The Challenge of Popularizing eSports

Total Biscuit has commented on this issue a number of times, and I'd largely agree with his opinion; it's better to draw parallels between games like chess and eSports than with normal sports. It gives better context and does go further to explain what eSports are all about. A Chess Grandmaster is respected for his/her combination of intelligence and mastery at the game, rather than any physical capability. This would appear to be broadly similar to eSports.

A secondary issue with eSports is making them fun to watch, rather than just to play, something that few games have really dealt with. As I doubt many devs really think about this when creating a game, for good reason. While I understand that StarCraft is perhaps the largest eSport, I really have no desire to watch a game of it, despite being a big RTS fan.

I'm sorry, I just don't think that making video games like professional sports is in anyway a worthwhile goal at all, regardless of the inefficacy of the comparison. Professional athletes these days are often childish dickbags that "we" (the public) only put up with because they're good at a couple tricks.

And the only reason sports make that much money is due to the advertising surrounding it. The commercialization of the sport is what makes it "successful." I don't want that to become the world of video games.

Dastardly:
I'm sorry, I just don't think that making video games like professional sports is in anyway a worthwhile goal at all, regardless of the inefficacy of the comparison. Professional athletes these days are often childish dickbags that "we" (the public) only put up with because they're good at a couple tricks.

And the only reason sports make that much money is due to the advertising surrounding it. The commercialization of the sport is what makes it "successful." I don't want that to become the world of video games.

It seems odd to be against the commercialization of gaming when it is by nature a commercial enterprise; unlike many sports (which in their simplest variation require only a big flat space and a $5 ball) games are inherently costly, and there is plenty of advertising already within games and in the surrounding culture (see the banner ads on the side).

I don't particularly like the idea of "eSports", but it seems like the obvious next step. These days you can turn anything into a competition that can be broadcast around the world. As the author said, it's just a matter of getting the correct people (i.e. gamers) interested in watching it.

On a related note, who wants to bet that the first game expressly designed for watching is made by EA? Someone over there must be doing the math on how much of the eSports market they can control if they make the first big game that's challenging for players, but straightforward and entertaining to watch.

Dastardly:
I'm sorry, I just don't think that making video games like professional sports is in anyway a worthwhile goal at all, regardless of the inefficacy of the comparison. Professional athletes these days are often childish dickbags that "we" (the public) only put up with because they're good at a couple tricks.

And the only reason sports make that much money is due to the advertising surrounding it. The commercialization of the sport is what makes it "successful." I don't want that to become the world of video games.

It is generallly seen as a step towards that respectability gaming so intensely seems to crave. Whether and why gaming being "respectable" - as e.g. football is - would even be a good thing is beyond me.

Furthermore I would like to point out that the hero-worship professional athletes garner is not entirely in spite of them (occasionally) being spoiled douchenozzles: it is quite likely it even adds to their appeal. After all there is no surer sign of power than behaving like a fuckwad with total impunity.
Or in short: the public doesn't tolerate it - they love it, in much the same way as they love their celebrity gossip.

Would I want these personality cults erected around pro gamers? Fuck no.

Thunderous Cacophony:

On a related note, who wants to bet that the first game expressly designed for watching is made by EA? Someone over there must be doing the math on how much of the eSports market they can control if they make the first big game that's challenging for players, but straightforward and entertaining to watch.

Blizzard (among others) already beat them to it. Starcraft II was made knowing that Koreans would watch it like crazy, and it certainly is catering to that. Just not as amateurish as EA would go about it.

I wrote for an eSports website for a while, the competitive gaming scene in Australia is packed with douchebags. Note to players: It's not a contest of physical ability, stop pretending you're goddamn Rambo.

ResonanceSD:
I wrote for an eSports website for a while, the competitive gaming scene in Australia is packed with douchebags. Note to players: It's not a contest of physical ability, stop pretending you're goddamn Rambo.

.......we have a competitive gaming scene?

I can imagine some beings jerks...combined with the "predorty" inscincts of "gahh! punch it in the face!" even though thats insanly hypocritical of me

Vault101:

ResonanceSD:
I wrote for an eSports website for a while, the competitive gaming scene in Australia is packed with douchebags. Note to players: It's not a contest of physical ability, stop pretending you're goddamn Rambo.

.......we have a competitive gaming scene?

I can imagine some beings jerks...combined with the "predorty" inscincts of "gahh! punch it in the face!" even though thats insanly hypocritical of me

In Australia? Sure.

Now do me a favour. Combine a footballer with a youtube commenter. See how that ends up.

ResonanceSD:

In Australia? Sure.

Now do me a favour. Combine a footballer with a youtube commenter. See how that ends up.

*ugggh* its hideous....it also pisses me off that footballers get a free pass for their actions (but thats a seperate issue)

I dont know anything about professional agming but what games do they play?

