Working at The Dota 2 International 7 event

 

I was going to write about my experience at The International 7 then thought against it. Not because I have nothing to say, on the contrary, I could not shut up about it given the opportunity, but because it goes without saying how appreciative I am for such an opportunity, just like any other person. To me, The International 7 is like my favourite soup – it fills me up with a warmth and satisfaction that cannot be measurably described, yet the feeling is straight-forward enough for anyone to comprehend. Nevertheless, as I sit on this flight back to Berlin, my mind could not quite let go of wanting to at least attempt to write about this event or at least how it brought to me a self-confidence I pretended I had during my teenage fucked-up years.

I was first working on The International three weeks prior to the start of the event. At the time, the work was mostly behind-the-scenes involving writing helpful strings for the newcomer stream. Purge, Valve and myself wrote about 1,400 strings combined. Skrff and Weppas did the ability movies and Valve wrote the broadcaster UI that tied it all together in an easy-to-use platform. You can see our two separate excel sheets of strings in the game files under the scripts folder: one is KG for Kevin (Purge) and the other is mine: TDL (Torte de Lini). It was a great collaborative project that is available and accessible to any tournament organizer (or user for that matter, just use the console commands to access it). I hope I get the opportunity to improve and expand on it as it is a good foundation to do more. It wasn’t until later that I received a message from Bruno about coming to the event itself. After getting ESforce’s permission to attend, I was flown out a day before the group-stages.

The city of Seattle is beautiful, a relatively modern-looking city surrounded by so much green, life and nature. Down the road is the river, followed by mountains wrapped beautifully in green and sunshine. Within the bustling streets are leaning skyscrapers, peering over as you find something new around each corner: restaurants, nightlife, winking luminous streetlights and laughter and fun ringing throughout the evening. I could see why living here was so expensive when life is so balanced with the youth of the city mixed with the remote natural privacy to escape from our daily worries.

From Berlin to Seattle, I finally arrived jet lagged and tired. The jetlag didn’t subside until my last days at the event. Overall, I would say the process to arriving and getting settled was pretty smooth – they had a hospitality desk that was around until the evening that answered all your questions (they were so lovely to talk to) and the catering was varied, mixed and usually delicious (I’m a picky eater, so don’t mind me). Everything was taken care of:

  • WiFi? They gave you a portable hotspot that connected you to the internet no matter where you were.
  • Stipend for food during off-days
  • Laundry service every so often so you don’t have to wear any dirty clothes.

My work at The International 7 consisted of managing the Newcomer Stream with Gabe/Lyrical. If you’ve never met Lyrical, he’s an incredibly sweet and all-around great guy. He’s someone you’d have a beer with even if you don’t like beer (like me). I would define his work ethic as upstanding. During the group stages, my workload was small compared to the casters: it was merely practice for the newcomer stream where I got to know the broadcaster UI more intimately as well as Valve’s expectations and work. With testing, we set up common practices, protocols, fixed bugs and improved the UI so it made sense for the user. Working with Valve was as smooth as it can be. I was already working with a very talented person at Valve for awhile for some in-client stuff but working with new people in-person was a different beast. Naturally they were unsure of me, I was an unknown and I didn’t exactly advertise my event organization work (I worked as an event organizer and commentator during my years in StarCraft II). So they warned me A LOT about being discrete and to avoid XYZ common pitfalls – better safe than sorry. Since they saw me as being very active in the community, they were acting especially careful as they could not know my ability to be discrete. I’m not sure what they thought of my work during the event but I hope it met expectations though my return also depends on their decision regarding the newbie stream.

This was essentially my station. You can see the UI on the right, two TVs in the center to display what the stream looks like with and without the newcomer toasts integration and my Surface Book for everything else I needed. In the middle are Rice Krispies because we don’t have those in Europe and they’re addicting to eat. I also ate a shitton of Airheads – pure sugar. 

