Dec 13 2013 - 4:00 pm

A beginner's guide to eSports

Video games have a way of challenging what seem to be concrete concepts: Shadow of the Colossus, ostensibly a game about slaying titanic monsters, improbably bridges the gap between "play" and "art
Kevin Morris
Dot Esports

Video games have a way of challenging what seem to be concrete concepts: Shadow of the Colossus, ostensibly a game about slaying titanic monsters, improbably bridges the gap between "play" and "art." Massively multiplayer online role playing games raise questions about social and personal identity in the virtual age. And arenas packed with thousands of cheering fans watching a group of players bent over keyboards introduces a new kind of athlete and sport.

Known as eSports, competitive games are hardly new. Their history goes back all the way to the very beginning of video games, in the smoke-filled arcades of the '70s and '80s, where crowds placed bets on the best local players. As the game industry matured, so did its competitive side. In the late '90s, leagues and tournaments formed around first-person shooters like Quake and Unreal, and people were winning real money and gaining real fame.

Those early years were marked by a certain type of fragility, not much different from the formative years of any sport, from baseball to arena football. Leagues arose, then folded, then were replaced by others, which in turn folded. Television channels would awkwardly flirt with the industry broadcasts, only to give up amidst poor ratings.

In the past three to four years, however, the industry has undergone something of a renaissance. Viewership is skyrocketing—more than 30 million people, for instance, recently tuned in to the League of Legends Champion Series final. More and more players are flocking to the games, too; League of Legends, easily the most popular eSport, boasts more than 30 million players every month. And everyone from advertisers to venture capitalists are dumping millions into the industry.

Meanwhile, thanks to advances in video-streaming technology and Internet broadband, eSports are more accessible than ever before.

It's a great time to get involved. But to outsiders eager to give eSports a try, or even casual gamers, the industry presents a daunting facade. For most games, there's no single league, like the NFL in football or the MLB in baseball, that encapsulates the vast majority of active players and games. There's no ESPN or the equivalent to Monday Night Football every week, providing fan's a one-stop shop, a guarantee of time and channel to watch top teams perform. On top of that, eSports is a genre unto itself; there are as many varieties of eSports as there are traditional sports.

Instead, eSports matches are taking place all the time, streamed straight from a gaming star's home PC. There are also year-round tournaments run by a variety of organizations all over the globe. These, while numerous, aren't usually unified in any kind of formal structure.

But underneath that beguiling facade is a charming simplicity: The fact is, once you've found the game to follow, you'll never have a problem finding a match. You just need to know where to look. So let's begin there: Which game is worth your time?

Essentially, any game that can be played competitively has the potential to be an eSport. But over the past four years, the industry has resolved into primarily a battle between three main titles: League of Legends, Dota 2, and StarCraft 2. Below, we provide a quick introduction to each, as well as a few clips of representative tournament play.

The games

League of Legends

Competitive League of Legends is played between two opposing five-men teams whose objectives are to destroy their opponents’ main base, known as a Nexus, while defending their own. To win, they have to fight their way across a map littered with enemy players, turrets, and waves of computer-controlled minions.

The battlefield is broken up into three distinct lanes through which the waves travel, and a neutral area between lanes that is called the jungle. Players pick unique champions at the beginning of the game, and can increase the strength of their chosen champion by selecting abilities as they gain experience and level up, and by purchasing items with gold earned by killing enemy players, minions, or buildings. With five players and three lanes, there is always an imbalance of power across the map, and strategies often revolve around abusing that imbalance with high mobility and area control. Games typically last 20 to 40 minutes.

 

Dota 2

The original Dota game pretty much invented the multiplayer online battle arena genre, and its widespread indie popularity helped push the Valve-made Dota 2 to stratospheric heights, where it now rests right behind League of Legends on the eSports totem pole. As the progenitor of the MOBA game, Dota 2's gameplay functions much like that of League of Legends, featuring teams of five that battles each other across a fantastical battlefield, likewise divided by three main lanes.  Along the way, they battle defensive towers and computer-controlled minions, collecting experience and money that they can use to level-up and buy items. The goal is to eventually destroy the opponent's base, or "ancient." 