Vault101:

ResonanceSD:

In Australia? Sure.

Now do me a favour. Combine a footballer with a youtube commenter. See how that ends up.

*ugggh* its hideous....it also pisses me off that footballers get a free pass for their actions (but thats a seperate issue)

I dont know anything about professional agming but what games do they play?

I covered TF2, but they play pretty much anything that's MP

CS
SC2
TF2

Whole lot of sporting games

DOTA (and similar)

etc

Interesting article, very good topic and very important for the gaming community to discuss.

League of Legends(DoTA clone) is a pretty huge esports event now.

The biggest thing with esports in general is this.. if you don't play it or if you don't know some of the finer parts of the game, it's not interesting to watch, which makes it extremely hard to get people to watch.

It's like football(soccer, if your country sucks at naming sports), any idiot can watch the ball and sorta grasp the situation, but the interesting part is player placement and team foresight. I've hated watching soccer for the most of my life, but once I realized what to look for, it became more interesting to watch.

Everytime I watch a major game in LoL at tournaments, I learn something new and that's what makes it really interesting for me.

The second thing is what the article describes, you don't have "your" team to root for. It's usually a mixed bunch of Europeans or Americans(and Koreans who noone in the west really cares about - sad, but true).

The third thing is the pace of the games. A lot of times you don't stand a chance at seeing what happened and current commentators either can't or aren't good at showing "instant" replays. LoL however has put massive work into their spectator mode which streams the fight 3 minutes behind the game. You can rewind it yourself. It's clear to see that they are fighting very hard to get their foot in the door of an esport that's as viewer friendly as possible.

The fourth thing is the commentators.
In LoL... ...okay, I'll stop using that as an example, I can practically see HoN players and others grinding their teeth at me.
In Natural Selection 2(FPS/top-down viewed team strategy game which is currently in beta, but have a good deal of commentated matches already) they go on and on about the tactics, weapons and alien evolutions but not what any of them actually mean or do.
They don't explain anything, ever, they just assume you've played it and know what it's about.

It goes for sports as well, they don't explain things but the sports are old enough for most to know the basic rules and since it's a group event to watch sports, chances are you can ask and get an answer, if you're in doubt about anything.
esport commentators NEED to involve their viewers and explain things a bit more.

I haven't watched any StarCraft matches, the micromanagement doesn't interest me at all. Ironically I would gladly spectate a custom game match like Nexus Wars.
There are so many strategies and counter-strategies in Starcraft, that a casual viewer has no chance of knowing what the hell is going on.

The fifth thing is that esports players are typically not charismatic and there are no proper coaching techniques yet to make them so. Even so, I still respect them more than actual sports players, because these kids have the balls to show if they're happy or dissapointed with an outcome. Not like the average soccer player who just blurbs some nonsense about how luck was with them and how they have to praise the opposing team and all that crap.
As said earlier, you don't have a team to root for, so it's important that you can identify or root for a player and for that to happen, they need to be somewhat likable.

The final thing is the internet community, which is by far the worst in the world, worse even than hooligans. The scene seriously needs higher standards for behaving just a smidge more respectable than the acid bile you see on most forums.

I think esports are very important. They move our world towards a more intellectual one, based on strategy, foresight, reaction time and knowledge, more than the physical prowess of someone. Arguably the examples I mentioned are prevalent in most sports as well, but not at the same scale in my opinion. It will hopefully be something that competes with regular sports on TV and broadens our selection of entertainment.
I'm not saying there are no valid arguments against esports, I just think it could go in a positive direction and that it's worth taking a chance.

If you've read my rant, thanks.

Smilomaniac:

I haven't watched any StarCraft matches, the micromanagement doesn't interest me at all. Ironically I would gladly spectate a custom game match like Nexus Wars.
There are so many strategies and counter-strategies in Starcraft, that a casual viewer has no chance of knowing what the hell is going on.

You can't be serious in praising LoL as a competitive game where there are countless characters each one with its own set of abilities, and in the next sentence saying SC2 is too hard to follow. It's nearly impossible to watch LoL if you don't play it, SC2 is much easier to grasp that it's an army versus another.

GrungyMunchy:

Smilomaniac:

I haven't watched any StarCraft matches, the micromanagement doesn't interest me at all. Ironically I would gladly spectate a custom game match like Nexus Wars.
There are so many strategies and counter-strategies in Starcraft, that a casual viewer has no chance of knowing what the hell is going on.

You can't be serious in praising LoL as a competitive game where there are countless characters each one with its own set of abilities, and in the next sentence saying SC2 is too hard to follow. It's nearly impossible to watch LoL if you don't play it, SC2 is much easier to grasp that it's an army versus another.