On a day-to-day basis, hanging out with the commentators was a lot of fun. Day [9] is exactly like when I met him 5 years ago (NASL Season 3 Finals), it’s incredible. He was charming, hilarious, relaxed and loose. He made everyone around him so at-ease and it’s almost too painful that we can’t be closer as friends. Machine is similar, incredibly charismatic and smooth like Jazz. I’ve run into him already 4-5 times at different events due to my work in CS:GO and every time, he’s just an awesome guy. This paragraph is going to turn into how I met and loved everyone so I’ll just say that it was a huge enjoyment to be around everyone. Even meeting Bruno for the first time was fantastic (though next time I’ll try not to fuck up playing a very simple board game…). Another strange moment was playing the game, Love Letter (?), with Pajkatt and Matumbaman a day AFTER TeamLiquid had won The International 7. Chill guy, he didn’t seem like he changed at all. It’s fascinating that no matter how much money these players win, they seem all the same – maybe a bit more confident or at-ease but all-around the same. I connected with Ioannis (Fogged) and his girlfriend, Ben (Merlini) and his girlfriend (Grace), Ted (PyrionFlax), Tobi (who enjoys some classic songs that I like), Owen and Sheever, Synderen (thanks for showing me Gwent) and Austin (Cap) and his girlfriend (Ellie) and so many more people. I got to meet most of the Moonduck guys and even GrandGrant briefly. I even met some fellow Quebecois and got to practice my franglais which is a rare treat. I think people already know of my adoration for Jake/Slacks. To me, he represents everything fun not just in Dota 2 – but playing with fellow gaming buddies. He’s genuine, authentic but for all his passion in Dota, there is an untold amount of effort that goes into not only making himself seem shamelessly comedic, but also in the stuff he produces which is chock-full of inside jokes, knowledge and fanaticism for the game we all love. He represents everything we love about Dota 2 but expressed in a way that we can all smile and enjoy.

I had already seen the stage previously, but it was a different feeling being so close to the players, the audience and the action.

I used The International 7 to try and create a better dimension of myself. I tried to be a bit more outward, self-confident and comfortable taking pictures. It’s the reason why I took so many selfies with fellow community members, as practice, smiling and showing my face in public. In turn, I learned a lot about myself during this event, I learned to reduce the self-depreciating jokes as it was an obvious social signal to determine if someone tolerated me (as it often had averse effects), I learned to do my own thing instead of trying to be a tag-along to friendships that were already established and I focused on doing a good job – in whatever capacity that was. Being invited and attending The International 7 was a revelation to me. It made the praise I received online into a reality as people stopped to tell me how much they enjoyed my work. No one knows who I am or what I do for work or what kind of person I am and yet they already liked me for what I did. What more could I ask for? I didn’t have to risk showing my awkward personality (a projection of my insecurity) to get the approval from my peers. When I first started getting mentions for my Hero Builds, I told myself unhappily that no one cares who I am, just what I do. That sentiment remains, but my outlook is more positive – that what I do reaches enough people without having to put myself out there. As I read some of the criticism talent received before and throughout the event, I realized that I had it easy – the worst I would get is always in view of my guides, never about how I am as a person, just the quality of my project (which can always be improved). When it went public that I was invited to The International 7 – I got so much inquiries about what I did to ‘deserve’ an invite. Those kinds of questions put a person in an awkward situation. It’s not their place to answer and it’s not your place to ask them. Not because it’s not within your right to question decision-making, it’s just directed at someone who didn’t make the decision in the first place. For me, it’s not “why” I got an invite but rather “how” can I redeem their decision, with all its risks and rewards. Hopefully I answered that question and if there are future iterations of a newbie stream (or otherwise), that I can still provide help, in whatever form that is.

Loved the idea of being able to watch the event even if you didn’t have a ticket. So many people came out on this beautiful sunny day and got to check out Dota 2. As a kid, this would have been a dream come true and if I ever have this kind of throw-away money in a lifetime, I would 100% do this for an event.

