As the collective hoopla surrounding The International winds down and players return to their own games of DOTA 2, wondering how close they too could get to that $10 million dollar vindication of their chosen hobby, I similarly wonder about the current state of e-sports and just how much it changes. The pageantry of Valve’s tournament is nothing to scoff at, but it is certainly surprising given how only one year has gone by for DOTA 2 to establish itself as an entrenched competitive game.
It wasn’t so long ago that the e-sports scene was so heavily focused on that other monster of the RTS genre, Starcraft 2. Even the vaunted pros of Korea were leaving its beloved predecessor to join the new club on the street; it was a true international affair. Now, it seems the excitement behind Blizzard’s game has waned, in favor of yet another new kid in town. And I wonder, what does the life cycle of an e-sport look like?
The traditional sports of the world are not ancient, but they have been around for a long time. Basketball was thriving the 1920s, nearly a hundred years ago. American football is older than that and, if the Superbowl is any indication, is still going strong. By comparison, the e-sports scene is so very, very young. And yet, despite its only recent introduction, the scene has arguably undergone many more changes.
Now, all sports have changed and adjusted over the years; anyone can tell you how much the introduction of the shot clock had over a single game on the basketball court. And the games in the electronic scene are no different, though the fast-pace world of instant connectivity and feedback have sped up the process of reiteration and patching. But even taking these changes into account, the electronic games scene still seems so much more fluid and uncertain, simply due to all the different games it employs.
Ten years ago, the dominant game in competitions was Starcraft: Brood War, but compare it to its own sequel: the original is much more hectic, more uncertain, more a game of players frantically spreading their influence over the map than establishing a power base and building large congregations of their troops. The strategies of Brood War are based around how you control your units; the strategies of Starcraft II are based around building the right type of units. Despite using the same mechanics of base-building and unit control, the two games are vastly different experiences and demand a different focus from their players.
Now, imagine what a Starcraft III would look like. How much would change, and how much would be retained? Does the game resemble what we have today? And finally – when does Starcraft III get released?
The focus of the pro gaming scene depends on what games are current. When hardware capabilities and requirements have gone through the next ten years of iteration, the old games of DOTA 2 and its ilk will be replaced by the new guard. Reliable old Brood War may have enjoyed a lengthy lifespan, but it still pales in comparison to the traditional games shown on ESPN.
If we are to consider pro gaming a sport, it is so unlike the sports we have come to know. If the popular games of field and court are defined by their rules and structure, the games of the digital realm are defined by the skill set of their players, and not by any particular game.