The EVE community is no stranger to competition and team battle. Since 2006, the Alliance Tournament has been greeted by much anticipation and fanfare. The tournament is a round-robin event where participants fight to the death for in-game riches and bragging rights. It is a web-televised event and has become quite the celebrated spectacle. The Tenth Alliance Tournament took place during the summer of 2012 and featured live broadcasts from CCP's headquarters in Iceland with commentary by well known in-game leaders and fleet commanders from various alliances. The commercials that were broadcast during the live event were usually made by players or corporations to promote their own agendas. The Alliance Tournament is a great representation of the community's spirit.
CCP is now heading for new horizons and is taking on competitive gaming by holding the first cash prize tournament (opened this past weekend) called the New Eden Open. Though it shares many similarities with the Alliance Tournament format, the New Eden Open is different - and not just because of the cash prize - but because of its format. Gone is the limitation of being in the same alliance; now anyone can team up regardless of affiliation. In this tournament, your reputation as a skilled pilot becomes even more important than the alliance you represent.
Competitive gaming can be a lucrative business. Some games are designed for the sole purpose of it and thrive, others try their hand at e-Sports but fail, only to die off in obscurity. Should a game become successful in e-Sports it can almost guarantee to be a good financial investment for the developers and sponsors of the game, and money is what makes the world go 'round. This article will make an attempt to analyze and predict the success of EVE as a viable platform for e-Sports success.
What's In a Game?
If we take a look at competitive gaming in recent history, we may find the keynote to what will make a game successful in e-Sports. Given that EVE is a computer game, we will focus solely on other e-Sports computer games to keep the analysis as accurate as possible. Examples that come to mind immediately are Counter-Strike and StarCraft. These two games are perhaps the best examples of successful competitive gaming. Going so far as to say that they may even be the pioneers that made competitive gaming what it is today, would not be an understatement. If we take a look at these two games and search for their core principles we can discover some common elements in their gameplay, each of which is of equal importance.
- The gameplay revolves around the players' inherent or practiced ability to master the game.
- The gameplay and elements that are at the disposal of the player are as balanced as possible.
- There is money involved.
These three basic principles may not be the ONLY requirements but StarCraft and Counter-Strike are completely different games and yet they share these same qualities. One may logically deduce that if a game has these qualities they could be successful in e-Sports, as StarCraft and Counter-Strike were. Now that these three elements have been defined, it is time to take a look at each one of them and determine their applicability to EVE.
It's About The Player, Not The Equipment
With all sports today, what matters is the athlete. Sure, fancy equipment may help push an athlete to his peak performance but it is not the deciding factor when measuring ability. In the case of video games, the want for peak performance created a market for products such as gaming mousepads, keyboards, headphones, and the like. But when push comes to shove, athletes still need to have the skills in order to perform. Gamers need to be fast, accurate, cunning, efficient and adaptable. They need to be able to plan strategies and no amount of fancy mousepads can override whether or not the gamer is 'good'. That is what makes games like StarCraft and Counter-Strike so attractive for e-Sports and competitive gaming. These games are unforgiving when a player is not good enough. StarCraft players could either build and control many units efficiently, or they had the best accuracy and twitch reflexes for a head shot in a game of Counter-Strike. The same things goes for well-known sports: Michael Jordan was not good at basketball because he wore good shoes, he was good because he was good.
In EVE Online, however, this does not seem to apply. EVE does not ask its players to hone their accuracy, nor does it ask for any spectacular agility because of the game mechanics. These mechanics use time instead of skill. The skills are passively trained over time and deliver a fixed outcome when the skill training is complete. Time itself entitles players to a better character. Make no mistake, when pitting a brand new character versus a veteran character in an equal scenario (e.g. same ship, same weapons, same advantage, same skills learned) the veteran character, who has more skills trained, will win every time. He will win every time because mathematically he should, and because of these mechanics, it is the game that decides the outcome of the fight. That extra 2% damage output, or the increase in optimal range, better tracking, or better shield and armor resistances all get compiled into the equation that delivers the winner. In this case, every little bit REALLY counts. Unfortunately, the ultimate decision belongs to the computer, thus negating the need for any skilled player at the helm.