During the main event, I had a lot of free time to walk around and meet people. Valve ensured that our workload was not too strenuous as I often alternated with Lyrical between each set. The challenge in the Newcomer stream was that it was not coordinated with the main stream in that you had to focus heavily on everything in the game, commentators AND broadcast. If the broadcast showed a player’s came at the top-right corner, we had to dismiss whatever toast we were showing. The only issue is that we had no idea what the broadcast was doing so we had to ‘sense’ when/if it would come. If the commentators spoke about an item, you had to search and execute the prompt in-time so it made sense, otherwise it would be a missed timing. Lastly, we had to heavily interpret each moment in a match to determine which item or ability would best suit the questions new viewers may have. It was draining as you were constantly thinking back to which item/ability would be best for the moment and which text out of 1,400 strings would be worded exactly as you wanted (and sometimes it wasn’t, so you had to make do with what you had).

Meeting so many people who loved my work was such a joy and will always be a reminder for who I am doing these guides for (besides to improve my own playstyle).

To me, there’s two chapters of my life: life as a fuck-up and life in esports. The first chapter was filled with misery, manipulation, casual racism, suppressed expression and projected self-hate. From having a forced catch-phase be “Ta yeule, negre!” to “thank you for your work” is a massive step that took a decade+ to reach. People think I do the hero builds as a charity but in actuality I’ve always been dependent on the guides as a reminding bedrock that as long as I remain disciplined and consistent, I’ll find some form of personal quiet success. The guides are among my first step in this current chapter of my life. It meant a lot to me when several Valve employees literally stopped me to say how much they enjoyed my work and how they even recommended it to their family and friends to get them into Dota 2. The very makers of this event and of this game, were trusting me to help them further enjoy the game. One time, I was at their office and I saw some play-testing Dota 2 on one screen – with my guide opened on the second montior. That was too wild for me!

In the coming months, I’m going to try and stream, purely for practice, to be more expressive and articulate rather than shy and insecure. I’m pretty average at Dota 2 so that goal to be more expressive will be even more emphasized. My friends at Twitch (thanks Raphael and Conrad) is getting me set up with whatever’s necessary to do this (https://www.twitch.tv/tortedelini) and after 11 months without a proper PC, I’m finally buying a beast of a machine (thanks Pimpmuckl). I still have no goals for the Hero Builds Project, it’ll always be a passion-project of mine but the recent influx of publicity has lead me to thinking more ambitiously for the future. For now, I’m working/trying to figure out how to use a Discord channel (https://discord.gg/UMGHSXQ) to be able to coordinate times where I can play with people as well as a dedicated website for Dota 2 Hero Builds and Artifact as well. In the coming months, I’ll be traveling a fair bit: Paris for the LCS EU Finals (Sep.), Moscow for work (Sep.) then Montreal (Sep.) then October events like ESL One: Hamburg but I’m hoping to have a semblance of a schedule to do everything I want to do.

End of the final day – I smile for the camera but saddened I may not get to experience this again. Here’s hoping future experiences come close to shadowing this one.

All in all, great event, unforgettable experience. Glad I got to meet so many fellow community members at the event and I hope to meet even more of you throughout.

3 years, 170 million: Dota Builds Project Year in Review

This is a continuation of last year’s article, “2 years, 100 million: Dota Builds Project Overview” and 2014’s article: “1 Year, 40 million: Dota Builds Project Overview


**some images may appear smaller than intended, click the images to see their full resolution/detail**

It’s now been three and a half year since this project started in February, 2013. I do this ‘year in review’ article once a year in October as that is when I started collecting statistics for these hero builds. In 2015, we achieved a remarkable feat: 100 million total subscriptions. I persevered in updating the hero builds despite the system being completely system. Begun implementing a better hero builds tooltip system and established a proper policy in what direction and emphasis I want the hero builds to go towards.

