The NY Times Knows Nothing (about eSports)

I saw this little gem of an article a few days ago (actually it was pointed out to me by several people), and I’m pretty irate about it.  Let’s go through the reasons why this is terrible reporting, shall we?  First the nitty-gritty, and then the more substantial philosophical bits.

First off, the title: “Virtual Leagues Fold, Forcing Gamers to Find Actual Jobs.”  This sounds like something out of The Onion.  “Actual jobs”?  Would they say that if the NFL folded suddenly and a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys had to work in an electronics factory to bring home the bacon?  Would they say that if the World Series of Poker folded and some mustachioed straight-faced card shark had to start selling Xerox machines for a living?  Why this implication that professional video game players create nothing of cultural or economic value when they ply their trade?  Are gamers somehow cheating the American people out of their hard-earned dollars by getting paid to do something they’re good at?

Continue reading “The NY Times Knows Nothing (about eSports)”

Getting Your Game On, Offline

This past weekend I hung out at the G.I.M.P.E.D. 1 melee/brawl tournament at NYU Polytechnic in New York City, not as a competitor but as a photographer, journalist, and eSports scene analyst. While I’m very interested in the Smash scene, I’m primarily associated with the StarCraft community, and therefore it may not be surprising that the number of tournaments I’ve attended in person in the States is different for each game. What may be surprising is which number is higher: I’ve been to three live Smash tournaments so far and only two StarCraft ones. If I’m so obsessed with StarCraft and getting involved in the SC scene, why is this the case? There’s a lot of factors which influence the situation, and none more salient than the nature of the two platforms themselves, and how such fundamental differences affect the purposes of the live events they inspire.

The scene at GIMPED was, I think, pretty common for a tournament of its kind. There were lots of people milling around, almost entirely male and between the ages of 15 and 25, controllers in hand. TVs were set up in rows and on tables – about 15, I’d say – and players sat in front of them while spectators mostly stood behind. KnightMare, the head organizer, walked around with a piece of paper and a microphone calling out matchups while the folks behind the registration desks looked on. It was almost impossible to distinguish between “friendlies” and actual tournament matches. Although there were some very well-known players at the event, the distribution of spectators for their games and for others’ games wasn’t that imbalanced. It was a very friendly, low key atmosphere, with people joking and trash talking and occasionally yelling “WOMBO COMBO!”

The most striking thing to me, though, was the fact that the tournament wasn’t really about having a tournament. Sure, there was money and glory on the line, but it was obvious that the primary purpose of the tournament was to serve as a social gathering. People went there to hang out with their friends and play each other in Smash – to spend an afternoon away from the daily grind of work and school and immerse themselves in a social world centered around playing a game. There was no distinction between players and spectators, except possibly for me, since I was one of the only people (if not the only person) who didn’t play at all during the four or so hours I was there. Calling it a “tournament” seemed like a misnomer or a clever cover-up for something much more genial and community-oriented than competitive. The “stars” who were there were not treated differently from other people from a social perspective, although they were somewhat limited in the people they chose to play friendlies with (due to playing ability, I’d guess).

This is not the case at all for major StarCraft tournaments (except for those in Southern California), and to a lesser extent for PC game tournaments in general. Although it’s possible to play Brawl online, there’s always the issue of lag and the impossibility of playing Melee online which encourage the live tournament scene. In StarCraft and other competitive PC games that aren’t heavily team-based, 90% of the tournaments that happen occur online. This means that there tend to be very few offline tournaments, since the hassles of bringing equipment or finding a computer lab and other hardware problems make organizing a live tournament rather unappetizing. It’s so easy to figure out brackets on iCCup and have a tournament online in one afternoon – as long as everyone shows up – that calling for an offline tournament has to offer other advantages than just being able to compete. If you’re just trying to find out who’ll get the money and the glory, why not choose a venue where the setup costs are minimal to none and participation is open to people around the world instead of just those within a 50 mile radius? It certainly makes for a higher level of play, overall, and with YouTube and live streaming anybody can see the games as they are happening or afterwards (not that this doesn’t also happen with Smash, although I think to a lesser extent).

Additionally, there’s the money issue. People in Smash are used to paying a small fee upfront to participate in a tournament, and that money is used for both venue fees and prizes. The same is not true for StarCraft tournaments unless the potential for fame and prize money is huge. After all, it’s free to play online and tournament administration online is usually the same or even better than administration at live events. Essentially, StarCraft live (or “offline”) tournaments in the States fall into two categories: small events on college campuses or large, expensive events with potential for national exposure (not the Janet Jackson Superbowl kind). Inevitably, only the latter tend to involve cash prizes.

