essays and pithy thoughts

Watchability, continued

in glhf

My earlier post on watchability was picked up by a HoN player and received a bit of discussion on the forums there. (Thanks for the referral traffic.) Most notably I was accused of ‘SC2 fanboyism.’ Sweet. Yes, I think that Starcraft is hands-down the most watchable esport today. I think I illustrated that point as well as I was capable of yesterday evening, and I was explicit in using Starcraft as the standard to which I compared other games. I don’t have a particular agenda here, just offering a general point of view. Even Starcraft has room for improvement in this regard, if we’re being honest, but it really provides the best spectator experience, as is, out of any game played competitively today.

I would have argued the same way even if I didn’t care for SC2 at all. I happen to like Call of Duty (previous titles more than current), Defense of the Ancients, and Counter-strike all as games to be played and enjoyed. I simply don’t think that matchplay content generated from them can make a particularly compelling viewing experience unless you’re already ‘in the fold’ as an avid player of those games.

I’m going to take on some specific points regardless:

Not sure how you could think that a layperson could understand SC2, but not describe a certain DotA/LoL/HoN strat.

How is CS harder to understand than SC2

Seems to me that a first person POV of a guy shooting another guy in the face would be easier to understand than an army of tanks/aliens/other aliens running around killing each other

how would a lay person even tell between terran and protoss units on the first watch

I’ve yet to watch a single DotA or HoN broadcast where the commentary hasn’t gotten mired in a thick layer of proprietary/community-derivative terminology. Jargon. I’ve seen it on my own site, and have basically been told there’s nothing to be done about it.

Scores of different heroes, all with unique abilities and actions, and just as many items to accompany them into a nuanced oblivion. Sure, that sort of depth is great for players, but if I can’t extrapolate from a massive battle why one side won the skirmish from a blob of particle effects and crap flying everywhere, and the commentary can’t help me there because the community demands a style that’s completely inaccessible to anybody that hasn’t played hours on end…well you have an unwatchable game.

Yes, Starcraft does have some hidden rock-paper-scissors in the game mechanics that requires some explanation to understand. But here’s the rub: I can tell you, in a sentence, that 100 marines are going to get eaten by those 50 stalkers, if you couldn’t grok that already. I can tell you that the group of 40 siege tanks are about to get messed up by these 20 mutalisks coming in, because the tanks can’t fire at air units. When in doubt, in large battles, it typically comes down to raw numbers; failing that, a key counter-unit that they brought to the table – just look for the group of units doing the most destruction. Every time you watch, you can come away with a new nugget or two of the metagame worked out.

You can attempt to explain to me why this particular group of 5 DotA heroes have specific advantages over the other group of 5 in a matchup, but will I be able to process and apply that to future matchups? Will I even be able to identify a handful of individual heroes by sight after watching for an hour or two? How long before I reach that ‘wow, I get it’ moment? Or do I need to actually play to get there? Everyone I’ve talked to about DotA, to this point, has told me that’s exactly the case.

The main action of Counter-strike is bloody obvious: shoot to kill. Plant/defuse the bomb. Great. I still maintain that it’s difficult to understand what’s going on other than that if you haven’t played – it’s just a collection of loosely related clips of people squeezing off rounds from various firearms at each other, to the uninitiated. Toss a non-player into the deep end of an HLTV and they’re going to drown, and no broadcast group has really been able to improve on this experience, mine included.

We’re getting into some really esoteric crap here, and I doubt we can come to an absolute consensus on this point without conducting some sort of double-blind scientific study on the subject. I’m more than willing to agree to disagree on the varying degrees to which games pass the watchability test, but I will continue to object to accusations of trumpeting some sort of party line for some sort of personal or egotistical gain…the definition of being a fanboy.