Experienced Points: Building a Better Esport

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jan 9, 2019

Filed under: Column 163 comments

My column was on hiatus over the holidays, but now it’s back with a discussion of why esports generally make for lousy spectator sports. I say this as someone who has probably watched a hundred games of Starcraft 2 over the last month. I love watching these games, but only because I’ve clocked enough hours with the game to make sense of the gameplay. I don’t watch many other esports, but they all have more or less the same problem. Read the column if you want to hear why I think it doesn’t work and what a more approachable esport might look like.

So let’s talk about watching Starcraft 2 games…

The Anatomy of a professional Starcraft 2 Match

Here is a newbie-friendly description of what it’s like to watch (or play) a game of Starcraft 2. This is 100% jargon-free, which means it will be easy to follow at the cost of driving seasoned Starcraft 2 fans absolutely crazy. The game begins with…

Phase 1: Nothing Happens

The game opens with our two players in opposing corners of the map. To start with they only have a handful of worker units, who begin harvesting resources. After a little gathering they have enough to make their first supply structureA building that allows them to build more units. Think of it as needing to build 1 farm for every 10 soldiers., and then after some more harvesting they have enough to begin building their first real production facility. It will take this thing a while to complete. Somewhere around two and a half minutes we’ll finally see the first proper military units appear and the players can begin trying to kill each other.

Usually the audience watches a game with a quasi-professional caster providing commentary. We in the audience can see through the fog of war and watch what the players are doing. You can often judge the skill and experience of the caster by how well they fill these pointless two minutes with patter. They’ll talk about what the players have done in previous games. They’ll make guesses about what they might try to do in this game. They’ll speculate about what each player might be thinking their opponent is thinking.

The casters do their best, but it really is hard to make this interesting.

Phase 2: Almost Nothing Happens

The first couple of offensive units appear on the field. These one or two units will generally travel all the way across the map, slip into the enemy base, and begin harassing the opposition by attacking the worker units. You end up watching two low-powered units chase each other around for a couple of minutes. The stakes are low, the action is low, and most of us are just waiting for the game to transition to the next phase.

Each player will kill a small handful of their opponent’s workers. This activity is called harassment. Killing workers slightly slows down harvesting, which slightly delays getting to the point where they start building a proper army. Since both players are trying to do this to each other, the caster has to choose which side of the map we get to look at, with the opposing harassment happening off-screen.

The overall effect is that these attacks usually cancel out. I kill five of yours, you kill four of mine, the game rolls on. It’s boring and tedious and nothing comes of it, but if you don’t harass me then I’ll kill five of yours and you won’t kill any of mine, and that imbalance will add up over time.

Once in a long while a player will do something crazy called an “all-in”. This is where they stop building workers and growing their economy and instead pour all their resources into a single attack. If they succeed, they win. If they fail, their opponent will be able to turn around crush them. So if anything interesting does happen here in phase 2, it just means the game will end right away instead of transitioning to the later, more interesting phases. I realize that an all-in is a totally legitimate strategy and a natural product of the rules as designed, but I’ve come to loathe them because they’re so uninteresting to watch. For the audience, it turns the entire match into a coin flip and sends the entire process back to phase 1 with the next match. I suppose this is how Quidditch viewers feel when someone grabs the golden snitch at the start of the game. I just found my seat and the game is over already? This is bullshit!

I really hate early game harassment. If I never have to watch another Terran reaper play peek-a-boo with a Zerg queen, it will be too soon.

Phase 3: Early Game

Finally the poking and prodding ends and we (probably) get our first real battle. Each player has a choice of what technologies / units they want to focus on. At this point their chosen units will begin appearing. This part of the game is a bit like playing chicken. You want to build as few units as possible and still survive.

How it works is this: As you play, you work your way up the tech tree. The Crappy Building lets you build crappy units, and also allows you to build the Less Crappy Building. In turn, you can then build the Pretty Good Building, which leads to the Totally Awesome Building. The later buildings allow you to construct units that are more efficient in terms of cost vs. damage output. The longer you wait to build your army, the more powerful your unit composition will be. It’s much better to spend 400 space minerals on a space aircraft carrier than to spend those same resources on 4 space mooks. On the other hand, if you don’t build enough to defend yourself then your opponent will be able to steamroll you with their crappy space mooks.

So you want to do everything you can to get units inside your opponent’s base so you can get a sense of how big their army is. If they’re scary big, then you begin pumping out appropriate units to counter them. If they’re too small, then maybe consider taking what you’ve got and trying to crush them now. If things are about even, then continue building more infrastructure and workers to give yourself a booming economy and access to late-game tech.

This is the part of the game where you start to see armies roaming the center of the map, taking potshots at each other, scouting, and vying for map control. If one of the players made a mistake in the previous phases and suffered a lot from harassment, then here is where that will pay off. Their economy will be weak, their army will be too small, and they’ll start losing fights.

Maybe Blue isn’t strong enough to kill Red outright, but their advantage allows them to constantly push Red back. Red is forced to cower inside their base. Unable to expand, Red will gradually starve as their resources start to run low. If they can’t build new bases on fresh resources patches, then they’ll enter a downward spiral and eventually succumb to attrition.

At the pro level, players are really good at recognizing this situation and will concede if they’re doomed. Less skilled players often don’t realize how screwed they are and will continue to fight a lost cause. Which means low-level games are, on average, a lot longer and a lot less interesting than pro games.

Assuming nobody makes any major mistakes, then eventually the game will proceed to…

Phase 4: The Mid Game

This is my favorite phase of the game. We get here a little after the ten minute mark. At this point the players will be getting close to the supply cap. This is the hard limit on how large a player’s army can be. In the old days this limitation probably existed to keep players from filling the map with thousands of units until their computers slowed to a crawl. A max size army is a terrifying thing to behold.

At this point the resource patches the players claimed in the early stages of the game will begin to run out, and players will need to move out into the middle of the map to grab more. This means the game gradually shoves the two combatants towards each other. The starting resource patches are always on the high ground, behind an easily-defended choke point. As the game goes on the players are obliged to claim spots that are more exposed.

Games usually end in this phase, but sometimes things progress to…

Phase 5: The Late Game

This phase is like the previous phase, only moreso.  At this point both players will have max armies, and the armies will be composed of lots of advanced units. This is where the really big battles happen. Two armies will prowl around the map, probing for glimpses of each other and looking for an opportunity. It’s pretty cool to be in the audience and see everything as the players cope with divided attention and imperfect information.

Things the players are trying to do:

  1. Catch the enemy army out of position. Maybe you’ll get behind them, where their soft, vulnerable, high-value support units are positioned. Maybe you’ll ambush them from the high ground. Maybe you’ll get them with their back against a wall where they’ll be forced to fight on your terms.
  2. Secure fresh bases on new resource patches. At this point in the game the players will start to “bank” money. Once their army is max size, the resources they collect will begin to build up. This means they have the reserves to quickly replenish lost units. The two sides will clash, suffer losses, retreat, and then in the space of a minute they’ll be back to full strength. This binge-spending burns a lot of resources, and thus requires grabbing ever-more bases.
  3. Destroy active enemy bases. If you can choke off their economy, then you’ll be able to replace lost units and they won’t. If they have a lot in the bank then it might take a few engagements to starve them, but it should happen eventually.

Very few games go beyond this point, but once in a while we get to…

Phase 6: The End Game

As we get close to the one-hour mark, the last resource patches on the map will begin to run out. This process might take a little longer on larger maps, but sooner or later it becomes a war of attrition.

It’s Actually Pretty Fun to Watch

I realize I’m doing a bad job of selling you on the game. That’s fine. If you’re not already a fan of the game, I have no idea how to make it sound interesting. It’s a weird game and the learning curve makes for a tough climb.

There’s an ESL tournament happening this week, and I’ve been watching ZombieGrub act as a caster for the games. There are tons of casters out there covering these games, but ZombieGrub is the one I’m familiar with.

Anyway. That’s the esport I’m into. What do you watch?

 

Footnotes:

[1] A building that allows them to build more units. Think of it as needing to build 1 farm for every 10 soldiers.



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163 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Building a Better Esport

  1. Bubble181 says:

    I’m not sure games need to be all that obvious and clear to the non-initiate. Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world, and I’m fairly sure most people here couldn’t tell the difference between a wicket and a popping crease – let alone intuit what a player is doing.
    Lasting tension, rules that are clear once explained, a good point of view,…all play a bigger role.

    That said, I don’t think there’s one big esport: viewership between a wrestling match, the Tour de France, and an NBA match are quite different.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Cricket, though, is so popular only because there are a lot of large nations that play it and so are initiates into the sport itself. In North America, where it isn’t as well known, those who don’t have a cultural attachment to it and so don’t know about it tend to find it confusing and long and don’t watch it.

      1. Lino says:

        It’s the same thing with American football and baseball – hugely popular in the US (and Canada? Maybe not, come to think of it), but not nearly as popular in the rest of the world.

        1. Lars says:

          The Rest of the (northern) world plays ice hockey or … chess or darts. I had no idea that Cricket is that popular. Then I remembered, that India is the country with the highest population on this floating rock and Russia, Finnland and Canada are not.

        2. Daimbert says:

          Hockey is more popular in Canada, but baseball is fairly popular and American football is popular to some extent and we have our OWN version of “American football”.

          1. Lino says:

            Really? Are the differences huge or just some minor rules? And also, why don’t you guys call it Canadian football? Are you just trying to confuse foreigners?

            1. Daimbert says:

              Well, we actually call it football, because we call non-American football soccer like the Americans do. We DO call our league the Canadian Football League, though.

              There are some significant rule differences. The field is wider, I think, the balls are larger, the number of players on the field are different, rules around kicking and points from that differ, but most importantly there’s one fewer down in the Canadian game than in the American game, which usually makes me more inclined to watch the Canadian version than the American one because it forces teams to pass on second down unless they had a really good run on first down whereas in the NFL you can easily try a run again,

                1. Kylroy says:

                  Hey man, you’re the ones who started calling it “soccer”.

                  1. houiostesmoiras says:

                    One of the YouTubers I watch is from South Africa, and they call it soccer, too. Even though they’re far more inclined towards rugby than American football.

            2. Kylroy says:

              The rule differences are comparable to Rugby League vs. Rugby Union. A player who’s great in one sport will be at least good in the other, but the different rules lead to different strategies.

        3. krellen says:

          The country outside the United States that most loves baseball is Japan.

          1. IIRC Cuba is probably the one.

            1. Tuck says:

              More people play/watch baseball in Japan than live in Cuba.

              1. houiostesmoiras says:

                Probably similar popularity on a per-capita basis. The celebrations in a Japanese city when their teams win a championship are something to behold.

    2. Dev Null says:

      Well but, cricket is nearly unknown in the places where no one understands how it works. And since it is a bit impenetrable, you almost have to grow up playing it for it to make any sense. (Not a dig at cricket, by the way; though the one match I have ever sat through would have been incredibly boring if I hadn’t brought a book, the same is essentially true for me and baseball, football/gridiron, and soccer/football…) Very rarely do you hear about someone who discovers a sport for the first time ever as an adult, thinks it’s the best thing ever, and becomes a long-term fan. (Though short-term there is some amusement value in seeing a sport for the first time…)

      I think any game that is simple and approachable enough for novices to understand and follow completely will inevitably be simple enough that veteran watchers will find it less engaging.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Well, that is more common than you think. To bring up curling again, it got a huge boost in Italy after its introduction in the Olympics because it was new (and reminded them of bocce ball but was different, I believe). Heck, any new sport that becomes popular has to rely on that, and there have been some of those created in the past while, and yes the Olympics have introduced new countries to various sports that have taken off in countries that didn’t normally experience them.

        The key is to have a game that can ease novices into it — often with help from commentary — while still being deep enough that veterans can still enjoy seeing how it all works out. Action sports — hockey, basketball, football — can do that with the ebb and flow of the game. Suspense sports — baseball is the main one here — can do that by keeping people wondering what’s going to happen. And tactical sports — curling, golf perhaps — can do it by focusing on the decisions being made and why they matter, but they are definitely going to need help from commentary to work.

        1. Lino says:

          Curling is actually a good example – I love watching it during the Olympics (and I usually don’t like watching sports). A big part of that are the commentators – they’re very good at letting the viewer know why a certain thing is good and why it matters.
          I’ve heard some people saying that you could do that with games as well, but at least in terms of the esports I follow, I don’t see how you could do that – they’re just too complex, with too many things happening all at once, and it’s impossible for a non-initiate to understand what’s going on.
          Which kind of makes me wonder – why haven’t esports like Counter Strike or Call of Duty taken off? CS is easy to follow, and there aren’t all that many players in a team. Also, most maps are designed so that you get a lot of action in a relatively small number of places….

          1. Jesse says:

            The lack of a good spectator view really hurts CS/COD.

        2. Gresman says:

          Indeed commentators are really important to understand or hate any given sport.
          I am not one who likes sports.
          But weirdly enough I have a certain soft spot for E-Sports and snooker.
          I would have never gotten into these if it weren’t for the commentators. To be honest I would despise snooker if I had only access to the german Eurosport commentary. Austrian commentary for other sports ruined them for me. Way too much useless discussion, which had nothing to do with the game being played.

          I have no clue what is going on in baseball. Even after 30 years of absorbing US movies and shows. It always felt to me like something where you need a prescription to watch it.

          But there are always outliers. Even in E-sport.

