Esports Week 4: Studying SMART!

Prompt: After reading “Psychological Skills Training Manual for eSports Athletes” speak to the importance of goal setting highlighted in the article and how to set SMART Goals in an esports team. If you were the coach of an esports team, how would you implement a goal strategy for your team, how would you adjust the goals if your team didn’t meet them? How important is self-talk to a team and how can you control the narrative of that talk as a coach or a GM? (200-750 words). Post this summary in SMWW e-Arena in the Week Four Discussion Board by Friday. Have some fun with the discussion of this week’s theme. 

While the importance of goal-setting is obvious to almost anyone who’s attempted to improve at a video game, I’d never realized until the article highlighted it that I often fell into the trap of “plateauing” after mastering whatever skill I was training myself in. When OVerwatch first came out, I set out to become the greatest Lucio I could. I mastered Boops, then wall-riding, then bunnyhopping, and I succeeded at becoming a high-level Lucio! But then I stopped, and merely basked in the high-speed glory of Lucio rather than deepening my hero pool. I went through something similar with Moira, and later Zenyatta, but in each case I took a massive hiatus in the middle to simply enjoy my new proficiency in what I’d already learned. I can imagine this disparity becomes even more pronounced in professional play, when players are (a) hired to play a specific role they already master, and (b) usually at a high-enough level that they can stomp ladder as any hero they like without practice or training. In this manner, coaches are extremely useful for keeping the big picture in mind and providing accountability for each player.

If I were an esports coach, I would definitely follow the article’s advice about keeping goals number-oriented. Don’t say “Your goal is to heal better as Moira” say “I think you’re using too many damage-orbs instead of healing. Let’s firstly try to increase your orb-healing average by 500, and see what needs work after that.” If a player was still struggling,
I’d dial it back even further. “Unbind damage orb, and let’s play some rounds that force you to use heal orbs, so you can learn how they’re used.”

The other thing I’d focus on is creating goals that have clear courses of action to accomplish; I’ve used this in other facets of life to great success; don’t make the goal ‘try to lose weight’ (an abstract goal), instead use ‘quit soda and cut down on sweets’ (a solid goal with clear action.)

Coming in with this strategy, it was nice to see SMART is simply an extenuation of that philosophy; by making your goal Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely, you ensure that it’s bite-sized and simply a step in a much larger bridge to success. The “Timely” bit is the biggest addition to me; esports are such a fast-moving industry that there often isn’t time to spend too long on a single hole in your playbook.

On that note, I’ve always wondered if esports’ reliance on meta will eventually become a problem down the line. Most of the major esports (LoL, Fortnite, Overwatch) are constantly redefining their meta through creating new characters, reworking old content, and hundreds of weekly balance patches. I’ve noticed that all three of these esports suffer from players growing bored unless injections of new content arise to mix things up. This is certainly not a problem with regular sports (Football, chess, baseball, and hockey haven’t had any notable rule changes for generations) and could hurt the longevity of their scenes if the developers either (a) stop delivering new content or (b) deliver new content that pisses everyone off and hurts the game’s reputation. CS:GO is the only esport I consider immune to this, as the gameplay is so simple that the community actively rejects new content (when’s the last time you saw the new revolver or MP5 in professional play?) and seems perfectly happy to witness the same unaltered gameplay loop endlessly.

OWL is suffering from this meta-dependency very hard right now, since the current meta leaves DPS player completely on the sidelines in favor of 3 tank-3 healer comps. DPS players entered the league with very specific skillsets in mind, and it’s disheartening for them (and their fans) to see them perma-benched simply because the meta doesn’t favor them. Repeated instances of this may lead teams to prioritize versatile flex players over specialists, which I fear could lead to less engaging gameplay since the actual best players in each category will lose draft picks over generalists.

Speaking of happiness, the bite-sized goals are also great for motivation; it’s really exciting to accomplish a bunch of little easy things, and they usually add up to the same big gains over time. That’s the main way I’d use mini-goals to set the narrative; when a player feels demotivated, show them all the little goals they’ve accomplished, and remind them of the things they’ve mastered that were undoable when they started out.

Esports Week 3: Modern kids don’t capitalize the ‘s’

Prompt: Based on your favorite game/team, identify the coaching and technical strategies used. List why the work and do not work and how they can be improved. If you were to  have control of the roster, pick three players that you would replace and identify who their replacements would be and why. Identify and research an issue in the assigned reading and in your independent reading. Feel free to consult and explore a wide variety of resources! , (200-750 words). Post this summary in SMWW e-Arena in the Week Three Discussion Board by Friday. Have some fun with the discussion of this week’s theme.