Dota 2 stands out thanks to some of the most complicated mechanics of any video game today, including a courier that ferries items between players and the store, complex jungle mechanics like "stacking," and the unique "denying" feature, in which you can kill your own minions, towers, and heroes to deny your opponent gold and experience. Each game takes, on average, 25-45 minutes.

StarCraft 2

StarCraft 2 is played between two individual opponents who aim to conquer one another. It’s a classic real-time strategy game in which players collect resources, build a base and army, and destroy their rival. Players choose from three unique factions to control before setting out onto various battlefields where the terrain profoundly affects the tactics and strategy that must be deployed. Players begin with a single building and a few worker units before they blossom into massive armies of up to 200 individuals that have to be controlled as one. Players depend on quick decision-making and even quicker execution, inputting hundreds of actions per minute via keyboard to command their armies.The game has often been compared to rapid-fire chess and, while the analogy has its limits, its a great way to begin to understand what’s happening. Games typically last around 20 minutes.

There are plenty of other eSports that don't quite reach the stratospheric popularity of the big three. But they're equally fun and worth your time. Take, for instance, Super Smash Bros, the wildly popular Nintendo brawler, subject to one of the best video game documentaries ever made and a cult hit in the eSports scene. Along those lines, Street Fighter 4 has maintained a huge, passionate fan base since it was released in 2008, and it also represents the continuation of an honored eSports tradition. Back in the '90s, Street Fighter 2 was one of the first games to attract an international audience of competitive players. If brawlers aren't your thing, you can try first-person shooters like, say, the popular console series Call of Duty or Halo.

And then, of course, there are the indies, games made by small teams of hardcore enthusiasts that attract a cult following.

Where to watch

There are actually competitive games all the time going on in eSports, and you can pretty much watch any one of these that you want. That's thanks to Twitch, the online video company that dominates video game streaming. With Twitch anyone—from a drunk guy playing Halo in his basement to the top eSports players in the world—can broadcast their games to anyone else, at any time. The site's a breeze to navigate, as its main categorization scheme centers on games themselves. Want to watch a League of Legends match? Just click on the giant League of Legends image on the home screen, which will load up a selection of games sorted by popularity.


A section from the Twitch homescreen.
 

Once you're invested enough in eSports that you begin rooting for specific players or teams, you can also follow their channels directly on Twitch. The site may be the largest player in the streaming game, but it's not the only one. You can also catch streams on YouTube and UStream as well as a handful of other sites.

The tournaments

The lifeblood of eSports are the causal streams that you find on Twitch and its competitors. Watching these matches is, however, akin to watching a pick-up basketball game between a couple of NBA stars. So to a certain extent, this type of game lacks the heart-thumping excitement of truly competitive play, where real money is on the line and real reputations are at stake. The best place to catch that kind of action is at professional tournaments, which are scheduled throughout the year and are run by a variety of groups, from the game developers themselves to independent organizers.

The best way to think of an eSports season is to compare it to golf or tennis, where top players or teams move from one event to the other, over the course of a year. In eSports, the closest parallel to these traditional sports leagues is the League of Legends Championship Series, an annual competition where teams play every week, culminating in a final tournament near the end of November. For most games, however, there's no overarching league keepings track of a player's progress. Instead, at the end of every year, the best metric for determining a team or player's success is simply their prize totals, which are dutifully recorded at the site ESportsEarnings.

And then there's Major League Gaming, an American company that's been running tournaments for more than 10 years now. Using an always-changing rotation of competitive games, MLG has become the most successful and long-lived tournament in the United States. In Korea, where eSports has been a mainstream passion for over a decade, the country's richest corporations line up to advertise at events that can attract more than 100,000 fans. Ongamenet, a Korean cable TV channel, has broadcast the highest level eSports in the world since 2000.

Korea's present is the rest of the world's future. The industry may be young, it may be fragile and not always easy to map out, but it's also always proven resilient. As the Internet and video games become even more enmeshed in our lives, eSports will only grow. What we've provided here is just the slimmest of windows through which to catch a glimpse of eSports. There's a whole, immensely entertaining universe out there. Why not go exploring?