2016 was challenging in and outside the project and the public recognition for it has been the highest it’s ever been – with all of its appreciation and harsh criticism of character.

showcase

 

For those new to Dota 2, Hero Builds are an in-game guide system for users to learn on how to play a hero. These guides suggest in what order a hero’s ability should be leveled, which items and in what order should be bought and guides can include tooltips to give contextual value on how best to use a hero’s set of items or abilities throughout the game. This 2013 integral feature has been useful for many new players along with other Valve-released tools including the ‘coaching’ feature and robust tutorial system. This project was created to establish and maintain a ‘standard’ way of playing each and every hero in nearly all roles or forms.

Today we celebrate reaching over 170 million subscriptions across 150 guides (177,425,506 as of November 17, 2016). This article will take a look at the relevant statistics of our growth, discuss the continuing motivation to maintain these guides and the future goals and challenges for 2017.

 

100 Million to 170 Million – A Year of Statistics


In summary, this project has gained 70 million new subscriptions since last year. In fact, approximately 5 million a month since late-May 2014 (30 months consecutively). Hero builds have risen from 145 builds to 150 hero builds thanks to the release of the final DotA-Allstars hero: Arc Warden & Underlord.

forecasted-growth-patch-divisions

In October 2013, we started with less than 5 million. Since 2014, our growth has been consistent of 4 to 6 million a month. In 2015, 37 guides have reached 1 million unique subscribers individually. That number has almost tripled with now 100 guides with their own 1 million unique subs.

 

Forecasts project that the project will achieve 200 million by February, 2017 and 234 million by October, 2017. Last year, we missed our prediction by a good margin and it might be safe to assume the same here. That said, we’ve achieved new milestones today with individual guides now breaking into the 2 million unique subscribers mark. Lifestealer, Sven, Juggernaut, Phantom Assassin, Phantom Lancer and Faceless Void have all recently hit their two million milestones and there are many other guides nearing it.

sven-lifestealer-compare

Observed is the incredible growth the Sven Hero Build achieved to reach and surpass Lifestealer Build’s subscribers. Lifestealer achieved 1 million by August 2014 whereas Sven achieved similar by April 2015. By June 2016, both guides achieved two million simultaneously.

Though it isn’t definitive, I firmly believe that because Sven has been more relevant in more patches and professional competitions than Lifestealer, its growth rate followed suit. This growth is not unique to a couple of builds. The average has grown from 716,000 to 1.16 million. The majority of hero builds have 1 million or more in unique subscribers. The distribution of subscribers is also much more ranged than before where guides can have as little as 150,000 subs. to as much as 2.4 million.

distribution-chart

 

Achievements and Challenges


 This year was the most revolutionary year for this project yet. Not only did the project see a complete overhaul in title classification, but it was also the first time the Valve Dota 2 Development team acknowledged, communicated and fixed some of the longest standing issues that plagued the system and caused many users to outright quit making builds. Here is the list of achievements this year:

  • Expanding the Hero Builds Catalog from 145 to 150 hero builds
  • Streamlined Patch Changes Accountability and Changelog for future reference
  • Finished overhauling the entire hero builds item and ability texts to better denote contextual value for each.
  • Released a Patreon campaign after years of users asking for a way to support the project
  • Transitioned the hero builds title system (Lane/Middle/Jungle) to less antiquated system (Core/Offlane/Jungle/Support) with sub-title specifications (Roaming, Safe Lane, Middle, etc.).
  • Released /r/HeroBuilds & PlayDota.com to better curate user feedback from more community hubs.
  • Released an All-Subscribe Tool, a long-awaited feature asked by users (thanks LemonWarlord)
  • Established a direct line of communication with the Valve Dota 2 Team
    • After years of problems, Valve took the initiative to fix some of the most glaring issues that outright halted the ability to make and publish hero builds. Even more so, they have been very responsive in any new critical bugs reported to them.

parnakra

Before Valve, a user named Parnakra literally saved this project. I was on the brink of giving up before he helped not only fix the Dota 2 Hero Builds Cloud Server, but improve it in many ways.
Thank you Parnakra.

