Torte De Lini

A Sociocultural Analysis of Gaming and eSports
Torte De Lini

Torte De Lini

Community Engagement: Identify Yourself

It is without question that interacting with your targeted community and audience yields results, sometimes immeasurable ones. It is often an area overlooked, though acknowledged when we get around to actually discussing about community management and, down to the point, engagement. When I talk to game development companies and content-creators, the discussion about the community always revolves around how to earn a community and, ultimately, keep them dedicated to your brand. For many people and companies, their community interaction and consistency in that interaction has not only contributed to their fast-growing success, but also the reason their brand stands so strongly as a representative of the culture they’re servicing.  People like Sean ‘Day 9’ Plott and companies like Twitch TV have secured a brand name ahead of their competitors because they took the right steps in becoming proud representations of the gaming sphere and being proactive in shaping their followings into marketable parts of their business/self.

From starting your own community to building it and growing it, it takes a consistent amount of time, energy and dedication to keep them both satisfied and proactive in your product and you as a person. Courtesy of The Community Roundtable, this display helps frame the demand and stages into establishing a community and, on point, maintaining it.

Whether it is eSports or general gaming, a genuine and consistent person of identity will always strive further than someone who takes advantage of their intended audience without giving something back.

Get Started, Keep Rolling

Getting away from your campsite of advertising such as your Facebook page or Twitter and using community websites to maximize your reach is great, but you must always give what you take and what you’re giving also improves what you want to reach: an audience. As with any conversation, you must talk as much as listen. In Philip Driver’s piece: The Beginner’s Guide to Community Management, he quotes a community as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together”. As you become a member, so will your influence and ability to share a faith that interconnects one another.

Becoming involved and a part of a community, especially in the gaming culture, can be a delicate affair. Skepticism is a strong currency and the ability to dismiss you or your brand can be swift and sometimes permanent. The gaming community, even more so in eSports, can build entire careers or completely ruin them. In 2012, I had written about the Thin Corridors of New Content in which I highlight the difficulty of new content-creators jumping in as older, more established names struggle with maintaining their consistency and appearances. It was an immature outlook as we see the examples I highlight are some of the more prolific content-creators of this year (ChanmanV Productions for example), perhaps the techniques mentioned then are still relevant today. Nonetheless, it underlines the hurdle of community skepticism for new brands and emphasizes the advantages when incorporating trusted members into your team/product. ESports production companies and even services such as Twitch TV have used that advantage to bring awareness to their products as well as to acknowledge the community’s favoritism towards dedicated supporters of their favourite games/products (e.g. commentators).

Conventions, LANs and Competitions are the monument of a productive community. This image of DreamHack shows what the largest LAN event can become in few years time, leading to now one of the largest and most successful eSports event circuits internationally. Communities are most than just a group of dedicated clientele, but a workshop base to draw useful feedback, tools and ability derived from their passion for your product or service. Is that not the foundation of Twitch TV’s service or Valve Software’s workshop platform?

Maintaining that faith dismisses gamers’ initial skepticism and hence why the importance of consistency being mentioned so largely among some of the most popular entertainers in the industry: consistency in interaction and contribution beyond creating content you gain a direct advantage from.

Giving what you’re taking – The Community Expectation

A bit of overlap to our previous sub-topic, however the community expectation is set not only by community members themselves but also from community websites such as and Recent controversy pertaining to bans of community members on relevant gaming subreddits emphasizes this very section. For sites such as TeamLiquid, the rule involving self-promotion and advertising is typically a grey-area in that the way to go about posting your content is not a drop-off, but an engaged and effortful attempt at not only providing something of interest to the community but also maintaining that interest through interaction and your own personhood. Their example is a great down-to-earth explanation of what I mean:


“If I have a party and invite all my friends, and there’s a guy who gets along with everyone, shares some drinks and jokes and then says “hey we should do X tomorrow” that is great – everyone loves that – I love that. I’ll put that stuff on the front page. If the same guy bursts into your party and screams “HEY GUYS, AMAZZZZING PARTY AT MY PLACE YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT!!!” every time he shows up, then I would probably punch that guy straight in the face. It’s distasteful, and disrespectful.”

— is similar but highlight the ratio typically expected: 9:1 ratio which is taken more exactly than intended as it means to be interpreted as you should be putting more in than what you want to take out.

It’s important to realize that being self-involved with the community you want to reach out with your content/product is more than just creating things for that community to consume and reading their discussions. Without a constant presence of genuine interaction, interest and conversation, even as you hit massive success, the faith in your brand and reputation surely declines.


