Unfortunately for the introverts out there, communication is an absolute must in team oriented competitive games(which are often the biggest eSports due to the dynamism provided from having multiple players working in conjunction). While there are certainly games that don’t require having a partner/teammates such as real time strategy(RTS) games like Starcraft, fighting games like Street Fighter/SSB Melee, or even speed-running, most big eSports titles will involve communication in some way. Most professional teams in eSports are starting to adopt coaches to make communication as efficient as it can be. South Korea has a leg up on the rest of the world in this regard. Their background in eSports from the Starcraft era, along with their infrastructure and cultural appeal for eSports, has come to fruition in the modern day.

So what is communication?

Communication, in the context of a team based event, is the exchange of useful information in order to achieve a common goal.

A goal in eSports consists of a location, a number of players, and a sequence of actions. Most commonly, these goals will consist of how many people you have, what abilities your teammates have available, and what you’re trying to accomplish towards the objective of winning the game.

Useful Information is knowledge, verbal or written (if voice chat(VC) isn’t enabled) that aids in the successful execution of a goal.

A successful execution consists of players tasked with specific actions to carry them out according to the sequence described in the plan.

Communication should follow the following flowchart from, “The Cycle of Communication”:

Communication

So how does this apply to eSports?

Teams need to have defined callouts in order to avoid confusion. In the heat of the moment, the shot caller, or oftentimes shot callers in more complex games, need to be able to convey information as effectively and efficiently as possible, or the whole team dynamic crumbles. Oftentimes, if a team knows their opponent only has one shot caller, they’ll focus them down in order to reduce their communicative effectiveness, which prompts teams to put their primary shot caller on safer roles like mobile healers, and secondary shot callers on tanks(high hp characters).

The primary shotcaller is oftentimes a macro shot caller, encompassing the overview rather than the specifics. This is communicating what strategies you’re going to be using, what characters you want to make it work, and how you think the enemy team will handle it. This could be “They’re holding high ground, change approach to lower right tunnel”, or “they’re running a poke comp, let’s try to hard engage them before we lose too much hp”.

The secondary shotcaller is often a micro shot caller, focusing more on the in-fight details, and spur of the moment decisions. This could be “x character is low at y location, z person go after them”, or “Switch targets to x character, then go around back”.

Communication doesn’t happen overnight. It takes just as much work as getting good at the game in the first place to be able to effectively communicate, which is why more established teams have taken on coaches to help regulate and manage practice schedules and activities. Six people following a single bad plan is more effective than six people following six different, good plans. Understanding these concepts is the key to communication in eSports.

My friend group and I are gamers by heart, and the majority of us know each other in real life. Oftentimes, when we can’t find time to hang out together, we’ll play online games in order to bridge the gap. As you can imagine, multiplayer and cooperative games are heavily valued in our group, and we often try to find new games to play with one another if certain members aren’t up to play one of our usual picks like League of Legends(LoL), Counterstrike : Global Offensive(CS:GO), or PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds(PUBG). This usually stems from our competitive nature, from when we played smash bros at each others houses back in high school, however, cooperative games with a challenge are just as good.

This week, we’ve been playing Fortnite’s Battle Royale, a side project of Epic Games. The main game consists of cooperative zombie killing, with resource gathering and building being a core part of the game, whereas the battle royale section is free to play and pits you against 99 other players to be the last one surviving. They’ve since added in a squad mode, allowing up to 4 players to play together on the same team. After recent successes in the battle royale genre, most notably PUBG(arguably the first decent battle royale game), many other studios are developing their own battle royale games. While these types of games are nothing new, no single game managed to handle the genre in a way that attracts casual and competitive audiences alike. That is, until DayZ and, more recently, PUBG came around. Both were originally mods of other games, with DayZ coming from ARMA 2, and PUBG coming from ARMA 3.