 

Now with a direct line of communication with Valve and their promptness in fixing any new critical bugs, I hope to see more hero builds created and updated regularly without anything preventing users in doing so.

In terms of challenges, there are very few from the outside. There is still no real competition in terms of valuable hero builds currently in the database as the ones that are newly-created and maintained cannot break past some of the outdated versions from 2013 who continue to be rated up, regardless of accuracy or attention to relevance of the current patch (e.g.: heroes that get completely remade). Heroes such as Faceless Void don’t have any updated hero builds in the year 2016 except for my own. In terms of competition, the top guide creators are still the same as last year with some emerging players such as EDJE and EZ MMR.

comparison-to-other-guide-makers

Across the board, we can see growth in all hero build collections from the most popular catalogs of hero builds. This can be indicative that there are just more or rotating new users subscribing to hero builds as a whole.

Future Goals and Motivations


In December 2015, after much hesitation, I released a Patreon campaign for users who asked how else they can support the project. Generally, feedback was always preferred, but with the support of these great people, I can start to think about expansion into other medias to help players of all kind.

 

Alfred Vogl, Pearson Mewbourne, Leonardo Lambertini, Scott MacDonald, Sutas, Nicholas Chlumecky, Dice, Bartlomiej Jan Pasek, Graham Bullard, Daxdiv, Mikey Kaminski, Ryan Goss, Startracker, Freeze ray, Nate Hubbard, The WLD Crew, Benjamin Miller, Kistaro Windrider, Elliot Cuite, Daniel Thackray, Jose Cacho, Matthew Nami, tale, Joel Absolom, Tyler Reid, Hursha, Aaron Bell, Jason Davis, Cooper Johnson, Samuel Enocsson, JimmaDaRustla, slashershot, Igor Dolgiy, Ramona Brown, Duncan, Alishams Hassam, Leon Traill, Josh Laseter, Genc Musliu, Joshua Rodman, Moe Foster, Steve, Oliver, Vinzent Steinberg, Cabanur

Thank you so much to the many people here for their generosity, support and care. They saw something that was made entirely for free and still wanted to provide support with the money they’ve earned. It’s a great honor to receive this kind of support.

With the amount earned, I will be giving a portion to long-time feedbackers (though many have opted out or did not respond to request for their owed amount) and the rest will be going towards hiring a proper website designed to brand a website for the Hero Build Project and all the tools available. It will serve as a valuable hub to redirect users in being aware of all the hero builds available, tools, and statistics relevant to its growth and achievement. As always, no amount will be used for purposes other than to continue building this project.

In terms of future goals, the website hub is the first immediate one. Other cloud-level dreams would be expanding to content creation, meeting with the Valve Dota 2 team to suggest a variety of quality-of-life expansion to new player initiatives and/or newbie casting (this one’s iffy – haven’t casted since 2011 in StarCraft II).

In terms of motivations, 2016 turned out to be the year I receive the most recognition, appreciation, condescension and character criticism. Most of all, this year has been the most emotionally taxing where the hours of work remained consistently the same as last year’s: 2-3 hours a day, 28 to 35 hours a week and 9 to 24 hours within two days when a new patch releases. This is nothing new and I’ve made my concerns about it in the past as I juggle work, a personal life and this project. Somewhere along the way, I’ve also noticed my anonymity was lost, where I would be recognized in-game and my words, actions (or inaction) would paint how people speak to me or about me.

criticism

My favourite flattery/criticism in recent times. Some others have been less than comedic and more personal.