Commentators – Identities of Production

For most companies, eSports is a mix of marketing and community engagement. For many games, without eSports, awareness of a product could not be as reaching and impactful to the gaming scenes without the involvement of an eSports community. Competitive sequels, brand strength and longevity of a game still hinges on the competitive aspect and, subsequently, the spectated tournaments. On that same vine, without eSports, careers of many iconic people from each game would not be where they are today. It is that mutual dependency and respect of expertise that have landed careers for many commentators and established strong relationships between companies such as ESL, Major League Gaming and even Riot Games and the communities they serve. Companies with a brand, know to remain consistent in the quality of their talent and consistency of fan-favourite talents.


Your caster line-up is your face and proof that not only does your event know your audience but is constantly in touch with those who’ve established an earned trust with the audience and up-and-coming entertainers who you can promote and be unique compared to other events. ESL is known for their top-notch talent line-up and spares no expense to keep old favourites and introduce new faces.

For a company, identity is important, iconic members that communities can relate and communicate with. In many ways, commentators serve that role while also liaising information that could change events and the content their consumers want to experience. Constant reception and an ability to consistently make their targeted audience productive in their feedback or more, is sign of good management from these production companies as well as an accomplished and constructive community. By hiring key members of the community for public roles, a company displays awareness of favourable people with their targeted audience using them to not only maintain a connection with the  community, but also to bolster their brand and display a sign of dedication to the game the community attaches itself to.

When Major League Gaming hired Nick ‘Axslav’ Ranish and Alex ‘Axeltoss’ Rodriguez, it cemented their intention to stick with StarCraft II despite opting away from creating events around the product. They secured an inherited community in case they were ever going to go back to producing massive events for the game. The same thing with ESL in which they keep a strong list of employed commentators to serve as experts for their respective genres as they attract game development companies to host their games’ events (e.g. Halo, Battlefield, Titanfall) and as talent to commentate those games. The key ability to create and maintain strong identities for the communities to relate to is a process that can be massively successful or a misfire. This is especially underlined for service companies such as ESL, MLG or even Twitch TV.

Twitch TV Ahead – Competitors Behind

The concept of identity is no different for Twitch TV and in fact played a vital role in their incredible growth after only three years. I would go on to say that other livestreaming companies have failed to see how Twitch TV progressed with their identity while trying to imitate what they are doing now.

For Twitch TV, growing from eSports and expanding to the gaming market is a strategy of playing to the advantages of smaller subcultures to establish reputation to eventually step into the mainstream culture of gaming. Before any other livestreaming site had started. Twitch TV established themselves as a contributor to teams and events (giving what you’re taking) and hiring key members of the games they want to penetrate. To give more detail: from 2010 to 2013, Twitch TV has sponsored more than 100 events/teams from every spectrum: ESLTeam DignitasTeam LiquidAbsolute LegendsEmpireFXOpenKaront3 ClubFnaticNatus VincereGrubbyCapcom Pro TourGodsgardenDreamHack eventsGeForce StarCraft II Pro/AmTwitchTV White-Ra Meet Up. Not to mention their after-parties that still happen at most events as well as their charity work, etc. It doesn’t matter if each sponsorship was simply a typical partnership (ad-based revenue). It leveraged the relationship these organizations and events had with the community and at the same time, the organizations and events used Twitch TV to maintain or establish their legitimacy and intent to provide further content for their fans.

By 2011, they already had 8 million unique viewers and had started to do coverage at E3 and Gamescom (2011). But it doesn’t stop there and it is just overall smart to be as aggressively involved as possible, even despite complaints from certain regions about lag and stuttering from Twitch TV which was a rampant mention for at least a year. Twitch TV was also smart in hiring key members of the eSports scene such as James ‘2GD’ Harding and Marcus ‘djWheat’ Graham in 2011.

Even in djWheat’s announcement video, he makes it clear how supportive, involved and strong Twitch TV is with eSports. That still remains true to this day, though their presence has become even more direct with their own setups at events such as E3 and more recently, Comic-Con New York.

Other notable names being hired at Twitch TV is Justin ‘TheGunRun’ Ignacio and Mike Ross from the Fighting Games Community among many other involved community members. This is not an unusual strategy and in fact, you can draw parallels with in hiring key contributors to the scene to increase their brand’s visibility and create key relationship markers for communities to identify with. Team Razer is no different in their long history of supporting players and brands, going so far as to use them in their products and marketing.

For companies following in their footsteps, their outreach to the community needs to be improved. For example, Azubu TV’s currently approach is very oriented towards the concept of Staying at Your Campsite as referenced in the sub-topic: Get Started, Keep Rolling. Where they contract many popular entertainers and competitors to livestream on their site to draw viewership but are typically uninvolved in the scene. To this day, their contributions revolve around creating content, whether written or video but very much hands-off in terms of direct affiliation and support of organizations, events and the community. When following in the footsteps of an already established business, a company’s proactiveness and need for identity should be emphasized even more strongly. This is especially in view of competitors such as who have started creating their tournaments, albeit small, but a step in the right direction.