I tried to start this assignment three times last week, and each time I gave up due to being unable to mentally glean any insight into the coaching strategies of any esport replays I watched, so like Kevin I fully accept a 0 for this one. Part of the problem was that none of my favorite esport teams (Hangzhou Spark, Houston Outlaws, SF Shock) had any articles, videos, or peripheral media to research and discover insight into their coaching styles. My shoutcasting background gives me plenty of experience analyzing players on the field, but I don’t really know how to draw from that to extrapolate about how the coaches set their teams up for success.

Right now the Overwatch League meta is something called “GOATS”. In a nutshell, both teams play 3 tanks and 3 healers for a very hard-to-kill deathball that builds ults rapidly until both teams smash against each other looking for a single frag to tip the balance in their favor. There are a few heroes that can swap places for specific situations (Wrecking Ball and Winston switch places depending on how vertical the objective area is, Ana sometimes replaces Zenyatta when the sightlines are out of his typical orb range) but in general there is very little variation in the GOATS meta, and every team is using it in every single map, offense and defense.

I admit I also couldn’t really find a way to link several chapters to this week’s topic. Chapter 2 largely discusses what separates professionals from simply very good players, and chapter 5 analyzed the psychological aspects of motivation in an esport setting. Chapter 12 discussed the qualities of a good leader, and while that is relevant, the chapter was a mere 4.5 pages long and didn’t progress beyond surface-level description of leaderly qualities, all of which I’m sure the head coaches of OWL teams possess. Chapter 3 seemed the most relevant to comparing and contrasting coaching, by discussing various focuses teams can prioritize when designing their playbooks. Here, each of my three favorite teams tend to prioritize different strategies:

The Houston Outlaws (Jake’s Junkrat notwithstanding) usually play on meta and attempt to defeat their opponent through lack of mistakes. Their interviews usually focus on this with support player Bani saying “We’re just trying to play good Overwatch” and Head Coach TaiRong spending his interview discussing how he prioritizes analyzing the opponent when preparing strats, considering I’m pretty sure every team does that.

The Hangzhou Spark are far more willing to try crazy comps and surprise the enemy with daring hero choices. (The nanoboosted Reaper with Death Blossom during their very first match with Shanghai being a famous establishing moment). This even ties in with their unusual blue-and-pink marketing, which the General Manager mentions in this interview was designed to showcase how Spark doesn’t plan to play like any other team in the league. Playing maverick comps forces other teams to specifically prepare for Hangzhou, which lets Hangzhou set the tempo for fights. This largely sync with the “Dragon Under the Ice” mental strategy.

Finally, the San Francisco Shock seem to be most willing to directly attack their enemies’ weaknesses and change up their comp specifically to deal with holes in their opponents’ playstyles. In the recent Playoff Grand Finals against Vancouver, main tank Super played far more aggressively than he normally does, which made life very difficult for the Titans’ Reinhardt Bumper who was used to fighting defensive Reinhardts. Moth, the team’s Lucio, knows that the Titan supports tended to focus on healing Bumper so he played very aggressively to boop them out of position and give his team chances to punish Bumper. These choices freed up so much space for the Shock and helped them come closer than any other team to beating the Titans.

Of the three teams, Shock is far and away the most successful; Houston and Hangzhou are mid-low teams at best. Personally, I think Houston’s main problem is their inflexibility; when the other team clearly has their number, they have no Plan B or Plan C to fall back upon. Hangzhou’s weaknesses are mostly meta-based; in the GOATS meta, it’s rather easy for the other team to defeat them through sheer mechanical ability if a single crack appears in the Spark’s defenses. I suspect that Hangzhou will become much better if GOATS ever falls out of favor. Shock, in contrast, was a middling team in Season 1 that found new wings when they lured Boston Uprising’s head coach Crusty over to their side. Crusty had just led Boston to great heights (leading the team during the only lossless stage of any team in Season 1) and I suspect his very data-oriented philosophy is what helps any team he leads to success.

