E-Sports

I'm very glad that I keep an eye on Star Craft, because I randomly find incredible gems like this interview video:
SlayerS_'BoxeR' : Emperor of Terran Lim Yo-Hwan Interview [English Sub]

Yeah, it's an interview. With one of the (if not just simply the) world's greatest StarCraft players. I highly urge anyone and everyone to view it, even if you know nothing about StarCraft. Don't worry, there's no gaming footage or crazy technical StarCraft talk.

It really makes me weep a little on the inside to hear some of the things he says. And looking at things in retrospect; Fighting Games have a long, long, long way to go.

The significance of this interview is that it points out certain things he was able to achieve. Such as actually forming a team of players within the Korean Military. As in, real life. The Korean Government's Military actually allowed him to do this, and the players play on a professional level as "Pro-Gamers" in the "Pro-Leagues" of Korea. Not only that, but his ultimate goal is to continue to strive for StarCraft being officially recognized as a legitimate sport, and possibly even added to the Olympics.

So, hearing "Olympics" is probably shocking and maybe even laughable to some people. But personally, I'm not laughing. Not after seeing the look in his eyes when he said it, and not after considering all that he's done and probably will do in the future. Not after really thinking about it either.

To be fair though, I guess I'm pretty bias. First of all, I've been keeping an eye on StarCraft for a long time. I've played it on and off casually since sometime in late '99, after Brood War was released. Be that as it may, the keyword here is "casual". I horribly suck at the game and never really had much (any) intention of improving or playing it competitively. But I still love spectating it.

And that brings me to another point: isn't that one of the key elements to a good sport? Spectators! Spectators pay money to the sponsors to watch the game, advertisers also pay the sponsors to be able to advertise to spectators during the games, and the sponsors pay the players, thus turning the players of the game into professional athletes of a sport. All thanks to the money that comes from the spectators. More spectators, more advertisers, more money from both that goes into the sponsors and players.

Plus, I have to think that if we can appreciate non-digital/electronic and non-physical games as sports such as Chess and/or various card games, why not digital ones? Really, how could one say that turning a non-physical game like Chess or Poker into a digital form would illegitimize it? And don't think things like Chess aren't recognized as sports, because they are. They may not be the main attractions, but they are still legitimate sports. And technically a game like Chess can just as well be played on a computer instead of non-digitally, which would technically already make it an e-sport.

I've also played a particular First Person Shooter game for a long time on a more competitive level than I have Fighters or RTS. And from my experience with that FPS I really feel an E-game could become an e-sport through the power of organizing and sponsoring leagues and attracting spectators. I feel that if any digital game is close to being considered a sport in the Western world; it's definitely the FPS games -- if they aren't already.

StarCraft may already be on another level though. Even in the USA the players have organized inter-collegiate leagues. This sounds an awful lot like a sport to me; colleges setting up teams and pitting them against one another during a specific season with thousands of people watching the action take place. Pretty soon we might even see jerseys and banners, who knows? Honestly I'd love to live to see the day when a kid can get offered a college tuition for doing well in a video game competitively.

Honestly though, I don't know how Fighting Games could take that next step and join the ranks of FPS and RTS Games on their march toward being classified as true Sports. Fighting games are currently going through some major transitions; with Arcades being slowly butchered and consoles and online gaming becoming more popular. Maybe the online aspect is really one of the things Fighters needed all along, since FPS and RTS certainly always had that kind of support -- even though off-line tournaments and lan-party gatherings were always stressed/preferred for true competition.

It really makes me wonder why the Fighting game community is so afraid of consoles and online play -- Is it fear of change? Fear of unknown? Do they think it will kill the tournament scene? Personally I think it could only help, not hurt. It worked for RTS and FPS. Certainly, off-line play in real-time will still always be there for actual competitive tournament play in Fighters just like RTS and FPS. But online opens up the door to a much larger player base to practice and share knowledge with across the nations, rather than skill and knowledge bases being constricted to singular arcades and small areas within the nation.

For example, with online play a player in Alaska or Oregon who might never play another human being under normal circumstances (due to distance from anyone) now has access to tons of players from all over the USA and Canada. They can practice, learn strategy and tech, and can connect with the community as a whole. They might get to play the top players on the East Coast and maybe even Japan, and learn all sorts of things. And who knows, maybe they will start attending tournaments and become a top player too, where as without netplay they would otherwise not have ever bothered to even play against another human. Simpley because they were just too far away from anyone who also plays to reasonably travel for competitive opponents, or to find out if they even liked the game.

But also, I think Fighting games also need a major breakthrough in design, one that highly stresses mind games and ridiculous skill requirements. Rather than doing the opposite, which would be stressing educated-guessing-games (reading/yomi) and catering to low-skill-requirements. Really, looking at the top level of play in RTS and FPS and comparing it to a tier or two below, it's easy to see that it isn't just their incredible minds but also their incredibly good execution that puts them above the rest of the players. And these are the players we enjoy watching, enjoy aspiring to, enjoy competing against, and enjoy idolizing.

If Fighting games keep lowering execution expectations and moving away from strategy in favor of randomness, I personally can't see them being taken seriously. How can we expect a prodigy to really max out their true potential and skill in an environment where that is totally stifled? How can we truly idolize a player who is only marginally better than the rest, instead of way above and beyond everybody? And how can we expect people to care about spectating when the best showcase of skill relies on actually less execution and less true mental battles?

What we really need are games that have tech that seems inhumanly possible, so that we can watch and be amazed as our top players actually execute them. And we really need games where players are rewarded for out-thinking the opponent rather than out-reading the opponent, so we can watch and be amazed out how genius and innovative and pioneering our top players are. And of course, we need these things so that we ourselves can also aspire to achieve these levels of play, and enjoy our struggle on our journey to the top, hopefully bringing our friends and colleagues along with us. But most of all -- though I might catch mad hate for this -- I feel we need a way for casual players to be connected with competitive players easily and cheaply, which I think netplay provides while arcades do not.