The Valve Example, The Riot Alternative

In many ways, Valve Software has achieved the highest result in creating a proactive and established community. They have created a hands-off system of curating community contributions directly with their game. They are so much into being a helping hand for user-generated content (UGC) that their coming Source 2 engine revolves around making it easier for users to create content (ranging from maps to game modes and beyond).

In Valve’s Steam Dev. Days Video, Valve highlights the perks of allowing user-generated content: exposing and renewing ways to play your game, giving customers a direct line of voice and provides ongoing value to customers. As we said in “Giving What You’re Taking”, Valve rewards those contributors through both (split) monetization as well as direct credit to the contributor.

While it is arguable that Steam’s customer service is weak overall, their ability to engage users, interact with them beyond words and translate community into product-supporting contributors (whether it be through their ticket-compendium system, guides, mods and skins/items) is trend-setting. It furthers their ability to create identity as an open-platform in which the community serves themselves and gains from everyone’s support and popularity.

On the other hand, Riot Games alternative approach is contrarily hands-on in amplifying their game’s pool of interest. Ranging from music videos, documentaries, their international championship series and coverage surrounding it to the varied media content including animated sequences and philosophy involving their gamers. Riot Games takes their product and furthers its range of unique content, interaction and reach through a variety of marketable forms and continues to pump out polished digestible mediums for fans to continue enjoying and feeling refreshed about their game that can be typically frustrating or challenging. You can love League of Legends without needing to play and that constant media stream keeps their word-of-mouth strong and their identity cemented. They shape their players, past and present, to be Summoners without being directly involved in the client.

Whether being hands-on or hands-off, a constant stream of content to enhance your product directly in the client or surrounding is a priority. Communication about your updates in unique and appealing ways is priority number two.

Team Fortress 2 has a history of creating fun ways to introduce players to new modes and get them excited for new updates. Whether it is through video or poster boards, Team Fortress 2 has had a constant stream of new content and maintains a strong and interesting way in communicating with their player base.

A Consistent Brand, A Personalized Identity

In short, whether you’re a company or a person trying to create a following; forming an identity for yourself and remaining consistent with that identity, content and methods of interaction is much easier said than done. For those who have achieved it, especially in gaming, have made it tough to follow but not impossible. To create a community around what you have is nothing short of a question of persistence, confidence in yourself and the passion for what you’re doing, regardless if no one watches, reads or plays it. More simply put, becoming a person of value before seeing yourself as a person of success can lead to more apt objectives to aim for and make each progressive step all the more enriching for your self-being. I would add that the community feeds off what you give/say and reciprocates with a shared interest on anything further that you do.

As a company, making your service or product is only half the battle. Learning how to talk to your customers is something else. In this day and age, marketing and communication is no longer one directional but rather circular and mutually benefiting, so long as you, the company, frame it that way. Being fair, genuine and authentic can go a long way to establishing long-term consumers rather than one-time unhappy visitors. To add, reaching out to your consumers in unique ways will create unique responses and unique justifications for them to visit your product/service.


*Relevant articles about community management, interaction and growth:

The Imperative Feeling to Legitimize eSports

When Forbes wrote the heated headline: “Why eSports Doesn’t Need ESPN“. There was some debate coming from both sides on whether or not the author, Paul Tassi, was making a valid point or simply coming at the topic too strongly. The author’s main argument was that the idea of eSports “needing to make it to television in order to become legitimate” was complete hogwash. When it came to whether eSports will ever be televised, the article gave a more moderate answer in which eSports may, someday, be on television, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

That is a key highlight in regards to outlets in which eSports can be publicized. While there are a variety of avenues to produce eSports broadcasting, it goes without saying that they are not all necessary and yet, we value them even if they are an outdated form of how fans consume their favourite games. The discussion of whether eSports necessitates being on television, radio or even in the paper is pointless when businesses are already embracing the opportunity to expand, and the benefits from these efforts are already accumulating. Unfortunately, vocal communities translate eSports expanding on any outlet other than via internet streaming as a step into a heightened environment of [uptight] professionalism and an influx of curious (and sometimes skeptical) newcomers. These concerns about eSports changing and merging into mainstream expectancies is moot. It is undeniable that eSports will change as coming generational cultures shift into more technologically-focused traits; this shift also includes competitions, incorporating practices of the old into the new medium. Those who question the importance of legitimizing eSports are opinionated, and do not take into consideration the companies who have already been trying to legitimize it for many years. The author, Paul Tassi, is also victim of this narrow-minded view in which he dismisses cable television as an outdated media platform without understanding that although the current demographic consumes their favourite tournaments in-person or online, large consumer companies and products go through mainstream television to access their audience. Not to mention the cultural significance of television and that viewing habits still favour TV-watching by nearly 20 hours more than online viewing a week ( – 2013).

