Posts Tagged‘esports’

Hold the Spoils, Please.

I used to be pretty blaise when it came to someone spoiling things for me. Whilst it could be a little irritating to find out the ultimate outcome of something before I had had a chance to experience it for myself I still usually enjoyed it regardless. However my rather voracious appetite for competitive DOTA2 has seen my tolerance of results drop considerably as much of the tension disappears when you know who’s going to win a certain match. In this modern age where everything is broadcast immediately and with reckless abandon avoiding spoilers has become an exercise in frustration. It seems that no matter where you go there’s someone, or something, that will ruin your experience, intentionally or otherwise.Spoiler AlertI had this exact problem happen to me today when I was browsing around for the wild card games being played for this year’s The International DOTA2 tournament. After not being able to find the games (likely due to me being offline at the time) I saw some updates in my compendium and figured I check them out. Lo and behold there was the winner of the current round of games displayed, thereby informing me of the ultimate outcome. Considering there weren’t that many teams competing in this round it meant pretty much every game had a very predictable outcome and whilst I still enjoyed watching the games afterwards the usual tension was gone and I was far less invested than I’d normally be.

The game client itself isn’t the only source of spoilerific content either, the live streams which many tune into for this content are also quite guilty of spoiling things by casually mentioning results or even displaying future games as part of their highlights section. Since they’re witnessing the games live it’s understandable that they’d forget that not everyone was tuning in at the same time they were, however it’s still something that can really ruin your experience. Watching the entire stream in chronological order can alleviate this somewhat however that also means wading through hours of content in order to see the parts you want.

This isn’t a problem without solutions however they’re often slow in coming forward or completely ineffectual. The DOTA2 client has come some way in that regard, letting you select individual games to watch the replays of, however since the most recent game is always displayed at the top you’re guaranteed to see it unless you cover your screen with your hand (a rather unreliable method). There are some good VOD sites like DOTA2vods which do spoiler free sections although they’re often out of order, meaning you have to figure out the order of matches yourself. Both of these issues can be sorted out with a little more development work and manual intervention where appropriate, something which I’m hoping both Valve and the site owners do sooner rather than later.

The communities are thankfully becoming more aware of just how much spoilers can ruin one’s experience of things like this with the community on Reddit being rather good at policing threads with spoilers in their titles. By far the best example of this is the spoilerfreesc subreddit which I’ve yet to see replicated for other eSports. It’s somewhat understandable that this hasn’t happened due to the rather large amount of overhead incurred but it’s still something that I’m sure many would like to see developed.

Indeed I don’t think these problems are unique to my sport of choice, nor are they new. It’s more that the problem has been exacerbated by the ease of which information can spread, both through intentional and unintentional means. There’s really no quick and easy solution for it, more the responsibility is on everyone involved to avoid divulging information that might not be appropriate. Hopefully between that and a few more technological advances we can do away with spoilers of this nature for good.

 

Defense of the Ancients 2: My Addiction, It Beckons…

If you’ll allow me to get a little hipster for a second you’ll be pleased to find out that I’ve been into the whole Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) scene since it first found its roots way back in Warcraft 3. Back then it was just another custom map that I played along with all the other customs I enjoyed, mostly because I suffered from some extreme ladder anxiety. Since then I’ve played my way through all of the DOTA clones that came out (Heroes of Newerth, Leaggue of Legends and even that ill fated experiment from GPG, Demigod) but none of them captured me quite as much as the seemingly official successor, DOTA 2, has.

Defense of the Ancients 2 should be familiar to anyone who played the original DOTA or  one of the many games that followed it. In a team of 5 you compete as single heros, choosing from a wide selection who all have unique abilities and uses, pushing up one of three lanes with a bunch of NPC creeps at your side. The ultimate goal is the enemies ancient, a very well defended building that will take the concerted effort of all team members to reach and finally, destroy. There are of course many nuances to what would, on the surface, seem to be a simple game and it’s these subtleties which make the game so engrossing.

When compared to its predecessor that was limited by the graphics engine of WarCraft 3 DOTA2 stands out as a definite improvement. It’s not a graphical marvel, much like many of the MOBA genre, instead favoring heavily stylized graphics much like Blizzard does for many of their games. The recent updates to DOTA2 have seen some significant improvements over the first few initial releases both in terms of in-game graphics and the surrounding UI elements. Valve appears to be heavily committed to ensuring DOTA2’s success and the graphical improvements are just the tip of the iceberg in this regard.