Not only that, but the "many strategies and counter-strategies" which Smilomaniac thinks the casual viewer has no chance of knowing are exactly where commentary comes in. Good commentators are going to be there to help fill in the knowledge gap for less experienced viewers so that they can follow what's going on and SC2 is pretty much perfect for this because those strategies play out over longer periods of time, and you can see the beginnings of a major attack being laid out 3-4 minutes earlier in terms of what a player is building.

That would not happen to nearly the same degree in something like LoL, and I agree, it's a poor spectator game for the uninitiated.

Dastardly:
I'm sorry, I just don't think that making video games like professional sports is in anyway a worthwhile goal at all, regardless of the inefficacy of the comparison. Professional athletes these days are often childish dickbags that "we" (the public) only put up with because they're good at a couple tricks.

And the only reason sports make that much money is due to the advertising surrounding it. The commercialization of the sport is what makes it "successful." I don't want that to become the world of video games.

It's dismissive to call being able to throw a baseball 100 miles an hour a "trick." While I agree that athlete's bad behavior is often ignored, let's not diminish their accomplishments. We resent when people blow off our skills as writers, gamers, or intellectuals; let's not return the favor.

GrungyMunchy:

You can't be serious in praising LoL as a competitive game where there are countless characters each one with its own set of abilities, and in the next sentence saying SC2 is too hard to follow. It's nearly impossible to watch LoL if you don't play it, SC2 is much easier to grasp that it's an army versus another.

It's just a difference of an opinion :) I certainly feel that DoTA/LoL was easier to follow when I began playing that, than I ever did with watching someone else play Starcraft 1 or 2, which I've been playing for ages.
The way I see it, MOBA's are sort of like team fights and RTS' are strategy minded and more akin to chess. I highly stress that, that's how *I* see it, because I'm not that well versed in what goes into RTS high level play. Imagine someone who's never played it; those people are the ones I'm talking about.

Maybe it's not that relevant to try to involve people who don't play the games and it's certainly not a this game vs that game debate, because I would lose instantly in terms of game quality, audience and probably on a lot more points. If that's what you're reading into it, then you misunderstand me.

I will say, that I find Riots approach to making events very engaging and it's awesome to see games sprout up centered around the community and going for esports. I can imagine that Monday Night Combat might have interesting things to show to viewers(but it's nothing I actually know about, the premise just seems like something that might work).

There is ONE thing that Riot does better, and that's in term of public relations. You have people dedicated, from the company's side, talking to the players and audience, showing fan artwork, explaining patches and their changes orally in videos and how they should and will affect gameplay.
Blizzard, I've loved them since my early childhood, is making great games and now with esports in mind. New companies make their games centered on esports and are following the community much more closely. That's a mindblowing difference and I can easily see companies like Blizz fall into the background in the future on esports terms, and new companies, like Riot, take all the attention.

Vivi22:

Not only that, but the "many strategies and counter-strategies" which Smilomaniac thinks the casual viewer has no chance of knowing are exactly where commentary comes in. Good commentators are going to be there to help fill in the knowledge gap for less experienced viewers so that they can follow what's going on and SC2 is pretty much perfect for this because those strategies play out over longer periods of time, and you can see the beginnings of a major attack being laid out 3-4 minutes earlier in terms of what a player is building.

That would not happen to nearly the same degree in something like LoL, and I agree, it's a poor spectator game for the uninitiated.

Agreed, good commentary wins over people who don't know what's happening on screen, that's exactly my point. Like I said, I've never watched a proper SC2 match, but I'll go do it and see how far those guys are ahead and how good they are at explaining things to the uninitiated. I know that in LoL and NS2 things are not adequately explained, so that's the experience I've drawn from.

If there's a paticular fight you can recommend or if I should just watch something on Sean Plotts "Dailies", please let me know here and I'll check it out.

In the meantime, I'd recommend you guys checking out LoL's new spectator mode(released today), which have live fights tonight that you can join. You get a nice explanation of how the mode works when you join a game as a spectator and the new "directed action" camera is interesting to see, if a bit finnicky and not *always* where you want to see the action.

I don't say this for LoL's sake, but to see how devs are developing these tools to watch games. It's free, so there's no reason not to, if you have an interest in esports in general and want to see how they're evolving.

Susan Arendt:
It's dismissive to call being able to throw a baseball 100 miles an hour a "trick." While I agree that athlete's bad behavior is often ignored, let's not diminish their accomplishments. We resent when people blow off our skills as writers, gamers, or intellectuals; let's not return the favor.

Fair to say. The remark wasn't mean to reflect the definitive value of the accomplishments themselves, but rather the value of any talent or ability relative to a person's demonstrated character. I should have used a more diplomatic phrasing.

