Tag Archives: E-Sports

A True Rebirth for Starcraft 2

I am excited. I’m pretty sure the paltry writing skills I have in no way attempted to foster can express how excited I am for the 2013 year of Starcraft 2 pro-gaming. When in doubt, go Caps Lock.

I AM SO FUCKING EXCITED.

With the launch of Heart of the Swarm, Starcraft 2 has been truly reborn (not unlike a certain character in the campaign). Between IEM Cologne, MLG Dallas, and GSL I am convinced that we are headed for our most entertaining and fulfilling year of professional SC2 competition yet. The skill ceiling is higher, and I don’t think that phrase really does it justice. The skill ceiling was just raised in such a way that some people got dropped into the basement.

This match, played at MLG Dallas between Innovation and Flash is the best game of Starcraft 2 I’ve ever watched. It’s a best of 5, and I was captivated by every game. Keep in mind that the actions executed by these two could be done by less than a handful of pro gamers right now.

I also want to talk about Blizzard’s announcement of this years World Championship Series (WCS). This is huge news, and I think it was handled really well by Blizzard. There is already some complaining that NASL (North American Star League) and Dreamhack were left out of the rotation, but there is only so much you can do at once, we’ve gotten word that Blizzard and Dreamhack have something in the works together. But I’m not going to get into that here.

This is a major step forward for Starcraft 2 in the eSports scene, because we finally have a storyline to follow throughout the year. Players will compete all season long in an attempt to accumulate points that will determine who gets an invite to the Global Finals at the end of the year, to be played at Blizzcon 2013. There is going to be some incredible tension at the Season 3 regional championships and finals when there are only a few spots left up for grabs. There should be no shortage of compelling storylines to follow this year, and WCS Korea has already started.

WCS Korea

While we don’t have information regarding how the points distribution will go, RorO (Zerg) got off to a strong start winning Group A with a 2-0 record, and an impressive 4-1 map count, dropping one map to Bomber (Terran), the other player to advance. Complain about balance if you will (and people are – big time), but there are excellent Korean Zergs who are still winning games, so let’s cool it on the IMBA bitching until we have more evidence. Anyway, I have more thoughts on balance I’ll share shortly. Bomber’s two victories both came against Creator (Protoss), who complained about IMBA before gg’ing out – and if I’m not mistaken did so at MLG Dallas too. Season 2/WCS Korea continues next week on Tuesday April 9th at 5:10 am EST.

The group I’m really looking forward to is Group F with INnoVation, HyuN, and Rain. I can’t wait to see more of Rain in HotS, I think that he could be even better than in Wings of Liberty when he was regarded as one of the top Protoss in the world, and INnoVation just came off from an excellent showing at MLG Dallas with a third place finish.

A word on balance. I really don’t think we have enough evidence or time to determine where there are problems with balance. In my short experience watching pro SC2, most pro players can be broken into two groups – the researchers and the surgeons. The biggest reason some pros are having trouble with HotS is that they continue to use the thinking from WoL to defend and attack, when a different thought process is required. “I can’t deal with proxy Reaper” is probably more accurately “I don’t know how to punish/defend proxy Reapers.” And we probably won’t have those answers until an innovator comes along and sees the game in a different way than other players. The surgeons are the ones who takes the researchers discovery, and uses it to create build orders that can crush their opponents. Right now, we just don’t have the necessary research to draw good, solid conclusions yet. But we will.

Gamer Tags: Shield or Self

An interesting thing happened a few weeks ago. Riot, the maker of League of Legends, banned 5 professional players from competing in the qualifiers for the third season of the LCS. See the details of the first ban here, and the second with this link. The second ban disqualified an entire team from competing. This is an encouraging action taken by a gaming company that is serious about the positive impact its game has on the eSports scene, so kudos to Riot. But that isn’t what really interested me. There was some rumbling in the community and on the forums about the ‘outing’ of these players personal identities, which kicked my brain into overdrive. Is anonymity a right? Or is it a privilege?