          1. Lino says:

            Oh yeah, snooker! All my life I though of it as the most boring game ever, until I stumbled upon a game commented by a British commentator. Turns out, it’s a very interesting sport (that’s also very relaxing to watch)!

            1. Daimbert says:

              Recently I ended up getting somewhat addicted to watching poker and darts. For poker, the commentators were a big factor, and for darts the commentators, stats and the fact that it’s easy to pick up what’s going on were the biggest factors.

              1. Lino says:

                When I used to follow Extra Credits, they did a video on how the advances in professional poker can help esports. It was very interesting how televized poker games turned from affairs incomprehensible to newcomers to events interesting to both veterans and newcomers. I think it’s this video (can’t say for sure, though – YouTube’s blocked in the office :/ )

                1. Daimbert says:

                  It was the right video.

                  It’s interesting to note that some of the things talked about changed by the time I got into it, most importantly that none of them explain how Hold ‘Em works anymore, figuring that either most of the spectators already know or will pick it up really quickly. While showing the hole cards does change the spectating completely, there can be some debate over whether knowing who won is that much better than the suspense of trying to figure out who won. I think it probably does work to provide more of a broad appeal, but note that one broadcast splits the difference with a “Sweat along with X” feature where occasionally they only show the hole cards of one player and have the viewers try to figure out what the right move is along with that player, which works well as is.

                  I don’t think people being able to see themselves doing it is as important as they say it is. Yes, there’s always that undercurrent to it for most people, but it tends to be backgrounded and used mostly when you’re trying to figure out what the best move is. If watching the sport is fun, then it doesn’t really matter if people can dream of one day doing it themselves.

                  Also, a big part of its success came from having good commentators who could explain what is going on and what the strategies would be in a clear and entertaining way.

                  1. Lino says:

                    Actually, a game very close to the description of pro poker is Invisigun Heroes – it’s an arcade multiplayer shooter where all the characters are invisible to everybody (even your own character is invisible). Unfortunately, the game never caught on – mainly because it was a muliplayer-only indie title, and most people couldn’t tell what was going on. The devs eventually added a proper spectator mode, but it was already too late. For what it’s worth, I actually really liked watching the game (with its original spectator mode), but I didn’t buy it, because it was obvious the game would die rather quickly. Here’s a video, if you or anyone else is interested (it’s 25 min. long, but it’s the shortest one I could find that discusses the game properly).

            2. Thomas says:

              Snooker is the original ASMR

      2. Kathryn says:

        Really, is that rare? I didn’t start watching Formula 1 until summer 2016, and I know of at least two other people who started watching it as adults. I also never watched any football until college, and I spent many years watching only my school’s games until this season, when I watched several bowl games and the championship game on Monday.

        Also, despite living in a country where no one plays cricket, I do know the basics of cricket and would be able to follow a match. (I actually might know cricket’s rules better than football, as I am still trying to understand many penalties, and I don’t understand NFL rules at all (much more different from college rules than you would think).)

        Maybe interest in sports in general is the deciding factor – are most people who like sports interested in one or two specific sports, like someone who reads only historicals, or are they interested in the whole concept of sport* and like to learn about other sports as well as their favorites?

        *I will spare you my essay on sports as a modern proxy for tribal warfare.

        1. Lino says:

          Is that essay available online (because I’d actually be interested in reading it :D )?

          1. Kathryn says:

            Hahaha. Alas, it exists only in my head :-) Long story short, humans being tribal but also mostly civilized, we’ve replaced tribal warfare and counting coup and so on with pro sports. Hence the strong emotional identification with one’s local team (and disdain for people who just jump on bandwagons). It looks silly to people who aren’t into sports (and, speaking rationally, it kind of is), but it’s just another expression of tribalism.

            My take is, it would be very difficult for the average person to purge themselves completely of tribalism, so you might as well stick with sports as a relatively (in the absence of riots or huge fights) harmless channel.

            1. baud says:

              Shamus did the same essay 13 years ago: Football: Total War (https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=81):

              all team sports are a simulation of warfare on one level or another

              1. Lino says:

                My perspective is mainly on soccer, and more specifically on football hooligans (here on the Balkans it’s not a pretty sight, especially in my country. From what I’ve seen, Britain also has it pretty bad). A big part of it, in my opinion, is that most of these people come from low income backgrounds, and identifying with the team gives them a sense of accomplishment that they don’t get in their regular life. That’s a very extreme example, of course. For the general case, though, I see very good reason and evidence for the tribal warfare angle.

      3. Guest says:

        Cricket is a very slow sport like Baseball, but I can’t say it’s exactly impenetrable. You can explain the concept to a child in 2 minutes and they’ll get it well enough to play. You’re continuing this very narrow view of the world as well. Cricket is enormously popular in India, one of the most populous nations on the planet, it’s got a competitive South African scene, and it’s of course popular in Australia and Britain. Like “Nobody understands cricket” is just such a ridiculous sentiment.

        Cricket is a completely different strain on engagement, and it’s a really absurd comparison. Cricket is simple, slow, and boring as heck. This is why attempts to liven it up always end up shortening the matches because people care more about a one day sporting event that they can watch with mates, than a several day slog, and increasing the rate at which the overs are balled.

        Starcraft is already far shorter, so no idea why it gets the comparison. The issue is getting people who don’t understand it, to understand what they’re watching enough to enjoy it-not that they’re bored out of their skulls because something happens less than once a minute in the game. If anything, it’s an information overload. The simplicity of a game like cricket makes it easy to explain, and fairly easy to follow. You only have to be alert when they’re actually going to bowl. Compare Starcraft, where you go from a start, where nothing very important happens, on to bringing out half a dozen different units, a bunch of buildings, and then those are all subordinate to a whole bunch of strategies and tactics at a meta level. It’s significantly more complicated than “will the man hit the ball with his stick or not”, it’s like Chess, straight down to a boring opening that nevertheless, is strategically significant enough that we haven’t found a way to cut it out of the game.

        To be honest, that’s why I always thought Starcraft was a niche scene, it’s like Chess. And people who play Chess sometimes enjoy watching Chess, but people who don’t understand Chess, generally wouldn’t even get anything out of watching it. It’s similarly arcane in terms of special moves etc. I think this is also why games like Counter-Strike, or recently Battle Royals, have an easier time in some ways. It’s a lot easier to understand the basic points of players shooting each other, than it is the nuances of “Well, he built this many workers before his first X, and typically for an optimum build you do Y, which means he’s actually trying to do Z”. It’s interesting if you know the game enough so that you can see it as it unfolds.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          I’ll disagree. I have watched it several times and not been any the wiser about it.
          I was able to reason far enough to get that the guy who throws the ball and the guy with the bat are not on the same team, and that the guy who’s throwing is probably trying to hit the thingie behind the bat-man (haha). But then that thingie is ridiculously small compared to the size of the bat, so I bet that must be a very rare occurrence. I bet that’s why games can take several days.

          But what are all the other players doing? There’s a TON of standing around, looking tense, starting to run but then stopping again, looking happy, looking disappointed … Eventually I asked a proper Englishman who was watching with me, and he told me he didn’t know either and just went along because it’s what you do, and he didn’t care enough to overcome his embarrassment to ask his fellow Englishmen at this point.

          Cricket absolutely requires an explanation before you can make any sense of it. As opposed to virtually any other (physical) sport I’ve watched so far, including American Football. I don’t understand most details but the main goal of getting the ball to the other side is quickly obvious.

    3. Redrock says:

      The problem is, I think, that esports tend to be very visually busy when compared to other sports. It’s not just complex rules – it’s that it’s often difficult to understand what’s going on at a particular moment, who’s winning, who’s losing, who’s turning the tide. Most popular sports are very easy to watch: you may not know the details of when and why a penalty kick is awarded instead of a free kick in soccer, but you can always see the ball and the players and get the idea that one team is on an effective offensive and the other is struggling. Also, most sports are actually very slow compared to esports, and there’s a lot of professional camera work, carefully refined over decades for the most easily watchable experience. Esports have nothing like that for now.

      1. Tizzy says:

        Actually, your remark reminds me that most people don’t really know what they’re watching when they’re watching sports (I include myself in this category, both for sports and e-sports). E.g., in soccer, most people will look at where the ball is, but maybe the most important thing happening on the field is where the ball will be in the next second, where players are carefully positioning themselves to attack/defend.

        So maybe what e-sports need most is intuitive visuals. Who cares how many people truly understand what is going on and why? So long as they have something to look at that gives them a narrative to follow… even a flawed one. For my money, Starcraft achieves this pretty well.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Yeah, for most ebb and flow sports the key isn’t in knowing the strategic details, but in being able to tell if someone is winning or losing or dominating or on their back foot. I’m not sure how well Starcraft does for that, but that initial attack could definitely build some suspense and interest and the commentators could comment on how bad it was for that player if it failed.

        2. Thomas says:

          In MOBAs the positional play is intuitive and interesting, but the fights are a bunch of special effects whilst you watch red bars go down to the unitiated

          1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

            Even people familiar with the game can get confused during a teamfight. Trying to follow what ten different pro players with individual builds are doing simultaneously is almost impossible.

            1. Lino says:

              I’m always amazed by the way the casters focus on the most important parts in a fight. Sometimes, the caster would be saying that Team A is losing a teamfight, and I keep thinking “WTF do you mean? Team A just had two of their heroes die? What are you talking about?”, but it turns out that Team B spent all their good spells on the non-essential heroes, and Team A’s most crucial heroes just wiped out the entirety of Team B. I love these kinds of moments!

            2. decius says:

              Even people who are PLAYING at the pro level can’t keep track of an entire 5v5 team fight and what the other nine players are doing.

      2. Erik says:

        That’s one of what I consider three key differences between easily televised sports (e.g., basketball, football) and less easily televised sports (e.g., racing, golf, esports). The second has been mentioned: is it a game of action or of strategy? Action is easily understood (a goal is always good), strategy needs good commentary to allow the user to pick up on subtleties (should they have knocked away the blocking stone, or was going for inner position a better option). And the third point is locality: is there one focal point of action to understand the game (usually the ball/puck/stone), or are you cutting around between five different lanes/corners/holes to try to show everything, and forcing the viewer to remember the context?

        Esports almost always are on the wrong side of all of these. Combine all that, and esports require the user to a) understand the game already just to be able to parse the action, b) remember all the action at multiple locations that aren’t on screen at the same time, and c) use both their prior knowledge and their short-term memory to be able to even begin to understand the strategic position and who’s winning overall.

        That’s too much to ask of most viewers, and certainly too much to ask for someone who just wants to get drunk and watch the game. Until that level of fan is also accommodated, esports will always be a niche.

    4. Ivan says:

      Cricket is also dying. Slowly, whilst desperately, pitifully scrabbling around with new game modes and gimmicks, but dying nonetheless. By game modes I mean One-day matches, 20-20 matches, and probably the new hotness of 10-10 matches sometime soon.

    5. TMC_Sherpa says:

      A major difference in stick and ball sports is the equipment doesn’t change. You don’t get 10 minutes in and half the guys are now wearing clown shoes.

      1. decius says:

        Equipment doesn’t change per player per match, but there’s lots of money in getting top-tier equipment.

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        Clown shoes — my exact thought when I watched the Football world cup a few years ago after not watching football for about 8 years. Did they not have the research budget to produce the shoes in decent colours? Or at least something to match the players’ jerseys?

    6. Guest says:

      But people understand cricket. Just because the audience on an American site doesn’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it’s a largely misunderstood sport.

      It’s a lot easier to understand cricket than Starcraft, and cricket has had quite a few attempts to update it for accessibility, mostly through limited overs, like One Day Internationals and 20Twenty matches.

      1. decius says:

        Right… now explain what the difference is between One Day internationals, 20Twenty matches, and the alternative?

  2. Daimbert says:

    I’m not sure the problem is necessarily with the games, but with how they are broadcast and the fact that they aren’t being broadcast by professionals who have honed their craft both on the intricacies of the game and how best to present that to an audience. Broadcast sporting events do lots of things to help keep viewers entertained and focused on the right places that e-sports haven’t learned yet.

    While it might be a bad example, for commentary I like to use curling as an example. Curling is definitely a more strategy focused game than others — and so a lot more like chess — and yet it gets enough viewership and audiences in Canada and on Canadian networks, at least, that they can create an entire at least semi-professional league with sponsors and ever-increasing payouts for the winners. But to me one of the keys to watching and enjoying it is the commentary, as the two big Canadian networks have knowledgeable “play-by-play” individuals combined with experts on the game who have had massive success and curled for ages. So what you get are precisely the sorts of things that you talk about missing in the e-sports: for every stage of the game, they talk about what each player is doing, why it was successful or why it failed, and what the implications of that are. Good Starcraft commentary should be filling the audience in on what’s happening or why that was a good or bad move so that those who don’t understand the game aren’t left out. If it isn’t doing that, then what’s the point of commentary at all?

    Also a lot of sports broadcasts skip over the slow or boring parts, and not only is this possible for e-sports it’s arguably IDEAL for them. Since it doesn’t have to be streamed live, why not only show or at least put together a show from the highlights of the games? Or even only show the highlights of the early phases and jump straight to the more interesting ones. And it not being live would also help solve the viewpoint problem, as the broadcaster could pick multiple viewpoints and then in editing present it in the most interesting way possible.

    The key to having an interesting sports or e-sports broadcast isn’t or shouldn’t be based so much on knowing precisely what’s going on, but on being able to determine who is and isn’t winning and watching that ebb and flow. You don’t really need to know WHY someone is winning to do that, as long as you can know THAT they are winning. So in your article my view was that the problem is more that unless you know the details you can’t know who’s winning, but that can be fixed through commentary and a game where that’s more obvious.