As the internet becomes more widespread, advertisers are turning to online livestream channels but that doesn’t mean efforts to access television should be halted; on the contrary, they should be continually pursued. The disconnect between how advertisers reach their target demographic and how fans enjoy their favourite events can become further minimized. To add, broadening eSports’ horizon will only create more opportunity for organizations currently starved for financial support, hopefully avoiding taking up offers from explicit companies such as from the pornography industry who have been losing advertising options more and more. From a business perspective, your produced events will have stronger marketable points by being live on national television (whether it is Sweden, Finland or North America – ESPN) than by just livestreaming for the sake of maintaining a semblance of “legitimate eSports”.

A preview show for ESPN2 was produced during Valve’s Dota 2 The International 4 which, prior to its announcement, urged Forbes contributing writer, Paul Tassi, to dismiss both the television medium for eSports as well as calling it needless to expand to when your current fanbase relies on internet live streaming

It should be stated that legitimizing eSports and expanding the brands of our currently established production companies such as ESL, DreamHack and Major League Gaming are naturally one of the same. These flagships of eSports production are both representative of how attractive eSports can be for the average fan as well as the bridge to the mainstream gaming industry. While eSports doesn’t need validation from mainstream networks in a nearly exclusive online entertainment; it is heavily sought after regardless.

  • For DreamHack, the transition from being one of the largest LANs in the world since the 90s to becoming a fully-fledged studio as well as competitive event, has the interest of national television channels within their own country,Sweden – SVT (2009/2012) and now Finland – YLE (2014).
  • Likewise ESL has enticed similar national television interest with their advertised recent Dota 2 ESL ONE event at the Commerzbank-Arena World Cup Stadium. For years, they have widened their the two brands, The Intel Extreme Masters and their ESL ONE, previous EMS One, with massive events across North America and Europe. More specifically, they have been using mainstream gaming conventions to both advertise their brand as well as draw mainstream audiences into the excitement of competitive gaming including Gamescom (Cologne), SITEX (Singapore, Convention Centre), Comic-Con (New York), CeBIT (Hannover), and Fan Expo (Toronto). It’s a sort of ‘two-birds-one-stone’ plan in which ESL heightens the recognition of their branded events while also intertwining the conventions’ mainstream appeal to improve the marketability of eSports and the viewership of their own competitions.

Let’s not also discount the fact that ESL has been the frontrunner for game developers/publishers to rely on for hosting competitive events such as Blizzard’s StarCraft 2 World Championship Series (2013/Europe, 2014/North AmericaTitanfall at IEM Katowice (2014), Battlefield 4 at IEM Katowice (2014) and Halo at Gamescom (2014), Riot Games LCS Europe (2013), Firefall (2012), SMITE (2012) and Hawken (2012).

What’s also interesting about ESL is their Intel Extreme Masters events attracts many technology and mainstream game booths/kiosks marking that not only is competitive gaming using mainstream conventions to draw in new fans but also that technology and mainstream gaming companies can take advantage of eSports events in-person.

  • The progress publishers are making ranges from Riot Games’ massive budget and staff dedicated to all things LCS-related to Valve’s more long-term approach in meshing consumers with eSports fans to create cooperative businesses within competitive gaming (tickets and cosmetics that contribute directly to players, organizations or prizes at events). Together, they alleviate the risk with becoming involved in competitive gaming while also establishing a strong front for mainstream media to cover and expose both scenes (as we have seen with ESPN and The International 4 in addition to LCS World Championship on a variety of news sites)

The history in which competitive gaming has reached mainstream media stretches even farther dipping into its highs and lows with companies such as ESWC, CGS, WCG and more. This is especially true when it comes to national televised events as it is becoming the accepted norm in Asia (China, South Korea). Calling television a “dinosaur” when it has had such a relevant cultural impact in Asia for nearly a decade is just flat-out silly. ESports on television leads to better marketable numbers for tournaments, potentially more legitimate understanding and exposure of players and a step forward for generational values as generations are becoming born with access to the internet and outdated perspectives fall out. We can say that the value people put towards television is misguided especially with how impactful competitions are at conventional gaming expos. But the advantages of broadening our horizons among two audiences (mainstream gamers as well as the general population) are crucial for expanding eSports to greater heights. It answers the original article’s short-sighted question: “Why do all this work to try and expand to a medium that the majority of your fanbase may not even want or be able to access?“

iem-katowice-2014-2What you don’t see in this image is the massive lot behind for all the booths and kiosks for other games and technology companies using eSports events to market and showcase their products.