Photo by mini d/Flickr (remix by Fernando Alfonso III)

Jan 20 2017 - 5:28 pm

Combo Breaker announcement may imply the end of auto-qualifiers for Capcom Pro Tour

Capcom may be trying to simplify its 2017 Pro Tour.
Steve Jurek
Dot Esports
Image via Capcom

A big change is coming to the 2017 Capcom Pro Tour, but yesterday's announcement may have hinted at an even larger change—a possible end to players winning automatic qualification into the Capcom Cup through Premier events.

The Street Fighter V tournament at Combo Breaker is being upgraded to a Premier event for the 2017 Pro Tour, Capcom announced via Twitter. The event, which will take place in the Chicago area over Memorial Day weekend, served as a Ranking event in 2015 and 2016. Its spiritual predecessor, the Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament, filled the same role in 2014.

Premier events award more Capcom Pro Tour points to top performers compared to Ranking events. A yet-to-be-announced number of the season's top points earners will earn a spot in the Capcom Cup, the season's championship event. Premier events also offer a Capcom-provided pot bonus. The figure has not yet been confirmed by Capcom, but it is believed to be $15,000.

In previous years, a player who won a Premier event received an automatic berth in that season's Capcom Cup. Thursday's announcement, however, may have implied that this is no longer the case.

An update on Combo Breaker's website stated that placing well at the event "will earn you valuable ranking points that put you well on your way to qualifying for the Capcom Cup!"

Notably, the statement makes no mention of an automatic berth into the Capcom Cup, something that every Premier event winner has been awarded since the Pro Tour's founding in 2014.

The statement does not necessarily confirm that auto-qualification into the Capcom Cup has been eliminated. It does, however, fall in line with statements made by Capcom esports director Neidel Crisan. In conversations with both Yahoo! Esports and EventHubs late last year, Crisan mentioned the possibility of eliminating auto-qualification berths in order to simplify the qualifying process.

A player had three ways to qualify for the Capcom Cup in 2016; winning a Premier event, placing high in the global Pro Tour points standings, or placing high in each region's Pro Tour points standings. The system confused fans, commentators, and players alike.

We may not know how qualification for the Capcom Cup will work in 2017, but we do know that the tour itself will look a bit different than it has in previous years.

Combo Breaker will presumably fill a gap left by Stunfest, a French gaming convention that that served as a Premier event on the Pro Tour in each of the last two years. Organizers of that event announced a "pause" for the convention late last year with plans to return in 2018.

The tour will also be without Cannes Winter Clash, the other French event that was part of the 2016 tour. Organizers of that event, which will take place during the last weekend in February, announced the change last week in a Reddit post. The event had served as the Pro Tour's season opener in both 2015 and 2016.

"Obviously with Cannes and Stunfest out there will need to be at least one French replacement event," Samad "Damascus" Abdessadki, a competitor and commentator who is involved in the organization of the Cannes Winter Clash, told Dot Esports. "[Capcom] can't leave France out of [the Capcom Pro Tour] when it's arguably the biggest community in Europe - and maybe [the] strongest."

France is the only European country that has sent two players to the Capcom Cup in each of the last two years. It is also home to Olivier "Luffy" Hay, the only player from outside of Asia to win a Street Fighter IV Evo title.

One event that will return is Final Round. On Wednesday, Capcom announced that Final Round will serve as the first Premier event of the season for the fourth straight year. That event, now in its 20th year, will take place in Atlanta during the second weekend of March.

Capcom will announce full details of the 2017 Pro Tour in late February.

Disclaimer: The author of this article has worked as part of the volunteer staff at Combo Breaker/Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament since 2014.

Today - 5:09 pm

UFC champion Demetrious Johnson on video games, investing in esports, and why Infiltration is his favorite player

He's the best MMA fighter in the world, and esports has his attention.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via UFC | Zuffa

Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson has a nickname worthy of esports. Which is good, because it turns out the number one pound for pound fighter in the world is a fan.

In between defending the UFC flyweight championship, something he has done a near-record nine times, Johnson chills out the way he always has—playing video games. But now he does that while streaming to an audience of over 82,000 fans on Twitch.

Gaming and online broadcasting has become a massive part of Johnson's career. We spoke to the champ about gaming, esports, and how his two passions have aligned to make him one of the most unique and engaging athletes on the planet.

