Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 24, 2012
Simpler games for better eSports?

League of Legends is trying to become a spectator sport. And its developers are arguing that to achieve that with a videogame, the game has to be relatively simple, with what they call "clarity": A spectator has to be able with a glance to see what is going on. They argue that a game can be visibly simple, without being too easy or casual to play.

This is something I have always felt to be a flaw of the MMORPG endgame: Watching a WoW raid video makes for a lousy spectator sport, as it isn't at all clear what is going on. You basically need to have done the same raid boss yourself to understand what is happening in the video. Part of the problem is that raid videos are always from the view of a single player, thus don't show what the other players see or decide to do. And good luck with trying to guess from the general fireworks of spell effects (if that haven't been turned off in the first place) who cast which spell or used which ability.

League of Legends is doing somewhat better there because it is a game about pushing a front of war, and the minimap shows where that frontline in running. In a WoW raid progress is more deceptive: You can have the boss at 1% health when his enrage timer goes off and wipes the whole raid. And the "Simon says" raid mechanics of WoW, because they are completely artificial and have no logic, don't lend themselves to being good entertainment for watchers. Often a raid group resembles more a chaotic ballet than a fight.

While I have been at a "Blizzard Invitational", where the program was dominated by public performances of people playing Starcraft or Warcraft, personally I never was much interested in eSports. How about you? Do you think this is something we will see more of on TV? Or are the games we play lacking the clarity that would turn them into good spectator sports?

You know what I'd be happy to see on TV? Full walkthrough for story-heavy games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Final Fantasy, and also things like Call of Duty singleplayer campaign, where the player doesn't get to do much anyway.
Seriously, watching someone play this kind of games is more fun because the guy that grinds through tedious encounters isn't you.
Many real-world sports would be equally incomprehensible if the viewpoint was limited to the players' viewpoints.

To make sports comprehensible to your average layperson, the high-profile sport events have hundreds of cameras, access to countless statistics and dedicated staff for various roles.

eSport games need a dedicated spectator mode, preferably with a human commentator (or a clever algorithm) who can freely hide irrelevant details, highlight and replay interesting moments and show statistics whenever they become relevant.
Random: There are good 'Lets Play' walkthroughs on youtube, something awful, etc. Check them out.
I often watch Starcraft II/I translations. Multiplayer in other games lack spectacularity, including nearly all other RTS.

Main reasons:

1) I always watch translation with some some good commentator who act as observer, not player,and able to show interesting moments. Without commentation it less interesting.

3) Starcraft II clearly enough to understand what going on but have nearly endless deep.

2) There are many unexpected situations in Starcraft II multiplayer, it is hard to say who win, situation may change dramatically in every moment.

3) There are always many interesting situation in any given moment of match. Other RTS like Warhammer or Age of Empires (some people stream them occasionally) lack this small and interesting situations during rountime gameplay.

There are not any grind or repeated dance or gear/level and visually it is opposite to WoW.
eSports ruined Starcraft and WC3 for me, purely because the competition became too fierce, too fast, too clever for me to ever enjoy in a casual way.

The game developed in a way to cater to the esport crowd, because they had the money, and thus away from my demographic. I stopped enjoying it.

Imagine taking the ball out to the local court with a friend to grab a quick pick-up game then getting utterly destroyed by a couple minor-league professionals looking to pump their ego. It was about as much fun as that.

Much like many other sports, it's now only fun if you play exclusively with friends at your skill level.
What is interesting about LoL to me is a couple of things:

1. Watching that video of their invitational you can see they do have a super robust specator mode, with basically a fully controllable third party camera, letting you follow the action wherever it is. Starcraft II also has this.

2. But what SC2 did not have, at least for me, was this clarity. After playing through the SC2 campaign, which should give me enough familiarity with the game, I still cannot follow the action in a pro match. But with LoL I am able to follow along relatively easily.

These two things coupled with pretty quality 'casting' (commentating) have allowed me to really enjoy LoL as an eSport.
@Cam What? eSports ruined wc3 and sc2 for you? If you ever played sc1 you would know how 1v1 is. In stacraft2 you are placed in a league where bronze is lowest, the objective is to destroy the opponent. If you know about online 1v1 games and wc3/sc2 you would know that it's fast paced, how can that even surprise you? Stop playing 1v1 then and play costum games, it's basically your own choice whatever you wanna play. Play people within your own level or don't play at all. I'm baffled how you can say it ruined your game experience when you choose yourself..
@Emilmf: I don't think you understand. I got in on Starcraft before it was an esport. Before anyone knew these things. I played the single-player, and played LAN matches with friends. I'm kinda old.

It WAS an enjoyable experience, but then it BECAME an esport. Which then ruined my own personal experience as I didn't feel like checking out forums to study optimum build-orders and counters to those build-orders like a game of chess but with micro and screen-position saving to shave off a second here or there.

So I put it away, a little disappointed.
League of Legends is actually just as complicated as a WoW raid, in every encounter everyone is spamming skills.

The main difference is SOMETHING happens. In wow, 99% of the time nothing happens, tanks will tank, dps will dps, and healers will heal.
Videos of PvE in WoW are boring and near-incomprehensible without encounter read-up, sure, but videos of high level arena play can be pretty fun.

It still helps to appreciate the little brilliancies if you know the setup well yourself (hey, that priest deathed a blind, etc.) but it's easy enough to follow. During the couple of seasons when it wasn't suffering from awful balancing issues, WoW arena was a nice little esport.
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