The pitfalls from the past are always seen as two steps backwards and lessons to be learned. But these consistent outreaches from developers and eSports production companies to conventional media platforms and established gaming conventions tell us that there is a gain from continually trying to reach a wider audience; that the benefits outweigh the flaws to morph eSports to a wider accepted form of entertainment.

To Summarize:

  • To dismiss television is to be caught in the progress of internet livestreaming without admitting the cultural significance and habits of those who still consume a vast amount of television (not to mention how it is best to show eSports to newcomers via television, a more shared media medium) and where television still has an impact on national societies.
  • eSports businesses and publishers are making major headway in developing eSports into a professional, long-term and stable interest for players and fans alike. This includes integrating mainstream consumers and gamers with the hype and excitement of eSports via live interaction at mainstreaming gaming conventions: Chinese, Korean, Finnish and Swedish national television. Whether the public dismisses television or not is superseded by these years of established action.
  • In many aspects, eSports is a legitimate marketing platform for many companies, audiences and businesses as there is an intertwining of cross-marketing for both sides (developers to eSports and eSports with developers; discounting technology companies). That content can be further outreached to advertisers still prioritizing television over any other entertainment outlet – sustaining businesses further.
  • Placing competitions at conventional gaming conventions may have a stronger interaction and impact on the gaming mainstream audience.

However, the question remains: at what point is eSports considered “legitimate”? What kind of measurements should it rely on to mark achievement: prize amounts? Media coverage (news, television channels, gaming conventions)? Or its influence on development companies’ business practices? It may very well be a combination of those areas and more but it goes without saying that the more eSports spreads, the higher its peak of interest and ultimately, acceptance as a showcase of the values in competitions, sports or not.

Drawing Players into MOBAs Through Accessibility and Investment

For multiplayer games, the balance between fun gameplay, reward and progression is difficult to manage. As more businesses engage with the free-to-play model, there is an emphasized importance of attracting and keeping a large player base. For MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) specifically, getting players to try a particular game in an ever-growing popular genre is half the battle. For many, MOBAs intimidate and for others; struggle to grasp the finer details that give long-time competitors such an edge. However, MOBAs also maintain the strongest sustained player base and continue to rise with international support and popularity. Players who invest their time and money into the game, tend to dedicate their free time more and more exclusively to the specific MOBA over any other. Some only play that one MOBA exclusively.

For this article, we will be scrutinizing the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre as it is becoming the most trending type of game of this generation. In addition to its growing popularity, MOBAs face several adversities that can overwhelm newcomers ranging from the amount of information it demands and its diversity in characters (Heroes, Champions, Characters), abilities and smaller game details. Nonetheless, its competitive nature and one’s ability to execute knowledge and expertise of a character into the game attracts an ever-growing audience. This knowledge, expertise and time is an investment that all games seek as it can lead to a sustained player base, purchases and continued use of the company’s digital platforms (, Steam) or other products (Hearthstone, Team Fortress 2). Creating an interest for your specific game, engaging players to try it and ensuring they spend their time and, subsequently, their money is a divided technique. The MOBA genre is currently crowned by two popular games: Leagues of Legends (Riot Games) and Dota 2 (Valve) with a rising star by Blizzard Entertainment’s: Heroes of the Storm.

Each game takes a different approach in their audience and creating forms of accessibility. Accessibility in terms of garnering interest from newcomers and easing them comfortably into the knowledge and world of MOBAs.

  • For Dota 2, Valve has kept everything unlocked and open for both new and experienced players. Players can freely play any hero (character) from the 107 heroes available. For newcomers, this can be intimidating as any multiplayer match can contain up to 10 new heroes that one must be familiar with their abilities (4 skills per hero, 40 total per match) and strategies associated. To combat this uncomfortable feeling, Valve offers players choices to gauge how much they assume they understand about the game and a variety of tools are available to assist them such as:
    1. Tutorial and Training Sessions: Learn the basics of MOBAs, Dota 2 and basic general concepts such as ‘Last-Hitting’.
    2. Limited Heroes Mode: Reduce the number of heroes in a match to 20 in total. Creating less demand to know the intricacies of each hero and more about perfecting your understanding of the game overall.
    3. Bot Matches: Practice vs. AI before playing against other players to improve your overall playing ability.
    4. Coaching: More experienced friends can join your games as a coach, letting them speak to a new player in real-time, draw in their game and inform of them of areas to be careful of, etc.
    5. In-Game Hero Guides: Item and ability suggestions are highlighted and shown for players who choose to subscribe to the guide.
    6. Glossary of all Items and Heroes: All items and hero abilities are available for reference in-client with videos and stats.