I mean to indicate that being really, really good at something (anything really) never grants someone a free pass to be a complete buffoon, do something illegal, or just be rude and abrasive. I see this happen too often with professional athletes (as well as actors and musicians, though this thread was more specifically about athletes).

I would just hate to see that kind of culture take root in the gaming world (any more than it already has in some corners).

Smilomaniac:
Agreed, good commentary wins over people who don't know what's happening on screen, that's exactly my point. Like I said, I've never watched a proper SC2 match, but I'll go do it and see how far those guys are ahead and how good they are at explaining things to the uninitiated. I know that in LoL and NS2 things are not adequately explained, so that's the experience I've drawn from.

If there's a paticular fight you can recommend or if I should just watch something on Sean Plotts "Dailies", please let me know here and I'll check it out.

Yeah, commentary is definitely important. It can depend on the commentator as well though. Some are just plain better than others at explaining things.

Sean actually is one of the better SC2 commentators in my opinion. I'm not sure I'd recommend the dailies he does though simply because they're aimed more at helping SC2 players improve than they are at pushing SC2 as a spectator sport. But you can easily look up some recent MLG's that he's commentated since the videos are available for free on their site in the archive. Maybe just skip to some of the later matches in the tournaments to see some of the top players squaring off.

I'm not going to argue that watching a couple of matches with commentary will make someone who's never seen the game suddenly understand the deeper aspects of it of course, but I do think that with the right commentary and a basic understanding of what the point of the game is that they wouldn't be totally lost, and I think SC2 lends itself to that a lot since things happen over long period of time and it's at least easy to see army A going to fight army B or destroy base C. Non-players can quickly grasp the important parts of the game; mining resources, building a base/units, and attacking quite quickly. Even the units, largely having a single defining function which is easily visible (spell casters aside anyway) lends itself to the game being quickly understood.

I may check out the spectator mode in LoL sometime though so thanks for the tip. I'm in favour of pretty much anything that not only makes it easier to watch competitive games, but learn from them and increase the skill level at the top by helping all levels of players improve.

E-sports have GOT to change the context from the game to the people playing the game in order to take off in a big way. No one who doesn't play Starcraft understands or cares about competitive Starcraft. But ANYBODY can root for their home-town team, and remain interested in a game once given proper commentary. You don't have to like football to get caught up in the superbowl buzz -- it's OUR GUYS versus THOSE OTHER GUYS WE HATE. Let's get 'em!

Imagine if you will a fictional e-sports league.

In this league, you have typical geographically-based teams. The Oakland Aggros. These teams square off against eachother regionally, and then nationally, like every other pro-sport: and they don't do it at just ONE game.

Each season, the e-sports league adopts new "official" games in each genre for the next season. This is the game they feel best suits the competitive play environment. So this year, the ~OFFICIAL FIGHTING GAME OF PROFESSIONAL E-SPORTS~ might be Marvel vs Capcom 3. Racing: Gran Turismo. FPS: Battlefield. RTS: Starcraft.

When these teams face eachother, they're facing one another in ALL of these games. So now instead of watching two people who are really good at Starcraft play eachother (which is always going to feel analogous to watching a chess-match, or a game of Go) you're watching two gamers who have trained to be good in a wide variety of games, in a panoptic battle of skills, which can feel much closer to the traditional contest of athletes.

After all, baseball players don't just go up against eachother at catching games or hitting games -- they're tasked with a wide variety of interactions, and that's what makes it interesting. Maybe this guy is a great fielder, but he's terrible at bat. And guess what? Suddenly it's interesting to watch, when he steps up to bat. Suddenly there's context.

Suddenly there's A NARRATIVE.

So maybe this guy is great at first person shooters, but he's god awful at driving games. Or maybe the Oakland Aggros have the RTS scene in the bag, but they're getting cleaned up in the Fighting game. And I wonder what will happen to Joe Schmoe, who had the best Fighting record in the whole league, but now he has that hand injury? Did you see that highlight of him in the last minutes against the Dallas Grinders? Where were you when Bob Robson pulled that last-minute grenade stick from across the map, and won the World Championship?

And in addition to building a more compelling competitive framework, the whole ~OFFICIAL GAME~ thing inherently commercializes the whole thing in an exciting way. You'd have companies like EA striving to create an FPS game with the most balanced competitive scene, so they could snag that nomination, get all that free screen-time (read: advertising), push all those additional units, etc. "Official FPS of E-sports 2012" is a pretty good thing to be able to put on the cover of your game.

And the only way to get it is to make a great game.

As others have said, commentary is important as well. I've never played Tribes in my life, but to my surprise, I got very caught up watching 4chan play Reddit in a series of Tribes matches (4chan won with a total upset come-from-behind victory). But even there -- it's context. Narrative. Community. Drama. THIS TEAM vs THAT TEAM.

 

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