 

If I was overly-critical towards someone in-game, it would persist past the game and try to demonize me as some two-faced person (rather than a person who does get mad when we lose and excited when we win). If a new patch hits and I did not update the guides by their expectations, the amount of spam and private messages received would range from begging to rude demands and threats (non-lethal versions). There is a lot of expectation for me to be a public model citizen and I suppose that comes with this newly-found recognition. I do not make a living off my personality, project or appearances – yet I have this new responsibility I was not prepared for and maybe selfishly feel I do not owe towards others. I don’t think it’s something I can rebel against, but I will be taking active measures to either not talk in-game or start using an alternate account for all my day-to-day test games. Come December, I may also slow down the amount of updates and testing, as I’ve recently found myself prioritizing the project over, say, enjoying an overdue vacation with significant partners (at one point, I was updating guides while on the bus to The Grand Canyon due to increased public pressure) or ruining my sleep schedule to keep up with the latest patch. In 2017, I will also be starting something very new in my career, which may cause an impasse on continuing the project at its current level of dedication or something less attentive.

Depsite this rant, I always go back and read previous topics, smile at the appreciation I receive and know there are people thankful. The numbers say it all and the words of the many drown out the negative few.

Thank Yous


Without the help from the community at PlayDota.com, LiquidDota.com and /r/HeroBuilds, this project would not be able to be even remotely as close to its goal as it is now. I would never have the knowledge, expertise or understanding of the game that some of these people have provided throughout the years and for that, I thank them for completing this project in so many ways and keeping me on top of the most glaring inconsistencies with this collection of hero builds.

mentions

Recently, I’ve noticed more and more iconic people using my guides. People I’ve admired or see as incredibly talented. Moonmeander, Arteezy, Totalbiscuit, Day [9], Dimitri (GodBlessMali – MarsTV) and Hector Rosario (HelixFrosT – Founder of Flipside Tactics)

 

This project has been my pride and passion for the many years I’ve changed jobs, countries and lives. It kept me feeling personally successful no matter what low point I’ve hit. That kind of support is immeasurable and I sincerely thank you.
See you next year,

Michael ‘Torte de Lini’ Cohen


Twitter: @TorteDeLini

Patreon/Torte

/r/HeroBuilds

Dota 2 Hero Builds Hub

PlayDota.com

PS: thank you James Hu, Tam Vu and Foad Ghafor for the help with the website, graphs and this article.

The Difficulties Overwatch Esports Faces

When Counter-Strike: Global Offensive released in 2012 and later in the years claimed the flagship of FPS esports titles (like its predecessors), it further showed what other FPS titles were lacking in terms of tools and core mechanics to be a spectator-friendly competitive game. Halo, Call of Duty and Rainbow Six: Siege are just some of the current established FPS esports titles that don’t quite measure to the popularity and excitement that Counter-Strike has established.

Among these titles is the prominent new IP from Blizzard Entertainment called Overwatch: a class-based objective-driven FPS with 21 playable characters and three modes: ‘Capture Point (Assault), ‘King of the Hill’ (Control), ‘Escort’ and maps that are a hybrid where you attack/defend a point, then escort a payload.

Before open beta was even released, established esports organizations have already announced their Overwatch squads in preparation for this prosperous competitive title. Announced tournaments from ESL (at Gamescom), GosuGamers and Esports Arena are trying to be the frontrunners to push a flourishing esports scene. However, a mediocre spectator client and questionable map design choices may push the Overwatch esports scene to be as small as Team Fortress 2 instead of as big as Counter-Strike.

Capture

Team Liquid’s Overwatch squad are not the first team organization to get on-board with the game. Teams such as Cloud9 and EnvyUs are currently fielding teams and Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield 4 players are switching to Overwatch is hopes the scene prospers.

Overwatch is both fun to play, skillfully demanding and requires a good amount of communication to win. Impressively, traditional class-based designs from other games are combined with unique abilities that don’t typically work in a FPS environment, such as: Roadhog’s Chain Hook or Reinhardt’s melee-oriented attacks. Despite the limited amount of maps and modes, each game feels fresh as you approach a match differently with unique team compositions. At its core, Overwatch mostly achieves the first half of what makes a successful esports title: exciting to play. The other half, ‘exciting to watch’, has its issues. These are issues that aren’t new and have been something that’s been around in other games like Team Fortress 2, Battlefield and Call of Duty.