Dota 2 Trainings

Dota 2 has an elaborate system to ease players into learning one of the more complex genres in the gaming industry. Smaller nuances such as vision/observer wards and map-awareness are left up to the player to delve into.  

  • For League of Legends, Riot Games introductory system for newer players is less complete but direct. They have two main tutorials: one involving the basics of the MOBA genre and the other about a typical game in League of Legends and using a quest system to guide players into completing their first match. In addition, there are bot matches to play vs. AI and an arching level system that lets players progress up to level 30 as more and more abilities become available for the players, easing them into knowing eventually every champion and Summoner Ability available. However League of Legend lacks in explaining their customization in terms of Runes and Masteries. They make up for it with their more intuitive Item Shop system where you can filter items that you want to buy depending on how you want to play your hero (Attack Power, Ability [Magic] Power, Magic and/or Physical Defense, etc.). Nonetheless, League of Legends assumes players will pick up on the finer details of the game as they play and progress through levels and matches.

LoL Tutorial

League of Legends’ item shop is straight-forward, intuitive and comfortable. However their tutorial may feel incomplete for newcomers to MOBAs and to League of Legends.

  • It’s important to note that Heroes of the Storm is still in a technical alpha with some of its features not yet implemented. However its approach to the MOBA genre is already clear: simplicity. Heroes of the Storm does away with a lot of the smaller intricacies in Dota 2 and League of Legends, going as far as to remove any and all items in the game and globally earning experience. Their tutorial system involves a fast exemplary game and playing vs. AI. However, Heroes of the Storm goes further with their simplicity by restricting ways you can play a hero. ‘Talents’, a customizable form of altering a hero’s ability, is limited to two at the start and as you play more games, more unique ways to use a skill of a hero is unlocked. These fences around customization are for the benefit of the player, to avoid any overwhelming choices until the player has more experience with a specific character.

HOTS tutorial

Heroes of the Storm eliminates a lot of the smaller intricacies of other MOBAs for a more comfortable and casual feeling to the game where teamwork is more stressed over individual ability and work.

These three MOBAs all create avenues to invite players into investing their time in their game. They create avenues of access that ease newcomers into trying their game via tutorials or simple game concepts. Although Valve’s tutorial system has the most pull in inviting players to invest their time into the game, it lacks forms progression or further motivation beyond ranked matchmaking. They compensate this by open-ended content with a full hero roster for players to choose from and no restrictions in game modes. Dota 2 is like a playground in which it is available to access and try (free-to-play) but doesn’t direct or orient people into what to play or how competitive they need to play (you can play vs. AI, ranked matchmaking or more entertaining modes such as ‘All Random’ – where players are assigned random heroes at the start). For League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, there is a motivation for players to progress and unlock future content. Specifically for League of Legends, players want to reach max level for full access to abilities, currency to buy more heroes/runes/masteries and enter ranked matchmaking for the full competitive experience. Riot Games’ approach for new players is to orient them towards understanding all aspects of the game before allowing them to play their most regarded gameplay mode: Ranked Play.

It is clear that all three systems have different ways of inviting players to invest time into their game. Both Heroes of the Storm and League of Legends create reasons for players to invest into their game. Whether it be monetarily or simply their time, the appeal to play either game is set by the need to unlock all of its content (discounting the interest in its other modes and gameplay). However, all three games approach their audience differently, Heroes of the Storm makes the game quick and simple, making matches less demanding and pressured. Dota 2 is a much more complex game but gives players freedom to play how they want to play. League of Legends markets the competitive height of the game through both eSports (League Championship Series) and a more robust matchmaking system (ranks, divisions and Summoner levels). A simple frame to put all this is a three-step approach in which games want to:

  1. Create reasons or invitations for players of all backgrounds to consider their game. This can range from a competitive and challenging height like in League of Legends and Dota 2 (eSports) to quick, short matches with less demand of one’s time like in Heroes of the Storm.
  2. Motivate players to continue returning to your game. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference of the player but each game has an appeal from rotating champions and unlocks to the style of each match – League of Legends being more static in how Champions and each match should be played while Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm are fluid.
  3. Convert that investment of time into purchases and additional content that does not segregate the community nor hinder one’s experience for not purchasing. This is where each games diverges and incorporate different philosophies.

