I don't usually write these rants (who the hell am I anyway?) but it has been brewing, and its a slow day, so here we go...
E-sports is a fact. In the years past, it has had some excess hype, but at the current time of me writing this, E-sports is here to stay. Starcraft 2 stands out in particular right now, and in this write-up I will be comparing and contrasting Quake (the FPS I've been playing since 1999) and SC2 (the RTS that finally got me to play rts online)
As far as e-sports in general, others have written on the subject far better than I ever could: see Why I love pro gaming at PC gamer and Esports vs Sports at gameradvice for some good articles on the topic.
The take home message is - multiple generations have now grown up playing video games, and video games are a huge form of entertainment; also - humans love to fight. Put two and two together, and no matter how goofy "e-sports" might initially sound, you can't deny that competitive video games (and all the drama that entails) make for some great entertainment.
First let me fully mention Starcraft 2 and the real-time strategy genre: it has blown up huge in 2010, 2011, and is the driving force between the most entertaining E-sports broadcasts today. In the past when I had some free time, I would sit down and watch some quake demos (without any commentary of course) from a then-recent duel finals and derive a thrill from that. Now I find myself on friday nights (or monday morning, doesn't matter) switching my projector on and watching GSL code S with Tastosis (Also MLG, NASL, IEM, GSTL...)
We don't have this in Quake, and we never did. And we should. Starcraft 2 is the biggest success story E-sports has seen so far, and the Quake scene can emulate it and succeed as well. After all, Quake is not a direct competitor to SC2 as the genres are entirely different! Creativity is great, but plagiarism is faster :)
The current dilemma is that Quake FPS has great untapped potential, but at the present time is a bit of an "ugly duckling" of E-sports. (Not literally, all the modern quakes look high def as fuck!) So, I've identified the following two things that have to be emulated after SC2, if we want Quake to further exploit the potential of E-sports:
1) "Find game". The "Esport vs Sports" article linked above makes a compelling argument that, while meatspace sports have more of a non-participating audience, e-sports audience is actually comprised mostly of players. Still not getting it? If you want an audience, you have to have players!
I promised myself that before I published this blabalanche anywhere, I would give QuakeLive another chance (I haven't touched it since having various technical issues with the beta) and so I did. Or at least I tried - I couldn't get it to work. (Chrome not supported, then tried IE and got core extraction failed. GG.) Now, I know people are playing it, so I'm sure I can probably get it to work with some effort... but that's my point: New players shouldn't have to expend any kind of significant effort to start playing and start having fun. It bears repeating that SC2 handles this flawlessly. I've never, ever, had a problem finding a game with SC2 (actually, monobattles is buggy, but that's a custom 3rd party map anyway) Sure you could say that Quake Live is free, and SC2 is $60, and so you get what you pay for, but this is the wrong attitude to take. In reality, there is no reason why quake shouldn't be as easy as SC2, especially as far as the technical questions go. Bluntly put: the code is trivial.
So yeah, in SC2 becoming a player is easy, after a couple placement matches you get put into a league with like skilled players. You press a Single Button(tm) to find a game.
In Quake becoming a player is hard. Unless you have a couple friends you can play with for fun, your other option is to go on public servers, and they are a mess. You can find yourself playing with players light years ahead in every respect of the game. People get curb stomped, and people leave, and SC2 would be the same way if you got matched with guys from code S every time.
The solution is simple - and I'm going to engage in some pseudocode talk right now just to illustrate how simple this is - you maintain an id of everyone who plays (for example a community site like quakeworld.nu already has a database of player logins) and rank them by past performance. You do the ranking by monitoring the games they play. Elo ranking is the easiest to accomplish this, and the QW scene is actually working right now on implementing such a system. This doesn't require special browsers, this doesn't require core extractions (what the fuck?) all this requires is maybe 100 lines of PHP and a couple weeks of testing and development.
(Fun fact: when QW was being developed in the late 90's as a TCP port of Quake1, it actually did have an online "leader-board" (anyone remember MikeJ?) but it was scrapped because it was too visible to players and they became afraid to play someone who was ranked higher. This is solved easily by making the system transparent as SC2 does.)
