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Innovation

in glhf

There’s probably more to this discussion that didn’t make it into this storify from today. It forked in multiple directions over the course of several hours.

Anyway, from what I can gather, Mr. Prochazka seems to be suggesting that we should be expecting more from developers of shooter games when it comes to support for esports. This is not a new notion around these parts, and in general I don’t have a bone to pick with it; I don’t think any of us want less of a dialog with developers and publishers.

The question really is…where should we be asking developers to innovate in their games? The answer doesn’t seem to be that obvious.

There’s a point in that twitter discussion about how it would be great if MLG were to undertake games development. I hope this was meant to be more on the sarcastic side. I also hope that nobody needs reminding of the failed experiment along those lines with the CPL and id. Yea, that effort probably deflated for a myriad of reasons that wouldn’t necessarily apply to MLG, but it’d still be a mistake for the same reason things like CS:Pro haven’t a chance in hell of taking off.

Any esport is going to rely on a significant base of casual players, not only to be a starting point for developing a spectator base, but also as a breeding ground for future competitive players and new teams. You need a broad reach and a sizable marketing budget for that, something that major publishers have small armies to accomplish. CS:Pro might have a chance if it gets onto the Steam store and gets a Valve bump.

Building a game is no small undertaking either; it’s not like building a baseball team – just throwing a bunch of position players together and jogging out onto the field – a lesson Curt Shilling will probably learn sooner than later. With MLG’s margins being as thin as they’ve been described, one flop of a game could very well sink the whole ship.

Really, it’s far better that MLG continues to stay focused on innovation in the events and production sectors, and leave the game development to the game developers.

When it comes to innovation in sport, the greatest gains are to be had in the margins. How can we make it more watchable? How can we collect better statistics? How can we make sure rules are enforced more consistently? How can we give spectators a better experience? How can we keep our players more safe from injury and on the field longer with longer careers?

Things not to consider are stuff along the lines of widening the goal posts in soccer; a proposal that did gain some traction not too long ago. The thought was to weight the game towards higher scoring matches, and then the crowd that didn’t like soccer because “it was too low scoring waaaaaaah boring” would come running. Really, the problem is that this crowd couldn’t handle 45 minutes of continuous action, and instead needs it segmented in small portions by someone else, like their dinners; and oh yea “soccer is gay” – widening the goals wasn’t going to solve it.

As I’ve said in previous posts, the trend has been lately that game devs are far less deaf to the needs and wants of esports than they have been in the past. No, not all are along for this ride; EA and Activision have been going in the opposite direction, if anywhere. Blizzard is obviously in on this trend, Valve is making significant strides here, and the entire Action RTS genre has made esports a significant priority.

But the innovations we’re seeing from these companies, as they apply to this discussion, have less to do with how the games feel from the players perspective, and more about advancing the spectator experience.

In fact, when considered from the standpoint of a meta-game that’s already a proven winner – like Counter-strike – innovation in gameplay is exactly the opposite of what’s needed. Everyone around esports seems to be hoping that CS:GO stays faithful to the 5v5, two bomb sites, pistol/smg/rifle/scope, buy/eco gameplay mechanics that we all know and love; where we’d like to see some innovation is in the quality of the underlying engine, make it easier on the eyes, and most importantly provide the spectator or stream producer with more tools to watch a match they way they want to with less effort.

Innovation in Counter-strike along the lines of new maps more suitable for larger team sizes, or an endless system of tweaks and add-ons and check boxes that are hoplessly unbalanced (looking at you CoD), or some wacky acrobatics system (looking at you BRINK) would indeed be innovations, but utterly useless ones.

Calling for more innovation is great, but lets not jump to conclusions that there’s not significant gains to be had in games like CS or COD – we just have to look for and ask for them in the right places.