Regarding these bans, my opinion is pretty straightforward. As a professional, you are already a public figure. Anonymity is eliminated when you choose to go pro and compete for money, so in this case I don’t see how people can feel their rights were violated. And certainly after the horrific behavior they demonstrated towards others (who have the right to log on and not get trolled, berated, or verbally abused), that feels morally cut and dry.

This brings up a larger and more interesting facet to gamer tags in my opinion. Is your gamer tag an extension of self, or shield from others?

Leodar and all its variations (Leodaric in LoL and PlanetSide 2; Leodar on Steam games and Blizzard games, and LeodarTBoK in other instances)  is an extension of my personal self. I am Leo, and Leo is me. I can’t even fathom doing something that would smear that tag, because it’s how I identify myself to the gaming world and how I see myself in the gaming world. The idea of using that name as a shield from my personal identity to do and say terrible things to other gamers makes me a little ill and very uncomfortable. In fact, I guess this post is my response and contention with the famous (and funny) Penny Arcade comic.

It’s bullshit. Not complete and utter bullshit, but mostly bullshit. The problem is with the ‘Normal Person’ part of the equation. Anyone who uses their anonymity to be a ‘Total Fuckwad’ was – in my opinion – already one, albeit without a safe outlet for their true self. Change ‘Normal Person’ to ‘Closet Fuckwad’ and we’ve got a better picture of the truth. I feel completely comfortable saying that if anyone who has gotten to know me in-game would feel no different if we got together for dinner or drinks.

There is another facet to this subject of anonymity that is intriguing, but I believe strengthens my argument. Some people need to use their tag in the virtual world as a shield, but not in the same way as the trolls. Some of us are in situations where our opinions cause enough backlash and disagreement that it could pose issues for our personal life if our identity was unmasked. Using your tag as a shield in this way is totally appropriate and completely different. I would argue that in those circumstances your tag doubles as your identity and protection, and I would imagine that those people would be just as upset if they were forced to assume a new online identity in the community. In my mind, there is a big difference between hiding behind your identity or using it to protect yourself.

There is a fundamental difference between these two functions of gamer tags. One person looks at their character creation or username selection screen and cares about the identity they are about to create. The other just wants to be anonymous.

eSports: An exercise in immaturity

There has been a lot of news recently in the eSports community and most of it has been pretty negative. First there was the repercussions following MLG Summer Championships between League of Legends teams Curse and Dignitas, then recently there was news out of Evil Geniuses, an eSports franchise which had to suspend a member of its Starcraft 2 team for a wildly inappropriate comment made to another player while that player was streaming, which was followed by news that a very popular and respected team SlayerS was disbanding, and finally a generally ridiculous post by a sometimes respected member of the SC2 community that stated that SC2 will be dead unless Blizzard does some thing about it.

World of Warcraft players should be chuckling at this last one.

In a soundbite, tl-dr got it right. eSports need to grow the hell up.

We could draw parallels to the sports universe (like the Gameronomist did over at tl-dr), but I think we can illustrate a problem with eSports by looking at them without the comparisons. For example our newest GSL champion (the most prestigious tournament) is 15 years old. As someone with a M.S.Ed. in secondary education I feel completely qualified to comment on the average person aged 13-18. Narcissistic and inconsistent would be the 2 words that fit the best. And juvenile of course. And the eSports scene depends heavily on the ‘male 16-24’ age demographic, a group known and celebrated for its maturity and dedication to reason and rational thought.

Uh-oh.

What is confusing to me is that this is not a new problem. When young men and women are put in the spotlight, bad things can happen. We’ve seen it over and over again, whether in sports or entertainment or politics. Publicity can be very difficult to handle, and I would venture an opinion that younger people have a more difficult time coping with the increased pressure of that spotlight.

The difference between a 16 year old tennis player participating in the U.S. Open and a 15 year old participating in the Starcraft 2 GSL is that eSports ONLY has the internet to promote and show its product. I’m willing to bet that if you wanted to find disparaging remarks and inappropriate comments regarding the tennis player you could, but you would have to go searching for them. For competitive eSports you must watch live streams, which automatically exposes you to the horrors of anonymous internet chat. While streaming technology does a great job of bringing these games to the viewers, sites that offer streaming need to think seriously about insulating these same viewers from all the trolls and the bullshit wagon they are constantly pulling.