In fact, SC2 isn't perfect in this regard either, in some ways it is too transparent. For example, I am still flabbergasted that you cannot search for both a 2v2 and a 3v3 simultaneously, so this is something that can be available in a custom search.
TL;DR: Quake need a "find game" button on a website or a game launcher. You click and wait, and it pairs you up with an evenly matched quake player. You have fun. They have fun. :) HOLY SIT YUO GUIZE I AM GENIOUSE. Ok, end pseudocode talk.
2) Personality. The entertainment value of SC2 is delivered by the players, the commentators, and in some degree by the community at large. But the first two are the most visible. The players' bodily presense is important - those of you who watch GSL will know what I mean when you remember the MC "thumbs down" or the finger wag or the various pre-game pump ups he does. Or Huk's trollface victory. Or the Idra interview even. Sure, not every player is a charismatic entertainer, but even the goofy dorks with gosu fingers have a human element to them that is always somehow entertaining (I recently saw this interview of an otherwise regular dude playing SC2, and went from not knowing who player X is to becoming a fan of player X. Go figure) The casters - an entity introduced to me by DjWheat back in the primordial Quake casting days - are also very important. Tastosis are my favorite example, they are masterful at filling idle time with witty banter, and they can make a show out of nothing, and then when the actual e-sports action kicks in, they are able to present and explain and even hype it and that adds greatly to the replay value.
And that's what this is about - putting on a show. We are already doing it in the game, but there are so many other aspects where it can be done! (And, for a change, its hard work...)
So in Quake we need physical presense, if only a little bit. No, I don't mean webcam shots of walter playing (although even that is better than nothing) But we do need to see these aimbots and trickjumper masters as a human being, and we do now, and its a big part of what has kept Quake alive, and we need to keep increasing the production values of this. Your lg is nothink on lan? Indeed. Improve on it: emulate SC2. Maybe you don't have to interview them after every game, but "gameface" shots have great entertaining value, and should be part of any quake production. Casters are actually the key. They are the voices, the embassadors to the masses. Anybody can cast (I've dabbled in it myself) but you also need the ability to make a show out of nothing, when you have dead time or whatever else. Just think a little bit - each of us knows someone who is fun to listen to, someone who can rattle on about anything and/or tell anecdotes masterfully. Give them a headset and teach them Quake :D
And of course player posts, community-created content, this is an important aspect, and something I think Quake has in spades.
TL;DR: Quake need more personality. More prozone players, more prozone casters, more entertainers. Find em, and teach them Quake!
3) There's more. Sponsors. Money prizes. Production studios for events (these can be one-man studios, and VODs are huge here for replay value, again. Being able to watch past events at your leisure is invaluable, right now we often have to choose between multiple live streams and miss half the awesome action. If there is one thing GSL ever got right, it is their VOD database. I never watch live, but the VODs are an inexhaustible supply of on-demand entertainment! Also SC2 has live streaming a-la twitch.tv/<insert your favorite starcraft player here> - FPS is actually a bit more demanding to stream and to have playable FPS at the same time, but the technology will improve and be more affordable. Idra's stream might get 1x,xxx live views, but then the VOD will get 1xx,xxx views!)
But yeah. Let's first work on 1) and 2)
Quake didn't use to be the ugly duckling. FPS wasn't always the bottom of E-sports. Recall some of the current SC2 teams: coL started its life as a counterstrike clan, their great rivalry with Team 3D there. Of course CheckSix, fnatic, SK, 4K, these all have roots in early 2000's FPS too (SK from 1990's Quake 1 with players like Kane, Hakeem, Timber... and 4K were one of the big Quake1 clans in the late 90s) My current favorite is EG, a huge powerhouse right now in the SC2 scene, and it also all started as a Quake one clan. The history is there. The spirits refuse to die. :)
Edited by !phil at 11:25 CDT, 31 August 2011 - 74110 Hits