Fortnite contains more cartoony graphics and a resource gathering and building feature. The map is much smaller than it’s competitors, allowing anyone to go anywhere on the map from any spawn bus trajectory versus the limited areas one can reach in PUBG. There are no vehicles to get around faster, or to avoid the “storm”, which creates a “death barrier” that gets progressively stronger as the game goes on and forces players into a smaller area. The game encourages creative usage of the “build” mechanics to create alternate routes, scale mountains, or make a fortress to fight others. Some practical uses of it are to make walls protecting you from long range enemy fire in order to engage them at a closer range, or creating stairs to reach the top of a mountain for vantage points.

Resources can be accumulated from anything that’s not the ground, with wood, brick and iron. Wood is the cheapest to get, but is also the weakest. A few rifle shots will take out a wood wall or platform very quickly. Brick is the middle ground, being mined from rarer rocks and stone buildings, but stronger than wood. Iron is the hardest to mine, and there are fewer sources of it, however, it does have the most strength. This makes it ideal for late game fortress battles. Buildings range from walls and platforms to stairs, and roofs, and if you’re familiar with the base game, can be outfitted with windows or otherwise modified using the edit tool, though very few people know about this, and even fewer care. The editing consists of 4 “tiles” you can activate or deactivate for platforms, and 9 tiles for walls. For example, a wall with the center tile deactivated will create a window in the middle, but also slightly decrease it’s durability. With how new the game is, people will begin to pick up these skills and use them more effectively.

In terms of gun-play, the game falls flat on it’s face. While yes, it does run fairly well on most lower end PCs that can’t run PUBG, the complexity of the game itself is very neutered. If it doesn’t have a scope on it, you can’t aim down sights, forcing you to rely on the random number generator(RNG) to be in your favor. Pistols do decent damage with low fire rate, as they should. Sub Machine Guns(SMG) do little damage with high fire rate, and the RNG makes them practically useless at range. Rifles have a bit better accuracy, with high damage and fire rates, making them highly sought after, especially if they have scopes on them. Shotguns have extreme damage falloff which causes them to be useless at distances less than 10 meters, but they are excellent for sieging rooms after breaking a wall down, or creating a staircase to drop on top of an unsuspecting foe. Snipers are the only guns that have bullet drop, but have a quick travel time. Due to their accuracy, they are game breaking for skilled players, and you will most likely see someone stack staircases for a higher angle on unsuspecting prey below. With head shots, they can easily one shot most targets, even with over-shields. Rarity of loot goes from common(white) to epic(purple). Uncommon(green) and rare(blue) are better than their common counterparts, with improved stats, but even common weapons are decent enough to fight other people with as long as you play to their strengths. A purple SMG doesn’t magically become a long range rifle just because it does 50% more damage.

Health is pretty standard, with lower tier healing items like bandages only able to heal 15 at a time, and only up to 75/100 health. Med kits are rarer, but will heal the full amount. Energy vials can be used to create an over-shield for 50 hp each, capping at 100 over-shield past health, effectively making someone a 200 hp target.

Overall, the game is very niche and unique, which isn’t always a good thing. Many people play battle royale games for their tense moments, where you never know where you’re being shot from. Fortnite’s battle royale makes it incredibly easy with tracker shots to see where you’re being shot from and to fight back, and the graphics help you spot targets who would otherwise be difficult to see in other battle royale games. The biggest issue for most, however, is the gun-play and lack of supplies. Oftentimes, you’ll find that many people die in the early stages of the game simply because of bad RNG in looting areas. A shotgun is going to beat the base pickaxe 99% of the time, and if you don’t find a weapon, you’re basically helpless against those who do. Late game fights are incredibly exciting with each player trying to build fortresses or get a flank on the others, but the problem is getting to that point with good gear. If you don’t take out at least 5 other people who’ve looted earlier on, then chances are you don’t stand a chance against those who have unless you play incredibly smart.

Moving ahead, Fortnite’s Battle Royale is going to have to find ways to balance these mechanics, because as far as PC gaming goes, most computers will be able to run Fortnite better than they will be able to run PUBG, allowing a much wider audience to be engaged. This comes from the fact that it has a parent game with dedicated support, whereas most other battle royale games start as offshoots and mods of other games like ARMA. Unfortunately, the experience has been pretty underwhelming for me, and it has a long way to go to catch up to PUBGs status in the battle royale genre.