It continues to boggle my mind that someone can complain about how eSports isn’t growing, and at the same time make the place in which it will grow best a toxic environment.

I will also echo what you will find at tl-dr (which in fact we discussed together on twitter) that the teams involved in the eSports scene need to do a better job providing guidance and mentoring to these young professionals, helping them to handle the media spotlight, the pressure of winning and success, and how to handle themselves online to prevent them from making the same mistakes we see get repeated time and again.

It’s impossible to grow your sport through advertising and sponsorships when the community and the professionals when these kinds of behaviors are not only tolerated but in some cases defended. Even in established professional circles sponsors will pull their backing in a heartbeat if they think it will damage their brand. If we want eSports to grow, then the community needs to as well.

Shadowmourne, Spectating, and the E-Sports Plunge

This week was a very interesting one, and it made me feel compelled to write about it. I’m eagerly anticipating both the expansion and scenario accompanying it. I’ve been a Jaina fan since Warcraft 3, and I am planning on buying the book as soon as possible as well. Pandaria is, well, amazing. I played on the beta for a few months, and stopped at level 87. I didn’t want to see the rest, and I was a terrible game tester, so it was a good time to stop. But the continent of Pandaria and the Wandering Isle are breath-taking, and I’m extremely exciting to get started.

So far the Death Knight class is kicking serious ass in the new patch, and dropping 42k DPS in my Blood spec on Ultraxion while forgetting to put on my special Ultraxion gear set was the first indication that it was time to make my paladin Holy/Ret in Mists. The second was how much fun I wasn’t having working on my action bars and selecting talents as Protection. When it comes to WoW, if it isn’t fun, I’m not going to bother.

Which brings me to my next thought. Shadowmourne. I love this weapon. I love the story, and once upon a Wrath when I had some free time on my hands I participated in some GDKP runs in ICC (which is a good way to really appreciate the people I was raiding with, rather than the players from a well-known guild whose vent chat was horrific. It was like stepping into an internet meme. I had to shower afterwards). Through these runs I managed to complete the Shadowmourne questline up to the infusions. Three weeks ago I completed the infusion quests (before the ICC bugs) with my guild during a run to get another member his achievement drake. Now I have 49 more shards to go, and I can’t decide whether I’m annoyed. On one hand, outdated content is easy, and on the other hand ICC is in no way soloable. Basically with the horrific drop rate, the requirement for a 25 man raid, and the lack of bosses you can solo, if you want Shadowmourne, you are stuck dragging 10-12 more people with you. This kinda sucks. I anticipate that Blizzard will someday lift the restriction on legendary transmogrification, and when they do I want to have axe filled with the souls of the vanquished, I just don’t want to subject my friends to the same grind.

/Yoda voice

/s Torn am I, conflicted, yes.

I made the plunge into the E-Sports scene last evening, although as a beginner I made the smallest splash imaginable. Playhem is a website that hosts daily Starcraft 2 tournaments with cash prizes. The Bronze and Silver Tournament has a measly $6 pot ($3 for first, $2 for second, $1 for third), but the open bracket is $75 on the weekdays and $100 on the weekends, meaning the first place winner gets enough to take their boyfriend, girlfriend, or cat out to dinner. That last one was a joke, but what is it with cats on the internet? Dogs are so much better. I digress.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to login and find my first opponent. I play the Terran race (Leodar#370 for anyone interested in practice/fun matches), and my first opponent was a well mannered (yeah, it matters in Starcraft 2 as well) Zerg named Rezknello. I was sweating profusely (which admittedly is not difficult for me) and nervous as hell, but I was also thrilled that I remembered my practice sessions and was able to execute my opening and transition into a successful 10 min push. I won the first army encounter, macroed behind it, and scouted his third expansion. After taking down the expansion, I rallyed with another set of units produced from my main base and moved up to his natural expansion, engaging his army and crushing it a second and final time. Two minutes later my opponent surrendered with a ‘GG’ and I took what felt like my first breath in 12 minutes. It was an incredible rush and an awesome feeling to win my first ever competitive match.

