A fortnight ago I sat down and laid out my thoughts for where eSports was going in Australia. The ideal direction would be up, although it was certain that competitive gaming would not disappear at any rate given the projected growth and reach of gaming.
But problems such as the growth of mobiles, converting casual gamers and working out the best business models for tournaments and teams are more of a medium to long-term issue. What’s critical is to try and sort out the nagging odds and ends that we can deal with now – and there’s a fair lot of them that simply seem to get glossed over.
Respect my authoritah
In his interview with me last week, Derek “Dox” Reball — one of Australia’s top tournament organisers — noted that eSports isn’t a profitable venture locally. Most costs have to be covered out of the pocket of the organisers, whether it’s a major event like a Australian Cyber League nationals or something small like a self-sponsored online tournament. Derek himself has poured thousands of dollars of his own money into making tournaments happen, for no return.
That puts enough pressure on the people running the show, but what contributes to the mess is the attitude of the players in being punctual – or rather, their indifference towards it.
Reball’s tactic is to tell players to arrive an hour before a tournament is scheduled to begin; that way, most players will have arrived by the time you expect the competition to start. It’s a sound procedure and to my knowledge hasn’t failed.
But the problem is that you’re committing to wasting an hour of the day before you begin – and quite often you’ll end up losing a second almost immediately after. This isn’t just annoying for the admin – especially if it’s a LAN and the venue hire is fixed to a specific time – but it also makes for an unpleasant experience for people who show up, only get to play a couple of games but waste three or four hours doing so.
It’s been proven in the past that LAN tournaments can run according to schedule without allowing for a “grace” period, as such. Unfortunately, doing so requires a very hardline approach and a similarly thick skin. Players don’t show up on time? Enjoy the forfeit or a suitable penalty (such as starting the match without a team member).
You won’t make any friends with this approach, but in my experience I always found that people were much happier at the end of the day when they realised it was possible that you could go to a LAN and have time to do something else in the day. Far too often that’s not the case: whether you come first or last, people are resigned to giving up much more time than is really necessary.
Whether a suitable taskmaster still exists is unlikely, but abandoning the pursuit of efficiency just to keep everybody on side isn’t a great alternative either. Tournaments can and should run smoother. It just requires a firm hand, and one that’s strong enough to backhand a few players into submission if they fall out of line.
Networking, physically and literally, is probably the most crucial aspect of eSports – but the amount of wise talent out there is far less than it should be, and there aren’t quite as many locally-produced resources that people can turn to as there should be.
This isn’t just about the nuts and bolts of getting a few consoles and PCs hooked up to the internet. It’s about getting people to talk and to share their wisdom with each other. The amount of times I’ve been to events where the same basic errors keep happening beggars belief.
There are people in the scene who have spent the better part of a decade or more making mistakes, learning the workarounds and just accumulating experience that everybody should be able to call on.
It’d make a great deal of difference, for example, the admins that organised the stream for the World Championship Series and the ACL events maybe did a short livestream one night or wrote some tips down in a small article and just talked about some of the finer technical points. Or perhaps the old SOGC or SGL admins could give some advice regarding networking and some simple tips on, say, getting internet to a venue without a fixed-line connection and setting it up to only allow for Steam to authenticate.
These things don’t necessarily bring in the big eSports dollars, but they do bring everybody a bit closer together. And the major point is that they make it a hell of a lot easier for other people to get involved, particularly when you consider that a lot of the technical wizards behind major events get very little face-time and are rarely mentioned.
You see the MC and shoutcasters – you know where they are if you want to talk to them. But getting some advice from the people behind the scenes is just as important, and Australia could do itself a favour by making these people a little more accessible to the public – which should also allow the community the chance to really give them the credit they deserve.
Thinking outside the box
Another issue that needs addressing is a way of regularly engaging spectators. The truth is that spectators are more important than players to some degree; you can have tournaments with a miniscule amount of competitors if the audience is large enough.
International events are fortunate enough to call on a pool of spectators who won’t and will never participate in the tournament itself. Australia isn’t that lucky. Whatever show we’re putting on needs to be fun to watch and play in, and that means the old formats could do with a refresh.
An idea that’s been floating around the fighting game community for a long time but yet to take hold elsewhere is the concept of a-cho.
Named after the a-cho arcade, the format is a great alternative for team matches that uses the entire roster while keeping the entertainment of a best-of-x format.
The basic principle is that the two teams will send out their players in a specific order. If a player loses, he drops out of the match altogether, but if he wins he returns to the end of the line; in other words, after the whole team has played a match, the first person to win will step up for a second game.
The match continues in this fashion until one team wins a set amount of matches. It doesn’t eliminate the whitewash as a possibility, but games that would have previously been run in the winner’s format (which uses a pre-determined order for each player) become infinitely more interesting as one or two players are inevitably left to pick up the slack.
One other way of thinking about different formats is changing the tournaments altogether. The local Brood War scene underwent a revival after one admin decided to run a State of Origin series. Rush competitions proved to be highly popular for Counter-Strike (1 minute round time, 15 second bomb timer, $16000 start money and so on).
Running a competition with more lax rules might not be the best for a player’s skill, but it does a great deal for their motivation by engaging them and breaking up the monotony. It’s also exciting for spectators whose usual fare is suddenly replaced by a hypnotising curve-ball, which also has the effect of making them want to play a little bit more.
In a scene as small as Australia’s, that’s a crucial step. We can’t afford to lose the players and fans we have and the odd bit of content or slightly bizarre tournament here and there goes a long way to keep the players happy – which, at the end of the day, is the reason we all play in the first place.