rolling in. Joe Fonicello writes a report pegging the actual price of GameStop stock at $169. They find validation not in the money they make, but a year after the craze ended, when a top analyst values ​​GameStop at $175.

Alzmann notes that he was among the first to post on GameStop in the notorious WallStreetBets subreddit, where the “diamond hands” mentality first took hold. Except that Alzmann eventually had those posts removed and was even banned from the subreddit for his advocacy. It’s an important distinction showing that Alzmann and his cohort — including software engineer Dmitriy Kozin and data visualization expert Farris Husseini — had the courage of their convictions long before the Reddit brothers began to put the screw on hedge funds by refusing to sell their GameStop shares.

The back of a man's head as he stares at two computer screens with stock prices in GameStop: Rise of the Players

Photo: Super LTD

A smaller emotional climax comes during the infamous Zoom hearing held by the House Financial Services Committee on February 17, 2021. Yes, it’s hilarious to see Keith Gill, the outrageous streaming personality known as Roaring Kitty (or DeepFuckingValue) sitting in his game of thrones gaming chair, or tell the august panel, “I’m not a cat.” But it’s also a surprisingly moral moment. As Plotkin, hedge fund titan Kenneth Griffin and, worst of all, Vladimir Tenev, CEO of trading app Robinhood, slur in prepared statements and refuse to answer yes or no questions, Gill gives answers directly to Representative Maxine Waters. It clearly states a buy recommendation on GameStop, which returns the stock price that day.

It would have been easy for GameStop: The Rise of Gamers to end up celebrating crypto-anarchists or tech-bro libertarians, or talkative alpha types who scream on CNBC for a living. He avoids this trap. Tulis and Harris did the work to find out who really bought GameStop before buying GameStop was cool, and more importantly, investigating why they did. Griffin, Tenev and Plotkin didn’t participate (and Gill, sued by a GameStop investor in February, went dark for other reasons), but their absence means Tulis can focus attention on people more valid than the zillionaires who make their money from the businesses that speak badly about bankruptcy.

It’s kinda grand to call GameStop: The Rise of Gamers a boost of well-being. There aren’t many conflicts, except for the personal challenges presented by a cancer diagnosis, unemployment, or student loan debt. It’s mostly luck, but at least it happens to deserving people. Any insta-doc could have found people who profited from the short squeeze and show off the material goods or comfortable lifestyle their profit bought. Rise of players instead puts viewers in the investors’ seat at the poker table, making real their tension, self-doubt, and anxiety about holding onto a stock that experienced players consider worthless.

Of course, the happy ending has a dollar amount, and that’s a good number. But the real victory is the validation these nine found, not because they were right, but because they were willing to be wrong with all their money. You can’t say the same about the greats who lost billions of someone else’s.

GameStop: The Rise of Gamers debuts in North American theaters on January 28.

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