Why ESports May Work This Time

*This was originally written for my Sports Journalism class, so I may embellish the general detail of gaming more than most adamant game players prefer*

As the competitive gaming scene continues to rise, many critics have risen who claim that this situation has happened before. They say that company after company has tried to bring ESports into the limelight and each attempt has been struck down after a few years. Why should the League of Legends scene be any different?

The first difference of this case is that ESports is growing. Substantially. While past competitive gaming broadcasts have found minor success, the current popularity of the scene dwarfs any attempt that came before. As I stated in my previous blog post, the past League of Legends finals had 32 million viewers. That is a significant number for any cable network, let alone an online stream. I focused on this significantly in my last post so I will not dwell on it here, but I wanted to reiterate that this will allow League of Legends a fighting chance.

The second difference that League of Legends brings is availability. It is a free-to-play game, meaning no aspect of the game has to be purchased. Previous popular ESports games such as Counter-Strike, Halo, and Street Fighter required any interested player to invest around $60 just to see if they like it. League of Legends is completely free, and while you can pay to get more characters to use, each character can also be earned by playing matches. No money is required to be spent. This allows anyone to download the game and give it a go with only the sacrifice of their time.

The previous competitive games also had the problem of releasing new titles. Halo 3 was a popular competitive game, but as its graphics became outdated Microsoft realized it was time to release a new title (Halo 4) which completely killed the scene. Street Fighter releases updates almost yearly that cost $60 every time. League of Legends works solely through updates. They have no pressure to release new titles as they make plenty of money by selling costumes and characters, so players get updates for free. No major gameplay changes and no monetary investment is much more appealing to consumers.

One of the biggest differences added in this decade is the streaming website twitch.com. While there have been many stream sites that have come before, twitch is the most popular and accessible. Majorleaguegaming.com found success streaming their competitive halo and starcraft streams, but while MLG only streamed their tournaments Twitch allowed anyone to upload their streams and have it viewed by anyone. It created a community behind the streams, and even allowed the various competitive games to merge, as Starcraft, Smash Bros, Call of Duty, and League of Legends all had their tournaments viewable on one site and bringing more cross-viewership.

Significant growth, availability, updates, and Twitch all work together to create a competitive scene that will not dwindle anytime soon. Alternatively, I am certain it will increase in the years to come. I am excited to see this new competitive atmosphere start to gain more respect and cannot wait to see where ESports is even a decade from now.


Validity of E-Sports

*This was originally written for my Sports Journalism class, so I may embellish the general detail of gaming more than most adamant game players prefer*

I used to hate the title E-Sports. Actually, I still hate the title E-Sports, but I have come to realize its purpose. The term, which is short for “electronic sports” is used to describe the competitive world of video games, where the most proficient gamers perform against other gamers that are the best in the world. Tournaments are held all across the world to find out who is the best in their respective game. If someone is unaware of the scene, they may not think it is a big deal, but the world of competitive gaming is growing faster every year and soon may become too big to ignore.

Which is why I realize E-Sports is a helpful title. It categorizes the profession with other sports by placing the word in the title. The argument made is that the “cyber-athletes” (again, stupid name) are just as athletic, except they are more proficient with their minds than their bodies. Many sportscasters and “conventional athletes” would probably scoff at that notion, but it is becoming a more widely held belief as the popularity and viewership increases, and it is increasing rapidly.

Thanks to live-streaming, more and more people are being exposed to E-Sports. Twitch.com is a website that is dedicated to streaming video games, and many tournaments are held on the site. As of January 2014 Twitch pulls in over 45 million viewers per month, which is not an easy number to ignore for broadcaster. Looking at the competitive scene specifically, games are pushing the boundaries each year. The most popular game is League of Legends, the finals for which took place in the sold-out Staples Center this past winter and boasted over 32 million fans watching online. This number is much higher than the 8.16 million viewers brought in by the final game of last year’s Stanley Cup finals, and higher still than the 26.3 million viewers brought in by the final game of the NBA finals.

