LANDodger: Delivering Esports

BY Andrew Miesner / February 22, 2009

Delivering Esports

Written by Mike “LANDodger” Luxion

(This piece is an editorial and does not necessarily reflect the views of compLexity Gaming or its parent company.)

If you asked a thousand people from all facets of eSports (players, management, fans) about the most pressing issue that needs to be solved before competitive gaming could become mainstream in the US, I imagine you’d run the gamut of answers. Everybody wants more tournaments. We’ve all read and listened to people clamoring for unified communities, and certainly a unifying, eSports-focused game is a high theoretical priority. Developers dedicated to keeping a game up to date. Time for the gamers of today to grow up to be the parents of the next generation of gaming enthusiasts. More girl gamers.

Alright, probably not so much that last one, but here’s something that might not get mentioned at all, and certainly not enough: we need better delivery.

Obviously I’m not talking about Domino’s getting to your local LAN more quickly.

Before we go any further, let me clarify what I mean by delivery because I’m using the term loosely. At its most basic level, the concept is simple: it’s literally how we deliver our product (competitive gaming) to the world. Things like SourceTV, YouTube highlight videos, and the occasional TV program are all part of delivery.

I clearly got used to hearing announcers during a game, and now that I’m back to watching demos, well … I’m very nearly bored out of my mind.The small caveat is that I’m not just referring to how we transmit the games into households, but also how we translate our product once it gets there.

I bring this up because I realized that sometime during the last few months I became inseparably attached to shoutcasting. I think it was all the CGS exposure that did it, but at some point I clearly got used to hearing announcers during a game, and now that I’m back to watching demos, well … I’m very nearly bored out of my mind.

That’s a surprisingly hard confession to make for an eSports fan. It feels akin to confessing I think kittens are ugly or that I club baby seals for fun. There are just some things you aren’t supposed to do, or at least you shouldn’t admit to doing. But it’s not that I find the action boring. It just doesn’t seem as shiny as it used to. Let’s put it this way. Pick your favorite sport. Imagine how you watch it. I’m guessing that no matter what sport you picked, be it football, baseball, basketball, skating, Jerry Springer, or anything else, there are a few key elements in every broadcast:

1. Announcers

2. Crowd Noise/Fans

3. The Human Element (Player Expressions, Yelling, etc.)

Imagine taking away any one of those from your favorite sport broadcast. I don’t know about you guys, but I think it’d be pretty weird to watch an NBA game without hearing the crowd noise rise and fall with each back-and-forth, or (heaven forbid) a Cubs game without Ron Santo’s emotional outbursts on the radio. You’d miss it just like I miss the same elements in a competitive gaming broadcast.

But imagine how empty the game would feel without announcers and crowd noise.

Then imagine taking away all three and you have your average eSports match.

Basically, I think watching a game of basketball with only the squeaking of shoes, the clang of the rim, and the occasional thump is real-world equivalent of watching a match in HLTV or any other in-game recording. I love sports and I’d have absolutely no interest in watching a game like that. It’d be horrible. I guarantee my mind would start to wander in about three seconds. Even though I don’t always like the announcers (Joe Morgan, I’m looking at you) they provide a crucial ambience that keeps us interested and (along with crowd noise and the players themselves) amplify both the highs and lows of a particular game. Our own emotions are reflected in their voices and actions, and that’s a critical part to enjoying a sports broadcast – not feeling like you’re alone in doing so.

Right now I know two things to be true. The first is that the competitive gaming community simply isn’t large enough to sustain our dreams of professional players and gaming on television. We need to broaden our horizons (and do it the right way, as in not the way the CGS tried to). And the second thing I know to be true is that right now, the average product we’re delivering isn’t all that exciting for the same reasons sports games aren’t exciting when you’re watching them on mute. I’m not saying we need for every match a TV-level broadcast complete with interviews, graphics, and all the trimmings. We don’t need to clone ReDeYe and chain all his iterations to a chair in a studio.

But we need to start heading in that direction, because the other problem with our delivery is that it’s also very, very limited in scope.

I’m going to use sports to illustrate the point again, so let’s get to it. Answer these questions:

A) Right now, how many people in the world could watch a full-length, live basketball game?
B) How many people could watch a full-length, live CS match?

The first obviously numbers in the millions. The second? Not so much.

It’s a pretty simple concept. We want our games to become mainstream, and yet we’re irrefutably cut off from the same mainstream we’re trying to reach for the simple reason that they don’t own the game. How ridiculous is that? They don’t own the game. I don’t need a baseball field in my cornfield to watch the Cubs, and I don’t need a basketball hoop to watch the Bulls, but I do need a copy of Counter-Strike to watch compLexity or EG.

I can barely imagine how swamped a non-gamer feels looking at GotFrag or GameRiot for the first time, let alone how frustrated they’d be trying to download and watch their first demo.I’m sure you realize how limiting that is. It’s a minor inconvenience for competitive gamers. We’ll download a demo or hunt for broadcast information, then load up the game and watch. For anybody outside the scope of competitive gaming, any one of those steps is a major, major hurdle.

Let’s say a very casual gamer finds a highlight video or catches a clip of [insert your favorite game here] somewhere on the Internet or TV. Intrigued, they do what people do next: learn more about what they’ve just seen. To their dismay, instead of having easy access to more games and more information, they have to purchase the game and/or scour the Internet for any information on the competitive aspects of said game. When I first learned about DoA and FIFA it was hard for me to find information and game replays. Somebody that isn’t already in gaming would be totally lost in the woods, and I know this because I was totally lost in the woods and I’m “fluent” in gaming. I can barely imagine how swamped a non-gamer feels looking at GotFrag or GameRiot for the first time, let alone how frustrated they’d be trying to download and watch their first demo.

In the end, for me it comes down to this: we want to grow. We want casual gamers to follow our competitive endeavors and we want non-gamers to do the same. But at the same time we shoot ourselves in the foot, not with any conventional weapon but something more like a cluster bomb, by artificially limiting our potential audience. If by some miracle a person is newly exposed to competitive gaming, we make them jump through a whole series of hoops to have the kind of access sports fans get from turning on any television, only to have them find out that the lion’s share of our broadcasts and games don’t include the basic elements that make any broadcast (in my opinion) truly enjoyable.

Some of these things are out of our control. We can’t just mod Counter-Strike to allow non-owners into HLTV. But when I look at what people in the competitive community wish for, I wonder if we hope for the right things. Because even if we have more tournaments, dedicated developers, a perfect game for eSports, and a unified community, what does all that mean if we still can’t communicate those things effectively to the outside world?

If we want people to come through the door, we have to open it first.

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