So what happens at a big StarCraft tournament where the stakes are higher and the trappings are glitzier? Well, in comparison to the way Smash tournaments seem to blur the line between competitors and spectators during competition, at SC tournaments there’s a very clear separation. There is tension in the air and there is silence during tournament matches. People often come just to watch. The socializing largely happens at times and places separated from the tournament itself.

What sort of consequences do these differences create for the larger online community? Well, it certainly means that “amateurs” are more likely to compete in live events alongside those at a “pro” skill level in Smash. It seems the Smash scene is separated more along geographic lines than skill lines for reasons of practicality – it’s hard to get across the country or the world to play melee friendlies. High-level StarCraft players, on the other hand, compete against similarly-minded folks from any number of different countries or regions. International Smash tournaments are fairly rare, but for StarCraft it’s practically normal. It also means that Smash players have more opportunities to bond in-person with other players and become “real life” friends. I haven’t researched the language on Smashboard posts extensively, but it’s probably the case that Smash people are nicer to each other than StarCraft people because they often actually encounter each other face to face. The anonymity of online play and interaction often encourages pretty offensive behavior from StarCraft enthusiasts above and beyond your friendly trash-talk. However, the regionalism of Smash is a double-edged sword – it promotes an enormous amount of community, but if you happen to live in an area without many Smashers around you have little opportunity to hone your skills to a highly-competitive level.

In the end, both scenes have their advantages and disadvantages. Smash players may get to play in more tournaments and win more money overall, but StarCraft players can practice at a high level much more frequently even if the matches aren’t of very much consequence in terms of “rankings” (iCCup aside). The StarCraft community is cohesive across geographic boundaries of state and country, but the Smash community is more likely to produce friendly interaction unrelated to the game itself and/or face-to-face. Smash’s vibrant offline culture is a fascinating counterpoint to StarCraft’s intense online fan-based culture. I consider myself very lucky in that I get to experience both worlds although I don’t play competitively (that is, in tournaments) in either game. The moral of the story is that gaming communities are not all alike and cannot be considered as such when talking about building or expanding a competitive scene. People also shouldn’t judge other gaming communities as better or worse than their own without understanding the whole story and why the community dynamics are the way they are. At heart, we’re all gamers, but everything else is up for debate – and I find that kind of diversity beautiful.

Thanks for reading, and please leave some feedback!

smashboards link

sc2gg link

starfeeder link

The PeaPod – Episode 2

Hi all, Peanut here with another installment of the PeaPod, my podcast! In this episode I let loose with some of the stuff that simmers in my head whenever I think about StarCraft, and I hope you find the results interesting and informative. The mp3 version is here.

 

 

Thanks for listening, and please give me feedback! The discussion thread is here.

The Collegiate StarLeague: MIT

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is right across the river from me.  That being said, the MIT CSL team’s side of the match didn’t take place on campus.  Instead, my trusty photographer assistant Michael and I headed over to Brookline – a nearby town that also happens to be my hometown – to the ZBT fraternity house on a quiet residential street. 

Unlike the Princeton side, this match was not open to the public.  It was a quiet, homey setup, with the six players and an extra girlfriend gathered around a couple long white tables in a dining area.  The MIT captain, Yang (aka Sedraxis), was very hospitable and offered us access to the wealth of food in the kitchen as well as a tour of the house’s facilities.  Michael and I arrived at 8 with a half hour to spare before the match was set to begin. 

I guess Yang hadn’t had dinner …

 

Setting up the hardware and software before the match

 

Testing headsets, reviewing strategies

 

Bubble tea: drink of champions

 

One of the players also had commentating aspirations, so he sat in a comfy chair in the next room and prepared to live-cast the games.

Puffy jacket required

 

Then, even though the MIT team had taken the time earlier in the day to test out the streaming system, technical difficulties struck.  Yang was a man of action, running around with frantic energy and not hesitating for an instant to call Hazel up with questions about iCCup launcher.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

 

Yang had the brilliant idea of setting up a webcam so that his laptop could record player reactions during the games.  Maybe he’d catch a look of shock during an unexpected drop?

 

Last-minute warmups while technical difficulties were holding things up

 

Apparently fleece hoodies and pullovers were the uniform of choice.  Northface, this is a great sponsorship opportunity!

 

Things were looking grim on the technical side, but we all knew the issues would get resolved in the end.  The only question was whether there’d be an audience left …

 

The shirt naturally requires a fistpump.  Yes!

 

Yep, that’s the first four zerglings after a nine-pool.  Oh, and Peanut in the background.

 

It’s all about teamwork.  Even the 1v1s (scrimmage games!).

 

No fancy-pants Macs for this team.  SC runs better on a sleek black Toshiba.

 

“Someone stole the cookies?  Who would do such a thing?!!”

 

This is no mere college student.  This, my friends, is a WARRIOR!