As the Overwatch competitive scene takes off, distinguishing ‘Skill depth’, avoiding ‘rhythmic strategies’, and accommodating the scene with more competent competitive maps/modes will be necessary for the scene to grow and the game’s public interest to continue to be renewed with new features.

Distinguishing Skill Depth


Skill depth is the demanded layers of a player’s ability to perform a character’s capabilities at varying levels of execution.

For example, in Team Fortress 2, you can maneuver as the Solider class at three distinct levels of execution:

  1. Traditional movement on the ground
  2. Rocket Jumping, like in Quake with the risk of self-damage
  3. Jurfing – where the user takes an increased amount of consecutive damage to rollout faster to a specific capture point

In a competitive environment, being able to rollout as the Soldier (or Demo) class is key to a good start in a competitive match for the team.

The skill depth in Overwatch is varied per class, but the biggest issue is the difficulty in distinguishing that skill as a spectator. Like Team Fortress 2, Overwatch suffers from the same quality that makes it so enjoyable to play: projectile chaos. Projectile chaos is what makes the game incredibly fun, frantic and fast-paced, but makes for a terrible spectator esport. This is emphasized in head-to-head confrontations on ‘Capture Point (Assault)’ and ‘King of the Hill (Control)’ maps where the control point is close quarters with little room to maneuver and even less room to see what is going on. Overwatch wants to use the first-person camera to display great skill, but have to somehow also meaningfully convey the skill in team-fighting abilities and big-battle engagements.

The lack of coherence in a player’s individual skill depth is an inherent issue in Overwatch. Ammo is not a problem, thus a player can attack more without risk – leading to a lot of action with little substance. Any key action that does occur, is often lost in the commotion of bombs, rockets and bullets. Especially true for ultimate abilities such as Genji or the attacks of Reinhardt which are melee-oriented and right in the thick of fights. Viewers have to rely on sound cues and the kill feed instead of the match itself.  Overwatch’s inability to display skillful plays in an easy-to-interpret manner may lead to a dwindling viewership. The fact that Overwatch has no tools to help highlight unique team execution leaves little to appreciate during Overwatch matches.

Rhythmic Strategies


What distinguishes Overwatch are its abilities and game-changing ultimates where characters are defined by what they offer to the team. However, these powerful abilities create a rhythmic playstyle that centers each match around these abilities, specifically the combination of the team’s ultimate abilities. Progression in matches end up being dictated by these ultimates rather than as a complimentary layer of skill depth. This is something competitive Team Fortress 2 relates to, but is limited to one class.

In Team Fortress 2, the importance of keeping your medic alive is the highest priority. Not only is the Medic the only support class in Team Fortress 2, but the class’ offensive capabilities are slim to none. However, the Medic has one “ultimate” ability where he can grant invulnerability or guaranteed critical damage. It is game changing and must be charged over time. Overwatch builds on that with ultimates that create great moments for the player to feel “overpowered”, but create huge comeback swings that can make games feel entirely dependent on it. For example, Mercy’s ultimate can resurrect entire teams and Lucio’s ultimate can block damage from the enemy’s team. The enemy team must account for that, so they may also withhold their ultimate or simply pull back to another chokepoint. This creates rhythmic strategies where entire games are dictated by ultimate abilities and the progress/pushback branching from them. Depending on the success of one team’s string of ultimates, the game may progress or stall. Players then focus on survival and dealing as much damage as possible instead of overcoming the enemy team, to continue charging their ultimates.