Back in the old days of the original DOTA the worst aspect of it was finding a game and then hoping that no one would drop out prematurely. There were many 3rd party solutions to this problem, most of which were semi-effective but were open to abuse and misuse, but none of them could solve the problem of playing a game with similarly skilled players. DOTA2, like nearly every other MOBA title, brings in a matchmaking system that will pair you up with other players and also brings with it the ability to rejoin a game should your client crash or your connection drop out.

Unfortunately since DOTA2 is still in beta the matchmaking system is not yet entirely working as I believe it’s intended to. It does make the process of finding, joining and completing a game much more streamlined but it is blissfully unaware of how skilled a potential player is. What this means is that the games have a tendency to swing wildly in one teams favour and unlike other games where this leads to a quick demise (thus freeing you up toplay again) DOTA instead is a drawn out process and should you decide to leave prematurely you’ll be hit with a dreaded “abandoned” mark next to your record. This is not an insurmountable probelm though and I’m sure that future revision of DOTA2 will address this issue.

The core gameplay of DOTA2 is for the most part unchanged from back in the days of the original DOTA. You still get your pick from a very wide selection of heros (I believe most of the AllStars team are in there), the items have the same names and you still go through each of the main game phases (laneing, pushing, ganking) as the game progresses. There have been some improvements to take away some of the more esoteric aspects of DOTA2 and for the most part they’re quite welcome.

Gone are the days where crafting items required either in depth knowledge of what made what or squinting at the recipe text, instead you can click on the ultimate item you want to craft and see what items go in to make it. Additionally there’s a list of suggested items for you hero which, whilst not being entirely appropriate for every situation, will help to ease players into the game as they learn some of the more intricate aspects of iteming a character correctly. It’s still rather easy to draw the ire of players who think they know everything there is to know about certain characters (I’ll touch more on the community later) but at least you won’t be completely useless if you stick to the item choices the game presents for you.

Know which hero to pick is just as important as knowing how to item them and thankfully there are some improvements to the hero choosing system that should make do so a little easier for everyone. Whilst the hero picking has always made delineations between int/str/agi based heros you can now also filter for things like what kind of role the character fills like support, ganker or initiator. For public games though it seems everyone wants to play a carry (mostly because they’re the most fun) and there’s little heed paid to good group composition but this is not a fault of the game per se, but there is potential there for sexing up the lesser played types so that pub compositions don’t end up as carry on carry battles.

It’s probably due to the years of play testing that the original DOTA received but the heroes of DOTA2 are fairly well balanced with no outright broken or overpowered heroes dominating the metagame. There are of course heros that appear to be broken in certain situations (I had the pleasure of seeing Outworld Destroyer killing my entire team in the space of 10 seconds) but in reality it’s the player behind that character making them appear broken. This bodes well for the eSports scene that Valve is fostering around DOTA2 and they’re going to need to keep up this level of commitment if they want a chance of dethroning the current king, League of Legends.

The eSports focused improvements in DOTA2 are setting the bar for new game developers who have their eye on developing an eSports scene for their current and future products. The main login screen has a list of the top 3 spectated games and with a single click you can jump in and watch them with a 2 minute delay. This can be done while you’r waiting to join a game yourself and once your game is ready to play you’re just another click away from joining in on the action. It’s a fantastic way for both newcomers and veterans of the genre to get involved in the eSports scene, but that’s just he start of it.

Replays can be accessed directly from a player’s profile or downloaded from the Internet. Game casters can embed audio directly into the replay allowing users to watch the replay in game with the caster’s commentary.They can also watch the caster’s view of the game, use a free camera or using the built in smart camera that will automatically focus on the place where the most action is happening. It’s a vast improvement over how nearly all other games do their replays and Valve really has to be commended for the work they’ve done here.

For all the improvements however there’s one thing that DOTA2 can’t seem to get away from and that’s its elitist, almost poisonous community that is very hostile to new players. Whilst the scsreenshot above is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek example of the behavior that besots the DOTA2 community it still holds true that whilst many concessions have been made to make the game more palatable for newcomers the DOTA2 community still struggles with bringing in new players to the fold. League of Legends on the other hand crack this code very early on and the following success is a testament to how making the game more inviting for new users is the ultimate way to drive the game forward. I don’t have an answer as to how to fix this (and whilst I say LoL cracked the code I’m not 100% sure their solution is portable to DOTA2) and it will be very interesting to see how DOTA2 develops in the shaodw of the current MOBA king.

DOTA2 managed to engage me in a way that only one other game has managed to do recently and I belive there’s something to that. Maybe it’s a bit of nostalgia or possibly my inner eSports fan wanting to dive deep into another competitive scene but DOTA2 has really upped the MOBA experience that I first got hooked on all those years ago and failed to rekindle with all the other titles in this genre. I’d tell you to go out and buy it now but it’s still currently in beta so if you can get your hands on a key I’d definitely recommend doing so and if you’re new to this kind of game just ignore the haters, you won’t have to deal with them for long.