Game balance is essential as it plays directly into the abilities of the gamer and it determines the overall fairness of a game. Game balance can in other words be called the 'equal opportunity' of video games. In the case of StarCraft, each unit was designed for a specific role and the attributes of the unit were adjusted accordingly. No one race was objectively the 'best' race to use, as Terrans, Zerg, and Protoss were well-balanced. It was a 'tit-for-tat' kind of gameplay. Counter-Strike had many guns, but every gun had its strengths and weaknesses. Smaller guns had lower recoil but less power, larger guns hit harder but could be unwieldy. The player style and situation usually determined the best gun. Players were also rewarded for their skills. In StarCraft, those who were industrious and expanded quickly earned the most spoils in riches. In Counter-Strike, those who killed the most players earned the most money (and thus, more equipment to kill people). This system was fair because the game itself was based around the skill of the player, and the player was given the most equal of opportunities possible to prove that skill. Skill was rewarded appropriately.
EVE is struggling in this category. Even though CCP is making great headway in tackling the problem of unbalanced gameplay, they have not yet mastered it. Ships, weapon systems, modules, methods of defense and offense are all still very much unbalanced. There are very clear, nearly objective choices that can be made as to what ships to use and how to fit them in combat, and the amount of choices that can be made are very, very slim with current content. The game was designed by CCP with the conception that each ship was designed to fight in a 'canon' storyline. CCP designed the Caldari to fight the Gallente, the Amarr to fight the Minmatar and thus each ship is designed around the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing faction's ships. But the game is not played this way. Rarely will one see only one racial ship type in a fleet; they are almost always mixed with at least one other racial type if not more. This is even more so on a small fleet scale. These issues are the biggest red flag in ship balancing, as the design of one ship may unintentionally be an absolutely dominating force over all other ships solely because of an oversight in how the weapons and defenses used will perform when interacting with 'unintended' or 'non-canonical' opponents. Until CCP finds a way to overcome this, some ship, defense, or weapon types will always outperform in all scenarios.
Show Me The Money
As stated before, money makes the world go 'round. “Where there's money, they will come!” should be the adage. Gamers who 'go pro' do so because they want to make money by playing video games. Sponsors who enter the e-Sports business want to sell their products to more people. Spectators watch e-Sports because they are entertained watching their favorite teams and players. Spectators buy sponsors' products, sponsors get returns on their investment and keep providing the prize money, which in turn attracts more pro gamers to enter the scene. All of this revolves around money. Even bad games that have a lot of money thrown at them will have some level of success because people want to win that money. Games like Painkiller had a stint of success - despite being a poorly received game - due to the tournament prizes and high profile players like Fatal1ty that entered it. As long as someone is willing to throw money around there will be people thrashing about trying to grab every last dollar.
This is clearly what EVE does have. The New Eden Open is a $10,000 tournament. That amount of money buys a lot of pizza rolls, soda, and a good computer to play games with. It attracts people to the tournament. Ultimately, It does not matter that EVE in some aspects is a broken game, because real money, and not in-game currency, not some special ship that only means something to a handful of people, is on the line. People like money.
Will It Work?
EVE is not the first MMO to attempt a foray into the competitive e-Sports world. World of Warcraft has also done this, and it has been met with great appreciation in the Major League Gaming circuit. The question is not whether this gaming medium can work in competitive sports, but the MMO genre of games is not usually designed with competitive gaming in mind unlike FPS or RTS games. What remains to be seen is whether CCP can keep this kind of tournament up. If they can attract new subscribers with the New Eden Open, enough subscribers to balance out the expenses that went into creating the tournament, then it might work. And that is what CCP is going for here: more publicity and subscribers. If players show up en-mass and sponsors can make a profit, that is all that matters. CCP has made a good move by entering the e-Sports world with money as its main focus and that will be the most important factor should this project prove to be successful.