The next match was against a Protoss named Plasma who was a league above me in the ladder system. I had been working on creating my own build versus Protoss and executed it. Unfortunately I lost both games to lose the match 2-0. I was still pretty thrilled with my play because both times I out-macroed my opponent, had the superior army supply, and the stronger economy. Plasma had to use some deception to succeed which can be successful at the lower levels (with players like me ) because less experienced players have trouble dividing their attention to multiple places. He may have won, but my fundamentals were much better, and I executed my plan pretty well, almost winning the second game in spite of the opponent’s misdirection.

After this experience I started to think a lot of spectating in competitive gaming. Podcasts I’ve recently listened to have lamented the lack of an ‘observer’ feature in Warcraft that made it very difficult and ultimately unsatisfying to watch professional arenas. I agree with that sentiment completely, but I’m not sure that its enough. Arenas have no flow, and the abilities strike so quickly that casting the game must be a nightmare. If Warcraft PvP has any chance to compete (or even co-exist) with Starcraft 2, League of Legends, and DoTA 2, it needs to be in battlegrounds with an observer camera and tools to make casting easier. It’s not impossible, but it is a big challenge. I still think it would be worth Blizzard’s time to make PvP more spectator friendly. I would absolutely watch professional World of Warcraft players in an Alterac Valley game (although not for 3 days like some of the vanilla crazies lament missing), and it would help random battlegrounds because it would develop metagame strategies that could be shared with the community at large. We have excellent PvP websites and bloggers that handle this (Cynwise, Olivia Grace at WoW Insider, etc.), but I have a feeling they are underused. Enhancing the visibility of battlegrounds would make people more interested in learning how to play them properly.

Let me paint a picture of how this could look using aspects from LoL and SC2.

Team [Random Web Sponsor] vs. Team [Random Telcom Sponsor], Best of 5

Battleground Pool: Arathi Basin , Twin Peaks, Battle for Gilneas, Eye of the Storm, Alterac Valley (15 player version)

First Battleground: Arathi Basin

Loser selects next battleground until one team wins 3 battlegrounds.

A mix of 10 and 15 player battlegrounds would give each team strategic decisions to make based on how many players they can bring, which map is being used, and who their opponent is. Awesome , no? The only problem is that it would create some serious problems deciding what to watch every night.

New (to me) podcasts that I am thoroughly enjoying: “Starcast: The Starcraft Podcast” and “This Week in Blizz” are done by the same two guys and they do a terrific job. They are sponsored by a company who is absolutely getting my business as soon I have enough money for my next computer, Doghouse Systems.

Good Luck, Have Fun, and let’s go pwn some Horde on Tuesday.

Foundations of Success

As people reading my blog or following my Twitter feed probably noticed I have gotten hooked on Starcraft 2 competitive gaming. An explanation is critical here, and I will try to be brief.

At its core, multiplayer Starcraft 2 is an economy based game. You can go to websites like Team Liquid and find build orders, unit counters, explanations of micro (small army movements that can increase unit efficiency), and other information. For a beginner, none of it matters. When you watch professionals, it can lead you to the misconception that these things are critical to success, because it often separates the winner and loser in these professional matches. What many people fail to notice is that these games come down to micro-management because those players have exceptional fundamentals. Without fundamentals, those players wouldn’t be competing professionally. Macro is the key to becoming an exceptional SC2 player. It is the foundation the rest of your game is built on, and without it you will limit your own potential. I’ve embedded a game showcasing exceptional fundamentals (also shamelessly showing my favorite player currently,  TaeJa). You’ll notice that professional players have very little minerals and gas (top right corner), because they are constantly creating units and productions buildings.

