Wednesday, 23 November 2011

With particular regards to Starcraft 2.

So MLG happened and, by the end, I was happy with the result: an un-seeded player beat the odds and smashed the conventional ‘Koreans vs. Everyone Else’ story. Between this event’s popularity, Blizzard’s own well-attended convention and the numerous other successful organisations around competitive gaming, it's a bit much to take stock of. I end up with the paradoxical feeling that the blockades to further growth are either wildly exaggerated or just extremely difficult for insiders to actually perceive. But I’ve skipped ahead a little.

This scene didn’t exist as a living thing to me for years. To contextualise, I was simultaneously consuming its richness piecemeal. It was a place where I could see the best strategy, tactics and mechanics, and take stock of what made certain games sharp enough to sustain a strong player base. In short, I was interested in the gameplay. Everything that surrounded it—the thrum of small-time sponsors, the unique logos, the numerous gathering places—just patiently sat there, waiting for me to pick up on their legitimacy.

But something happened (or rather, didn’t happen) as my interest grew, and I browsed Replayers years ago. It also didn’t happen when I stopped to admire the Counter-Strike talent at London Expo. Then, a year later, it continued to not happen while I perused Team Liquid’s live streams and investigated YouTube commentaries. What I’m talking about is the voice of dissent: the people who just want to criticise things because others are enjoying them and, apparently, they’re not supposed to. Each community that forms around the games we find truly strong doesn’t care about this unless you are talking to them specifically about growth. And rightfully so: the internet affords the opportunity, not just to pay no attention to such people, but to be in a place that is definitively away from them. The problem is that this is almost wilful obscurity.

I feel like just the act of ignoring vapid sentiments, or understanding that there is a potential for them in a given environment, constitutes a decision that affects how we go about sharing the scene with others. Our discourse will always pre-suppose a certain level of interest and knowledge. This makes for deliciously organic communities: we can spark up a theory-craft conversation in just about any live-stream chat. We can enter any given channel dedicated to our games of choice and know that the people there share our fascination. As soon as we feel like broaching the topic to a newcomer, though, our lexicon suddenly sinks to comedic levels of uselessness and verbosity. Words like ‘Baneling’ become meaningless in the time between choosing what to say and identifying who you’re speaking to. Moments later something akin to ‘acid landmine bug’ can (and will!) fall from your mouth. There’s a strange kind of barrier there.

Competitive gaming has grown a dramatic amount in the past year. That is, if you consider a factor like ‘Sheer Numbers’ anything to go by. Commentary figures have pointed to the drawing power that simple, human stories will need to play in the future, with regards to further growth. In a sense, though, I feel like these stories will exist in perpetuity, so long as there are people that care about the game. Appreciation of complex mechanics—even simple mechanics—enhances understanding (and enjoyment) of every game and/or sport, but it has to be voluntary. For now, think of the simple joy many kids get from watching a sport like Football, with barely (if) any grasp of strategy or tactics. Remember that old trope? The one where a bunch of guys, hanging out in front of a TV, start bitching about a player’s decision, or a coach/manager’s choice? That cliché exists for a reason: some fans (or viewers) do not care about high level analysis, or the weighing of tactical risks. They’re not trying to see it through the eyes of professionals, or for every intricacy available. People, quite simply, want the game to entertain them: acid landmine bugs are entertaining.

1 comment:

  1. Accessibility is definitely something that sc2 lacks in the foreign scene. I've tried showing starcraft to people who don't play and they pretty much are like "okay, things are shiny, but I have no idea what's going on." There seems to be a niche for casters who are not doing analysis, not even a distinct play-by-play, but simply one who makes it easy to understand what is going on for people who have never seen a starcraft match before.