 

Can you handle this?!

I had to leave before the third game, unfortunately, but it was really great meeting the MIT team and witnessing this historic event.  I did a few interviews with the captain and players – you can check them out on my youtube page.  They have really interesting things to say!  Here’s one to whet your appetite:

 

And finally, here’s a message from the MIT team to all you would-be challengers:

 

Yeah, that’s right.  Peanut out!

link

In Defense of Color Commentary

As I said in an earlier post, I’m a permanent judge on SC2GG Commentator Idol, presented in association with Voice of eSports.  My main focus in judging the contestants’ submissions is what’s known as “color” in commentary – this means essentially things the commentator says that distinguish him or her from a person or computer who’s only analyzing the technical and strategic aspects of the game.  This includes, but is not limited to, analogies comparing what’s going on in the game to situations in real life, fiction, etc. and expressions the commentator uses to convey the excitement of the game.  This approach has generated some controversy over the importance of these aspects in StarCraft commentary, and, to that end, below is an explanation for why I think color is a valid judging criterion for Commentator Idol.
Technical knowledge is an extremely important factor when it comes to commentary, but if it were the only factor then anybody with sufficient technical knowledge would be a great commentator. This is not the case. Commentary adds entertainment value to a game, and although StarCraft is more entertaining automatically if you can understand what’s going on from a strategic perspective, there are other ways to increase entertainment value that affect the final product.
I’m a person who doesn’t care all that much about the commentator’s technical knowledge beyond a certain point … if the commentator says the player is going for a 3-hatch build instead of a 9-pool, that’s one thing, but if he says the mutalisk micro was slightly off when really it was that the terran had brilliant turret placement during one particular harass, it doesn’t really matter to me. The commentator can have the best technical knowledge in the world, but if he or she is boring or annoying to listen to, I’m not going to listen.
Color is about being able to make the commentary interesting beyond just saying what’s going on and why in a StarCraft context. There is a world that exists outside of StarCraft, and the two, in my opinion, should not be kept separate. Fundamentally, if you want StarCraft to appeal to a more general audience than just the people who play on ICCup, you have to be able to make StarCraft relevant to the real world – the world of people who have other interests and values that don’t relate to one particular game, and the world of people who want to be entertained. Good color commentary makes the outside world relevant to StarCraft, and in return, makes StarCraft relevant to the outside world.
There are many cases where people use sports metaphors for non-sports phenomena without a second thought. Kissing is “getting to first base” and the working world is called the “rat race.” People are often told to “go for the gold” or “keep your eye on the ball” by motivational speakers. It’s firmly established that sports are relevant to life, and part of the reason why that happens is that sports are enjoyed by a large population of people, many or most of whom don’t understand or care about the higher-level technical details of a particular game. If someone who doesn’t understand StarCraft that well watches a commentary and doesn’t understand that a particular skirmish is key to the outcome of the game, he or she won’t understand that fact any better if the commentator just describes it technically. If, however, the commentator says that this particular timing push is like Napoleon going into Russia or like trying to bake a cake without flour, the significance becomes much clearer.
The bottom line is that Commentator Idol is not looking for a commentator who appeals only to diehard StarCraft fans or players. A good commentary should be very technically accurate, but it should also be exciting and leave a first-time viewer wanting to see more, even if they don’t understand exactly what’s going on. Color helps bridge that gap and make sure StarCraft appeals to a greater population and not just those who are D+ or higher on ICCup. Is competitive StarCraft just a niche novelty or can it also be a general spectator sport? Color commentary is a lot of what lets StarCraft make that transition

Published on Starfeeder.com.

In Defense of Color Commentary

As I said in an earlier post, I’m a permanent judge on SC2GG Commentator Idol, presented in association with Voice of eSports.  My main focus in judging the contestants’ submissions is what’s known as “color” – in commentary, this means essentially things the commentator says that distinguish him or her from a person or computer who’s only analyzing the technical and strategic aspects of the game.  This includes, but is not limited to, analogies comparing what’s going on in the game to situations in real life, fiction, etc. and expressions the commentator uses to convey the excitement of the game.  This approach has generated some controversy over the importance of these aspects in StarCraft commentary, and to that end I composed an explanation for why I think color is a valid judging criterion for Commentator Idol.

Technical knowledge is an extremely important factor when it comes to commentary, but if it were the only factor then anybody with sufficient technical knowledge would be a great commentator. This is not the case. Commentary adds entertainment value to a game, and although StarCraft is more entertaining automatically if you can understand what’s going on from a strategic perspective, there are other ways to increase entertainment value that affect the final product.