For motivations, there are different philosophies on how much each company trusts their player base to continue returning to their game. With Valve, there is a reliance that those who try Dota 2 will also check out their digital platform: Steam, creating an indirect returning customer on one level or another. For Riot Games, the progression system consistently rewards players with earnings (and daily bonuses) and rotating champions to have people returning at least periodically. With Heroes of the Storm, the trust splits in two directions where the concept and goals are incredibly simple to grasp yet they fence off content both to mirror Riot’s ability to creating a sustained player base and to egg people towards purchases, large or small. So while Blizzard’s MOBA achieves step 1, it exaggerates step 2 to the point of backfiring. Let’s take a look at some examples of where disadvantages are made clear and diversity of gameplay is removed to emphasize progression and invitation to invest time:

  • Limited Hero Pool: Newcomers will only have access up to 5 heroes out of 28 (with more to come). This free rotation of heroes is expanded as you play more and experience towards higher account levels (8 and 10).
  • Limited Talents: Talents offer unique ways to customize your hero as there is no currency or items in the game. However, 50% of your talents are blocked until you improve each individual heroes’ level (by playing more games with the hero) to hero level 3 and 4 (“advanced talents” and “expert talents”).
  • Limited Artifacts: Artifacts improves areas of your hero such as mana, life and movement speed. Artifacts, like Talents, are not unlocked until even further in the game (account level 15) which grants you the right to use Artifacts, but not the ability to do so. Artifacts have 10 levels each that have to be purchased individually furthering disadvantaging users over another.

Heroes of the Storm locking Heroes of the Storm is gated in many areas, inviting players into investing more time in the game to unlock features and advantages such as Artifacts (similar to the rune system from League of Legends), Talents for each individual hero and gold to purchase more heroes and each artifact level (up to 10 with the price incrementally rising per level).

Heroes of the Storm goes overboard on player progression and removes curiosity of the game, its heroes and customization opting more towards a ‘commit or move on’ situation. While it is important to note that Heroes of the Storm is still in technical alpha, their direction in inviting players to invest their time (and money) is becoming questionable or perhaps even self-destructive.

The concept of inviting players to invest is something all free-to-play games are trying to balance. How does a company keep the playing field fair and yet get a direct or even indirect return on their sizable player base? Accessibility is fast becoming the commodity in many games and MOBAs are no exception. In a recent Steam Dev. Days event, Kyle Davis from Valve Software gave a talk about in-game economies, player experiences and negative externalities.

Valve’s Kyle Davis gives a talk about creating further value in purchasable goods that both enhance the enjoyment of everyone who plays with someone who purchases content and avoiding negative externalities where everyone’s experience is dampened by the person who purchases an advantage of sorts.

In short, it is important to invite players into wanting to invest their time into playing your game through forms of accessibilities. Accessibilities include robust tutorials that contain the major details to the game, a fair diversity of characters/modes and the positive externality of purchasable content. Positive externality meaning that they do not hinder a player’s enjoyment but enhance others when purchasing goods. DLC is in a similar vein where players should feel that the DLC is an addition and enhancement to the game over a missing part of what would be otherwise a complete story or gameplay. Cosmetics such as skins are only considered once the player has dedicated enough time into a particular character they like. New maps and modes are only considered once the player has invested enough time into the game’s core mechanics to feel he or she can take advantage of it.

Both Dota 2 and Valve’s other product: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have hit a fine line of garnering interest in both playing their game and enhancing the experience of everyone when purchasing goods. For Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, if one of your members in your party has purchased an Operation token (access pass to more content), they gain access to a variety of new features (achievements/missions, cosmetics) as well as new maps that all players in their party have access to (so long as they play with them). Similarly, in Dota 2, players have access to new HUD cosmetics and voice packs if someone on their team has purchased (or earned) it. These small touches give a positive outlook and don’t make customers feel forced to purchase in order to have a little diversity in aesthetics or more maps/modes. Even if a customer never purchases anything from the product they are playing, it keeps them playing without feeling any advantages were withheld. So although potential revenue may be immediately unearned, long-term customers are kept and can be capitalized on in the future (directly or indirectly).

Each company faces a monumental task when it comes to their MOBA and new subsequent games also faces that same monumental task of finding accessibilities that draw new users in and then methodologies to maintain that user base to ultimately capitalize on a small portion of it.

To summarize:

  • Ensure avenues of accessibility are fair and accommodating for players of all levels (tutorials, progression systems, diverse game modes)
  • Said avenues of accessibilities are commodities that need to invite players to invest their two currencies: time and, further on, money.
  • Trust your audience in which you don’t restrict accessibilities when you can provide further options for them to consider.
  • Long-term non-purchasing player bases can be capitalized on later, but disgruntled short-term buyers are difficult to bring back.

These points are a direction that products, especially in the MOBA genre, need to establish and assure customers from the get-go. The balance of making sure it doesn’t fence content from everyone else or hinder their experience should one player purchase goods is another responsibility on the company’s behind these popular games. It’s practically the norm that MOBAs are initially free-to-play but additional costs can make or break the player base in more ways than one.