    1. Lino says:

      As far as I can gather, a large part of the appeal of esports is the fact that they’re happening live, in front of a physical audience. Also, a big problem is that, as Shamus said, there’s not a single focal point for the audience to focus on. Although I’m not an avid watcher, curling has a red dot in the centre of the lane, and a only couple of stones around it. A game of DoTA or League of Legends has 10 heroes, and 5 play areas (3 lanes and 2 jungles). A StarCraft map has two bases which, in later stages of the game, can occupy several screens of space. Even the players sometimes struggle with what to focus on (a good strategy in StarCraft is to attack your opponent on multiple fronts), so what prayer does a newbie have of understanding what the hell is going on?
      Games like Hearthstone are better in that regard, because you only need to focus on the board. But if you aren’t up-to-date with what cards and combinations the players have at their disposal, then you won’t have any idea what options each player has, and why the play they just made is such a big deal…

      1. Daimbert says:

        Well, returning to poker above, it’s in front of a live audience — the final table, at least — and yet the most popular broadcasts aren’t live. This allows them to filter out boring hands and cases where there is a long string of one player raising and everyone else folding the antes to get to the important action while keeping things like cheering from the rails, and also allows them to cut away from the action for extra commentary on what was happening and even trends they’ve been seeing. It seems to me that the biggest reason people watch broadcasts of sports live instead of delayed is because for major sports they’d know the results before they watched it which greatly changes the experience. E-sports don’t have to EVER live stream, but can always release a live stream and an edited stream at the same time and thus let people choose what they want to watch.

        With curling, you can focus on the rock being thrown, but pretty much the whole sheet is in play when it’s interesting (they have to get it past the guards and then have it curl into place behind them, and it can go wrong at ANY point in that). But it does have a single point of focus. There aren’t a lot of sports that don’t, although F1 racing and golf might be the best examples. But they both require sharp broadcasting skills to pick a focus of interest and flip back and forth between them with liberal use of replays to make them interesting. E-sports, from how it sounds — I don’t really watch any right now — aren’t doing that yet.

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        I saw a Starcraft game in Seoul once, and while that was definitely a different experience, I watch most games not even live but as recorded videos on youtube, with commentator audio. And I don’t much like the way they’re commenting but it does help this very casual player make sense of the high-level metagame which I will never be able to play.

    2. Kathryn says:

      It’s hard to balance being accessible to noobs and interesting to veterans in commentary. In F1 for example, they always recap the rules for qualifying multiple times during the hour or so. That’s good for the new person, which I was a few years ago, but now I think, “Why are we repeating this AGAIN?! Once was enough!!”

      Also, what’s really interesting about the races is usually the midfield strategy. The top teams tend to converge on the same strategy (which actually doesn’t get discussed enough now that I think about it), but the midfield teams, being more evenly matched and being more focused on team results rather than individual results, will have a much more interesting spread of strategies. But this doesn’t get covered at all by the announcers (at least on Sky). And what the midfield is doing often isn’t covered by the camera choices, either. You have to get the race strategy report that comes out a day or two later to see what was happening. For example – there was an incident late last year, which I might still be pissed about, where a slower car had been lapped by the race leader and, with fresh tires (meaning he was temporarily faster), was trying to unlap himself and ended up crashing the race leader. If you look at where the slower car’s rivals (not the race leader) were at the time and the strategies they were all running, his desperation makes more sense – he was trying to catch two guys while his tires were still fresh and also get inside the pit window of a third guy (in other words, get close enough that when the third guy stopped for new tires, he’d come back out on track behind).

      But I don’t know how you cover that stuff without being totally impenetrable to someone who just tuned in because they heard about cars going fast and wanted to check it out. I had to rewrite just those few sentences a bunch of times to get them to hopefully make sense to someone who doesn’t know F1.

      1. Daimbert says:

        I haven’t been able to watch F1 regularly for a couple of years now — the races run Sunday mornings here and I’m often gone Sunday mornings — but when I WAS watching it really regularly the commentators and broadcasters were pretty good about things like that. If the leader was well out front but there was an interesting battle behind them, they’d cut to the battle, and they usually went into extreme detail over the strategy decisions and what they meant, at least for the teams that were looking like they were getting into the points. I can’t imagine that with the incident you’re talking about the commentators I used to watch wouldn’t have pointed out that he needed to get ahead of the race leader to make up ground on the cars he was chasing which is why he was being so aggressive, and also might have admonished the race leader for not just letting him through if he was faster at the moment as his being lapped didn’t impact the race leader at all, and would have pointed out that the reason he had speed now was because of the fresh tires. Heck, every race I’ve watched, even recently, had the commentators going on and on about the importance of fresh and worn tires and even in detail on the stop strategies and the thought that goes into them.

        Maybe you just have bad commentators [grin]. Who are Sky’s commentators, BTW, if you remember?

        1. Kathryn says:

          My first draft looked like that teal deer about soccer down below. I actually missed that specific incident live, but they do typically talk in very broad strokes about tires etc., but not in the level of detail I want, and usually not about the midfield. I want to know how old everyone’s tires are and which compound they are and their lap times for the last 3-5 laps. I’m stuck hoping one of the drivers will request that info about his nearest rival and it’ll get broadcast. (Hamilton’s multiple inquiries about Max’s lap times did make the broadcast in that race.) Otherwise, I just wait for Ed Allen’s race strategy report a couple days later.

          I don’t remember the names of the Sky commentators, but I can tell you they are usually much too busy admiring Hamilton to talk about anyone else.

          1. Algeh says:

            I don’t voluntarily watch F1, but I am often sitting on the couch while F1 is being watched by those around me. (If I have to watch auto racing, I want to watch Nascar, ideally truck series, for maximum absurdity of the entire endeavor – I once saw a race finish where a driver deliberately ran another driver onto the grass as they crossed the finish line to keep from being passed, and the general reaction of all parties was “well, rubbin’ is racin'” and something of a shrug.)

            Our F1 broadcasts always have a sidebar that show each car’s time behind leader (probably in the form of when they passed checkpoints, but I don’t actually pay attention), type and wear level of tires, and such in order. I don’t know if that’s common other places.

            (My complaint about F1 is that basically nothing happens most of the race. Everyone goes around the course in order and they will do that all morning long. One to three interesting things will happen during the entire race, probably, and knowing my luck it will happen while I’m in the other room. I feel similarly about baseball. I’m not really a sports person though. Given a choice I’ll watch curling, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, and some of the track/field events. I will also watch dog agility, flyball, and a lot of other dog sports.)

            I’m actually surprised that we don’t see racing eSports, particularly because it would let you have some spectacular crashes and such that would be hazardous in a real sport, and some visually interesting vehicle types and courses. (Something like Mario Kart, but with more strategy and less “there will always be a way for Timmy, who is 5 years old and currently in last place, to still be relevant” than Mario Kart is tuned for.)

      2. Echo Tango says:

        Just have two (or more) different levels of commentary, broadcast seperately. One broadcast is showing the game with extra information needed for new people to understand the race (sport, whatever), and the other focuses on the more in-depth, strategizing stuff. E-sports can do this even more easily, since they don’t need to have physical cameras – there’s only so much room for differnet camera-men to work, without bumping into each other.

        1. Daimbert says:

          I think with good commentators you can do both unless you have a sport where the in-depth strategizing is just so complex that it will bore people who don’t follow it. But then it’s hard to see that becoming a sport that the popular masses enjoy anyway.

          I’ve liked curling where the play-by-play announcers are less informed or at least can play someone less informed and ask the questions that the more novice or casual person would ask to let the expert commentators answer it. So, essentially, “Couldn’t they do this?” “You could, but then they’d just do this which is no good at all.”

          Really fast-paced games, however, will ALWAYS have problems with this, no matter what you do, so they at least have to look pretty [grin].

    3. Mortuss says:

      I disagree, I think Curling is still very easily grasped by people who don’t understand it, you slide the stone, want it to be as close to the center as possible and that is the basics. Sure there is much more to it on a pro level, but when a newcomer would come and try to play, he would know what to do immediately, you slide the stone. And I am not sure I would equate curling with chess either, isn’t it more like pool?

      I think esports comentators are doing a great job personally, I can watch games I have never played or don’t understand that much, but only because I am familiar with other games and that is usually enough to get what is going on(except for smash, that things seems crazy to me).

      But if you have not played any games before, everything would be so much harder to understand. Imagine seeing curling for the first time, while also seeing stone and ice and the concept of friction for the first time. That’s how complex games can look to a non gamer seeing esports for the first time.

      I remember watching some counterstrike while my non gaming roommate walked by. You would thing people understand shooting, but the action is really hard to follow without knowing the map, he was confused why don’t they always just get the rifles and once he noticed how they are throwing grenades over the buildings because “if they are rushing B, that is the spot where they would be at this time” he stopped trying to understand.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Actually, curling is like big-sized, icy shuffleboard.

      2. Daimbert says:

        I disagree, I think Curling is still very easily grasped by people who don’t understand it, you slide the stone, want it to be as close to the center as possible and that is the basics.

        The problem is that that sort of simplistic statement can be made for video games as well. Starcraft: Build an army and wipe out your enemy. DOTA games: Build a party and wipe out your enemy’s party. The complexity is in the rules and how they interact to build strategies.

        For example:

        And I am not sure I would equate curling with chess either, isn’t it more like pool?

        It’s more like chess because it’s always move-countermove, with the strategy always being built around setting things up to block your opponents while furthering your overall position. Pool cares about position, but you don’t care about your opponent unless you can’t make a shot yourself, and so generally are only concerned about them to make your shots “safer”.

        But if you have not played any games before, everything would be so much harder to understand. Imagine seeing curling for the first time, while also seeing stone and ice and the concept of friction for the first time. That’s how complex games can look to a non gamer seeing esports for the first time.

        I’m not sure things are that complicated, as many games in some way simulate some kind of real life conditions and so you should be able to grasp the basic concepts (like, for example, ranged and melee units) and only be missing the main strategies.

        But that’s what the commentary is supposed to provide. To use your simplified idea of curling, in an uncommented curling match I can imagine people very new to the game thinking this:

        Okay, so the main goal is to get a rock closer to the centre than your opponent. So, why are they putting it out front? Why do they keep replacing that one out front? Why is it not over the centre anyway? Why did they put one behind that one that’s blocking only the edge? Why is the other team so obsessed about getting rid of those ones there instead of just going closer to the centre? Why are there NO rocks at the centre in this one? Wait, they scored two points doing this? The other team must have really screwed up to allow that when they were all on the edges! Why didn’t they just put one on the centre?

        But with good commentary the person would very quickly pick up on the idea of corner guards, multiple points, biters and why all of that matters.

        The same thing would apply to Counterstrike. A good commentator should be able to explain why on that map the point they’re throwing grenades at is a chokepoint on the way to the objective and that the other weapons are useful in that situation or that the rifles aren’t worth getting. I don’t even play Counterstrike or FPSes at all and while I’m sure I’m misinterpreting it the description you give doesn’t seem intimidating to me, even if seeing it live with no helpful descriptions would be.

      3. Guest says:

        Yep. It’s fundamentally very simple. The goal is simple, and the most visible action is all about that goal. Like most sports, it’s vastly less complicated than an e-sport. I don’t know why people are still futilely trying to compare esports to sports, and trying to compare esports to slow, very directly goal oriented games. The problem is that video games are more complicated than sports, more complicated than most strategy board games, and are often quite indirect and opaque.

        I think CS is interesting enough just because of the action, but like, a newcomer doesn’t even understand the economy, it must be incredibly frustrating watching a pistol eco, which is usually gonna be a lost round.

  3. Lino says:

    This is why whenever I watch a SC2 game (very very rarely nowadays), I just skip to 5-6 minutes in (sometimes even later). The time I didn’t do that was when I was following Husky – he always made those couple of minutes very entertaining (anyone who’s watched him probably remembers the Overlord conversations).
    DoTA 2 is better when it comes to that, because from the start interesting things start happenning. Of course, it has its own problems as well, but the most relevant ones to this discussion is the fact that, as you said, it’s impossible to follow if you haven’t played the game a lot.
    I’ve tried to get into fighting games, but problem is that I’ve only ever played Flash versions of Street Fighter, and I just have NO IDEA what’s going on – I can understand what counters are, but EXs, and the dozens of other cool words they use – on effin’ clue :D
    I think a good contender was Chivalry – it was very fun to watch even from a bird’s eye view. Maybe that’s why Ubisoft tried to make For Honour a thing. The situation with that game was very weird – I never really got why it didn’t take off. Crappy monetization? The fact it wasn’t F2P? The fact that the matches themselves weren’t really a conflict between distinct factions? Or just the fact that it was another impenetrable fighting game?

    P.S. Am I the only one who HATES the way SC2 replays don’t show unit portraits anymore?! Maybe it bothers me, because I haven’t played since Wings of Liberty, but the portraits really did a lot to immerse me into the world.

