essays and pithy thoughts

Last week's Valve announcements

in glhf

Thought I might chop off some quick thoughts about Valve’s announcements last week; here’s a link to those announcements in the case you were otherwise without internet during that time just to make absolutely sure you didn’t snag on any Breaking Bad spoilers. There’s a few repercussions more closely related to the esports sphere that I didn’t see get brought up elsewhere, but admittedly, I didn’t look very hard.

I’ve seen many discount the hardware aspect of this announcement, and I think it’s a mistake, at least in terms of the machines. They’re being marketed as living room appliances, but should obviously accept a mouse and keyboard without trouble, and will probably do just fine on a desktop attached to a gaming monitor rather than a large television. I’d go as far to say that a more rugged Steam Machine build with the goal of traveling well would be a hit amongst folks that enjoy attending BYOC events.

Regarding the controller, there’s really little point commenting until you get your hands on it. Providing touch pads over sticks at the least provides the potential for a more natural control scheme for shooters with a controller.

The largest effect on esports of this set of moves from Valve will come from the OS.

The cost of licensing Windows has always been a somewhat overlooked tax on the scene; tournament organizers feel it acutely but it can be invisible to participants and onlookers. If you’re looking to run something with a level of prestige above that of just a bunch of students getting together to win beer money from each other, having a set of machines with consistent specifications and a well-controlled software environment is a must. For games like Starcraft, this means two machines at minimum, but probably four machines for some breathing room; for team based games like Counter-strike or Dota, this probably means twenty or more machines.

The savings of not needing to license Windows for all your tournament machines in order to put on your first shindig can easily top a couple thousand dollars; this could arguably make it easier for smaller tournaments to get going, or make it easier for established tournaments to improve their offerings in some other way besides shipping more cash to Redmond for new licenses or upgrades to Windows. In a similar vein, a free Steam OS makes it slightly easier to start a LAN center business; even though the jury is still out on the viability of that entire model, particularly in the US.

Anyway, a hundred bucks a pop saved for not having to buy Windows is a hundred bucks a pop earned for the scene, and especially for individual gamers, many of whom keep shelling out for the OS only because they absolute need it for gaming.

One thing that’s more difficult to determine is the impact of Steam OS on the anti-cheat efforts of those running online competitions. Presumably, entirely new solutions will need to be written for the new OS; and given the time and effort involved, it may put leagues in the position of having to ban use of Steam OS until their anti-cheat solution has been ported over. This position is awkward from the sense of stifling the forward motion of the scene, if only temporarily, towards an environment that is easier on gamers and will provide better performance and frame rates in most cases.

One organization that the Steam OS transition may be particularly hard on is ESEA, and I’m not at all sorry for feeling a bit of shadenfreude. Given the small-shop nature of the outfit, one where the lone coder was able to push a Bitcoin miner to thousands of subscribers without review, I can’t imagine their client is in a terribly great position to be quickly and effectively ported to a Linux-based system. They will have to act quickly and not worry about expense in order to retain dominance, two things that, given the historical record, may be hard for them; I don’t think gamers are going to wait on ESEA to make the switch from Windows if the DirectX-less experience is demonstrably better, especially if a similar service can bring a similar experience and prize money to the table without Windows lock-in.