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AAA or E-Sports: What Makes a Game

Some of my favorite clients are my video game designers and studios. They have some of the most interesting issues. They have all the same things to deal with that every small business has: Employment questions, incorporation, website usability, safety and compliance. They also all have websites, so they need privacy policies and terms of service. But video games have their own separate issues: Copyrights, shared rights, distribution contracts, royalties, talent contracts, and lots of fun other things. So they tend to have lots of interesting stuff to discuss.


And they work in an interesting industry that can be a lot of fun to keep up with. Just recently there have been news stories about lawsuits involving dynamic difficulty adjustment, in-game microtransactions, and the crossing-point between them. Add that AB-5 classifies voice actors as likely employees and you have a festival of legal issues just waiting for advising. And yet, this isn't the conversation I've been having most frequently most recently.

 

For those of you who aren't steeped in video game culture, e-sports are becoming increasingly popular: they're the category of entertainment where people watch other people play video games competitively.

 

For those of you who aren't steeped in video game culture, e-sports are becoming increasingly popular: they're the category of entertainment where people watch other people play video games competitively. There are numerous games watched as e-sports and/or played as e-sports. There are both professional and amateur levels. And one of the most interesting things about the e-sports category is that many of the most popular tournament e-sports are prior generation games. the N64 Mariokart, and Gamecube Smash Brothers are both extremely popular tournament games, for example.


For many people, the idea of e-sports are absurd, and I can't explain why people like e-sports, but I can't explain why they like baseball either. I think both are compelling, but I like watching competent people do difficult things they're good at. I also like sitting at the bar that overlooks the kitchen at Comal in Berkeley and watch the prep cooks plate food and prepare chips and salsa. I can drink margaritas and do that for hours. I don't think that's why most people like watching either one. But it doesn't matter. Suffice it to say, the League of Legends championships sell out the Bill Graham Civic annually, and in Korea, e-sports champions show up on the front pages of magazines dating pop-stars. Korea is, perhaps, the single biggest market for e-sports in the world. I have theories why. They don't matter.

 

One of the most popular e-sports in Korea, and thus by extension the world is a game that came out when I was in college and when Clinton was in the White House..

 

One of the most popular e-sports in Korea, and thus by extension the world is a game that came out when I was in college and when Clinton was in the White House, a real time strategy game called Starcraft. Not at all modeled off of Warhammer 40K, Starcraft is an asymmetrically based game where three sides: Humans who are nothing like Space marines, Zerg, who are nothing like Tyrannids, and Protoss, who are nothing at all like Eldar battle for supremacy. The game is popular because it is incredibly well balanced but, again asymmetrically. so there isn't a single optimal strategy.


League of Legends is another example, not necessarily a AAA game, the graphics and gameplay are simpler than a game like Fortnight, but it has 140 characters, and you play two teams of five against one another. For those of you doing the math at home, that gives 2.5 times ten to the twenty-third potential match-ups. Further, Riot Games is constantly tweaking champions to balance them further and try to perfect the playing field. This means that people are constantly changing their mix as the balances change and one champion or another will become dominant.


What makes both game popular e-sports is precisely the same thing, the chance to watch players excel at something, and the chance to watch the unpredictable. There still isn't necessarily a perfect strategy in Starcraft, and there still isn't a perfect mix in LOL. This is what makes a good spectator sport out of a video game in a way that Halo or Tekken 7 isn't necessarily.


What's interesting is that we don't see anywhere near as many studios striving to create the next big e-sport the same way we see people striving to create the next big AAA game, even though there is clearly as much or more money to be made in it at lower cost. Only time will tell if and when we do.

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