    1. John says:

      I’ve tried to get into fighting games, but problem is that I’ve only ever played Flash versions of Street Fighter, and I just have NO IDEA what’s going on – I can understand what counters are, but EXs, and the dozens of other cool words they use – on effin’ clue :D

      This is why commentators matter so much. When I started watching Street Fighter IV matches, I didn’t know what any of those things were either. All my first-hand Street Fighter knowledge at the time was from Street Fighter II and the Street Fighter Alpha series, back when the games were (relatively) less complicated. (At any rate, there were certainly no dashes, EX moves, parries, Focus Attacks, V-skills, or V-triggers.) My favorite Street Fighter commentators are technically oriented. They’ll not only describe what moves players are making but why those ideas are good or bad. They’ll describe the properties of different moves and why certain match-ups are difficult for certain characters. My less favorite commentators are hype-oriented. It’s wonderful that they’re so excited, but I don’t feel like I’m learning anything when I listen to them. My least favorite commentator is a guy who likes to make anime jokes and extended, tortured political references. (Dude, shut up about Brexit and talk about the match.) The problem with the Capcom Pro Tour is that you never know which commentators you’re going to get. The only certainty seems to be that James Chen–fortunately, one of the more technically oriented commentators–is probably going to be there for the Top 8 matches at Evolution.

      1. Lino says:

        Hmmm… So maybe there is hope for me after all. When I’ve got the time, I might give this James Chen a try – who knows, he just might be able to convert me :D

  4. Gethsemani says:

    Ubisoft is working really hard to make Rainbow Six: Siege a “real” e-sport, complete with making their own spectator tools. These tools are meant to be powerful and flexible enough that the commentators and watchers won’t have trouble following the action, even when the attackers initiate a three pronged assault on the objective or the defenders decide to do a full roaming defense. As I haven’t watched a lot of it, I can’t say for certain how good they are in practice, but the basic idea from Ubisoft is pretty clever. Because as Shamus said and a lot of people have repeated here, the key to a truly successful e-sport is probably less about the game itself and more about spectator tools that allows the viewer to get a good overview of what’s going on, even when the game gets really hectic or split-up in multiple flashpoints of interest.

    I also think an important aspect of this is the generational shift. The people most interested in e-sports in the west are millenials, who are still too young to have significant disposable income. While a lot of people in their 20’s and 30’s are also interested in e-sports, I doubt they will truly take off until the millenials get the disposable income and freedom of movement to be able to go out en masse to e-sports events.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      If we were paid better, we wouldn’t need to be older than 20s / 30s. Fucking 25-year mortgages – grandpa had 5… ^^;

    2. Daimbert says:

      I don’t know, Millenials are all connected, and we can track views on streams and replays of streams, so if it was interesting to them and the broadcasts were interesting why would they want so much to be physically there? Sure, crowd experiences matter but you can get crowd experiences from regular sports. Why should e-sports interest them specifically if the e-sports themselves can’t sell it?

  5. Tobias says:

    I am in the situation that I have never watched any Sport (e or non e) for more then a few hours without at least trying to get into playing casually.

    Currently I am mostly watching Chess and Dark Souls Speed-running.
    But I do think that SC2 is probably the game I watched the longest before trying to play myself. And after I stopped playing I mostly stopped watching.

    It is pretty interesting how the possibility of an early rush influences Starcraft casting. In Go it is pretty usual for commentators to show up after the opening has been concluded, a few hours after the game start. Even for massively important events.

  6. Joshua says:

    I’m familiar with Starcraft (first one anyway), and I didn’t find this simplified description frustrating at all.

    1. Lino says:

      Yeah, as someone who used to follow the scene closely, that was the best description of the game I’ve ever seen :D

      1. Thomas says:

        I caught myself thinking ‘But the timing of that first building is really important!!!’

  7. John says:

    The problem is that even when you have the top two Street Fighter players in the world, none of their skill is visible to a non-player. If you don’t already know the game, then the battle between professional players doesn’t look all that different from a couple of toddlers mashing on the buttons at random.

    Y’know, Shamus, when I first read this I got a little indignant. Then I figured that you were exaggerating for effect. Then I remembered that I have seen matches where players really do look like they’re hitting buttons at random (at least some of the time). In Street Fighter III Capcom added a dash command that allows characters to cover a short distance much more quickly than their normal walking speed. That means it’s (theoretically) possible for your opponent to go from, say, standing just outside the range of your normal attacks (regular punches or kicks) to right next to you near-instantly. That’s usually a bad thing. To discourage dash-ins, then, some players in some match-ups will make normal attacks even when their opponent isn’t in range. They’re either anticipating a dash-in or, more likely, trying to discourage their opponent from attempting a dash-in. There are other, more technical reasons to do it too, but the general idea is that if a player is hitting buttons when his opponent is out of range then that player is either anticipating incorrectly that the opponent will do something to come within range or else trying to discourage the opponent from coming within range. As I suggested, you don’t see this behavior in every match. It depends on the characters and the players involved. Even when you do see it, it seldom takes up the whole match.

    To your more general point about skill being evident to the viewer, I have often had similar thoughts regarding professional (American) football. Every time I watch some team try to run the ball straight through the defensive line only to watch the ball-carrier buried under a mountain of bodies for a gain of effectively zero yards, I boggle at the amount that everyone involved is getting paid. Why did that seem like a good idea? Why has the team tried it three downs in a row? What madness is this? I understand that it’s a good idea to try plays from time to time that you don’t necessarily expect to work in order to keep the other team guessing, but it still looks like sheer folly.

    1. Kathryn says:

      I wondered about that too. Part of the problem is the viewing angle – the massive crush of bodies isn’t actually as tightly packed as it seems from the oblique angle. On the rare occasions when they show a replay from the angle right behind (or in front of) the quarterback, you can see that there really are spaces between the players. The other part is that the offensive linemen are supposed to open a lane for the…uh…ball carrier (running back?). The running back is following the planned path, but the offensive linemen for whatever reason did not actually get the defensive linemen out of the way.

      As for sticking with rushing versus trying a pass, that is more complicated and has to do with the capabilities, both offensive and defensive, of the two teams. Our (Texas A&M’s) QB, for example, always overthrows the receiver when he gets pressured, and he also has a tendency to throw interceptions at the worst possible time. So if the opponents are good at bringing pressure, you’re probably going to prefer he pass the ball to the running back (especially if said back is Trayveon Williams, whom I expect to see go high in the NFL draft).

      Football gets a lot more complex than that in terms of strategies and tactics, but I don’t understand much more than what I’ve just said.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Yeah, if you watch football enough, eventually you’ll see it work for either a short gain or even a long gain that gets you a first down. For the short gain, it means that you have more options for passing on future downs, and if you get small gains enough that can get you the first down itself. But there’s more strategy involved as well. First, passing takes more time, especially for longer routes, and the defensive line is trying to break through to get to the quarterback to stop him from doing that. Less required distance means that the routes take less time to run and so there’s less chance of them getting to the quarterback. Also, if you run it straight down the middle you force the other team to respect that and so that opens up options on the sides where the running back either deliberately runs to the outside or you make a short pass there and they take off. Moreover, being willing to run the ball means that they have to keep those players on the line, opening up options for passes.

        There’s also another reason to do three run plays: killing the clock. The clock keeps running on completed plays between the plays, where it doesn’t for incomplete passes. Easiest way to kill time is run it three times up the middle. If it works, you might get a first down and be able to keep killing it. If it doesn’t, then you’ve killed a lot of time without worrying about an interception.

        Typically, in the NFL, what I’ve seen is two run plays and then a pass unless they get enough yards on the first running play to get a relatively easy first down and thus might decide to take a chance with a longer pass. Or else they see something when setting up and decide to change it up.

        Of course, these are things that I learned from watching the sport and are things that good commentators should be pointing out (and usually do).

        1. Joshua says:

          Non-expert here who’s only passing familiar with the sport, but it’s always befuddled me how such a large part of the strategy is based around the clock. Either doing specific plays to try and waste time, or using the limited time-outs specifically to try to pause the clock. Heck, the design of the game allows them to end the game early when there’s a certain amount of time left on the clock (something like a minute?) and the winning team has the ball because it’s understood that they have the ability to waste enough time that there’s no point in further playing out that last minute of the game.

          Basketball instituted the shot-clock sometime around the 50s because teams were trying to play too conservatively in order to wind down the clock and spectators were getting bored. As a non-fan, I always wonder if football games would get more exciting if they instituted some kind of comparable rule to encourage exciting play.

          1. Daimbert says:

            Yeah, the clock management is one of my biggest gripes about football. That being said, sometimes running down the clock has caused teams problems when the other team gets the ball back and scores leaving them very little time to respond. And they could fix it easily by simply not having the actual clock run between plays and only having the play clock run, which would still make timeouts useful but would avoid the need to choose running plays or passing plays or get out of bounds or whatever to keep the clock running or stop it.

            That being said, for the timeout clock management and the like I find that basketball is actually worse …

            1. Joshua says:

              I’m guessing (shot in the dark here) that maybe in Basketball it’s about allowing your players to catch a breather? Football has natural pauses, but Basketball can be non-stop without allowing for time-outs, free throws, and the like. But that also brings up strategy in Basketball based around “foul management”.

              1. Lino says:

                Volleyball also has a lot of “tactical time-outs”. It usually happens when one team’s had a streak, and the coach of the other team does a time-out in order for their team to get their bearings. But in volleyball they get just a few timeouts (3 or 5 per game I think), which is not a lot. Do they have such a strict limit in basketball and American football as well?

                1. Daimbert says:

                  Yes, they have a limit (three in NFL football; I’m not sure about basketball). That’s why they pull other tricks like deliberate grounding and stepping out of bounds in football and fouling in basketball.

                  Hockey only gives teams one timeout. Things move a lot faster at the end of even a close game in hockey.

                2. Kathryn says:

                  Yes. I think it’s three timeouts per team per half (at least in college, I don’t watch NFL). Don’t remember about basketball – I haven’t watched it in ages and can’t stand to watch it now because they are traveling 100% of the time and it’s never called.

              2. Daimbert says:

                It’s all the time management around the very end of the game, when a team needs to try to come back, using timeouts and fouls to avoid running down the clock too much to make that final shot. It makes the last minute drag on in sharp contrast to how fast the rest of the game moves.

          2. Kathryn says:

            I’m pretty sure there is a play clock for football. There’s a delay of game penalty if you don’t start the play in time.

            1. Joshua says:

              I think it’s slightly different? That’s an obvious one in Football to prevent one team from just refusing to start a play in the event that they were ahead. The shot-clock was added for Basketball because the delaying actions were occurring in play itself. That is probably much harder to pull off in Football due to risk of turnover, whereas in Basketball they could theoretically just form up around the guy who had the ball and not move anywhere.

              I’m not sure what would happen if a team in Football decided to just form a shieldwall around the Quarterback and plant themselves in play? I’m guessing beyond the riskiness, there’s some kind of rule(s) against it?

              1. Kathryn says:

                Pretty sure there are rules about how engagements between offensive and defensive linemen are allowed to go. If you watch the initial snap, you’ll see only fairly brief tussle between pairs of guys as the defensive linemen try to get to the quarterback. I know there is definitely a holding penalty that prevents offensive linemen from simply wrapping up defensive linemen.

                1. Viktor says:

                  https://ordinary-times.com/2015/09/14/the-flying-wedge-the-greatest-play-in-football/

                  A somewhat TL:DR explanation of the Flying Wedge, a play that was absolutely great at getting the ball downfield, with the minor side effect of hospitalizing or killing any defender who tried to stop it. There’s a bunch of rules now about how the offense is allowed to move and what formations are legal in order to stop the various wedges while still allowing normal play.

      2. John says:

        Well, yeah, ball-carrier. I’ve never entirely understood the positions in football. Quarterback is pretty obvious, as is wide receiver, but don’t ask me what the difference between a running back and a tight end is. Anyway, I didn’t want to suggest that getting squashed at the line of scrimmage was something unique to a particular position, if for no other reason than I’ve seen it happen to quarterbacks too.

        1. Kathryn says:

          Sorry, the question mark was intended to indicate that I wasn’t sure what the position was called either. I just guessed running back because I know that’s what Trayveon Williams is.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      Probably most famous moment in all fighting game history is the time one player used a super move against someone with just a sliver of life, and they managed to block the entire thing with a dozen frame-perfect button presses or something very challenging, but if you don’t know that’s what happened, it looks like player 1 just mashed the “punch” button while player 2 held down the “block” button and made the punches whiff.

      I find Shamus’ description very accurate.

      1. John says:

        Eh. I’ve watched kids try to play Street Fighter. It mostly involves random jumping.

  8. Carlos García says:

    You got into something that awakens my raging instincts, so here comes some “raging” (I hope my imperfect English doesn’t bring me into expressions that sound like actual angry rage at you):

    «When two teams are playing traditional sports, it’s easy to make sense of the action and understand why one team is overcoming another. Even if I don’t understand the esoteric rules behind offsides, fouls, free kicks, corner kicks, or when and how players are allowed to touch the ball, I can still immediately intuit what players are trying to do. I can tell that a team is winning because they’re outrunning, outmaneuvering, or out-shooting their opposition.»