For the final question (teammates to replace), I’ll focus just on Houston, since they’re the weakest of the three teams. Honestly, it breaks my heart but my two favorite players (Jake and Linkzr) are far and away the weakest links. The problem is that they main DPS in a meta that doesn’t use DPS players, and there are other DPS players that are better at GOATS heroes. It would shatter the PR to remove Jake, the face of the team, but perhaps that might allow the Outlaws to stop digging their heels in the ground and refusing to properly adapt to the current meta. And #3 would be Arhan since he’s (a) also a DPS flex, and (b) has never seemed any better than Jake to me. I’d replace them with Contenders players who have proven to be better at flexing, specifically Mangachu (for his diverse hero pool), Signed (for consistently offclassing Zarya successfully), and Onigod for the insane positional mindgames he can consistently pull off.

eSports Week 2: Mirrored Maps Madness

Prompt: With the understanding of how to create and run a tournament, create a 16-team bracket, and generate a random result and share those results. Describe how teams qualify, venue location, timing, staff needs, team needs, marketing, activation, sponsorship, ect. Argue for why your tournament would be successful and identify the biggest challenges for its creation. Evaluate the fan engagement of a major tournament and how they keep their fans happy and engaged. Identify and research an issue in the assigned reading and in your independent reading.

Link to tournament!

So I actually took the inspiration for this tournament from one I ran back when I was a community leader in the Team Fortress 2 Steam Forums. It was one of our most successful tournaments for a couple reasons: The spectators tuned in to see the mind-bending maps that were so similar yet so wrong, and the players took advantage of the plausible deniability of playing maps that were designed to be confusing, resulting in crazy frags and gutsy plays. It felt like an eSports version of Fischer Chess.

Team qualification would be a real problem, I’m not sure how we would handle this since nobody’s going to have prior histories on the chosen maps. (Back in the day this issue wasn’t applicable because we created the teams using whoever showed up to play).

I’ve noticed that professional tournaments love using data to generate fan engagement and interest. They use data to create storylines for specific players and teams, and to backup their predictions on what will happen next. I think one reason data is so successful for creating this user interest is that it makes the listener feel smart just by watching. When I watch CS:GO, a game I love but I’m not particularly good at, I’m partially studying the pros to see how I can improve, and when the casters point out some data trend and then tie it into the current meta, I feel like I just got better at the game by learning that.

I found the problems discussed in chapter 6 of Good Luck Have Fun very interesting to read, because I absolutely agree that eSports is suffering from its intrinsic link with internet culture and the problems therein. It’s sobering to remember that eSports is currently struggling to become a place where women and under-represented groups can feel comfortable participating as players or spectators, due in large part to the sheer difficulty in moderating the seething masses of young male internet fans participating at all times. I’m reminded of an article I wrote after ESL Cologne 2016, where I discussed Twitch chat and its meme-laden immaturity. I wrote that it was crass but ultimately harmless, and contributed positively to the experience by showing the viewer they were part of an active and interested community. Scarcely had my article been published that another writer, a young woman named Medic, wrote a rebuttal asserting that Twitch chat was not, in fact, harmless. In many ways (especially the way it reacted whenever a woman appeared on screen), Twitch chat was actively discouraging her from investing in the community because it was telling her that women were neither welcome nor expected to be interested anyway. As I’ve developed tournaments and created promotional content since then, I’ve tried to always remember what Medic’s article taught me, that I must be vigilant in noticing when an environment is fostering negative experiences even if I’m not one of the ones being targeted.

eSports Week 1: Three Potential Twitch Competitors

Can’t wait to see if the prof actually approves that third one as a focus of study

Prompt: Identify three gaming infrastructures (i.e. graphics, streaming services, game development, etc) and report how they will affect change and describe their impact. Give a projection for how you think the esports industry will look like in 5 years. Additionally, give an overview of most popular games in each game category and what has lead to their popularity, (200-700 words). Post this summary in SMWW e-Arena in the Week One Discussion Board by Friday. Have some fun with the discussion of this week’s theme.

I predict rapid alterations in what platforms are the leading voices in eSports. Twitch has been the leading platform for the last five years, since Twitch Plays Pokemon brought them into the public focus, but I’ve noticed that when it comes to online trends, there’s always an “early adapter” who falls out of focus as soon as things hit mainstream. It happened when Discord replaced Mumble/Skype, it happened when Facebook replaced MySpace, and it happened when Google replaced Yahoo. With eSports on the verge of going mainstream, this is Twitch’s moment to seize history, but I want to explore their biggest competitors, the companies I think most likely to possibly seize their crown.

