Here at Arcadian Rhythms we’re quite literally sports mad. Why just yesterday I remarked to Shaun on the amusing incident of Football Europe ‘96 where the man had a ball in the basket and won. And don’t get me started on the rules about the other thing; bloody cheating foreigners boil my blood. But there’s more to sports than rapists and small men on horses – more and more it’s becoming apparent that video games are adding themselves to this melting pot.
e-Sports is already a big deal for some, but for the average chap on the street it’s a laughable or alien idea. That will change in time, of course. Any given ambition of the video game industry will one day prosper as the medium becomes more ingrained and accepted in our society, and a lot of the big names in both video games and e-Sports communities are already stretching to embrace this change. However, this runs the risk of teething problems as and when the e-Sports revolution finally arrives – a whole load of shit games will have poorly realised ‘sports’ modes and set the whole thing back half a decade in the process.
So let’s cut them off at the pass with the creation of an e-Sports Manifesto. A single document which defines what can turn a game into a sport, which any fledgling up-and-comer must be compared against. As with God and Moses and the like, there will be 10 commandments. Probably. I haven’t counted how many things I’ve thought of, but I reckon about 10. Let’s find out together how many there will be!
1. No Franchises
Updates are fine, but new instalments: No. There is not a new Tennis every year and if there was no-one would play it, far fewer people would understand it and everyone would be generally confused by the whole thing. Although it would be helpful if they just counted upwards instead of mixing up random numbers and words in the scoring system. Perhaps Tennis 2 will finally right this wrong.
The franchise model is not correct for e-Sports, no matter how much Activision try to make CoD the next big thing. If they really want to dominate they need to release a single game, CoD e-Sports, and then only ever update it with very carefully considered fixes and very, very occasional new maps (not guns, not rules, not vehicles – Sports are consistent, and players hone their skills for years on the grounds of those consistent principles).
2. Permanent and Transparent Support
Games which are released into the wild and then do not have constant additional support from their developers are doomed to die. Bugs HAVE to be fixed. Imbalances WILL need tweaking as players discover more of the game. The developers must understand that they are in effect an organisational body: judge, jury, parent and boss of every player. They must be constantly in communication with the player base, and any and all updates to the game very clearly explained.
3. Limitless Potential (player)
By which I mean: the extent to which players are able to excel at the game is tied to their ability and experience, not by arbitrary restrictions imposed by gameplay mechanics. You may disagree with my choice of example but to give this point some context, I don’t believe that anyone will ever get so good at Street Fighter that they cannot possibly get any better. Further practice will always yield additional abilities, better reflexes, more knowledge – in the same way that a sportsperson in a traditional setting will never be ‘perfect’ at their game.
4. Limitless Potential (game)
By which I mean that the players of said game are never in exactly the same situation twice. An element of randomisation is fine to achieve this – after all, high-calibre players have to learn to respond to any situation and dealing with both good and bad luck is part of the skill. More important, though, is depth of gameplay. With the right balance of mechanical complexity and good design a game can craft an experience wherein each match introduces its own unique challenges and organic scenarios. A sportsperson reacts to the situation right then and there, in that moment; they don’t remember the 30,000 other times they were in exactly that situation before and just do the same thing again (unless the sport in question is Bowling).
5. Respect Thy Spectator
Sports aren’t all about playing. In fact they are in equal amounts about watching and discussing. This needs to be recognised by developers and built into games: no more relying on the modding community (and excusing consoles from the running in the process). I don’t want to watch videos of matches that are conveyed through only one player’s perspective, or show me ‘Your Score’ instead of comparing teams’/players’ scores. I want in-built spectator modes with automated statistical analysis, alternative spectator-specific UIs to enhance the experience, commentator slots and custom camera options, all so that spectators can see the entire game in overview and see all the action from the best possible perspective at any given moment.
6. PvP is King
Sports are about one person (or team) pitted against another, and it is imperative that the actions of one side directly affect the other. If a person wants to chase a high score and compare that score to others, that is all fine. I want to do that too, and people shall continue to do so. Surely in this day and age there is no such thing as a score attack game with no global leaderboard *ahem*dieburnoutcrashdie *ahem*. But it is not a sport. By this logic, neither are bowling or darts, as both games could be played in separate venues, at separate times, and neither player’s actions have any consequence on the other’s. Unfortunately for Billy Mitchell, Donkey Kong is not a sport – it’s just a game.
7. Brain learning is important two
Though they might look and sound more like trees than people, footballers are actually quite smart. In fact any sporting type is because, like in games, foresight, understanding and quick analysis of the physics of movement, force, angle, timing and intent is key to ongoing success. But there are also tactics to consider. Team tactics, individual tactics, communication and obfuscation are all critical too, and if you burrow deep into any widely-played team game you will find such things. e-Sports should be no exception. Reflex tests are all well and good but a balance between physical skill and coordination should be backed up by a brain working to the best of its abilities.
There are lots of reasons why e-Sports are superior to boring old traditional sports. They don’t get rained off. The referee is never wrong. They’re cheaper to access. They’re actually fun. But for my money the best thing is that there aren’t any silly restrictions. Do you eat fifty cakes a day? Are you too tall, too small, the wrong gender, have physical disabilities, the only person within 100 miles actually interested in your team sport of choice, or currently incarcerated in a Mexican prison? Guess you can’t compete in the Olympics then, but there’s nothing stopping you from gaming away ‘til your heart’s content or you’ve served your sentence.
However, all of this is pointless if the community around you can’t let go of its silly prejudices and embrace the cultural love-in of competitive online simulated violence. A sport needs a community around it to grow, and that won’t happen if girls aren’t allowed in the treehouse. Developers who want their game to be enjoyed by everyone and not just those with thick enough skins to take the abuse need to bear considerations such as griefing into their design, ban offenders, and moderate their forums properly.
Great, some disgusting racism. Thanks for helping guys!
9. Open and Comprehensible Rules
How is Left 4 Dead scored? I’ve spent a couple of thousand hours playing it, discussing it, watching it, reading about it, and I’m not entirely sure. I know which things make the score go up and I know which things make the score go down, but the exact mechanics of it are a mystery to me. In fact in the majority of competitive games I watch online the commentators generally avoid discussing the score, because whenever they try to they look stupid (they aren’t – they just look it because the game’s system is so impenetrable). How do the suit powers work in Crysis 2 multiplayer? You’d have to check the forums for people who’ve extensively tested the game to find out, because there’s no official explanation anywhere. Of course, most people just stopped playing it instead because of the dual frustration of having not been told the rules, and discovering the truths they were taught in single player no longer apply.
No-one likes sitting through a dry and too-detailed tutorial in games but for those who play something enough and at high enough levels to care, these details should be freely available online or in-game (and, in the case of Left 4 Dead, fathomable without help from an Excel spreadsheet).
10. It should be fun
Just so that Eve gets ruled out.