These are significant numbers, and ones that have to catch broadcaster’s attention. You can talk all you want about physical talent, but sports thrive on a basis of player skill and entertainment value, and League of Legends prove that E-Sports has plenty of both. The top players in this game go above and beyond what normal players can do, otherwise so many people would not tune in to watch it, and that kind of significant viewer-base is exactly what makes TV producers drool. Based on these observation, I am certain that within the next decade television broadcasters will be displaying these championships on their channels. ESPN may never add E-Sports to their sports line-up, but E-Sports will gain the same recognition as the other sports that entertain the country currently, and may even begin to garner similar respect.

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Steam Box One

I have heard the argument stated several times that “the DRM on Xbox One will work just like it does on Steam, why do you have a problem with it?”

This attestation is idiotic. The main reason I love Steam so much is because of the consistently decumbant prices. Any gamer that has seen the Steam Summer Sale will tell you how mind-blowing the prices are, and those deals are the whole reason I am content with having Steam games locked to a single ID, and not being allowed to buy the games used.

That is a huge factor, and one that I do not trust Microsoft enough to deal with as they haven’t given me a reason to. Early in the life of the 360 Microsoft began to allow their titles to be downloaded, requiring no physical copies. This may have been a good idea to thwart used games, but Microsoft always kept their prices way higher than the retail prices. I would have loved to have the convenience of picking up Dead Rising while I was at home instead of having to work my way over to Gamestop, especially since every time I give money to that chain I feel like I’m abetting the Devil, but MS decided to make the download copy $20 more expensive than the version in the store. ($40 to download, $20 at Gamestop) Smart move Microsoft, instead of getting 100% of my money by urging me to download it, you got 0% because you decided not to match the price, or even make it reasonable.

That price difference was not a specific case. Every game released to download on the 360 was exponentially more expensive than buying a physical copy. If Microsoft won’t even lower their prices to compete with used games, how would anyone expect them to lower their prices when they have no competition at retail? I believe the main reason Steam does it is to battle piracy, and with all the hoops the Xbox one is making for the consumer I’m fairly certain that won’t be a problem, leading me to believe most games will scarcely drop in price.

I want designers to get money, I honestly do, but there are just so many games I am not willing to spend $60 on, and it looks to me as if Microsoft is giving me no choice.

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Tedium of Final Round 16

Final Round took place this weekend, and it was absolutely astounding. The venue was filled with an incredible amount of talent and upsets were rampant throughout the tournament. So many close matches, so much stress, and so much excitement. The finals of each game was a thrill to watch, and had all the stream warriors on the edge of their seats; that is, at least until it hit the MvC 3 finals.

Overall, the Marvel top 8 had a few decent moments. Watching Moons make multiple comebacks with Amaterasu against Dieminion’s all-too-lame team had me giving an audible cheer at the end of each round, and seeing Flocker trounce current evo winner Filipino Champ was nice to see. Unfortunately, the Flocker-Champ matchup was the last exciting one, as ChrisG proceeded to run a clinic, spending the rest of the tournament winning 9 straight fights without even leaving his seat. Chris G took almost every game convincingly, and you could feel all the hype disappear with each victory. Flocker came close twice, one time using Morrigan himself, but each time Chris bounced back and the anti-hype returned. While Infiltration won the AE finals convincingly against Ryan Hart, he was using Akuma. I find Akuma much more entertaining to watch than Morrigan, so I still found some solace in that match.