    GAHHHH! NO! NO! NO! You still don’t have a clue, you only think you have a clue because it looks easy and saying “team A shot more” or “team A got more possession” are easy to be and look obvious. But that’s not a valid measure! And that’s the cancer around the forums of Football Manager, all full of whiners that think because they got more shots and more possession they should have won the game. WRONG! The worst part of that is that mentality is so weidespread also by professional commentarists from the TV. I swear the professional commentarists are the people who are most ignorant of football. I only know of two Mexicans that comment for ESPN in Spanish (I don’t remember their names) who show some insight into the matches, and from what I hear Gary Neville does a great work in a British TV program analysing matches, but I’ve not had the chance to watch any of it. It is about game plans. A game plan may be wanting to control the possession and create more shots; but is equally valid and can work, usually the better chance for the minnows, to have a game plan in which your goal is to give up possession, let your rival hog the ball and allow them lots of low quality shots that are unlikely to go in and then seek to take advantage of their advanced positions and possible boredom of their keeper and defenders from the scarcity of work to do to catch them on counters and take one of a handful of chances. The team that controls a game isn’t the one with the more shots and the more possession, it is the one that manages to get the match play out the closest to their game plan. If Team A has an inordinate amount of possession and an insane amount of shots, it’s the more likely Team B’s game plan is giving up the ball in less dangerous positions and get Team A to do lots of low quality shots that frustrate them more and more, unsettling them mentally and it’s Team B who are actually in control of the match. It’s something we can see time and again. It’s how Inter Milan won 2010 Champions League, how Di Matteo’s Chelsea won it some years later, it’s how most of the small teams beat Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, the Manchesters, Liverpool, Bayern, etc. And perhaps the stronger game plan in terms on having your opposition to fail to react and identify it, which is why FM forums use to get so full of whiners because they lost with 75% possession and 40 shots versus 4: your rival wants more possession and more shots, you don’t want them and are happy to let them have them, so they get even more possession and more shots that they might have anticipated, then instead of going “huh, I’m getting way more shots and possession than my plans anticipated, something is wrong, are those shots we’re doing really that good? Are we actually doing something with the ball? Do we have all that because our rivals are letting us as part of THEIR plan and not because we’re earning them according to OUR plan?” they go “niiiice, we’re so much stronger, how well my plan is working, we’ll win like this”, but it’s actually the other team who are imposing their game plan on the match and so the more likely to win. Obviously some times you get the freak chance in which a poor play turns into a goal, like a pass that has no threat being deflected into an own goal, a poor pass that bounces off to the striker in a better position that he’d been found without that bounce (as it happened, I think, in the Spain – Iran from the last World Cup, where Iran deserved the win as they were the team that imposed their game plan, but that bad luck in that one defence condemned them to defeat and elimination). Having more possession and more shots can be a sign of controlling the match, but that’s if both teams have gameplans that say they have to get more possession and more shots. If one wants more possession and more shots and the other doesn’t care for that and even counts on the rivals getting them, then having more possession and more shots can easily be proof of having lost control. Or it can be having control if they’re not quite happening in the terms dictated by the other team. To use my FM matches, which is where I pay more attention to stats, when I am playing a match in which my plan is have more possession and shots, then the sweet spot that says my plan is working as I intend is a projection to finish the match with 15-20 shots and around 60% possession; if the projection is 21-22 I worry and take deeper look into how are things happening, if the projection is 23+ shots and possession is above 65%, then I know something is wrong and I need to change things if I don’t want to lose. If my plan is to let the opposition have the ball and frustrate them with bad shots to take one of a handful of chances, then I’m looking at not having more than 40% possession and no more than 5 shots. 25% possession and 1 shot in the first half to their 18 shots? If I see my defense is denying space and making the rivals shot from afar or tight angles or well marked then it’s all going to plan and I know I’ll win unless I’m unlucky with the handful of good chances I’ll have, which is how I win 90+% of matches against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchesters, Liverpool, etc with teams that have just been promoted or are still in the second level (and sometimes even at third I can win in preseason friendlies and fight them toe to toe).

    So I’d say in normal sports, lots of people that have little more clue than the commentarists think it’s so easy to understand what’s going on and they go on believing they know what’s going on but having little clue. It doesn’t help that commentarist are so unknowledgeable. They can’t even tell good chances form bad chances. I’m sick of hearing “how did he miss? He should have buried that!” when there was no chance of a goal because the goalkeeper was well placed to cover every possible angle between the ball and the net.

    Still, that rant doesn’t nullify your argument. But it’s not that in sports people know and can tell what’s going on and why things happen. There sports and esports are the same (I would even say esports are possibly even in a better position as some of the commentarists are former players and they still show little to no knowledge. Maybe they don’t want to end badly when the main commentarist would end humiliated when every word he says gets corrected by the former player. Or when they played they followed the manager’s instructions without really understanding the reasons for them, they just can kick a ball strong and send it where they want more often than not). In esports it seems the commentarists do know what they’re talking about, and the rules (I’m a big fan of basketball, I read the official FIBA rules [I prefer European basketball, for reasons that include outside of sport matters] and I can tell you 95% of what commentarists say about rules is wrong). However, in esports, the viewership see something complex and easy to understand it’s complex and therefore they can’t but admit they don’t know to understand what is going on and why. And that’s not something people like. So they prefer to watch sports, where they’re just as ignorant but they can think they know and then start to spout out nonsense like they were professionals that could rival the managers discussing what needs to be done and why their team lost or won.

    « In sports, we usually have the ball acting as a focal point for the action and the audience can follow the game by watching the ball.»

    The best way to miss what’s really going on. The more interesting things that better show what’s going on and who are playing better happen away from the ball. And that’s why some great players are underestimated and others that aren’t that great ar overestimated. Take Rudy Fernández, who is a great player and has been constantly, with only isolated matches being poor, in great form. He’s been received a lot of hate from Real Madrid fans. Why? Because often he doesn’t score a lot of points, which is what people focus on. But they miss how many times he’s forced the opposing players to change plan by getting in the way of a penetration, or recognizing they want to pass that way and getting there, making that player to rush a different action that leads to the ball being thrown out of bounds or to the arms of a teammate. His helps in defence, his movement off the ball to help create space in attack for his teammates. But those things aren’t counted by those making statistics and they often happen when the ball is somewhere else. People value Cristiano Ronaldo for his many goals, but often miss how he opened spaces for other players and provided them with the assists for the goal: Ronaldo wasn’t just the top scorer for Real Madrid, many seasons he was also the top assist giver of the team. Real Madrid fans hate Karim Benzema because, being a striker, he scores few goals of his own, and ask him replaced by other famous strikers; but Karin Benzema has a much bigger advantage over them in plays that end in goal for a team mate in which he was a key, not only by assisting, but by moving aside and taking a defender with him that opened a space that the other player could get into to score, or pressing the defender with the ball enough he was made to take a poor decision than down the line causes losing the ball in their own area (that is how a goal against PSG in the Bernabéu in past Champions happened, I think it was the opening goal, of course I saw nobody but myself recognizing that without his pressing of the defender 20s earlier the goal wouldn’t have happened), actions that are mostly happening away from the ball. Though to be fair, I see Benzema’s off the ball actions getting more recognition than Rudy’s.

    The worse of all of that thing of sports looking easy enough people who haven’t played them think they understand them is that some times more possession or more shots do mean TeamX is dominating the match, sometimes the player they saw so much with the ball and scoring the goal is indeed the best player of the match, sometimes they player they didn’t notice doing anything worthy really didn’t do anything worthy, which only reinforce the notion that they can tell what and why things are happening. And making us who understand the sport want to pull our hairs out whenever that people speak like they had the same level of knowledge of the sport as Zeljko Obradovic or Zinedine Zidane and can even have the nerve to say they don’t understand the game as they, mere fans who have not touched anything round in their lives and keep showing they have no clue, do.

    Bottomline: you’re not wrong and I think your article is pretty good, but sports aren’t really easier to understand than esports for those who aren’t into it; it’s simply the sports are more accessible because the obviousness of moving a foot or a hand and the trajectory of a ball in contrast to decide which ability to upgrade first or see that two “battlecry: destroy an enemy minion 4/2” cards may not be equal make those who aren’t into it have the illusion they can tell what’s going on, and that makes them more comfortable viewing it. And from there they tend to move into “I know of this sport, I’ll pontificate about everything and tell you why this manager who won the maximum competition in the world five times doesn’t know what his team needs but I do!”.

    Sorry about sending you all this wall of text over a minor turn of words (laymen can tell what’s going on instead of laymen think they can tell what’s going on), but as a player of FM and a big fan of basketball who’s learned to look into things deeper and deeper for a long time (I won’t say my knowledge and perception of the games rival any decent professional manager, mind you) I’m so sick of the rage threads in FM forums and seeing in Twitter people misjudge plays terribly and commentarist keep doing that but even worse makes me need to react with a wall of text to anyone suggesting things like more possession or more shots = being in control of the game and what’s important to appreciate a match is what happens with the ball. I hope I didn’t come as overly aggressive with any of my points, but between the matter being a big pet peeve and my English level making me tend to write in a way that sometimes I know comes off as with an aggressiveness I didn’t mean, I can’t be sure this is empty of aggressive sounding lines. But I’ve spent a lot already writing all this so I can’t delete this. However, if this comes off as too aggressive then delete it, I won’t take it bad I just need to hit the Post Comment button.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Duuuuuude, learn to write more succinctly!

        1. Carlos García says:

          +1 XD

    2. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      Nobody will read all of this buddy. You should save it for a blog post and make this into a two-three paragraphs comment.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Hey, I read it to at least as much detail as I read Shamus’ posts!

        (And actually kinda disagree although I don’t know enough about FM’s structure to say; yes, it is possible to build a counter-attacking team but usually possession metrics, even in professional football, ARE a good metric for dominance. If you are dominating possession and shots, not scoring on them, and the game isn’t showing you that the shots are low-percentage and you’re being kept entirely to the outside, playing a video game I’m going to wonder if the game is “cheating” or if the other player is using some kind of exploit to win anyway).

      2. Joshua says:

        2-3 Paragraphs, with no more than 5 or so sentences apiece for that matter.

    3. Vinsomer says:

      I don’t think you’re wrong, but I do think that you’ve somewhat missed the point.

      Obviously, there’s a lot people don’t understand about football, and the amount of ‘armchair managers’ or people who think they know something because they took x team from the Vanarama National League to the UCL is way too high. But those people are still engaged in the game, even when they complain about how a certain tactic didn’t deserve to win because they weren’t in control of the game in terms of possession, shots etc. A not-completely-terrible FM player will look at statistics, key passes, clear cut chances, heat maps, focus of attacks etc before declaring the game unfair because the 22 shots they had from outside the box ‘should’ have won them the game. But engagement is engagement.

      In all of that, the game of football has the strength of being enjoyable at multiple levels, and this is what most esports lack, even though you’d assume they’d have this in abundance. Whether you’re putting jumpers down as goalposts during lunch break at school, renting an indoor pitch with friends for an hour to play 5-a-side, or playing Sunday League. Football is scalable in pretty much every aspect, including tactically, and the lower levels are obviously lower levels. It’s not so much that tactical discussions among fans are shallow, it’s that they can even exist to begin with in a way that most esports struggle to emulate.

      Even SF, which I would say is one of, if not the best of all esports (in terms of history, format, visibility etc.) is one where after a match is over, there’s not really much to say. And Hearthstone (the biggest CCG esport) is even worse, because of its various random elements there’s almost no value in discussing plays in hindsight. The water cooler effect is still a powerful thing but esports just can’t seem to utilise it.

  9. beleester says:

    The “Nothing happens” bit is kind of slow, but also hard to eliminate, because this is where scouting takes place. This is where players are looking for tidbits of information like “He’s got two gas and one barracks” that they can turn into a prediction about their opponent’s build order and timing. Make the early game too short, and there’s no time for scouting, and players can’t tell what they need to bring to the battlefield.

    Legacy of the Void increased the number of starting workers to make the initial harvesting phase shorter, but I think speeding it up any more would require a total rework to prevent early-game rushes from dominating.

  10. Echo Tango says:

    (From the Escapist article) “the audience can’t really see that furious clicking”

    Well, what if we had cameras on their hands as well as their faces? You could see how fast they’re clicking, and the looks of consternation as they get ambushed!

    1. John says:

      Some fighting game streams show insets of the players along with the game footage. You can’t really see what the players’ hands are doing, but the facial expressions they make are sometimes very amusing. It’s more typical, however, to just cut to the players between rounds–which is more frequently than it sounds, given that the typical fighting game round is under two minutes long.

      1. Lino says:

        Some StarCraft 2 tournaments occasionally cut to the faces and hands of the players (with a webcam), and on occasion go into the player’s perspective (which is like watching a computer play – it’s awesome!).
        But you still have the problem that, if you’ve never actually played the game, you have no idea how hard these things are. I can intuit how hard it is for a soccer player to run around a field for 90 minutes, and try to score a goal. Or how hard it is to stand in a 12-round boxing fight, or how difficult it is to get a hole in one (hitting a tiny ball into a tiny hole hundreds of meters away, how in the seven hells is that possible!?!?).
        But a clutch play in esports? Again, if you’ve never played the game, you literally have no frame of reference for any of what’s going on on screen.

  11. Mortuss says:

    there are few other things that make esports harder to watch, like how they are always changing. Last time I have played Dota, it was a W3 map. I watch TI everytime and I watch most of the Majors so I watch quite a lot, but I still don’t understand some “new” heroes. Fighting games come out with a new title every 3-5 years? How are you as a non player and a casual viewer supposed to keep up?

    Traditional sports are bounded in reality so people know the limits, in football people don’t start randomly teleporting or flying, you know what can happen while in video games, pretty much anything can happen.

    Also, while FIFA organizes football, they don’t own football the same way blizzard owns overwatch. If FIFA disappears, someone else would pick up the torch and while the organization might be different, football will most likely remain the same, there is a staying power that esports don’t and probably never will have.

    1. Lino says:

      in football people don’t start randomly teleporting or flying.

