Written by Mike “LANDodger” Luxion
(This is an editorial piece. The opinions in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of compLexity Gaming or its parent company.)
About a month ago I read an interesting article. It was about ants. Did you know that … wait, sorry, I forgot I wasn’t writing for National Geographic.
I’ll spare you the details about that one, but there was another article around the same time that you’d probably be much more interested in reading. It was about a new technology that could have a huge impact on increasing Internet connection speeds.
Now, I have to admit that some of the content was over my head. It felt a little bit like looking at a professional medical diagnosis. You can recognize the squiggles as words, and you can probably pronounce all of them, too. The problem is that despite being able to do both of those things you can’t figure out what the hell it all means in practical terms. Will you die tomorrow? Are you getting some really fun pills? You need a doctor (read: a professional medical translator) to put it into layman’s terms. And if there was one thing the article on Internet connections lacked, it was an explanation in everyday language about the practical effects this new technology could have on actual connection speeds.
However, what I did understand is that lots of scientists seem to be excited. And if the research nerds are excited, well, that’s good enough for this gaming nerd.
And while we shouldn’t confuse Counter-Strike with eSports, plenty of other games were hurt by their closings as well; notably DoA, Quake, Forza 2, whatever-new-game-CPL-was-using-to-raise-cash, and all the various titles that ESWC supported. It’s not like all those titles have a ton of fall-back options at the moment.The gist of the article, for those that haven’t read it, is that an organic material is being used in conjunction with silicon to increase something called the “data switching rate” by a factor of about eight or nine. From the tone, I assume this achievement is pretty impressive. I have no idea if that means you’ll be able to download anime, TV shows, and movies (read: porn) any faster, let alone have a lower latency to a server across the country, but for my money any potential increase in Internet speed is a great thing for one simple reason: online gaming is the future of competitive gaming.
It feels like that last claim needs a qualifier, like “in America, online gaming is the future of competitive gaming.” Or “online gaming is the immediate future of competitive gaming.” But I’m not sure leaving the qualifier out makes the original statement any less true.
The point is barely worth arguing for American eSports. All you have to do is look around. ESWC is gone. CPL is long gone. WSVG? World Series of Very Gone. Championship Gone Series. And while we shouldn’t confuse Counter-Strike with eSports, plenty of other games were hurt by their closings as well; notably DoA, Quake, Forza 2, whatever-new-game-CPL-was-using-to-raise-cash, and all the various titles that ESWC supported. It’s not like all those titles have a ton of fall-back options at the moment.
Those are the failures. Then look at the tournaments that are still thriving – and where the field is still growing. CAL is still kicking (though they’re on hiatus), CEVO is going strong despite a few recent, high-profile cheating controversies. And ESEA has thrown their hat into the world of online leagues. Those leagues are also expanding their game selection, as ESEA added Source and TF2, and CAL continues to foster grassroots competitions.
The most telling example about the difference between online and LAN successes might be the UGS, though. I’m not sure how many people even remember UGS, but it was a pretty good league back in the day. They were something like a CEVO-lite. They didn’t have an AC, but they attracted some serious competitors and offered cash prizes, which CAL didn’t do at the time. What happened to them? They died at almost the exact moment they changed from a standard online league to a LAN-center based league called the NEL. The concept was something along the lines of having teams compete at local LAN centers, and then having those winners compete for prizes and titles. I don’t even remember if they played a full season or not, but I do remember their death being swift and immediate.
Anyway. You get the idea: in America, online leagues have had far more success, measured in terms of stability and growth, than their offline counter-parts.
This isn’t as true overseas. I’ve heard some rumors that Korea has had a little success with StarCraft. And the European LAN scene (particularly in Counter-Strike) is certainly a lot healthier than America’s.
But I’d still argue that online gaming is the future of eSports, despite those successes.
Anyway. You get the idea: in America, online leagues have had far more success, measured in terms of stability and growth, than their offline counter-parts.Though the most prestigious tournaments have always been on LAN, and will probably continue to be on LAN for the foreseeable future, those competitions make up a small portion of what eSports actually contains. Online leagues are where people start playing, in the same way that people start playing baseball, football, or soccer in their local leagues. Competitive gamers cut their teeth online, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Traveling to LANs is expensive. Playing online is cheap. Hosting major LANs is expensive and complicated. Hosting an online league is, in comparison, cheaper and easier.
And by and large, the vast majority of competitive gamers only play online – the same way that the vast majority of baseball, soccer, football, hockey, and basketball players never make it to the big leagues. So when I say online gaming is the future, part of the reason is because online gaming will always have a more robust player base.
There is another reason I called online gaming the future of competitive gaming, though. Admittedly it’s just my opinion, but I’m also the only person writing this (that I’m aware of, anyway), so here goes.
Why aren’t online leagues as prestigious as LAN competitions? The quality of the play. LAN competitions draw better teams, games play better on LAN because of the netcode (dealing with lag), and because it’s harder to cheat.
Leaving aside that last one, every increase in broadband capacity and speed slowly lessens the impact of the first two conditions. I can play Source on European servers and still have a good time. No, I wouldn’t want to play a competition on servers hosted in Europe, but can we really say with any confidence that that will always be the case?
In other words, what happens if (when?) connections speeds are fast enough to replicate 95% of the LAN experience with 0% of the travel costs, 0% of the venue costs, and a similar field of competitors from various parts of the world? At that point, wouldn’t it be better to just develop the best anti-cheat client (and the best AC process) in history and host the competition online?
I don’t mean to say that online competitions are the way of the future, and I definitely don’t mean to argue they should be the future. I love the atmosphere of LAN competitions, and I’m not sure you’ll ever be able to replicate that online.
But in the meantime, I think we can expect the online portion of competitive to keep growing and expanding despite the lack of success in the LAN realm.
(And if that turns out to be wrong, too, at least we’ll still have a faster Internet connection.)