It was embarrassing. A game normally rife with unexpected moments and upsets was completely dominated by one man who has been taking every Marvel tournament he has entered convincingly for the past several months, and it is all thanks to the dynamic duo entitled “Morridoom.” This is where my main criticism lies; Morridoom is insufferable to watch. They are a zoning team, which means Chris sits on the other side of the screen spamming ranged attacks until the audience falls asleep and he inevitably wins. Zero may seem overpowered, but at least he is required to go on the offensive to win the match

The lack of thrill may be the reason why brackets are not rampant with the lame team. Back when Dark Phoenix was the juggernaut, at least fifty percent of all top 8 teams had a Phoenix as an anchor. Everyone jumped ship because it was practically a guaranteed win. I have been expecting the same thing to happen with Morridoom, but they are not showing up in many of the higher skilled teams, which I am very grateful for. I cannot even imagine sitting through a top 16 with more than 4 teams containing Morrigan, let alone both her and Doctor Doom.

Hopefully by the time Evo rolls around some of the top players will have figured out anti-Morridoom technology. Otherwise, the Evo finals are going to be equally as mundane, except this time a million people will be bored out of their minds at an event that should have them writhing in anticipation.


Tomb Raider Outcry

One of the recurring complaints I hear coming from critics of the new Tomb Raider reboot involves the instant transformation of Lara from a pacifistic individual unprepared for the terrible settings that have been thrust upon her to a ruthless killer with no sense of remorse. It is a valid argument, as the jump from helpless civilian to soldier is done somewhat suddenly, but I am bothered by how heavy-handed this claim is made toward this game and not to others.

I have seen the comparison made to the Uncharted series, with the claim being that Uncharted is allowed because it is not too self-serious. I understand where that stems from: Uncharted never seemed too concerned with its seemingly Herculean protagonist completing his tasks, and always had a lighthearted tone throughout each title. It also never tried to play him of as a helpless individual.

The problem I have is with the overlooking of the fish-out-of-water story was contained in another recent title that was universally beloved, with the change from feeble to killer being almost instant. Far Cry 3 was as guilty of the sudden change as Tomb Raider and players barely batted an eye. It may be due to the immersion factor; making the player the main character rather than Jason Brody might have caused users to believe “of course I know how to play and FPS, I can already do all of this,” but it was just as bad. It was even more offensively implemented in Far Cry due to the racial undertones that were contained in that story. A village of capable soldiers just NEEDED the white man to come save them, despite the man in question lacking any military or firearm experience. At least Lara Croft was fairing for herself, requiring her to rise to the occasion. Jason Brody should have stayed hiding in the village while the men who had spent their lives fighting dealt with Vaas, or at the very least learned how to fight under a mentor instead of being promoted immediately to savior of the island

This may seem like nit-picking, but that is how I feel about the issue as a whole. I was able to overlook the Far Cry issue because is was a great tale of a hero’s journey, and requiring me to do everything myself to save the island led to a great feeling of accomplishment, and it seems that most of the general public felt that way too. I just cannot understand why everyone is bothered by the use in Tomb Raider when it is even less of an offender, especially when Lara is simply thrown in the situation and has to essentially fend for herself. Maybe it is the female protagonist factor or maybe it is the lessened immersion. Either way, if an impartial stance was taken Tomb Raider would not be faulted as much as it has been.


999 Was a Tough Act to Follow

Virtue’s Last Reward is a sequel to a game that I loved on the DS called 999, or 9 Person’s 9 Hours 9 Doors, which absolutely floored me. I did not expect to enjoy 999 as much as I did and it was one of my favorite titles in a long time. VLR did not hit me as hard but it is still a quality title in its own right.

The art-style of VLR is different, as this game focuses on 3D models rather than the manga style drawings of the previous title. I prefer the past design much more, but it is really a matter of preference. Initially the look was a little off-putting, but by the end of the game I had grown a slight affection for it.

Story-wise the game was much more expansive and a little more convoluted than the past title. It works by revealing plot points over time and slowly explaining all the concepts to you over several timelines. It is a very interesting story that definitely throws some curve-balls and twists that impressed me. By the end of the title I had enjoyed the journey. It leaves you on a cliffhanger that had me confused, because I was sure it wasn’t the ending. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of content in the game and you definitely get your money’s worth, but where they leave you was perplexing, to the point where I had to check online to see if the game was really over or if I missed something. It sort of makes sense because I can understand where they will go for the next game and they can definitely make a full title out of it, but I was still disappointed with the way they left the ending.

