Saturday, December 23, 2006

CPL Winter Showdown

The Cyberathlete Professional League held their winter tournament last weekend and this past week (why did it start on the weekend and end on wednesday?).

Quake3 and Counterstrike were the two big tourneys, with czm making an appearance to take the top Q3 prize, while fnatic won the CS tourney. The games were good, the action furious, and there were some notable nail-biting games, including the triple OT between 3D and Complexity.
There was a nice international mix in the top 3 from both games.

The interesting thing from my perspective was the coverage of the event. GotFrag had exclusive streaming coverage and did a far more competent job than what was displayed for the recent WSVG finals (as noted in my previous post). There were still some major issues in the stream but it was nowhere near as bad as what happened during WSVG. Coverage of the games utilized Octoshape, a streaming tech that uses some peer to peer model to help offload bandwidth to the clients. It was generally very smooth, but there were buffering problems, and one very repetitive annoyance where the stream would simply stop but not rebuffer which required me to manually reconnect.

The commentators did a good job and there were even things like instant replays and overhead maps showing some of the tactics taking place on the CS maps. More importantly, they didn't stick a camera in the players face as much as the WSVG did. There were some unfortunate missed timeslots during the tournament and some dead airtime, which was not very professional.

This brings me to my next point, which is that Quake, although fun to play and watch is going to be a very difficult game to sell as eSports continues to grow. The games are non-stop, which leaves no potential for commercial breaks, instant replays (without overlapping the continuing game), or extensive commentary. The gameplay, although simple in concept, can actually be very boring to watch. Observing two players trading rail shots across a 3D dungeon is not that exciting, and a running player is absolutely dull. The other problem with Quake games is the spawn dependencies and the fact that a single player can take a dominant lead from which he cannot be usurped. This is a big downside to the game. An example took place in the WSVG finals where Toxic went up so many points in the first two minutes that his lead was insurmountable. At that point the game was over and the rest of the match was a complete waste of time. If Quake games want to push towards mainstream viewing this problem will need to be addressed.

CS on the other hand has some faults of it's own, although I think it makes for a far better spectator sport. On the first hand it's team-based, which makes it far more interesting (to myself at least, I still don't know why people watch things like tennis). Secondly, it's very tactical, with clear offensive and defensive sides (think football - and it is easy to explain). Third, it has definite breaks in the action, which are perfect for instant replays, commentary, and probably most important of all, commercial airtime. One big problem with CS, however, is the money schema. If a team has to save for a round or two, then that makes for some very boring game rounds until that team can purchase some weapons. That also makes for some very complicated explanations, and I think that if eSports wants to start reaching a general audience they are definitely going to have to some nice graphical charts to help the neophyte viewers. In the meta game, however, the increasing amounts of money allow for a team that is down several rounds to come back, which happened many times during the tournament and made for some exciting matches. This is not something you see that often in Quake. The "any given sunday" phenomenon is very appropriate here and until a team clinches that 16th round win, the game is still up in the air.

My suggestions for the future are to have more overhead map views for CS, perhaps even displaying it permanently during the game. And although there was a scoreboard present, it only showed rounds won for each team. A more useful presentation would be to show each player's status during the round, so that somebody watching could tell if it was still 5 on 5, or 4 on 5, etc. especially since unlike normal sports, the camera can not always be on the action, so keeping track of who's alive, who's dead, etc. is difficult (split attacks on a single bombsite means that there are many places where the action is taking place). Health and gun status would also be nice. Perhaps these could be incorporated in the map view. Think of how the current poker mania makes for some interesting television because the audience at home knows what everyone is playing with (pocket aces, ace king, bluffing, etc.) while the players themselves do not. Another concept to consider is showing the view of all of the players, with the center of action enlarged or highlighted. Hmm...the audience will have to become smarter and the way games are broadcast are going to have to change (then again, people watch cricket, and for that I have no explanation, nor understanding).

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