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Three Moves Ahead: E-Sports

July 2, 2012

I mentioned the Three Moves Ahead podcast in a previous post, but shortly after that they did a whole episode dedicated to e-sports. For those who aren’t aware, e-sports is short for “electronic sports”, which is essentially the broadcast and viewing of playing certain video games as a sport. Although e-sports arguably got their start in first-person shooters, the most popular games these days are probably Starcraft 2 and League of Legends, both strategy games that are played from a top-down perspective. While Starcraft 2 is more of a traditional RTS (Real Time Strategy) game with base building and resource harvesting, League of Legends is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), a more action and combat oriented game, albeit played with a very similar interactivity grammar to a traditional RTS. MOBAs got the start with DOTA (Defense of the Ancients), thus completing our acronym soup for the day.

As usual, the Three Moves Ahead guys hit it out of the park and get to some really meaty questions that you don’t see explored very much in the gaming community. One of the main things that they discuss is the idea of “spectatabilty”, that is, how easy it is to follow a game from a spectator’s perspective, both in a general sense, as well as in the context of a game being played by a professional-level player. A lot of the physical skill in these games come down to APM, or actions-per-minute, basically how fast the player can (meaningfully) click to mouse to perform actions in-game. A high APM requires not only a fast trigger finger, but also the ability to keep the entire game state in one’s head at all times, and to mentally queue up the relevant activities in advance. At the highest levels, the number of actions flying around on-screen at any given time is just staggering, not to mention that a spectator needs to keep an eye on two player’s actions simultaneously.

Spectatability isn’t an entirely new concept. In a talk from GDC 2011, one of the designers of Starcraft 2 describes how the concept of making a match watch-able provided some key constraints in the design of Starcraft 2, affecting everything from art to unit counts. But even so, Starcraft 2 remains a difficult game to follow, due largely to the temporal disconnect between the winning actions and the actual outcome, an idea that the podcast touches on. Basically, because the entire match is un-differentiated real-time and there are several positive feedback mechanisms within the game, the actual winning “moment” may come several minutes before the match ends, and may not be obvious to the casual viewer.

I’m working on somelarger pieces about  about e-sports and spectator-ship that I hope to be wrapping up soon, but for now, I recommend that you give this episode of Three Moves Ahead a listen.

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