In terms of gameplay, there isn’t much. There are basic puzzles you have to solve and most of them just deal with getting out of the room you’re stuck in. It does seem that they did a better job merging the puzzles with the story in this game. Many more solutions and clues to the puzzles reveal information pertinent to the plot and the development of the characters. The puzzles were decent but they are still simply included to make this game a little more than a visual novel.

All the characters are very well voice acted except for the main character, who is a silent protagonist. Normally this thing is pretty easy to overlook in something like the Elder Scrolls series or the Persona series, but it is evidently annoying in this title because the main character has at least fifty percent of the dialogue. This hurts the title even worse because his text scrolls incredibly slow. I read at a very average speed and I still had a five to ten second wait in between his lines. Thankfully this all makes sense in the end, and there is definitely a purpose for it, but that does not change the fact that it had me angry for most of the game. I’m glad there was a reason, but I wish they had found a better way around it.

Overall, I do recommend this title. It is a great adventure that pushes your mind to contemplate issues of trust and betrayal. 999 was a much greater title by comparison, but Virtue’s Last Reward does stand on its own as a decent title and is honestly the only game worth picking on the 3DS at the moment. If you own a 3DS or a PS Vita, I wholeheartedly say you should get it.

*Important Note*

There is a glitching problem on the 3DS version where the game can crash if you save in puzzle rooms, and if it happens in the Crew Quarters or the PEC Room your save file can become completely corrupted and you will have to delete your file and start everything again. This is a huge problem, but I only saved during the novel sections and did not have any problems with crashing or glitches, aside from the PEC Room. I played through the room three times and the game crashed in the same spot every time. I decided to skip it and do everything else possible before I went back to that room and did it last, and I got through the room completely fine. Other than that one point, the game was completely bug free. Just make sure you only save during novel sections.

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Taking One Path

Taking one path often means missing out on another.

This idea haunts me and every decision I have ever made. Seemingly miniscule decisions can have a significant impact on your future. I have made several friends by being uncharacteristically forward that I would have never met otherwise, and it makes me worried about how many incredible friends I may have missed out on by taking the passive road.

This concept always comes into light when I get into a relationship. I met my current girlfriend in my Computer Science class, and by being more outgoing than I regularly am, I was able to get her number on day one. This ended up being a very significant moment, because during that week she was forced to switch out of my class and I would have never gotten to speak to her again. We would have been little more than fleeting memories in each other’s minds.

Moments like this always make me think of past experiences. How many other times has a situation like this come up, with myself allowing it to pass? How many incredible experiences have I missed out on simply by keeping to myself? How many lives could I have changed? How many psychological issues could I have overcome? How many loves have I let fall to the wayside?

I realize it is a popular opinion in today’s society that we should always be looking forward, but I cannot help but to analyze the decisions I have made and simply think “what if?”

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Zero's Escape: Virtue's Last Reward-Early Impressions

So Zero’s Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward blew my mind the other day.

I absolutely adored 999 after getting all the endings, and during my play-through of its sequel I thought I had the game completely figured out, until I had to choose a branching path. In case you are not informed, the game plays based off of a betray/ally option that is introduced at certain points during the game. You are paired up against another person, and the basic premise is that if both of you choose ally its good for everyone, but if one person chooses betray then the person who chose ally gets tanked.

When this option came up for the first time, I chose ally trusting that it would be the better option and that surely the other person would realize that this was the better option. Without delving into spoilers, they did not. I was absolutely furious and hated the character for the rest of that branch until I finally reached a point where it allowed me to go back and change my choice, which is another feature about the branching paths. Instead of playing through the parts you did before, you can just jump to the point of the choice and switch your decision.