Defense of the Ancients 2 is currently in beta on PC. Approximately 60 hours of total game play were undertaken prior to this review with a record of 32 wins to 36 losses.

PC Gaming: Retaking The Crown?

Make no mistake, in the world of gaming PCs are far from being the top platform. The reasoning behind this is simple, consoles are simply easier and have a much longer life than your traditional PC making them a far more attractive platform for both gamers and developers a like. This has lead to the consolization of the PC games market ensuring that many games are developed primarily for the console first and the PC becomes something of a second class citizen, which did have some benefits (however limited they might be). The platform is long from forgotten however with it still managing to capture a very respectable share of the games market and still remaining the platform of choice for many eSports titles.

The PC games market has been no slouch though with digital sales powering the market to all time highs. Despite that though the PC still remains a relative niche compared to other platforms, routinely seeing market share in the single digit percentages. There were signs that it was growing but it still seemed like the PC was to be forever relegated to the back seat. There’s speculation however that the PC is looking to make a comeback and could possibly even dominate consoles by 2014:

As of 2008, boxed copies of games had paltry sales compared to digital sales, and nothing at all looks to change. During 2011, nearly $15 billion is going to be attributed to digital sales while $2.5 billion belong to boxed copies. This is a trend I have to admit I am not surprised by. I’ll never purchase another boxed copy if I can help it.

The death of PC gaming has long been a mocking-point of console gamers, but recent trends show that the PC has nothing to stress over. One such trend is free-to-play, where games are inherently free, but support paid-services such as purchasing in-game items. This has proven wildly successful, and has even caused the odd MMORPG to get rid of it subscription fee. It’s also caused a lot of games to be developed with the F2P mechanic decided from the get-go.

The research comes out of DFC Intelligence and NVIDIA was the one who’s been spruiking it as the renaissance of PC gaming. The past couple years do show a trend for PC games sales to continue growing despite console dominance but the prediction starts to get a little hairy when it starts to predict the decline of console sales next year when there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it. The growth in the PC sales is also strikingly linear leading me to believe that it’s heavily speculation based. Still it’s an interesting notion to toy with, so let’s have a look at what could (and could not) be driving these predictions.

For starters the data does not include mobile platforms like smart phones and tablets which for the sake of comparison is good as they’re not really on the same level as consoles or PCs. Sure they’ve also seen explosive growth in the past couple years but it’s still a nascent platform for gaming and drawing conclusions based on the small amounts of data available would give you wildly different results based purely on your interpretation.

A big driver behind these numbers would be the surge in the number of free to play, micro-transaction based games that have been entering the market. Players of these types of games will usually spend over and above the usual amount they would on a similar game that had a one off cost. As time goes on there will be more of these kinds of titles that appeal to a wider gamer audience thereby increasing the revenue of PC games considerably. Long time gamers like me might not like having to fork out for parts of the game but you’d be hard pressed to argue that it isn’t a successful business model.

Another factor could be that the current console generation is getting somewhat long in the tooth. The Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 were both launched some 5 to 6 years ago and whilst the hardware has performed admirably in the past the disparity between what PCs and consoles are capable of is hard to ignore. With neither Microsoft nor Sony mentioning any details on their upcoming successors to the current generation (nor if they’re actually working on them) this could see some gamers abandon their consoles for the more capable PC platforms. Considering even your run of the mill PC is now capable of playing games beyond the console level it wouldn’t be surprising to see gamers make the change.

What sales figures don’t tell us however is what the platform of choice will be for developers to release on. Whilst the PC industry as a whole might be more profitable than consoles that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be more profitable for everyone. Indeed titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield have found their homes firmly on the console market with PCs being the niche. The opposite is true for many of the online free to play games that have yet to make a successful transition onto the console platform. It’s quite possible that these sales figures will just mean an increase in a particular section of the PC market while the rest remain the same.

Honestly though I don’t think it really matters either way as game developers have now shown that it’s entirely possible to have a multi-platform release that doesn’t make any compromises. Consolization then will just be a blip in the long history of gaming, a relic of the past that we won’t see repeated again. The dominant platform of the day will come and go as it has done so throughout the history of gaming but what really matters is the experience which each of them can provide. As its looking right now all of them are equally capable when placed in the hands of good developers and whilst these sales projections predict the return of the PC as the king platform in the end it’ll be nothing more than bragging rights for us long time gamers.

A Little Rational Discourse on eSports.