When I learned this I was totally blown away. Not because it was some new truth I had never heard, but because it was consistent with all of my other life experiences, and made absolute sense. I’ve spent 12 years coaching basketball, and one thing has been true ever since I started to seriously look at the game and learn how to teach it. That the fundamentals were absolutely critical. Critical to the point that you should avoid teaching any advanced concepts (including running a set offense) before those fundamentals are mastered. Who cares how crisp and perfect your cuts are if the person with the ball is busying staring at it while they dribble. There must be a strong foundation to be able to achieve your maximum potential. Obviously, this isn’t a basketball blog, so I’m not going to go into the detail of how to teach athletes how to play while ensuring their fundamentals don’t slip, but it can (and needs) to be done.

So how do you start to be successful ? You start by identifying the foundation of your endeavor, and you make sure that you develop the fundamentals necessary to have a strong foundation.

Discovering another example of this consistent theme got me thinking about World of Warcraft, and it made me realize that for all of my success in the game, and  all of my accomplishments, I hadn’t really identified what the foundation of a good Warcraft player was. New players are bombarded with information, and god forbid they try to find useful information online. Sure, there are reputable locations of knowledge, but how long does it take for the new player to find? BiS lists, optimal professions and enchants, detailed accounts of which abilities to use in certain circumstances are worthless to the new player. This information is great if you have a foundation in gameplay, but if you are still learning its information overload. A moderately new website called Noxxic is doing a good job of presenting easily digestible information and deserves a mention here. Below is my first attempt at identifying the foundation of good Warcraft play.

1. Stay Alive: A well known joke that circulates the WoW community is that ‘dead hunters do zero DPS.’ I promise that’s my last shot at hunters in this post. The phrase simply means that dead players do not complete quests, kill monsters, or help their team win. If you have an ‘Oh s#$%!’ button, hit it. If you are a healer, use your healing spells. Watch your health bar and make sure you aren’t standing in fire. Sure, you’ll die with some regularity in WoW, but don’t die constantly and unnecessarily.

2. Hit your buttons: Your character has spells and abilities. They all do something, and even though some are more powerful than others it’s pretty important to get into the habit of always hitting a button when it becomes available. This isn’t optimal play (especially for healers), but it’s better to be able to spam damage/healing abilities when you need to than to learn slow, and then try to be faster. Last year there was a mage that asked me for some DPS help. While I’m not an expert on mages, I am the raid leader, so I’m here to help. I got on my mage, and the first thing we did was hit the target dummy. After the 4 min DPS burn we compared damage meters. I cast considerably more fireballs than she did, and really, what is there left to analyze at that point. Play with urgency – your speed matters when raiding and PvPing. Figure out which abilities you should be using, and use the hell out of them.

3. Spatial Awareness: Know your surroundings. This matters when questing, raiding, or pvping. Are you stacking up or spreading out? Are you alone at the farm while all of your teammates are racing for the blacksmith? Is there a patrol near that pack of monsters you need for a quest? Pay attention to your surroundings, know where to be and when to be there.

This is a short list, and maybe its accuracy is questionable, but the exercise is critical. Whenever we start something – a new job, a new hobby, a new relationship – our success will be determined on how strong our foundation is. The stronger our foundation, the more we can build on it.

E-Sports: The Fact and the Fiction

E-Sports is a really interesting term for me, as someone who is a professional in athletics. On one hand, electronic competition has little right to call it self a sport because of the lack of physical exertion (and I tend to include bowling and golf into these categories as well), but E-Competition or E-Comp doesn’t quite have the same ring to it and if bowling is a sport, well, I’m willing to let it slide. Especially because in every other way, online cooperative and competitive gaming is incredibly similar to competitive sports. I would argue that Raid Groups, PvP teams, and competitive gamers have more in common with sports teams than they realize or that they may like to admit.

I think many people would agree that sports and video games (despite the popularity of video games about sports) don’t get along all that well. Not long ago I got lost in reading some internet rage in regards to the terms nerd and geek, and it really wasn’t until then that I realized how out-of-place I was as a jock-gamer-math/science nerd. During our youth I think its fair to say that gamers/nerds/geeks don’t really get along with ‘jocks.’ It’s a shame, because as I mentioned earlier, they really have no idea how much they have in common.