      Life just never stops disappointing us, does it?
      But in all seriousness, I also agree that this is a very big hurdle. Video games are art, a test of skill (in most cases), but they are also pieces of software. And it’s very hard for a piece of software to remain unchanged forever. The only exception to that rule seems to be Brood War. Which is kind of crazy, since it’s the longest-running esport – I was amazed to find that there are still tournaments for it!
      Apart from the recent Remaster, I haven’t heard it getting any balance patches in recent years, so I think the core of the game hasn’t changed all that dramatically since its release.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        I think it’s less that video-games are software, and more that they’re being changed, to alter the balance of the (meta-) game. Software that meets the needs of its users doesn’t change much over time. Games need to keep changing, to keep ahead of dominant / game-breaking strategies. The basics of the game though, are usually pretty constant. I mean, MOBAs are still pretty much 5v5 lane-based games, despite the balance changes over the last 15-ish years.

  12. Alezul says:

    Well since you asked, i’ve been watching a ton of matches on youtube lately.

    Command and Conquer: Generals is my fav. While not perfectly balanced, the faction units are so easy to recognise, the action is just slow enough to be able to understand what’s going on,

    Tried about 15 SC2 matches but i dunno, everything feels too samey and i hate how they keep avoiding huge fights. Vehicles all turn instantly so there’s no flanking. The armies are too agile and even when in a huge blob move like one single unit so it’s too easy to avoid engagements.

    Company of Heroes 2. Looks very beautiful, very nice effects like mortars and artillery blowing the shit out of everything. Sadly matches tend to last too long, probably because of infinite resources. It also gets very samey because it’s always axis vs allies despite the game letting you mix them up.

    Red Alert 3 has very interesting units, abilities and quite different factions. Sadly the graphics look like ass and not many replays available. Always on that same god damn map and same strategies.

    Dawn of War 1 is just meh to watch. Units take forever to die and there doesn’t seem that much to do except throw blob at enemy blob. Then again i question the quality of the replays i’ve found.

  13. Mephane says:

    For me, sports, esports and regular game streaming all share the same “problem”: if the thing interests me, I want to play it myself, not watch while others do it. And if it doesn’t interest me enough to play myself, it also doesn’t interest me to watch. :)

    1. Mephane says:

      Regarding Shamus’ description of a Starcraft match and my own (limited and noobish) experiences with the traditional RTS formula, I think this very formula itself is rather terrible both as a game and a spectator sport. Much more suitable would be games that approach a real clash of armies, i.e. the opponents set up their armies beforehand, then these armies meet on the battlefield. No base building, no resource gathering, no harassment etc, just two huge armies duking it out. If the quality of the graphics allow it, this would even allow not just a more traditional, sports-like strategic view of the game, but a parallel video stream aiming for a more cinematic experience akin to medieval/fantasy battle scenes in movies, game trailers and cutscenes.

      1. GoStu says:

        You should look into Tom Clancy’s Endwar. Your army (well, you’re a Colonel in charge of a Regiment so it’s your portion on an army) is decided ahead of time with persistent units that gain XP and learn some new abilities. You select the units you want to deploy to the battlefield at the start of each mission/match.

        As an example, you could pick an Armor regiment. These have more Tanks and Artillery with fewer Helicopter Gunships, and middling numbers of infantry and APCs. You likely start by putting some of your tanks and artillery in your starting units with an APC or two, playing to your regiment’s strengths. If you decide you later want helicopters, you call them in as reinforcements (there’s no bases to manage). Reinforcements are limited by time and control over strategic points on the map. If you run out of a given unit in your regiment (AKA you don’t have any more helicopters) you can still call in more, but they’re totally green rookies “borrowed” from another unit rather than veterans from your own ranks.

        Endwar itself wouldn’t be a great Esport – it plays just a little too slow, with not quite enough strategic depth… but a game a lot like it could be huge. There’d be something interesting right at the start (Oh, [player] is picking an airborne regiment with lots of infantry and helicopters… he’s probably going to go for some fast maneuvering strategy… yup, his starting units are a unit of helicopters and two infantry squads), and immediate decisions (he’s moving out to the center point – risky move against the enemy’s Mechanized units).

      2. Lino says:

        This sounds a lot like the multiplayer mode for the Total War games. Very interesting, but still suffering from a lot of the problems StarCraft has, when it comes to games as a spectator sports.

  14. Zaxares says:

    Actually, I think the major reason why e-sports aren’t as popular to watch as physical sports is linked to something you said in “the mid game”. If a competitor makes a mistake in e-sports, it usually decides the match. From the few SC2 matches I’ve watched, usually as soon as one contender loses a big early/mid-game battle that he’s unable to recover from, he gg’s. It’s similar in a lot of other competitive computer games; screwing up usually allows your opponent to build up sufficient momentum/advantage that you simply can’t recover from it and the game/match is over. (And this trend got its start waaaay back in the early days of gaming, when most games could typically be finished in 10-20 mins.)

    Anyway, I find these sorts of competitions to be utterly boring and uninteresting. If the match is decided by whoever screws up first, then there’s no chance for a fight back or a surprise rebound. The thrill of being “on the edge of your seat” is missing.

    1. Viktor says:

      Overwatch and most of the shooters are generally designed to stop the snowball(though they have other issues). A team can possibly full hold on last point for 6 minutes if they play perfectly. It generally doesn’t happen, but if someone screws up badly enough to need to do that then perfect play should probably be required to fix it. Ult economy and being broken into rounds both make it harder for a team to really crush their opposition based off a single lucky headshot or Defense Matrix.

    2. GoStu says:

      I think this is why the more successful ones like Starcraft typically play series games like best-of-five or best-of-seven. A mistake in the second game that costs the game doesn’t mean the player’s out – just behind.

      The problem I found with SC2 is that individual matches could last for large portions of an hour, so a full best-of-seven series can be an ordeal to sit through. Some other MOBA games and the like have figured this out – you need a game to be more-or-less nailed down to a certain duration. If the typical duration of a SC2 match was 15 minutes with 10 being on the short side (but possible) and a long one being 20, then you could have two players fit a best-of-three playoff into an hour.

      1. Moridin says:

        I’m pretty sure a typical match(in professional SC2) IS around 15 to 20 minutes, and short ones can be over in 5. Long ones can admittedly last significantly longer(though even then it seems fairly rare for a match to last much more than 30 minutes before GG is called). If you watch some WCS streams on youtube, a typical video of a best-of-three lasts around an hour, and that includes about 10-15 minutes of pre-game show.

  15. Bogan the Mighty says:

    I’ve been watching a fair amount of Starcraft these days. Wintergaming has been go to guy these days. Also League of Legends will always have a soft spot in my heart to watch.

  16. Christopher says:

    I watch Street Fighter V, usually. I used to watch the occasional Street Fighter 4 before that, but I didn’t get into that game the same way I’ve gotten into Street Fighter V. Additionally, Capcom has gone full esports with that game in a way they didn’t with SF4. Now I follow the scene much more closely and catch all the big tournaments. It’s been nice. I know so many names and competitors and commentators now that I’d probably follow them to the next Street Fighter.

    Sometimes I watch other fighting games(Melty Blood and Smash Bros. come to mind), but without having played games on my own beforehand I find them hard to get into. It’s gotta be a game I know, and preferably, love.

    I dunno what would make it more popular. Personally I’ve always thought real life sport is super boring to watch unless patriotism is involved. The whole room will get in on a world cup match with your country in it.

    I think it’s entirely possible that the only way a video game could reach that level of popularity is to remove everything I find fun about them.

    1. John says:

      My enthusiasm for the Capcom Pro Tour has waned since the heady days of 2015 when I randomly watched the Top 8 Street Fighter IV matches at Evolution. Gamerbee’s run through the loser’s bracket sort of blew my mind and it got me back into Street Fighter in a fairly big way. I used to watch all the big Pro Tour tournaments from pools through Top 8. I’ve dropped off significantly in the last couple of years, though there are still players that I semi-follow and I like to check out matches involving less frequently used characters. Partly it’s because I bought Street Fighter IV and played a whole heck of a lot of it. I think that in certain respects watching Street Fighter is a substitute for playing it. But I also got tired of the monotony in Top 8. I don’t mind seeing the same people over and over again so much as I mind seeing the same character match-ups all the time. I got heartily sick of Cammy, for example, and Menat was interesting right up until the point where Menat was everywhere. I wish there were more character loyalists and fewer tier-chasers but I guess now that real money is on the line tier-chasing is the way to go. (Also, Capcom broke my little heart when they quietly abandoned the Linux port of Street Fighter V they were working on.)

      I will say that the Capcom Cup is reliably entertaining. Because of the stakes, the last-chance qualifier tournament is usually pretty gripping, especially in Top 8. The main tournament somehow always produces more upsets than I expect. I’m not sure that I’d heard of Mena RD before he took the Cup.

      1. Cybron says:

        A lot of people (including myself) feel that SFV is simply a worse spectator game than SFIV. The reasons for this vary, but ironically a lot of people blame Capcom’s efforts to make the game ‘e-sports ready’. For instance, they made some changes that make the game easier to get into – but those same changes sharply limit a player’s options such that it’s much harder to have a unique playstyle compared to IV, which means people are less likely to become a fan of a specific player’s style.

  17. Mike P. says:

    I actually find fighting games pretty watchable. Sure, you can make argument that it doesn’t “look any different” from low level play, but you could make the argument that high level soccer doesn’t “look any different” from low level play either because it’s still “just people kicking a ball around.” I don’t think that holds up.

  18. FluffySquirrel says:

    Would definitely agree that Rocket League is the most approachable, and it’s the only esport I follow. I think there’s something for everyone to watch really, as the base mechanics and physics are all simple to conceive of, given it’s basically football with rocket cars.. but when you have played yourself, you can appreciate it even further by knowing just how hard all the various tricks they’re pulling off are

    Plus, unlike normal football, there’s no tiredness, and matches tend to be quite short.. so it’s super action packed. I really hope it takes off further

    It made me realise the flaws in real world sports essentially. Like, football would probably be WAY more interesting if each half was only say, 5-10 minutes long. Players wouldn’t be holding back so much, they’d be rushing about at full speed.. it’s just be more exciting in general

    Due to the nature of the human brain though, I bet no-one would buy tickets at the same price to watch a 10 minute long match though. They’d go ‘Nah, clearly not worth it’, despite the fact that in all likelihood, it would be more exciting to watch than a standard match, and even save you time in the end, due to it being shorter.

    With e-sports being online and typically not pay to watch (you watching is how they make your money), the incentive is more to make matches exciting, or competetive.. and I think that tends to play a little more of a part

    1. Guest says:

      It kind of reminds me, I don’t particularly like cricket, because it’s slow, and it takes forever for things to get done. I’ve tolerated it the longest in 20 over matches, because they focus on getting things wrapped up faster, which means more interesting things are happening more often, and because of the shorter playtime, they don’t play to attrition, they play to score. Which means they actually take risks a lot more often. It’s still not my game, but it’s a lot more exciting. I like RocketLeague with powers a lot-it takes that short form excess and turns it all the way up. It’s not balanced, but it’s thrilling.

  19. Alpakka says:

    I tried to figure out how much difference there is in viewership between traditional sports and esports, it turned out to be surprisingly annoying to find good statistics.

    There are statistics about the most popular events: Traditional sports and esports. The most popular sports event had 350 million viewers (FIFA football), while the 5th most popular sport event (Winter Olympics closing ceremony) had 80 million viewers. The most popular esports event was in League of Legends with 60 million viewers.

    Baseball Major League games had usually around 10 to 20 millions viewers. American football (NFL) viewership in normal games was around 15 million. Golf championship finals had around 13 million viewers.

    The total amount of esports frequent viewers was estimated to reach 165 million in 2018.

    A few minutes of googling isn’t exactly a scientific research project, but it seems that the most popular esports events can be more popular than regular traditional sports events, even though traditional sports are still more popular as a whole, and have the biggest events. It’ll be interesting to see how things develop in the coming years.

    I couldn’t find a good list of how popular each old sport or esport is as a whole, so that you could see easily e.g. “Starcraft 2 is bigger than (e.g.) golf, but smaller than basketball (or whatever)”. That would be interesting if someone can find such a list.

    But in any case I guess my point is that esports aren’t _that_ far from being mainstream, even without a “dream game”.

    1. Lino says:

      The original article offers these statistics for traditional sports:
      Over 100 million people watched the Super Bowl
      Over 3 billion people watched the World Cup, with over 1 billion watching the Finals alone

      So… Yeah. Esports have a lot of catching-up to do.

  20. JMobius says:

    I think this is an astute observation of many of the problems that Starcraft II faces for this purpose. I think, to a certain degree, a lot of these are kind of inherent to the traditional RTS structure.

    For my money, the RTS I had the most fun both as a player and observer was the now largely defunct Dawn of War II. Its skirmish mode took some pretty extreme departures from the genre standards (including the incredibly polarizing lack of base building), but I found them to be in directions that took pages from traditional sports, as well as addressing a lot of the additional problems that people mention here.

    The default skirmish mode wasn’t to the death; instead, there were three control points throughout the map. Both sides have a lifeline of some pre-determined value, and if you controlled more of the points than your opponent, their lifeline would start to tick down. It was easy to see at a glance how things are going, both in terms of overall life remaining and who held the majority of points at the moment. Resource income was driven by two factors: capturing ‘requisition points’ throughout the map, and every unit having a maintenance cost which could actually get pretty steep. This latter factor in particular lead to a rubber-banding effect that permitted some pretty dramatic comebacks.