Before I dive into the meat of today’s article I think a little disclosure is in order so you know where my biases lie. I’m undeniably an eSports fan, watching it grow from the tenuous beginnings to the burgeoning industry that it has become today. I’m also slightly invested in the whole idea myself, even though at my current skill level I’m still a worlds away from competing seriously. Still despite my biases my inner sceptic won’t stay quiet when there’s an argument to be had that seems to be rife with emotion and misinformation, which is what has pushed me to write about this today.

So since I’ve been elbow deep in writing about other issues this week I missed a massive Internet argument over whether eSports can be classified as a sport. The origin appears to be this article on Destructoid which, like previous articles to the same effect did, sparked a debate online which inevitably turned south as both sides duked it out. The latest instalment, and the one that caught my eye, was this post from Jim Sterling which focused primarily on the community’s reaction to the post and how such a reaction showed that eSports can never be considered a real sport because of it. After reading through it all and doing some digging on the matters at hand I’ve come to a couple conclusions and believe that both sides could learn a lot from each other.

The first, and I know this is probably pointless on the Internet, is that a level of courtesy would never go astray when you’re arguing with people online. It’s really, really easy to devolve into name calling and baiting when you’re arguing with a faceless wall of text but it does nothing to help your cause when you do so. It’s for that exact reason that I tend to shy away from writing any kind of emotionally charged piece here simply because it usually removes the meaning. The problem is exacerbated when you have to confine your words to the 140 character count of Twitter, leading to sound bites like this one which can be so easily construed as meaning one thing or another.

However I also know that reasoned pieces (like this one in response to the earlier Kotaku article I linked) tend to fall by the wayside, drowned out by the vitriol and hyperbole. This is because such articles tend to attract the most page views and discussion, generating a self sustaining organism of hate that proceeds to trample around the Internet. Such behaviour gives the false impression that one side is wholly represented by this vocal minority.

But that doesn’t mean some of the grievances raised don’t have some factual basis.

The crux of the entire matter appears to centre around the idea of whether or not eSports can be counted as sports. There are good arguments on both sides so let’s have a quick look at them, starting with the supporters. For them eSports counts as a sport because on the surface they share many similar aspects with the major difference being the lack of physicality. However the IOC (which Elsa mentions in her article) includes several non-physical sports in their definition of what constitutes a sport, lending credence to the idea that not all sports need to have the physical element. This is where Elsa’s article falls down for many eSports supporters as she writes that off in favour of her own opinion instead.

However Elsa is not alone in thinking this, in fact putting this idea to my close (relatively nerdy) social circle showed that most of them supported the idea that sports require a physical element. Indeed taking it further the straight up definition of the term “sport” usually gives something like this:

A human activity capable of achieving a result requiring physical exertion and/or physical skill, which, by its nature and organisation, is competitive and is generally accepted as being a sport.

Going from this it’s easy then to make the assumption that the general public would require the physicality aspect for something to be classified as a sport. This leaves us with quite the conundrum as both sides have a solid, valid claim to their arguments even if the expression of such hasn’t been done in the most respectful way.

As we all know just because the majority believes something does not necessarily make it correct. The general idea that a sport requires some physical aspect dates back to a time before we had the capability to compete in mediums like video games and thus I would argue that the definition of sports, as it current stands, needs to be reworked for modern times. eSports tick all the boxes of the generally accept definition if you take dexterity as satisfying the “physical skill” part of it. The term sport then becomes a much broader term and realistically covers a lot of things that we don’t necessarily consider sports today.

To use a space analogy it’s much like the definition of what constitutes a planet. For the longest time it was pretty much just the large heavenly bodies we had discovered in our own solar system. However as time went by and we discovered more planetary like bodies we had to start questioning what the definition of a planet really was, formalizing the idea. The definition of sports can then be thought of in the same light as we now have new entities that call it into question. 

Sports then should be seen as a larger umbrella for skill based competition. The delineation then comes from the monikers that we then apply to the various sports in order to differentiate them from each other, although I can see many still using the generic term sports to refer to the heavily physical based variety. In reality this is just semantics that gives people an easy identifier to relate with others and should has little bearing on the larger argument.

Jim Sterling makes the point that he can’t take eSports seriously until there’s some actual debate about the topic as opposed to trolling and flame baiting. I was going to attempt to take him down on this one, saying there was a whole lot of reasonable debate to be had if he looked in the right places. Unfortunately it seems that there isn’t too much to be had out there, especially if you look at the comments on the articles in question and the various musing around on Twitter. We then seem to be at the mercy of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory where all of eSports most rabid fans are hiding behind the veil of anonymity where they can spout their vitriol to a large audience. This, I agree, does the case for eSports no good at all.

