Friday 7 March 2014

eveSports part 2: Is it actually a good idea?

In the previous post I highlighted what I felt were the key areas that needed work in order to make EVE into a suitable game for eSports. However, that post focused mainly on the mechanics and features that would need to be implemented such as custom arenas and an overall improved spectator experience*. What I want to talk about now is the consequences that turning the game into an eSport could have.

One of the most obvious problems is that it would require development time. I imagine that a lot of the features I described in the previous post would take a lot of work to implement. EVE has had its ups and downs over the course of its development and not all expansions have been equally well received. The player base in EVE puts great pressure on CCP and every small change, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is heavily scrutinized.  Incarna is one of the most memorable examples of player uproar, which literally had players rioting in game at how much they disliked the direction CCP was taking the game. Going the competitive eSports route would be a very significant change with the potential to alienate a large portion of the player base who have no interest in competitive gaming. This would especially be the case if it meant that their areas of gameplay were neglected in favor of developing the game into an eSport.

The second problem it would have is the effect on other areas of the game. Though this could manifest in many ways depending on the system implemented. The obvious one to me is the effect on ship balance. For the game to be truly competitive, balance would have to be tweaked to keep certain fleet compositions from becoming overpowered. The problem is that arena style play, such as in the Alliance Tournament (AT), uses different ship fittings and fleet compositions to those found in the regular sandbox. If balance changes were made with tournament style play in mind it could be detrimental to the game as a whole. I think the current ship balance is actually fairly good and it seems like a range of compositions get fielded in the current tournament formats. However, it is definitely something to take into consideration moving forwards. It is also tricky to predict what other areas of the sandbox would be affected. For example, what if the implementation resulted in players not having to pay for ships? How would the economy be affected? I think it is fair to assume that any ships or ISK given to players in the arena would not be allowed back into the sandbox. However, could this cause more players to engage in PvP in these private arenas at no ISK cost, rather than out in the sandbox, resulting in less content for regular PvP players?

Another issue is how it would fit into the lore of the game. I think EVE is an innately immerse game. I'd go so far as to say that all EVE players are role players, whether they mean to be or not. Politics and wars between alliances essentially add to the history and lore of the game. I think this immersion into the EVE universe is part of what makes it such an amazing game.Would an arena system be immersion breaking?Probably. For a true eSports experience I don't think it is practical to try and "force" the immersion by linking the arena system to some sort of sensible lore mechanic. I have heard many examples of how to implement an arena for regular AT style combat into the game. Just to pick one example, players have mentioned the use of dead space pockets and gates that only let the designated teams through. While a good idea, and a feature I think would add to the game in general, it isn't a great solution. You are taking the current brick wall barrier to entry and replacing it with a hurdle. The best eSports titles get you into the action seamlessly without having to faff around. My personal idea would be to have an extra service button in stations leading to a "VR simulation" of some sort. This would connect throughout every station. This "simulation" would then lead to a typical game browser as seen in other games. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. The point is to make the process of setting up a match as quick and painless as possible. Of course, this has the problem of players not getting out in space again. If too many players were jumping into the "VR mode" to get quick fights, it could cause real content droughts in other areas of the game. Not ideal.

Also problematic is the effect it could have on AT and New Eden Open formats. Part of what makes these tournaments so interesting is that they actually happen within the EVE universe with real assets being put on the line. It has a tangible effect on the sandbox and becomes part of the lore and history of the game. It requires a real effort to field an effective team and epitomizes EVE as a whole. It comes back to immersion. For example, Pandemic Legion recently took a major financial hit in the battle of B-R. They had to factor in the financial cost of the upcoming AT when considering their retreat and recovery as an alliance. If the AT were to occur outside of the sandbox then it could have impacted that decision process. The other element to this is the meta gaming that occurs in the AT. Teams have to to go great lengths to keep their compositions and fitting secret from other teams. It is a legit tactic and common for teams to spy on each other and try and hard counter each other. It wouldn't surprise me if teams also lay out bait for known spies and turn the tables in the tournaments. This adds to the atmosphere and narrative of the tournaments, adding extra depth, which wouldn't be as common if private arenas existed.

The final issue is the sort of player base it might attract to the game. Any League of Legend's player can attest to the toxic environment that highly competitive gaming can result in. The anonymity of the internet is a powerful thing. The current EVE community is by no means perfect. However, I'd like to think it has a certain amount of maturity to it. Easing the barrier of entry would undoubtedly lead to a flood of YOLOSW4G360NOSCOPE type gamers into the community. Is that really good for the health of the game as a whole?

Overall, I'm not sure how EVE could truly be developed into a fully featured eSport title without causing harm to the sandbox as a whole. I'm pro eSports in general, I just don't feel that trying to drive EVE as an eSport and attempting to emulate other successful titles would be beneficial for the game. I think that more could be done to empower players to be able to host their own tournament in the Alliance Tournament format. However, I think it has to occur within the sandbox and fit within the lore of the game. Unfortunately I think developing the game into an eSport is directly contradictory to the immersive nature of the game.

* On a recent podcast my attention was drawn to the Null-Sec website. They have a 3D match viewer which allows you to watch replays of the matches from NEOII. It is a great interface and exactly the sort of thing I was thinking about in the previous post.

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