I’m a person who doesn’t care all that much about the commentator’s technical knowledge beyond a certain point … if the commentator says the player is going for a 3-hatch build instead of a 9-pool, that’s one thing, but if he says the mutalisk micro was slightly off when really it was that the terran had brilliant turret placement during one particular harass, it doesn’t really matter to me. The commentator can have the best technical knowledge in the world, but if he or she is boring or annoying to listen to, I’m not going to listen.

Color is about being able to make the commentary interesting beyond just saying what’s going on and why in a StarCraft context. There is a world that exists outside of StarCraft, and the two, in my opinion, should not be kept separate. Fundamentally, if you want StarCraft to appeal to a more general audience than just the people who play on ICCup, you have to be able to make StarCraft relevant to the real world – the world of people who have other interests and values that don’t relate to one particular game, and the world of people who want to be entertained. Good color commentary makes the outside world relevant to StarCraft, and in return, makes StarCraft relevant to the outside world.

There are many cases where people use sports metaphors for non-sports phenomena without a second thought. Kissing is "getting to first base" and the working world is called the "rat race." People are often told to "go for the gold" or "keep your eye on the ball" by motivational speakers. It’s firmly established that sports are relevant to life, and part of the reason why that happens is that sports are enjoyed by a large population of people, many or most of whom don’t understand or care about the higher-level technical details of a particular game. If someone who doesn’t understand StarCraft that well watches a commentary and doesn’t understand that a particular skirmish is key to the outcome of the game, he or she won’t understand that fact any better if the commentator just describes it technically. If, however, the commentator says that this particular timing push is like Napoleon going into Russia or like trying to bake a cake without flour, the significance becomes much clearer.

The bottom line is that Commentator Idol is not looking for a commentator who appeals only to diehard StarCraft fans or players. A good commentary should be very technically accurate, but it should also be exciting and leave a first-time viewer wanting to see more, even if they don’t understand exactly what’s going on. Color helps bridge that gap and make sure StarCraft appeals to a greater population and not just those who are D+ or higher on ICCup. Is competitive StarCraft just a niche novelty or can it also be a general spectator sport? Color commentary is a lot of what lets StarCraft make that transition.

link

Commentator Idol!

Hi everybody, terribly sorry for being afk for so long … I’ve had some financial issues and other stuff pop up, but I still shouldn’t have waited so long to write a good article.

Slide8

One major project that I got drawn into and has dominated my StarCraft life for a few weeks already is the SC2GG Commentator Idol, presented in association with Voice of eSports (the company I started a while back with some SC2GG people) and masterminded by Cholera, the history-loving Reach-adoring commentator who is one of SC2GG’s best-known voices.  I’m one of the two permanent judges of Commentator Idol, which is a parody of American Idol with up-and-coming YouTube StarCraft commentators in lieu of Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Hicks. 

Here’s the first episode – go to the Violetak account on YouTube to see the rest!

 

I’m the Paula Abdul figure of the show, I guess, with Cholera playing Ryan Seacrest and another well-known SC2GG commentator named Rise attempting to be Simon.  We just released Episode 3: Foreign but Gosu today, and for the last couple episodes we’ve had some really interesting guest judges on the show too – Diggity for Ep 2 and Chill from TeamLiquid for Ep 3.

The Guest Judges (so far)

Slide4

avatars

Diggity in avatar form

Chill, celebrating BlizzCon

 

The Permanent Judges

Slide1 Slide2
Yes, Rise really is this cool

It’s me!

 

The Host

Slide3

No, Cholera is not actually an ungodly hybrid of Reach and Chuck Norris.  This is just what he aspires to be.

What I’ve really been impressed by, though, has been the quality of the contestants who are on the show.  Cholera, Rise, and I went through 17 applications consisting of two commentaries for each applicant in order to come up with the six (originally five but one more slot added because of interest) contestants for the first episode.  So far two of them have been eliminated, and we were very sad to see them go, but this just underscores for me how incredibly talented, smart, and eloquent the remaining four are.

The First to Fall

hamilcaravatar smi1ey_avatar
Hamilcar was eliminated in the first episode with guest judge Diggity smi1ey was eliminated in the second ep with guest judge Chill

 

The Final Four

KennyPic2 hazel
MFTW parcx-1

If any of you are looking for some fresh new voices in the YouTube commentary scene, I’d highly recommend you click on these avatars and check out the contestants’ YT channels – they’re all excellent in different ways.  And yes, Hazel is a girl.  She’s also a damned good StarCraft commentator.

Anyway, stay tuned for episode 4 – dual commentaries!  Kenny and Hazel are casting two Korean SC mirror matches, as are Morph and Parcx.  The VODs will be listed on SC2GG on Thursday (although they may be up on the contestants’ individual pages before then) and voting will open Thursday evening.  If you’re interested in taking part, sign up on the SC2GG forums and vote!  The judges’ votes count towards the total, but the majority is held by you, the people!