However it also does those on the opposite side of the argument no good to write something off completely because of the most vocal parts of the fan group. It is of course hard not to judge when all the evidence you have points towards the other side being full of childish twats, so hopefully this post can be the beach head into the realm of constructive discussion. I may be one small voice in the deafening choir that is the Internet but it only takes one to pave the way to a more rational debate.

These kinds of questions (are games art? can they be sport?) are a sign that games, both as an industry and a medium, are now as much a part of our society as print, movies et. al. have been before them. It’s unfortunate that such times are marred by the vocal few who so fervently support them leave their better manners at the door but that does not mean their ideas do not have merit, nor warrant further investigation. Even this rather long post barely scratches the surface of the questions that have been raised in my investigation of the topic and I’m very much looking forward to debating them openly, courteously and rationally with any who would take up the challenge, so long as they extend to me the same.

How I Discovered My Inner (e)Sports Fan.

It was almost a decade ago when I got my first taste of real competitive gaming. Living 45 minutes outside Canberra meant that online gaming was usually out of my reach, except for that one precious weekend that came around every month or so when ACTGN was on. Coming into this world was slightly alien for me, having been a computer shut in most of my life with no one to share the experience with. The idea then that people would compete against each other for prizes was also rather foreign, but I happily competed even though I was sure I’d never be good enough to actually win anything (although in a team I eventually did, but that’s another story).

After a while I started to hear about tournaments on a more grander scale than just the local events I was accustomed to. The first one I can ever remember hearing about was the World Cyber Games which is in essence the Olympics for video games. It was amazing to think that games had reached that level where international competitors would face off against each other and I can remember catching fleeting glimpses of TV coverage of the events, fantasizing about what it would be like to be there. Then as ACTGN died a slow and painful death so did my interest in the competitive gaming scene and I hadn’t really paid much attention to it since then.

However my recent obsession with StarCraft II started to draw me back to this intriguing world. I had known that the tournament scene had grown considerably since I was last obsessed with it (I had heard rumours of 2 Korean TV channels dedicated to eSports broadcasting, amongst other things) but I really had no feel for how popular eSports was. One weekend though a friend sent me a link to the MLG Pro Circuit site where there was going to be a live broadcast of a StarCraft 2 tournament over the weekend. After tuning in and watching it for all of 5 minutes I was hooked and I’ve been deeply engrossed in the eSports circuit ever since.

Initially though I still thought it of somewhat of a niche phenomena, something that was isolated to StarCraft thanks to its insane popularity in Korean. However as time went on some really interesting statistics started to cross my path that started to change my mind. One of my friends and work colleagues is a big player of the free to play hero defence game, League of Legends. Just recently one of the tournaments, which was broadcast online, pulled in a whopping 1.7 million viewers with a peak concurrent viewership of 210,000. MLG is no slouch either shattering previous eSports viewership records with an astonishing 22.5 million stream viewers and 16,000 people in attendance at the actual event. When compared to traditional sports and TV shows those numbers are extremely impressive and shows just how big the eSports circuit has become.

And that’s when I realised what had awoken in me: my inner sports fan.

Being a stereotypical nerd I had never really been one for sports. There were ones that I enjoyed (I played basketball competitively for a good year or two) but I could never bring myself to watch more than 5 minutes of a game of anything before I became completely bored and wandered off to do something else. Even amongst my fellow geek friends that makes me something of an oddity as the vast majority of them enjoy sports in one form or another. There is one exception to this rule that I discovered back in 2004 and that is the Olympics, which I could watch for hours on end without getting bored in the slightest. I’d hardly call myself a fan of it though (since I rarely follow similar events outside of the actual Olympics) especially once I knew what being a real fan actually felt like.

eSports on the other hand captivates me in a much more holistic sense, seeing me seek out all the information I can get my grubby little hands on. For me the enjoyment is two fold: firstly I believe in doing so will make me a better player of the games that I so enjoy. From my own view it has as well with my StarCraft II game improving dramatically and a short stint of watching some of the Black Ops coverage on MLG had me changing my loadout and promptly kicking some serious ass. Secondly it’s just so damn enjoyable to watch other people play which is, I believe, what attracts sports fans to traditional sports.

Seeing games go from a simple distraction, to an underground culture and now to a mature medium that has a wildly successful competitive scene has been one of the most amazing things for me to behold. It seems that the passion of the gaming community is strong enough to bring what was once a fantastical idea into a reality, and one that’s not just a niche for the dedicated few. I’ve only just begun to tumble down this rabbit hole and I can see myself doing so for a long time to come as my inner eSports awakes from his near decade long slumber.