Obviously we will mostly be talking about gaming, but were you happy with how things went for you inside the octagon last year?

Hell yeah. I had an injury to overcome and got two fights in. Two wins, one finish and one pretty decisive war against Tim Elliot, so I'm pretty happy about that.

Your fighting career and gaming passion have intersected before. In the past you were the only combat sports athlete sponsored by Xbox. How did that come about?

It came about because of my gaming connection, and Microsoft were very passionate about getting behind athletes and Seattle, which is where the Xbox was originally created. I'm a huge game player, so the two brand just merged so well. I know people who worked at Microsoft at the time. It wasn't revolutionizing sports, but it was the first time they ever sponsored a fighter, and the first time ever the UFC was going to be streaming live on Facebook. That was pretty much the first livestream for the UFC. They don't do Facebook anymore, now we have UFC Fight Pass. 

Obviously I fit the brand really well but especially with Xbox, I was passionate about video games before Xbox was around. Back when it was Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Dreamcast, I was in love with that stuff. I played a lot while doing sports. So when the UFC was going to merge with that and doing Facebook live streaming, Xbox saw that as an opportunity to get their name out in the sport of mixed martial arts.

What games and teams are you following in the esports world?

The biggest ones that everyone follows, League of Legends, Dota 2, CS:GO. But I really like to watch the fighting game events, like Evo. Razer have an esports team, Red Bull have an esports team, but the one I really like to follow is Infiltration who plays for Razer, he uses Nash on Street Fighter V. I know I watched Northern Gaming in the World of Warcraft tournaments, but that stuff gets too stressful man! You about to kill a guy and next thing you know he gets healed all the way and I'm like "fuck!" It takes forever. I'm a big WoW guy, but I do wonder why I play it sometimes. I love the game but when it comes to streaming, it's not the most entertaining game to watch on the stream unless you're really really into it. But I love WoW. 

I watched Echo Fox compete at the H1Z1 Invitational, I competed against them. So if there's a game I like, I'll see if there's an esports scene and see if there's a player I like. But the one that really sticks out to me is Infiltration.

Have you ever made it to an esports event in person?

I have not. The only event I've ever went to was the H1Z1 Invitational when Echo Fox were playing, but I was in it. 

We'll see which ones are going on, I know TwitchCon has already been announced and I'm probably going to go to that. H1Z1 is probably going to have an Invitational there. I'm sure Echo Fox will be involved there. I know they have the Dota 2 event at the Key Arena in Seattle.

Right now, traditional sports figures are lining up to get involved in esports. Do you see yourself turning esports from a passion into something more?

Yeah, hopefully. I'd love to sit down with them [UFC owners WME-IMG] and see how the business side works of an esports team. I haven't really had a chance yet. One of the Echo Fox managers used to manage [former UFC champion] Rampage Jackson, and he talked to me about potentially looking into it and seeing if I wanted to get involved. But at the same time it's got to make good business sense for me. I don't understand the logistics of it. You buy an esports team, what's your return, you're hoping that your team wins? There's a little bit more that I need to understand.

Now being a commentator? Whatever the game, I'd absolutely love to do that.

Do you think these people from traditional sports are doing the right thing, investing in esports? Is it the next big thing that they need to be a part of?

If the people are passionate about it and follow it absolutely. It depends on what the investment opportunities are and what the payout is. It's a little bit difficult. Guys like Rick Fox, they have other things and they've made millions and millions of dollars. I heard someone say an esports team costs at least $40,000 or something to get started. It all depends on the opportunities. You got to look at all of the logistics of it. It's a cool idea and a badass thing to be apart of, but it's got to be more than just thrown in for me. We'll see what happens.

Is there any game that isn't currently a major esport that you would love to see on the big stage?

Oh man. If it's an esport, it has to be competitive. I would say Dead Space multiplayer. You would have to fight each other, and also have the necromorphs coming at you as well. Almost like a free-for-all. The one I would really love to see make it as an esport is H1Z1, but there's just so many variables and things that don't work out. Everybody doesn't get a fair chance to start out, so I think it will be hard placed right now.