I was ecstatic at this point. I usually do not take games so seriously, but this character had rubbed in my bad decision so hard that I could not wait to balance it out. It would not really be getting revenge because if both people choose betray nobody gains, but I was at least happy that they would not get the points.

But that was not what happened. The game switched the other character’s choice when I switched mine. I was absolutely stunned, as was the protagonist, who added another layer of surprise when he revealed that he also remembered the events of the past path I took.

I was incredibly impressed. The game had even foreshadowed this event by having a book about Schrodinger’s cat in my first room. I had forgotten about it until this event, and the reference made complete sense after that. A great way to teach about an interesting philosophical experiment.

It just makes me wonder how other people will experience it. What if people went through a different first door? Would the book be there too? I checked the other rooms after solving the puzzle and didn’t see it anywhere, but that would make the reveal about the branching paths and alternate decisions less meaningful.

Also, what would’ve happened if I had chose betray first? The game was making a hard case for it, so I assume some people would have. It was such a disempowering feeling having the taste of revenge taken away from me like it was, and it is sort of saddening knowing that some people may not experience it in the same way.

I suppose some of my questions will be answered as I continue to play. I commend this game to be able to impress me so quickly. I was just enjoying the ride thinking I had everything figured out and it toyed with my emotions pretty hard. I cannot wait to see what else the game has waiting for me.


Next Generation Controllers

With the announcement of new consoles at this E3 fast approaching I was thinking about what I would like next-generation controllers to look like. In actuality, I doubt they will change much. With the past console transition the Xbox controller only saw the change of removing the black and white buttons in favor of the bumper buttons (a fantastic decision by the way) and Sony’s dualshock is virtually identical, other than the addition of wireless functionality to each.

Honestly, I would not have much of a problem with that. Other than the absolute trash d-pad, I think the Xbox 360 controller is damn near perfect for games. Just fix the atrocious pad. The newer twistable d-pad is a little better, but I would still like to see a greater improvement on it by the time we get the next system.

My second opinion is not one I’m sure everyone will agree with, but I would like to have one or two buttons on the bottom of the controller. Not like the Z button on the N64; just a button placed near your ring fingers on the bottom. I realize it seems like the controllers are already riddled with buttons, but almost every single first and third-person controlled game requires the right stick to move around the camera during the entire experience, and the four face buttons provided are not very convenient when you have to pull your thumb off of the stick to use them. You already have multiple fingers holding up the controller, it would be nice to have the option to allow them to contribute to the gameplay as well. Even if you do not want to make it a primary button, just make an option where I can map any of the face buttons to it. That way people can ignore it if they want.

Other than those two issues, I love the 360 controller and would be completely fine with just having that again. Just leave motion control out of it. Both voice and motion controls have lost their novelty, and we have not spent all these years evolving gameplay just to have it shit on by imprecise controls.


The Downfall of Far Cry 3: Protagonist and the Story

On Friday I did a blog post about the problem with the villains in Far Cry 3. This post will focus more on the story and the protagonist.

The villain is not the only reason the game deteriorates towards the end, but also where the story takes you. The game starts out with a completely terrified and tame protagonist that does not know how to deal with his situation. As the game goes on, he learns more skills and slowly becomes more of a hunter and by the end of the game he’s probably killed enough people to populate the entire state of Connecticut. As I would imaging, this would render a person unable to return to basic society, especially considering some of the emotional trauma he has to go through during the events of the game.

The story even hints at his fall into insanity, as he is unable to relate to his friends and you can clearly tell he would not be able to function in the society that he had come from. Yet the game still forces you to make a choice at the end (either to stay on the island or leave it) and the ending if you stay is absolutely terrible and presented as the bad ending.

It really is tragic that this is how the final hours of Far Cry 3 turned out, because the parts before it were riveting and enticing. If a simple few changes were made, this game would have been a masterpiece. Instead, we are still left with a quality product, but one that could have been so much more.

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