    1. GoStu says:

      I think, to a certain degree, a lot of these are kind of inherent to the traditional RTS structure.

      I agree. An immense part of the “traditional” Starcraft-style RTS is in “macro” – building bases and workers, keeping unit production going, rallying these units to where they’re useful, etc. It’s a lot of work, a major factor in the game, and takes tons of practice to do well… and it’s wholly uninteresting to watch and typically happens offscreen.

  21. Genericide says:

    The only eSport I’ve watched much of is Super Smash Bros. The main reason is probably that is it’s the one I play a lot myself, so it’s easier to follow. But there are also a couple of things I like about it as a spectator over traditional fighting games.

    The first is that the knockback based game play over health bars make kill-ranges more elastic, or at least that’s how it feels watching. Even the best players have plenty of matches where they get thrown off-stage and killed in just a couple blows, and momementum means this can lead to blistering sub-minute games on rare occasions. These are rare, and mid-game comebacks from them even rarer, but the threat of them keeps things interesting.

    The second thing I like is the movement. Positioning yourself and controlling space is a big part of fighting games, but it just seems much easier for me to follow in Smash. Since it’s more of a platformer there’s a lot more visible dashing and jumping around than in other fighting games. I’m sure the footsies are just as complex there, but to me it often looks like people jiggling in place until one lands a hit based on positioning I couldn’t follow.

  22. Darren says:

    I enjoy watching Total War: Warhammer battles on YouTube. They’re big, flashy, and relatively short, but the emphasis on tactics and abundance of unique units makes them compelling.

  23. Vinsomer says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you, Shamus, but I do think that, if anything, the pressure for esports to be like traditional sports is far more potentially destructive than it is

    I mean, the ultimate comparison here is with Football (soccer). And football’s been around for a very long time. The first Football Association came into existence over 150 years ago and many of football’s biggest clubs, like Manchester United, were established in the 19th century. It’s perfectly reasonable to compare esports to traditional sports but we should also remember that legacy sports have the advantage of:

    1. The legacy, which adds legitimacy, arguably the one thing esports lacks (at least with mainstream audiences) more than anything else, and
    2. Time. Football had decades to get it right. Until then, it chugged along at its own pace. Much like esports did before people saw it as an area ripe for investment.

    And really, it’s the investment that’s the killer. While esports reaching more people and having higher production values is a good thing, the amount of money pumped into it means people want either instant returns or massive growth.

    Another thing is that the desire to capitalize on esports is beginning to drive game design, and I’m yet to see this for the better. For example, SF5’s v-trigger system seems purpose built to make highlight reel-worthy plays like ‘unleash the beast’ more commonplace, and the high input lag makes reactive defence more difficult. And, while that might make the game better to watch, if it makes it worse to play then there’s a huge problem.

  24. Dreadjaws says:

    You’ve mentioned this, but in a sports match, even if the rules are deep, things are simple to watch and follow, while in an e-sport there are a lot of things you have to focus on while playing, so things are even harder for the viewer. Granted, you could simply choose a simpler game, but that’s not that interesting to play. So either you have a game that’s visually complicated and makes the audience uninterested or one that’s easy to follow but no one wants to compete in.

    Then there’s the issue of showing. Let’s equate this to an action film and a drama film in which they’re both filmed from the same perspective and with the same priorities. Putting the focus on the stunts and effects works well for the action film, since that’s what people are there for. The dialogue and story take a backseat. Now imagine a drama film shot the same way. Dialogue is barely there, and most of the focus is on the action, which is just shots of people walking around, opening doors and occasionally staring into the sunset. I’m not saying it’s impossible to make an effective drama film this way, I’m saying that people who are not familiar with what’s supposed to happen will be bored or confused.

    As for me, I don’t even watch regular sports, I find no appeal in this sort of thing. I’ll watch or read the occasional Let’s Play if the commentary is entertaining enough, like James Rolfe’s stuff or your Champions Online/LOTR Online works (please do more of those, btw), but just watching a game being played with no input on my side is something I find rather boring.

    1. Retsam says:

      I don’t agree with the “simple game” vs. “fun game” dichotomy from your first paragraph. I don’t think there’s any fundamental reason why “simple play but deep strategy” can’t be just as successful in esports as it is in regular sports. Maybe it just means that inherently complex genres (like MOBAs and RTSs) are just a bad fit for mainstream appeal.

      But someone already listed Rocket League, and I think that’s a great example of a simple game that’s fun to play and watch.

  25. Gautsu says:

    Don’t forget the online nature of e-sports as well. Who do you follow? Where does tribalism place you when teams are homogenized and also formed from players around the globe. When said player might also jump teams 3 or 4 times in a single season. When looking at football and also American football it’s pretty clear to see that most people will follow their team for the duration of the season, and then go all in for playoffs, the world cup, and the super bowl. How do I do this in e-sports when my team is constantly changing rosters. Then again certain types of e-sports, single player games (fighters, rts’, ccg’s) are immune to this factor, so who knows. The above though, and the diva nature of the professional players was one of the reasons I never followed pro-Smite, even when I played that game religiously.

    1. Viktor says:

      Yeah, the diva personalities of some players are a big issue. Pro sports players generally have to make it through college without getting kicked out of school, and they have to be polite and respectful to a coach and the umpires that entire 4 years. Yes, you still get assholes, but they at least in theory know how to control themselves. Meanwhile, an e-sports player probably streamed instead of getting a summer job in HS, may have gone fulltime streamer after HS, then got picked up by a pro team. That entire time, the streamer only had to keep the average internet user interested. And now they’re the face of a team, doing interviews in team gear, and they have a coach, teammates, and a manager they need to get along with. Is it any surprise that you get players who go pro in e-sports and end up getting dropped for personality problems a couple months later? Pro sports players might be awful, but they at least know how to fake being a decent person when the cameras are on. There’s a lot of streamers who never had a reason to learn that particular skill.

    2. Kathryn says:

      F1 kind of has this problem. When you have a German and a Monegasque driving for an Italian team, a Frenchman and a Dane driving for an American team, a Brit and a Finn driving for a German team, a Dutchman and a Frenchman driving for an Austrian team (which is actually based in Britain)…You generally end up following a team or a driver as he changes teams through his career. But most F1 fans I’ve interacted with like multiple drivers. Although you do run into nuts who think their guy is the best and everyone else is just crap. Which is understandable, albeit annoying, with regards to Lewis Hamilton, the Nick Saban of F1, but much less understandable when it’s Lance Stroll.

      There’s also the diva situation, although personally I find it hilarious.

      1. Daimbert says:

        I tended to stick with teams rather than specific racers, with maybe one or two favourites that I just liked.

        For Lance Stroll, I can see a lot of Canadians having him as their favourite, but even my limited watching of F1 should make it clear that he isn’t the best, at least not yet. There COULD be some reactions to him being blamed for crashes and the like when they don’t think it warranted (I seem to recall an incident like that some time ago).

  26. RCN says:

    Usually I watch League of Legends or Supreme Commander esport casts.

    If someone somehow managed to commentate on Sins of a Solar Empire I’d totally watch that too.

  27. Abnaxis says:

    How did you write that while article without mentioning Overwatch? I’m pretty sure OWL has the largest audience of all the Esports (something like 0.5M watched the first games), it has regional teams (with regional arenas they’re going to play in next season if rumors are true) and a lot of the trimmings you call for in your article.

    Like, the league itself annoys the crap out of me since balance patches have been more geared toward professional league balance while sacrificing fun for us lower tier plebs, but they’re the biggest if the big players your article is talking about, and shooters in general only got a sidenote.

    Disclaimer: not offended fanboy, it just seems like the article needed a lot more research, because you only really wrote about the Esports you’re personally a fan of

    1. Shamus says:

      I mentioned shooters. I didn’t personally feel the need to enumerate every shooter out there. Overwatch is a superset of the problems I listed elsewhere, so I would have been repeating myself to bring it up:

      1) Lots of specialist units like in a MOBA, where the audience can’t tell who can do what.
      2) Confusing POV spectating like Counter Strike.
      3) Clouds of particle effects that obscure the action. (Lots of games have this problem. I think turning down the particle count for spectators would be a good idea.)

      It’s a damned if I do, damned if I don’t type situation. If I bring up the most popular game then the fans will dismiss me for “hating on” a popular game and ignore the content of my argument. If I leave it out, then people complain that I left it out. So I chose games that provided clear examples of the problems I was talking about rather than going by strict popularity.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Understand, I’m (trying to be) coming from a place of constructive criticism here. However, logically it seems to me that any discussion of wider adoption of E-Sports should focus primarily on the biggest ones, not necessarily try to cover everyone’s favorite game. If I was the one writing the article (god please no) I would probably google around (or do whatever it is writers do to background research an article) and find the largest-audience specimens and delve into what they still fall short of for wider adoption.

        However, I am a long-time reader of the site, and I know you are a fan of professional SC2. I am too, but I would recognize that while SC2 was one of the first big E-Sports, it’s dwarfed by many others now. This seems like it hurts your article, because you’re writing from the perspective of an SC2 fan more than a broad competitive gaming viewpoint. That’s almost like drawing conclusions from the failings of Baseball to figure out why there are so few Americans that watch the Olympics without any other context.

        Yeah, someone is going to be upset you didn’t bring up their favorite property, but that’s going to happen no matter what. What’s important, is that there’s a logical reason for picking the games you want to talk about, and you can be comfortable in your choices even as people bitch. That’s why I tried to put the disclaimer above–yeah, I play Overwatch, but really that’s the only reason I know it’s so big and why I’m making a comment, not because I have any particular axe to grind if you leave it out.

    2. Lino says:

      I don’t know where you got the data that Overwatch is the most-watched esport. I’m not much into League of Legends, but their recent World Championship was watched by over 78 million people, DoTA 2’s International got over 60 million views. Just for reference, here are a few other recent esports tournaments that got tens of millions of views.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Because, frankly, I don’t pay any attention to it. I just know it’s bigger than SC2 these days (because I watch both) and the OW finale had something like 11M tune in. Also, I heard people talking about it in mainstream (non-gaming) news outlets, so I figured it must have broken some sort of record, and I know Blizzard has been investing extremely heavily.

        Although 70 million… Aren’t those basically Superbowl numbers? Actually, that article has some really confusing numbers… If this is to be believed, all the Esports together vastly outpace most RL sports other than maybe the World Cup, which seems dubious to me

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Incidentally (though I’m sure nobody but Shamus is checking this thread now) while curiously Googling around I found this article on how hard it is to track viewership across different e-sports. The TL:DR takeaway is that either Overwatch and LOL have better “views” depending on how you count.

          Also, the author looks particularly at “concurrent viewership,” which is what I was thinking of when I was talking about the subject. I think the articles you link are really looking at “hits,” which (to me) is a much less useful metric. What’s really important to the viability of e-sports as a major pastime are fans that fill the bleachers and buy the T-shirts, which is better represented by counting the ones watching events as they unfold.

  28. Natomic says:

    Looking at your list of requirements for what the ideal esport game would look like, I have the feeling they already exist in 2 games. The only problem is that they’re both developed by Nintendo, who seems only half-heartedly interested in pushing them as esports, and only if they get to control as much of the esport aspect as possible. The two games in question are Super Smash Bros, and Splatoon.
    The Smash Bros games are eminently watchable, moreso than basically any other fighting game as far as I’m concerned, and have already made competitive strides. However, if Nintendo really really wanted to make it into a big time esport, they would have done so by now. Additionally, from what I understand, quite a few other fighting game communities are somewhat disdainful of the Smash Bros games.
    As for the Splatoon games, they have a lot more hurdles to overcome in order to blossom into a proper esport. I feel like they already have the core gameplay down and are just one serious sequel that will never happen away from becoming a viable esport game. Splatoon is not too violent, team based, based on shooting which is a concept people already grasp pretty well, and the map view provides an easy to understand view of where everyone is, where they’re going, and who’s winning at any given point. I certainly feel that the core game needs very little modification to be a viable esport, however, I think everything surrounding that core would probably need changing. Then there’s also the matter that it’s not really taken seriously as a competitive game, though I feel that’s partly due to the infrastructure surrounding it.

    1. CrimsonCutz says:

      Smash Bros is really not all that “watchable” for someone not familiar with it, I’d say. I’m a fairly big fan and I still have a pretty tough time keeping up with exactly what’s going on and why in less common matchups (more a thing with Ultimate being new, so half the cast or so is still unfamiliar), and Melee is its own special brand of incomprehensible nonsense to anyone who doesn’t understand enough of the mechanics to be able to figure it out. Smash in general is very fast paced, with a lot more movement options than the average traditional fighting game, a ton of unusual character designs that play differently from each other, and some pretty arcane mechanics (like how weight and fall speed make combos work differently on different opponents, or how fall speed, fast fall speed and gravity are not all the same thing, and while it’s not too hard a concept to explain, DI is one of the bigger brick walls to really wrap your head around the impact of).

      Plus the lack of a health bar makes it harder to get that feeling Shamus talks about of at least knowing who is winning at any given moment – the number of stocks tells you that much, but when they’re even? You know higher percent is bad, but you could theoretically die at 0% anyway. And then it’s very match up dependent – it takes more percentage to be afraid for your life against Ganondorf than against Jigglypuff…unless the percent window is one where a set up into Rest exists, at which point Puff is now the ultimate terror. Then you get things like Melee Marth who can kill you between say 60 and 100, but then struggles to kill until 150 or so. Just try explaining that one! People who play Smash, even if they haven’t played Melee itself, can intuitively understand how that might happen, but for non-Smash fans that sounds really bizarre.