(One supplementary note: I firmly believe that OWL-style professional leagues are the future of eSports, as opposed to CS:GO-style leagues composed of passionate communities and grassroots origins. Traditional sports have shown that centralized, corporate-style orgs are both profitable and popular, and the increased control by a single entity allows unprecedented levels of organization and unity in branding. This is one reason I think Twitch has the potential to be replaced; corporate leagues will have the resources and cohesion to abandon one streaming platform for another if the winds shift.)

While Twitch is currently the leader in eSport-related streaming, I’m personally very interested in YouTube and whether it will be able to nudge its way into Twitch’s domain. Both companies have been steadily increasing their competing services for a while (Twitch now allows permanent video storage via the Highlight feature, and YouTube is aggressively promoting its streaming service) and if YouTube can get their act together I think they have several important selling points that can give them the edge over Twitch, namely brand recognition and ease of video storage in volume. Their biggest downside is their draconic copyright policies that are turning content creators off the platform. This largely turns away any potential eSport communities that aren’t corporate-controlled, like the Overwatch League, but I’ve already mentioned I think OWL-style leagues are the future so YouTube can potentially overcome these issues.

Second, I’d like to explore Mixer, the other major Twitch competitor. Mixer has a couple perks in its court: Microsoft money, crowdplay integration, and Hypezone technology. The second one is the most important; Mixer’s main claim to fame is that it supports HTML plugins that allow the viewing audience to directly involve themselves in the stream. For example, they can vote directly for events to happen in-game, or randomly-selected opt-in viewers can play as characters in supported titles. This offers a level of interactivity that no other streaming platform can offer, and has huge potential for gambling/fantasy circuits. The big question is (a) Does Microsoft have the guts to make themselves the fantasy eSports site of choice and (b) will governments allow them to do so or will they condone the practice as underage gambling, similar to how microtransaction loot boxes have been banned in Belgium.

Third (as silly as this sounds), I want to examine YouPorn, not as a competitor to Twitch but as a peripheral provider who specializes in adult leagues. This largely stems from my belief that OWL-style leagues are the future, and most corporations want to keep a family-friendly appearance since underage gamers are a huge market for eSport-style games. Most of the biggest names in eSports (Blizzard, Riot, Twitch, Valve) insist on keeping things family friendly. YouPorn, in contrast, has sponsored NSFW tournaments and fielded prize-winning professional teams since 2014. With modern eSports unanimously embracing the childsafe experience, a counterpart adult league is an untapped market and YouPorn seems to be the only website attempting to claim it.

I’d go into more detail, but the prompt said to keep our post to under 700 words. If anyone wants further justification or commentary on these three sites of choice, please let me know! I have a lot to say on all three, and hope to be able to do so in future posts.

eSports: Let’s Get Down to Business

I’ve enrolled in an eSports business course! For posterity, part of the class involves creating professional-looking forum posts in the discussion threads, and I’d rather have mine saved somewhere when they inevitably shut the threads down after the source concludes in 6 weeks. Here’s my post for the first week, the introductory phase:

Hi everyone! 

I’ve been a game developer for 7 years now, mostly working in either content creation (quest writing, sprite art, voice acting), content oversight (editing, implementation) or marketing (social media managing, convention attendance, tournament organization). As you maybe can guess, that third category is what brought me here Very Happy 

I got my first experience organizing gaming tournaments recreationally for the Team Fortress 2 Steam Forums, and transferred from TF2 to Overwatch when it was released in 2016. for a few months I shoutcasted Overwatch for a competitive team before I got too busy with obtaining my Master’s degree in Game Design from UC Santa Cruz. While in school, I worked as a marketer for several multiplayer student projects, and I would run Twitch tournaments to promote the titles. 

You can see my full gaming-related portfolio here if you like. It’s great seeing how many of you are from mainstream sports production, since I don’t have any connections in that industry and I’d love to fix that with this course. Recreationally, my favorite eSports to watch are CS:GO and Overwatch, and the Overwatch League in particular I consider the most exciting thing to happen in the history of eSports. It’s crazy to think people are watching it on Disney, ABC, and ESPN! 

Outside of eSports, my hobbies are releasing weekly gaming videos on YouTube and writing articles on the gaming news sites The Daily SPUF and I also have an page where I post my solo game projects. 

Last thing, anyone who wants to connect on LinkedIn, please don’t hesitate to send me an invitation! Just mention in the note that we’re both attending SMWW Smile