This article appeared in it's original format on eSports.ie
transitive verb modified ;, modifying
1.to change or alter; esp., to change slightly or partially in character, form, etc.
2.to limit or reduce slightly; moderate to modify a penalty
Starcraft - A game supported by the developer. Constantly tweaked and developed to this day after ten years of release.
Quake - A game sustained competitively by a mod (CPMA) and externally developed projects such as GTV and maps.
Counter-Strike: A game modification that spawned a massive competitive scene single-handedly and one of the few mods to go retail.
The importance of the 'mod' cannot be understated. It has the potential to inject life, interest and diversity into old and stale games. A 'mod' can make a game what people wanted it to be in the first place or can take it in an entirely new direction (as Counter-Strike did with the Half Life engine and editing tools). For eSports, mods (or continuous developer support as Starcraft illustrates) are incredibly important. In a sense, they are the lifeblood of eSports. Not all games come equipped for a competitive scene but are pushed in that direction anyway by some party such as a tournament organiser, a sponsor, a developer and so on. As a result, it is left up to a dedicated and passionate mod team to develop or refine the platform that exists so that it can take on this new element. It could be argued that mods need more support and focus if eSports is to develop and grow.
There is, and always has been, a power struggle in gaming and eSports. Developers require profits and this is often dependent on finding a successful game and churning out a franchise. The biggest ones hit the shelves every year. However, as games such as Halo 3, Starcraft and Street Fighter have shown us, an eSports scene requires stability. It is only through familiarity, consistency and stability that a sustainable scene can be maintained. As stated in this clip
(5:27), it is by being familiar with a game and its play that you can identify what makes a good player stand out. Unlike in accepted sports, that sense of familiarity is rare within eSports due to its turbulent nature.
'Mods' provide the stability required, as games can be utilised competitively for longer as they evolve over time. The game can be tweaked and developed after release without the need for a complete overhaul or new release. They can provide that platform of stability but this is subject to other conditions which can be analysed at a later point in time. A 'mod squad' or team allows for errors on the part of the developers to be rectified. It allows for the community to provide feedback and it may be taken into account. Capcom themselves, have admitted that Sagat is a touch overpowered
in Street Fighter IV but what can be done? The answer is 'absolutely nothing' until the next edition is released. Until then, many online gamers will have to endure 'Sagat Fighter IV' and endless chants of 'Tiger...!' in their dreams. Most revealing is the fact that a number of people were pleasently surprised that no Sagat player made it to the top 8 of the EVO Championship Series.
The issue is that the team behind the mod do it for the love of the game. Mods by their very nature cannot be sold as they are developed using licensed parts from a game. One of the problems is that eSports hasn't captured the imaginations or public attention as much as hoped. Starcraft does immensely well in Korea and has gained total support from Blizzard as a result. Halo 3 has a strong competitive following in the United States and therefore, Microsoft have been willing to invest in eSports. But what of the others? Those that are behind some of the improvements and modifications are often ignored by the developer. Unfortunately, this means that the talented teams behind the competitive features, mods and developments can run into shortages of time or worse, will burn out. Are many talented mod teams destined to remain 'bedroom coders'? For eSports to grow, we need these passionate people reaping rewards for their efforts so that they can continue to produce work and react quicker to required changes. This is where issues arise. Teams are required to develop and work on these modifications but developers may be unwilling to take them on officially. Extra staff increase the wage bill which eats into profits and there is no proof at the moment that the developer will reap a significant enough return. There are people who are willing to do it for free. After all, this is how it works at the moment. This is not always the case as has been seen when id Software (Quake Live) hired arQon (responsible for CPMA for Quake 3). Perhaps times are changing and that is certainly for the best if true. However, most importantly, modifications which keep people playing older games can obstruct this idealised franchise model that developers have worked to build.