"Dead or Alive is the epitome of David Sirlin's ideal fighter, in that there is a yomi game comprised of three options and every character is equally balanced around those three choices." -Bellreisa

And we all know how we feel about DoA.

5 comments:

TRobb said...

Interesting post here, hitting on a lot of things I've been thinking about lately. A few comments:

-You're right on regarding spectators. That, along with some form of broadcasting, is the next big step for the fighting game scene to grow.

-A total aside, but I think the olympics have become something of a sham because allowing too many non-athletic "sports" in has cheapened it. When a skeet shooter can have the same gold medal as the fastest man in the world, something's messed up.

-Consoles and online play are bad for fighting games because they diminish the social aspect. The SRK article by Ponder, I think, on the death of arcades covers this well. We'll see if what you say about being a gateway to get more people to come to events is true, but I don't see it. From what I've seen, the online crowd is largely casual and undedicated. I think increased spectatorship can have the same connection of novices to experts that you claim as the benefits of online play. Furthermore, online play does little to foster the growth of local sub-communities, which are what rising players really need to elevate their skills. There's nothing like having a local rival to spur you to improve.

-Re:need for a breakthrough in design, I think you're selling the existing games a bit short. I'd say they take more skill than any mouseclicking in starcraft or FPS.

-The most interesting thing about the post is about what fighting games should be: "mind games and ridiculous skill requirements" instead of "stressing educated-guessing-games (reading/yomi) and catering to low-skill-requirements." I agree with you 100% on execution issues, though I don't think execution should necessarily be the most dominant aspect. There always should be a balance of physical and mental skill.

But as to mind games (which I read broadly as game plan or manipulating the opponent) vs. reading the opponent (I refuse to use the term "yomi"), I have to disagree with you there. Reading the opponent is not the same as randomness, and in fact encourages more dynamic gameplay. Whats more, how much of a genius are you if you can be out-anticipated and outsmarted by someone who reads you like a book?

And, above all, I agree that David Sirlin must be stopped, before he turns street fighter into DoA ;)

Xenozip. said...

@TRobb: Thanks for commenting.

Regarding execution in Fighters versus FPS and RTS, I've played all three genres for many years.

In my experience with fighters, when I'm able to execute the same combos and input tricks as any of the best players in the world I felt something was wrong. With pretty much every fighting game I've played the limit to execution isn't a bar that I can't reach after a few weeks of practice. Most people feel the opposite -- when they can't execute something they get frustrated and think there's something wrong with the game. But, I feel there should always be room for improvement even past human ability.

With FPS games it's difficult to say. Execution in FPS isn't just mouse clicking, it's also mouse movement to aim and using the keyboard to move and switch weapons. Extremely high levels of input in FPS allow players to hit a target that is behind and above them by swinging their view 180 degrees, tilting upwards 90 degrees, then firing with precision in a fraction of a second, all while continuing to move to avoid being hit in the process. To be fair I felt that type of execution comes natural to me so it never really felt "difficult" to me -- but on the flipside there's tons of players with significantly better execution than me in FPS games. So even though it felt relatively easy, there was always room to improve dramatically.

Something similar applies to RTS. It may seem like just mouse clicking but it isn't. I guess the only way to really understand would be to see a first person VOD:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EbR6bZbiPY

In the Korean pro-leagues a players Actions Per Minute are recorded and added to a list of the players stats. There's a very huge variance of APM levels between average players, good players, and pro-gamers. There's even a significant variance between just the pro-gamers. And it isn't just mashing the keys or mouse button, you have to be able to control units and buildings all over the map, as well as being good at placing your point of view in key locations all over the map.

TRobb said...

You're welcome - it's good to have a discussion regarding game design with someone else who isn't part of the Sirlin flock.

With all due respect, I think the fighter-PC game execution comparison breaks down because, as I'm sure you know, being able to do a difficult combo in training mode is far, far different from doing it in the heat of a match, where the windows for executing a combo are fractions of a second. If it were that easy, we wouldn't see world-class players repeatedly miss combos in tournament matches, which they do. As an analogy, just because I hypothetically could do all the punches or combinations Floyd Mayweather throws on a punching bag doesn't mean I can fight like Pretty Boy if I stepped in the ring.

I could elaborate, but I think the point is clear. There is a mental aspect to execution in fighting games that isn't as prevalent in the PC games you mentioned, where execution is more of just a raw test of physical ability (i.e., ability to manipulate and click a mouse).

Xenozip. said...

Yes, I'm aware that tension can break execution levels in fighters, but this also applies just as much to FPS and RTS games.

Just having extremely high APM isn't enough in RTS games, you also need accuracy. There's a number of things you need to be able to do when your units are actually battling, such as focus firing on specific units, moving groups of units back, or spreading your units out so you can flank the opponent's army. All of this can be broken in the heat of battle.

This also definitely applies to FPS. The more tense the situation the more likely you are to mess up and either miss, move the wrong direction, anticipate the opponent's movement incorrectly, or put yourself in a bad position.

You may think it drastically more simple than inputting motions in a fighting game, but after years of experience in all three genres I can safely tell you that it isn't. In lower levels of play a few misinputs would appear very forgiving, but at higher levels they can cost you the game.

Also, yes it happens, but it doesn't really happen that frequently in fighting games. At least, not at the higher levels of play. The top players aren't dropping combos regularly during tournaments, it's actually pretty rare to see it.

Anonymous said...

a game like that already exists for fighters. we call it mahvel. if you've ever seen the potential of that engine with programmable pads, you would know what i'm talking about.