I don’t really think I fit the stereotype of gamer. In fact, I seem to exist in some sort of stereotype purgatory between my professional life and my personal life. In my professional life I coach women’s basketball, and have done so in some form for the past 12 years from middle school through community college. Its my life’s passion and I have every intention of furthering my career at the college level. I belong to professional organizations, I am a representative of my area in one of these organizations, and I attend seminars and maintain an active online presence. In my personal life I enjoy reading, playing video games, and watching a select few shows that catch my fancy. I am the raid leader of a casual 10 man team in a guild that I’ve belonged to ever since I started playing WoW. I am registered with numerous websites, maintain an online presence with this blog and as a contributor on forums, and read guides to keep my expertise up to date. For me, there is virtually no difference between the personal and the professional.

Cooperative and competitive gaming has replaced the rush I used to get (and sometimes still do) from sports. Which is good, because when you are 31 and have had 2 major knee surgeries (ACL reconstructions), a multitude of ankle and shoulder injuries, and an ever-increasing daily reminder of those injuries with arthritis, going out to play basketball or hockey or volleyball isn’t necessarily a great idea. But I have World of Warcraft, and I have Starcraft 2. From an emotional standpoint the anticipation of battle, the frustration of failure, the rush of success – it’s all there. In my guild I have found my place in a team again. I belong to a group of people who can accomplish more through teamwork and communication together, than they ever could alone. In essence, this is what sports is all about too. This is what everyone makes a big deal about. Watching a group of people come together to be more than they thought they could be is exhilarating. Watching the ups and downs, the evolving strategies, it’s all part of the entertainment.

When I watch a Starcraft 2 stream and see a player with flawless timing and ruthless efficiency dismantle an opponent I am blown away with amazement. This is the same emotional reaction I have watching a player like Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) or Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins). It’s astonishing to watch these people to excel at an activity that you know is difficult, and to do it at a level that other athletes/gamers simply can’t reach.

Story time, and I’ll make it brief. When I was 17 I played in my very last organized basketball game of my career, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I had spent the entire previous year recovering from my first knee surgery, and my team was playing a superior opponent on their home court. Sometime in the first half I hurt my ankle. Bad. Really Bad. Bone chips, partially torn tendons, the whole deal. I couldn’t walk off the court. I hobbled off, looking at my family (crying), my teammates (damn close), and my coach (trying to look encouraging). I was devastated. I asked the trainer to tape it. I took Ibuprofen and tried to go out for halftime warm ups. I never made it, the pain was just excruciating. We got beat soundly (probably would have anyway). Afterwards I cried with my 2 best friends (we are still close today). I tried so hard for my teammates, those guys were my family, and I felt like I had let them down. I was miserable for weeks.

Almost exactly 10 years later and I was the main tank for my guild and experiencing my very first expansion as a raider in Wrath of the Lich King. It was exciting and fun. I enjoyed the thrill of killing new bosses, or doing particularly well on an encounter. I got annoyed at wipes and failures, always trying to figure out how to do it better next time. I read guides, changed my UI, and created macros. At some point we found ourselves at Kel’Thuzad and it was my job to tank him. It was nerve-wracking but fun in a way that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. After a few weeks of learning mechanics we were close to a kill. But I effed up a number of times. Failed to interrupt, stood in void zones because I was watching range indicators – you name it, I botched it. Basically for this one week I was the only thing standing in the way of clearing Naxxramas, and the feeling was pretty awful. The following week I was perfect, and KT died. I shouted pretty loudly and was grinning ear to ear. Loot be damned, I did my job, and helped my team get a kill. I was hooked.

It turns out that sports and gaming have quite a lot in common.

I love my guild. We aren’t perfect – we are far from it I’m sure. I love my raid team too, even when they drive me nuts. I’m a lifer. If you want to know where to find me, I’ll be on Baelgun with The Brotherhood of Kharn. After all, they’re family.

Edit: It turns out someone else recently had something to say about E-Sports! Head over to tl;dr to see an analytical perspective of the same topic.