While competitively playing is all well and good, nothing beats playing games casually with friends. Whether you meet them online because they were a cool person in-game, or you just play with your real life friends to keep in touch when you can’t make plans, casual gaming is an extremely important part of the development of the digital and electronic market and, by extension, eSports. As such, games that focus on the casual market and have enough content to keep them interested(whether through DLC, updates, bug fixes, new characters, artwork, videos, community interactions, etc) tend to do quite well in the digital age.

One game that does this exceedingly well is League of Legends(LoL), a free-to-play Multiplayer Online Battle Arena(MOBA) created by Riot Games. While the ranked ladder is there for anyone who wants to try their hand at getting good, most players are fairly casual, despite the game being competitive by nature. For those of you not in the loop, the game takes place in a 5v5 setting, each person controls one character(called a champion) with unique abilities, and you push lanes in order to take down turrets/inhibitors and progress to destroying the enemy’s nexus. While that’s a gross simplification of the game itself, it’s easiest to understand by playing a few games of it yourself.

Moving on, what LoL does over it’s competitors is tailor the experience to as many players as possible. They have their own orchestra creating their new champion/event themes. They create unique characters and give them entire backstories to fit their in-game play-style. There are characters for those who want to support their team, siege towers, win fights/be scrappy, frontline tank, and more. There’s artwork for all their champions, including for their skins(cosmetic costume/color change to champions) which you can buy and how Riot makes money off the fanbase. Riot also makes animations and comics to hype certain characters, events—even some of the professional leagues like Worlds! Each champion is fully characterized and voice acted(Design art), and some even have unique interactions with one another if certain conditions are met. These are the things casual gamers can latch onto and enjoy about the game. It allows the enjoyment of competition from a calm, safe setting, and provides a social media platform of sorts for people who want to communicate/play together over a common interest. League hits that happy medium between casual and competitive that maximizes social media impact, and allows further expansion and development, keeping their fanbase interested.

Despite all this, League has some flaws. It can be hard to keep playing and grinding characters if you don’t have friends to play with or just get stomped. People on lower level accounts(called “smurfs”) can completely destroy new players who have no idea what they’re doing, and toxicity is a problem in any large community, online or otherwise. With friends it’s a great experience; on your own it can just be a huge grind. I could make this blog entirely about League and still have content to spare after a year, but doing so would be a disservice to other games. For the purposes of the casual part after this next week and part two, i’ll be talking from personal experience rather than a rundown. Consider this a primer for the casual section much like I did with the eSports section.

 

 

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What are eSports(also written e-Sports, or electronic Sports) you might ask? In a nutshell, eSports refers to competitive electronic/video gaming. While many would agree this doesn’t even scratch the surface, we’ll begin with using that for the purposes of this blog.

Since traditional sports have stagnated recently, eSports has seen an explosion of growth following the digital age and it’s new mediums of entertainment. Video and Streaming services such as YouTube and Twitch allow anyone with an internet connection to spectate, interact, and share experiences with one another. Everything from peoples’ lives to their game-play and commentaries can be shared with people across the world in an instant. This new shift to digital has also created a whole new type of celebrity: Professional Streamer. While this won’t be the main topic of the eSports section of my blog, it’s important to note that many professional players are also streamers, or switch to becoming streamers with established fan bases such as C9’s Shroud, who reached record subscriptions in the past 2 months alone after shifting to streaming PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds(PUBG) from competitive Counter-Strike(CS).

Professional players for established organizations such as Team Solo Mid(TSM), cloud Nine(C9), Evil Geniuses(EG), Fnatic, SK Telecom T1(SKT1), and several others, become celebrities for their fans. In South Korea, the eSports capital of the world, these professional players have as much fame as celebrities here in the US. Furthermore, these organizations also reach into several different games and brands, further cultivating their image.

9/22/17

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