To add, some ultimates are clearly more team-contributing than others, emphasizing, almost to essentialness, the need for a Lucio or Mercy over other more situational supports like Symmetra or Zenyatta. This can continue to be a problem should the game release even more characters, diluting its intent for varied use of all characters. This is an issue in Team Fortress 2 as well, where classes that were not maneuverable or did not have the strongest area damage (like the Heavy, Spy or Pyro) were seldom used. Fortunately, the highlander mode (a 9 vs. 9 match-up where all 9 classes are played) is becoming more prominent, a flexibility Overwatch does not share. If Overwatch expands to even more heroes, the importance to include certain “core” heroes in team formations can push others down.

333333333

In Team Fortress 2, it is the attacker’s job to make use of the Medic’s invulnerability ‘ultimate’. In Overwatch, ultimates can compensate for a player’ ultimates partially mitigate player individual skill outside of short 30 second bursts.

Too Fast, Too Short, Too Much


At the moment, the best mode for competitive Overwatch is Escort. One of the reasons is that the other modes, Assault and Control, can be too swiftly concluded – removing any build-up. Assault maps such as Volskaya Industries offer up a lot of entryways for attackers to reach the first point, but make it too difficult for defensive line-ups to counter. Especially when the spawn areas are alternating in advantages, creating the intention for the defenders to eventually concede the first capture point, but heavily defend the last one with proximity to their now close spawn. However, the defender’s concession can lead to unsatisfying matches where attackers will snowball by capturing the first point and race to take the second point with their ultimates already charged and the defense squad either don’t have time to setup or simply already used their ultimates to previously defend the first point. At the highest levels of competitive play, these biases too heavily dictate the outcome of a match.

volskaya-overview-medkits

The attacker’s ability to reach the first capture point on Volskaya Industries is numerous. You can approach it from two different levels (upper/lower) and three cardinal directions (North, East, West). It is a challenge for the defensive team to both hold the main entrance choke and counter against heroes that slip by that first defense choke point. Should they lose, scrambling to defend their second point may prove more challenging than intended.

The appeal to the Escort mode, and hybrid maps that have an escort portion, is that there is a build-up and an evolution throughout the matches. Players are faced with different challenges depending at which point or area that cart has reached. From chokeholds to multi-paths of attack, these areas of conflict can create unique strategies that call for different heroes. Escort maps have momentum and progression which can create more engagements and thus a better display of individual skill. However, a singular mode is not ideal for a competitive game where the core adversarial dimension is the same: prevent the enemy team from escorting their cart. It can create feelings of repetitiveness for the viewer, this wouldn’t be as big of a problem if Overwatch’s map-pool for that one mode wasn’t as considerably small.

In the MOBA genre, there are enough characters and item choices to makes matches feel unique from one another. For FPS titles, a variation of maps and modes can alleviate the redundancy of using the same weapons. Overwatch has both a large cast and many maps/modes, but competitively, only takes advantage of less than half of both aspects. This core issue would likely be resolved as the game develops, as did many past competitive titles, for an esports scene to then emerge. However, since Overwatch has ramped up its competitive environment before the game was even released, a lot of its faults are being highlighted.

Conclusion


Overwatch is having an incredible launch with a strong and potentially long-term playerbase. While its competitive spirit is still young and new, the core issues inherent to the quality of the game from a competitive standpoint stick out like thorns. From a viewer’s standpoint, issues like visibility of skill or the feeling of rhythmic strategies can detract from being excited watching matches as much as playing. This is amplified when the mode/map-pool is limited and the essentialness for key heroes, due to their team-influencing ultimate abilities, creates a feeling of repetition for the viewers.

While nothing is final in terms of how the competitive scene will be shaped, it is not right to assume that the competitive scene will flourish as some expected Heroes of the Storm to be. The game is exciting to play, though it is not necessarily exciting to watch for the same reasons some of its predecessors faced. Although developer support is a step in a positive direction, if the community is not behind the idea, a competitive scene might be less than a possibility. For every community-inspired scene like the original StarCraft or Hearthstone, there are also opposites like World of Tanks and Shootmania. If Blizzard hopes to push Overwatch as a legitimate professional esports title, it will need to ensure its game design direction does not go the same way Team Fortress 2 did.