Wednesday, 23 October 2013

[GW2] Why GW2 will never be an eSport in it's Current Format

I can't see a way for Guild Wars 2 to succeed in eSports in it's current state.

I've tried watching a few of the big match-ups on Twitch TV etc. Frankly, the whole experience is disorienting and confusing. My familiarity with sPvP is relatively limited, and you might make the argument that this could be the reason why I struggle to keep up with the casters, but should inexperience really be a drawback for enjoying an eSport? Surely a game which wants to be seriously considered as a viewable competition should cater for newbie viewers? And, as a layman, there are a few vitally important improvements which I feel ANet need to take note of:

1) The observer mode is, pure and simple, abysmal. 

In many ways it's a step back from the one we had in GW1. First of all, it can only be accessed in one single space - the sPvP lobby (in GW1 you could start observation from anywhere in an outpost), and this requires you to approach the sPvP NPC and choose from the long list of potential games to watch. How am I supposed to know which is worth watching; which contains the "pro" players and which are just scrubs messing about?

You can only view already running games and have no access to any past matches. Not only does this mean that 95% of the time you are going to miss the start of the match, but it means that if there is a specific match you want to watch, but for some reason miss, then there is absolutely no way to view it unless someone used a third party program to record the footage.

In GW1, the observer mode picked out and recorded the top GvG, Heroes Ascent and (at one point) Hero Battles of the day and displayed them to you. Allowing you to view them when you want, or as they were happening, from wherever you were in the world. We absolutely need to bring this feature back. I don't care about Joe and Jane Newbie fighting their insignificant battles, I want to be able to view the top players and I want to be able to view them when and where I like.

2) No ability to pause, rewind or fast forward games.

This particular problem is obviously linked to only having access to present and running matches.

Whilst I appreciate the effort that shoutcasters have gone to try to explain and keep up with action when they're casting the various sPvP tournaments, you can only follow one player view at a time and sometimes events will happen so fast - arrows, particle effects, stomps, leaps, jumps all happening in the space of a few seconds - that the events on the screen get incredibly confusing. Trying to watch a twitch stream in 480p as the caster jumps from player to player dragging the camera across the map to try to cover all the salient events actually can be a nauseating experience.
If the caster had the option to pause the action, rewind it and switch views to catch again what might have been missed by the layman viewer, then the whole experience could be far more enjoyable and just a whole lot less messy. Giving this option to players in general would allow them to watch games at their own pace, reexamine interesting and insightful moves from the best players in the game etc.

I understand the technical difficulties which this poses. Giving players the option to pause the action, and then allowing them move about the paralysed landscape with a free camera would give the designers nowhere to hide when it came to level and character design: fireballs frozen in mid-air, arrows stopped just at the point of impact, every graphical element of the game crystallised and open for scrutiny and examination. Neither GW1 nor GW2 has ever had a system which freezes players in place, so it would have to built from scratch (and require the current observer mode to be, essentially, scrapped).

3) The "Domination" style of capturing various points on a map simply doesn't create a compelling narrative.

Think of the most popular eSport formats: Starcraft 2 and LoL/DotA 2 - both of these games feature maps which have a similar basic narrative - two opposing and opposite teams - fight your opponent back across the map and eventually back to their home base and destroy them.

The same went for GW1 GvG. If you loaded into a GvG battle halfway through you could quickly see who was the dominant team simply by the placement of the two parties, you could probably draw a line across the map which indicated where the "front line" was at that point. It was like two glorious armies locked in battle: a mistake by a warrior could see them overextend and cause the monk to have to move forward to heal and expend more energy, thereby forcing them, and consequently the entire team, to retreat backwards to reduce pressure. The game ebbed and flowed like that, the entire team moving as a single unit (or, sometimes, as two units if they split). But on occasion you'd see a totally crazy or heroic play from one or two members of a party which could snatch victory from the very jaws of defeat.

The current format does not display this kind of advantage/disadvantage dichotomy in an interesting way. If you load into a game and one team is 280 points ahead you know there is very very little chance of the other team bringing the game around, no matter how inventive or heroic they are - they simply won't catch up. The format doesn't seem to allow for that "all or nothing - here we go!" attitude which other eSport formats seem to include.

In GW1, the further you pushed your opponent back towards their base, the more difficult it would be for you to maintain pressure and the easier it would become for your enemy to wipe you out. They'd get support from NPCs etc, their resurrected allies would have a shorter distance to run before rejoining the fray, whilst you would be moving further and further away from your own res shrine - giving your own fallen allies further to run. Maintaining pressure on the enemy and totally defeating them by pushing them back into their own base and still wiping them meant you had entirely dominated them.
The domination format in GW2 doesn't have this kind of variation, whether you're winning or losing your fallen allies have just as far to run, as do your enemies, if you are dominating your opponent you only need to sit on points and wait for the points to tick over and the game to end - rather than the far more compelling narrative of pushing through and truly ending it  with a Guild Lord kill (but, in the process, giving your enemies a chance at wiping you out in their base and rebalancing the board!). It's simply not as exciting.

So, to summarise: the format is awkward to access, and if you can access it, the feature lacks usability, and if you CAN access it and fumble through the interface... the content isn't hugely compelling anyway.

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