It is time for the eSports scene to take charge. Tournaments need to be able to choose the roster of games rather than bending at the mercy of developers. It is time that certain games receive the backing of the community and the LAN organisers and develop from there. Mod teams become important within a decision as such as they will be the ones responsible for ensuring that things remain in balance, that the game develops over time as new things become possible (spectator and shoutcaster support for example). All we can do for now is plead with developers not to churn out games. The biggest and most sustainable eSport games of recent years have become so big through lack of competition - Starcraft and Warcraft 3 have not seen sequels on the horizon, until now in the case of Starcraft, while Quake 3 and Counter-Strike have been forced to fight off competition...from within their own series. Starcraft did not develop such a following in Korea by releasing sequel after sequel, year after year. Ten years after the original, we are about to see the second in the series. So how can any other game or eSport scene be expected to flourish when subjected to competition from a multitude of sequels. Instead, the original platform has been constantly tweaked over time, new maps have been developed and introduced by leagues every so often in order to keep the action fresh and this has also allowed newcomers to enter the fray and be competitive. Developers may see little or no return from eSports at the moment but the truth is, they are part of the problem.
For the sake of argument, let us take Pro Evolution 6 as an example as it is a popular game and many feel that it is one of the best of the series. It is chosen as an eSports for the future BUT there is a twist. A PROMOD team is hired to develop a competitive mod. Rosters can be updated (although there is another route that could be considered that will be explored in greater detail later on), graphical tweaks can be made but most importantly, the gameplay can be refined over time. For example, within the Pro Evo game (and as a result, the initial PROMOD release), shooting and scoring from four yards out from the right corner flag occurs too frequently. Many feel that this is too blatent a glitch to allow. In step the PROMOD team; job done. The game becomes a better spectacle, people play the game more as their enjoyment is not reduced by such an element missed by the design team (but ultimately found and exploited by some players) and stability is introduced to eSports.
Here I would like to outline a model that could be adopted. Games are licensed and agreed upon for a fixed period of time (for example: five years) for tournament play. In year four of the cycle, there is a review at which point it is determined whether to continue with this game or use a competitor product. This allows professional gamers to plan for their futures, broadcasters can familiarise themselves with a new series if necessary, fans know what to expect and game companies will work towards producing their best. If their product is not picked initially, they have time to produce something that may be deemed worthy. Below are a number of eSports games that could be chosen to be supported for the future. They are popular games the world over, or have the potential to be, and the reason for each choice has been outlined. This list ignores scenes that are in place such as Virtual Racing or the niche games that are still played at a high level (such as Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, QuakeWorld and so on), and is not a definitive guide but can provide some food for thought and debate.
The eSports Games Of The Future:
Pro Evolution Soccer PROMOD:
Pick a version; the pinnacle of the PES series probably being 6. Throw out the real-world roster approach; it's time to move away from Barcelona mirror matches (or Real Madrid for 2009/2010). Instead develop five balanced rosters that suit different playstyles. Some people prefer to ship it down the wings, some prefer a defensive approach while some embrace the Irish tactics of the 90's (route 1 football). Players should be able to find one or two that suit them well (and can counter-act another player) rather than adjusting how they play to suit the game. This allows for individualism and adds an element of playstyle to the game. It also allows for a tactical approach to a game or matchup: Does a player pick their usual team or do they counter-pick what they expect the opponent to pick. A PROMOD also allows for in-built sponsorship. Not only can a company sponsor an event but now the brand can appear on the billboards around the stadium. Simply release a tournament patch for the tournament computers and you're ready to go.
It is modelled on Quake 3 which is identified as the ultimate Deathmatch game. The fact that it is in Beta phase is just as good as a mod team as it allows for constant tweaks and adaptation dependent on feedback. The community is crying out for certain external support such as GTV and maps. GTV is not completely necessary if others continue to provide high quality support in their own streams...but in game is always going to be better quality and allows for spectators to interact with each other if nothing else. The main element that QuakeLive requires is LAN support. As it is focused on multiplayer, it is unlikely to face competition from id Software projects such as Rage or Quake 5 and the Unreal Tournament series has been shelved. Quake Live also features two fantastic competitive modes in the form of 1v1 duel and Capture The Flag. They are the easiest to cover, the easiest to understand and can produce great encounters as seen in QuakeCon 2009.