      Smash can get some easy appeal from the popularity of the characters of course, and it does tend to be pretty “cool” to watch (in the sense that even if you don’t know what you’re watching, you can usually see that *something* neat happened), but it’s definitely not the most accessible game for viewers. It’s probably less so than slower paced “traditional” 2D fighters like how Street Fighter tends to be, since in those games the movement is more limited, things tend to move a bit slower, and there’s a health bar to help you know who is winning.

      1. Natomic says:

        When I say that I feel Smash is easily watchable, I am saying that from the perspective of someone that doesn’t play at anything resembling competitively level, preferring item-heavy 5-8 man in the temple over fox/final destination/no items. I feel that the launching mechanics create a really great visual tension that other fighting games simply do not have. The higher percentage you are at the farther you fly when hit, and greater the audience tension over your ability to recover. In most matches, there’s usually that 1-3 second moment of tension as to whether or not someone can make a recovery. Additionally, the stock system makes for great come-from-behind moments in a way health bars can’t quite convey, since it’s not over till it’s over. Playing Smash is every bit as chess-like as any other fighting game with a competitive scene, but watching Smash is far more engaging to outsiders than watching basically any other fighting game, at least in my experience. It also helps that some of the Smash commentators out there are really good at explaining to a general audience.

        In basically all popular modern sports, save perhaps automotive racing, the audience will tend to have an opinion on how things went wrong when they do and how it should have been done. In practice, these audience members would have probably made much worse decisions than the ones they criticize. Part of why I think Smash can make a great spectator sport is that almost everyone is capable of playing it at a level above button mashing, which cannot be said for most other fighting games. Almost anyone is capable of understanding the mechanics just enough to form an opinion on the play of others, even if their actual grasp of the mechanics is rudimentary at best.

        1. Lino says:

          As someone who’s never played Smash, I’ve tried watching it on multiple occasions, and I’ve never had any idea what’s going on – I’m familiar with the general concept, but I don’t know any of the character’s specific strengths, nor can I ever tell who’s close to winning and why. I think this comes back to my problems with never having played any real fighting games (I’ve always been a PC-only gamer).
          But I think it’s interesting to note that every single major esport has been PC-centric. The only exceptions I can think of are Overwatch (which I believe released on consoles and PC simultaneously) and Hearthstone (which released on mobile shortly after it released on PC). Up until a couple of years ago, PC has always been an afterthought for fighting games. Maybe that’s why their playerbase has always been relatively smaller when compared to other genres, and also why their esports scenes have never come close to the size of StarCraft, CounterStrike, or any of the big-name MOBAs.

  29. Grimwear says:

    Man looking at that tweet there are so many words there that make no sense to me. It doesn’t help that whenever I see ESL I assume “English as a Second Language” and not what I assume is E-Sports League in this context? Now “IEM Katowice KR Server Qualifier #1” I’m at a loss. I assume Katowice is a city but what is IEM? What’s KR? And what exactly does a server qualifier mean? Aside from Katowice and #1 I literally have no idea what any of that means. If you want to get me interested in an e-sport maybe actually write coherent tweets that explain the game being played, and the stakes.

    1. Viktor says:

      That feels very obvious, and I know nothing about Starcraft. KR is Korea, so Korean Server. That’s either a location or a division, doesn’t matter which. Qualifier is a standard tournament term, means that this is people trying to get in to the tournament, so it will be an early match between not the best players, but a good time to get a feel for how everything is going to work. Day 1 of course means this is the first qualifier. And IEM Katowice must be the tour or league.
      Honestly, for a guy whose followers ARE going to be fans of Starcraft, that was all the relevant info they need to know if they’re interested or not. It won’t get new fans, but it’s not aimed at them. And for Shamus’s readers, all we care about are the links to the broadcast and the bracket. Shamus either sold Starcraft as interesting or he didn’t, either way, a tweet won’t change our opinions,

      1. Grimwear says:

        See now my thinking didn’t go that way at all. I googled Katowice and saw it was in Poland so was expecting something along the line of city/country like I would say Toronto CAN therefore having it say Katowice Korea made no sense to me. My mistake was in attributing KR to Katowice and not server. I would say I’m a fan of starcraft though I only ever watched Bronze League Heroes but still it was obtuse to me. I realize his followers would know all that info but Shamus’ article is about getting people who are not already following e-sports interested and having a mash of abbreviations doesn’t help anything.

        So there’s going to be a Korean Server tournament (I don’t know how any of this works is this playing on Korean ladder matches? If that’s the case why are they playing in Poland? Do they need to be connected to the Korean servers in which case won’t latency be huge? I thought all tournaments just played LAN. Or is it that by qualifying they win the opportunity to play in the Korean Pro League or participate in Korean tournaments? In which case why call it server?) for IEM whatever that is. Great. But I still state I’d love more clarity. For example “Come watch the Rams vs Steelers in the NFL Superbowl Playoffs”.

  30. bubba0077 says:

    Adam from LRR recently started a new series called Spectator Mode where he is trying to explain different competitive gaming scenes. It doesn’t really solve the problem in the article, since your average person isn’t going to watch an hourlong video just to find out what is going on, but if someone is interested in jumping in, it may be a decent starting point.

  31. It occurs to me that one format that might be interesting would be a rather conventional shooter where you do escort missions–you have, say, a 6-man team and have to keep the 6th character alive and reach an objective point–and the 6th player acts as the viewpoint character for each team. And they don’t have a weapon (or, alternatively, have the weakest weapon in the game).

    The action would always center around that 6th person, because they would BE the objective of the game. This would generally keep things focused to where the audience could actually see what was going on, and likewise, they’d have a pretty straightforward measure for the action–is the viewpoint character getting hurt? How hurt are they? Are there people around to help them, or have the defenders been distracted/killed? Are they moving forward or running away?

  32. Ciennas says:

    Halo 5 had a really good idea for this: one of the multiplayer game modes was a 4v4 team based death match- 1 life period per round, no revives. all players have the same abilities and starting loadouts, and the match comes down to teamwork and ability to claim key control points on the maps.

    They could then place a bunch of camera nodes around the map that the TV people could easily jump around in order to get exciting action shots or move to key conflict points.

    Between rounds, they could have color commentators explain the ways the power weapons can change the map and match.

    First team to five wins takes the match, and the matches are generally short and punchy.

    Another possibility is building a game from the ground up to be played on TV. They’d just have to market it properly. (Which I acknowledge as a long long long shot.)

    1. If you’re building a game with esports in mind, you might want to consider giving the game away FREE.

  33. chris says:

    Ive only played a bit online and the campaigns but watching SCBW is awesome. Its really intuitive to understand whats going on. Just like football the core is simple, build economy, build troops, destroy enemy, then there are layers of complexity and metagame on top of that. But isnt that the same with football? There are various fouls, there are standard player setups, there are wellknown players, tactics and countertactics. But after watching a world cup and talking with people you watch it with it is pretty easy. They tell you about stuff like Italy being a historically defensive team, or how spain is known for their slow buildup attacks.

    What i find harder to follow are team shooters. Stuff like overwatch is just a mess of visuals and you have to somehow see an attack being mounted, it doesnt help that you cannot control when the spectator changes POVs. An RTS is way easier to watch and if I would make an esports shooter I would create a RTS-like topdown view for spectators, so its easy to see flanking moves and the like.

  34. Moridin says:

    I… have to disagree with you here, Shamus. I don’t think e-sports are as unapproachable as you seem to think. Having never played Starcraft 2 (and barely touched the original Starcraft), I started watching some games when you linked Scarlett’s victory last week. It only took watching a few different match-ups to get a decent feel for the game. Admittedly I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the RTS genre(only the competitive parts of it – I’ve never been a big fan of multiplayer) and the games in general seem to have some very good commentators pointing out things that are obvious to a pro, but obscure to someone with no real knowledge of the game.

  35. houiostesmoiras says:

    When you said”ESL,” my first thought was that it was being broadcast for the deaf; took me a moment to get “E Sports League” out of it.

    I think the biggest thing any e-sport needs is a spectator mode. Generally, an extra player with free movement (and maybe no clipping) that can’t interact with the rest of the game. Minecraft battle royale games usually have a mod for that, and games like Overwatch or shooters would probably be a lot more accessible if the caster could do that. Maybe make corridors translucent when you’re between walls, and then even maze-like maps wouldn’t be a problem.

  36. Paul Spooner says:

    Typo: “We the the audience”
    I’ll have to see if I can find time to watch some streams this weekend.

  37. ngthagg says:

    Some thoughts, in no particular order:

    Commentary in (North American) sports features a pair of commentators: the play by play announcer and the color commentator. E sports has yet to find that groove. The best commentating in my experience comes from lone commentators, but it’s their personality that makes it interesting. I don’t think that’s valuable for building an esports league.

    All the team sports I’m familiar with operate for a set amount of time, with the winner determined by who has the most goals/points/etc at the end. All the esports I’m familiar with are a race to complete a goal before your opponent. A timed game gives universal context: a lopsided game half over is probably a blowout, a close game with just a couple of minutes left (or in the 9th inning) is likely to be exciting.

    Esports could really use good highlights packages. Highlights cut out the boring bits, emphasize the exciting moments, and provide a guided narrative of the flow of the match. I’ve seen some stuff like that, but it’s much more common to see a whole match posted. Better for experienced viewers, but intimidating for a new viewer wanting to get some exposure.

    For the points in the article, I think the first is most important: the need for a good viewpoint. RTS and MOBA games depend on keeping one eye on the map, but this takes skill (as anyone who has tried to learn these games knows). You can’t expect a spectator to be able to do this.

    I don’t have much hope of seeing a popular esports game. There’s too much space between a fun to watch game and a fun to play game for a designer to nail both. And if they have to pick one, it’s not going to be watching that’s the priority.

  38. Alex says:

    One of my criticisms of the new card game Artifact is that it’s a terrible spectator sport – it’s like Hearthstone, except you need to pay attention to three different boards and each board can contain more minions than can physically fit, so they’re just marked as “+1″s to either side of the board as you scroll back and forth.

    On the other hand, I think Injustice and its sequel are among the best games for eSports. Everything important is always visible on a single screen, the rhythm of combat is easier to follow than Street Fighter, it isn’t hyperviolent like Mortal Kombat and the audience is already familiar with at least some of the fighters, so they get to watch Batman fight the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and have some idea of what attacks each will have access to.

  39. Cybron says:

    I like watching many different fighting games from time to time. I can definitely see why most people don’t though. When I try to watch games of Guilty Gear Xrd, a game I’ve only played a little, it can be deeply confusing. I’ve watched some attempts to correct these issues and unfortunately they usually seem to end with putting me off the games in question. That’s because a lot of what gets in the way to me understanding them as a casual spectator are what draw me in what’s I get around to understanding the game better.

  40. Jamey says:

    I realize I’m going a bad job of selling…

    (going -> doing)

  41. Zak McKracken says:

    From the column:

    Even if I don’t understand the esoteric rules behind offsides, fouls, free kicks, corner kicks, or when and how players are allowed to touch the ball, I can still immediately intuit what players are trying to do.

    Shamus, you have clearly never tried to follow a game of Cricket.

    Seriously: To me, the continued popularity of Cricket in Commonwealth countries proves that there is room for an e-sport with reasonably complicated rules which is nonetheless watched by large numbers of spectators who have never played it themselves.

  42. Zak McKracken says:

    I’ve been thinking for a long time that there should be explainer videos for the likes of Starcraft which are directed at a non-player audience.
    When I told people I was going to watch a live game of Starcaft on my trip to Korea two years ago, nobody knew what I meant, and my attempts to send them a link to give them an idea were mostly futile. There’s either recorded games, which are almost impenetrable to outsiders, there’s explainer and strategy videos/guides for most skill levels, including absolute newcomers, but all of those were directed at (would-be) players, not spectators.
    Even when I met Artosis and Tasteless after the game and remarked that such a thing should exist they just shrugged pointed at Newbee Tuesdays — but that’s not it!

    Granted, Starcraft will probably not be the game that breaks through but I think that’s what is needed: A very quick explainer of what [insert game name] is, what the players are trying to achieve, what their main strategies are and what they look like in the game

  43. Zak McKracken says:

    There needs to be a comfortable spectator viewpoint

    I think this is the most important one. The ability for a starcraft spectator to zoom out a little and show some more information rather than the player UI is really useful, and actually I wonder why you can’t zoom out more, and maybe also add a tactical overview screen (think hi-res minimap with symbols for units etc.)

    With the right spectator mode, even a claustrophobic labyrinth shooter could become viable because you could take the roof off the labyrinth for the audience, and suddenly the audience understands one aspect of the game better than the players themselves, which frees up mental capacity to follow the other aspects.

  44. Joseph. says:

    I was half way through writing a comment arguing that spectating shooters by hopping between player POVs isn’t at all disorienting or hard to follow when it occurred to me that the years I spent playing and spectating competitive TF2 obviously makes me no different to a Starcraft player claiming Starcraft isn’t hard to follow as a spectator. Trying to figure out how to make a videogame into a spectator sport suitable for people who don’t actually play the game is made all the more difficult by how easy it is to overlook how much your own experiences bias your perspective.

    Incidentally; I know it’s trite to bash Call of Duty, but I’m shocked that a high level team in any game would have such atrocious comms as heard in the video linked in the Escapist article.

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