Review: Free to Play: Documentary – Valve’s Magnifier on eSports

Free to Play

Today, Valve’s highly-anticipated documentary, Free to Play has been released. Free to Play’s platform and subject is Valve’s own free-to-play game: Dota 2 and while the main content has some focus around the competitive game, the beauty of this documentary is how representative it is for all eSports whether StarCraft or any other eSport. The three main protagonists, Benedict ‘Hyhy‘ Lim Han Yong, Danylo ‘Dendi‘ Ishutin and Clinton ‘Fear‘ Loomis symbolize the question of choosing what life expects from you; what is the safest route, and following through on your passion, the chase to be the best in something – in Dota 2. Free to Play uses Dota 2 as a platform to introduce these three players and expose its audience the adversities we all face.

Though it is unfortunate that in many areas, this documentary is dated both in how far Dota 2 has come along as well as how much the scene as a whole has grown, it is something that all documentaries will suffer on gaming-related subcultures; especially eSports when everything moves so fast. The timeline of this documentary is set throughout Valve’s first major tournament: The International 2011 where Na’Vi claims first and EHOME ends second. They transition between in-game footage and Source Filmmaker-created content to alleviate the outdated graphics and further inject excitement in the matches for those unfamiliar with the game.

However, on the other hand, Valve plays strongly on its consistency in emotion, story-telling and pacing. They shrug off the small fact that it is outdated and push forward with its exposé of the three main pro-gamers: Singaporean player, Hyhy, Ukrainian Na’Vi competitor, Dendi, and American Evil Geniuses star, Fear. In short, Free to Play has some dated parts, but the stories, emotions and prevalent problems are timeless and culturally contextual.

Free to Play sits on a unique fence of being an easy-to-understand overview of what makes eSports so compelling and so risky as a career for newcomers to the electronic sphere but also intriguing and curious on the inside lives of the players on an individual level and on a cultural level between Eastern Europe, China and North America.

The Free to Play documentary highlights what most of us already involved know, on any level; that eSports is a transitional valued competition. That older generations value what they know; education, sports, music; skills that can be displayed, used or even marketable in the real world. eSports embodies sports through its players, their dedication, determination and passion. The sacrifices these players make, to convince or ignore those who did not initially support them is what we can all resonate with and further shows how much of a leap this transitional generation we are in. A generation where technology captures the timeless essence of our desire to thrive, compete and become the best.

All in all, Free to Play does not break new grounds for most of us, but helps set a presentable front a relatable front for those new to eSports and curious of looking deeper in this new body of subcultural water known as competitive gaming.

You can watch the full documentary on and/or via the Steam Client!

Feature on GLHF Magazine: Getting the Formula Right


Click the header image to take a look at GLHF Magazine.

In a special edition of Armchair Athleticism, we’ve been asked to write a piece for GLHF Magazine where we introduce the nuances and differences of eSports competitive infrastructures and goals set by the publishers (mainly: Blizzard Entertainment, Riot Games and Valve).

We will also take a gander at the incorporation of publisher involvement in their respective scenes as well as the obligations expected from each perspective audience already involved (players, fans and established tournament organizers).

Below is an extract of the insight you can find within the article. Click the image above to jump right into the issue.

With the reality of publishers’ now getting involved in eSports; fitting in their view alongside those who have been following eSports for years and actively growing it, can be a difficult project. On the one hand, publishers’ want to ensure the longevity of their game through keeping eSports alive, as it is an emblem of new generation values and the long-standing human nature of competition. On the other hand, event organizations have been surviving on their own alongside teams and players for quite some time now. While a publishers’ blessing can help advertising and marketing for these event organizers’, their demands can sometimes be detrimental to overall business interest or severely limiting in terms of actual growth in that specific eSports title. As time moves forward, it would not be a surprise to see companies be more hands-on with their games and the direction of the eSports sector, but will it be for the better? While we have three clearly distinct forms of growing eSports, neither one nor the other can be truly crowned as ideal for every party involved. Is it better to just put everything in the hands of game publishers like Riot Games, dropping  a ceiling on companies like Turtle Entertainment, Major League Gaming and OnGameNet who have been doing tournaments for years and practically created a sustaining business model. Or should it be more of an open-market like with Dota 2, a sphere everyone can get involved, though it is a dog-eat-dog world where budget and experience trumps out those looking to start from scratch. eSports is a new venture and yet one ideal world or the other also means doors of opportunities close and so do the interest of certain ambitious individuals. In the grand scheme of things, those truly affected by these different models are the fans and the teams/organizations who must play by the rules of the groups that provides them with the prize-money and the stage to compete and entertain […]