As Agent Smith would say, "it is inevitable". The gameplay seems solid from the battle reports that have been broadcast so far and the barrier to entry has been made lower. It needs to be modelled on professional Starcraft in how it is supported and tweaked after release. The professional structure is in place, in Korea at least, and this needs to be maintained and developed. One unfortunate piece of news that has been broken is that there will be no LAN support but there is time for that to change. One point to note is that within the professional division, the transition from Brood War to Starcraft 2 needs to be seamless.
Warcraft 3 is another game that has been successful for a number of years and has grown an eSports scene with dedicated fans and structured leagues. It is also a game that is tweaked over time to achieve balance. As an eSport, it is one in which new blood has been able to enter the competitive arena and have a degree of success.
A game (or remember, modification) that helped to start it all. It is backed by some of the biggest teams, tournaments and sponsors. After all this time, it must be doing something right. Broadcasters are now accustomed to the gameplay and know how to cover a match effectively. For the sake of keeping things fresh, a new map could be introduced every now and again. If pushed, a graphical touch up could be used (for fair weather fans!). A modification can also allow for the sponsorship approach as illustrated by the above example of Pro Evolution Soccer. The CGS displayed team jerseys which in competitive play, could be used to display a major sponsor (which increases the brand awareness, ensures that the team can continue to receive support and gives the sponsor more 'bang for their buck').
It's free, popular and typifies what an eSport, or any game for that matter, should be - easy to play but difficult to master. It was originally designed for the Electronic Sports World Cup so has the competitive element in mind. An in-built track and car editor means that it can be kept constantly fresh by the community and any competitive maplist is compiled from custom maps. Some competition tracks could be more spectator or casual friendly with a clear sense of direction as to where the track is and should lead.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2:
This assumes that it can take Call of Duty 4's lead and replicate the competitive environment. Call of Duty 4 was a game that struggled initially to find its footing within eSports but the release of a Promod boosted it into serious contention. The Call of Duty series has been immensely popular on both PC and console systems which would make it a correct choice. A Promod is of utmost importance as CoD4 illustrated. This promod introduced important competitive elements that were missing from the Vanilla game (but some of which may be welcomed in the casual game).
Halo 3 is another game that has captured the public imagination and opened up eSports to non-traditional markets in the United States. As a game, it is popular around the world but hasn't replicated the structure that is in place in the US. The game boasts major backers and is the primary game of the MLG. Dr. Pepper has also launched its biggest sports marketing campaign using a Halo 3 star which indicates its importance as an eSport.
Street Fighter 4:
Street Fighter is a series which has captured the attention and, with the recent release of 4, is in the public eye. Street Fighter 4 was the main attraction at the recent EVO tournament. Street Fighter as a series has been a pillar in competitive communities and almost any gamer has seen the YouTube clip of "That EVO Moment". It is a game that welcomes newcomers, particularly with the skill rated Tournament system. While that is flawed in that people who have never played the game are lumped in with people who just haven't ventured online as yet, the order is quickly restored. A round limit of 99 seconds, which is rarely reached, also limits the amount of pride damage a player must take. Of course, it could use a couple of tweaks but that is what this model is supposed to represent.
Warsow has the potential to be a great eSports game; it is designed for competition and is free. However, in order for it to be a success, the learning curve needs to be flattened (the game needs to be 'noobified' as some would say). As it currently stands, there are a number of different moves that can be pulled off by characters with a combination of buttons (and wall positions) but there are also two types of ammo for any weapon along with all the powerups that duel fans are used to seeing. Warsow could benefit from a skill tier rating like Quake Live has in place so that new players can slowly adapt to the game in a safer environment. The potential is there to become a popular duel game, and a great eSport, but it is currently too intimidating for new players.
There is no denying that modifications are, and will continue to be, important for eSports. It is the continuous after-support that allows for a game to be tweaked to perfection. The model outlined above whereby a game gets a certain period of time as THE competitive game also allows for this 'tweaking to perfection' to actually take place. eSports has the potential at the moment but I believe that it is only through the emergence of mod teams and support of modifications that it will reach its full potential.