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Nov 27, 2005



One element of professional sports is maintenance of a fan base. What are the characteristics of a sport that builds a large base and, correspondingly, can support professional players? Do MMOG have those characteristics?

Mr. Taylor offers some suggestions in his post with …
“There has been a lot done in the FPS scene to make the genre work well for tournament competition... and just as important, spectating. Rules and norms (if you think they are a "given" just based on the game, check out tournament rules sometime, especially for any of the major competitions), live-streaming and commenting, refereeing, teams/coaches/managers/agents/corporate sponsors, larger organizational support and infrastructures, anti-cheating mechanisms, etc.”

And his list suggests some underlying elements:
1) Stability – rules that persist over time so that fans have a basis of comparison between competitors over time.
There is a lot of detail here from win conditions to a player skill set that can be practiced and mastered before tactics and strategy become competitive elements.
2) Empathy – the fans have to be able to make a connection with the game and the players, to see themselves in the players place.
Here MMOG have both strengths and weaknesses. In RL any city can build a soccer field – but someone has created, owns, and controls access to WoW. On the other hand, WoW is accessible, under those limitations, to anyone who wants to participate.

Further, it may be profitable to ask what makes existing sports successful. Why is basketball more successful than swimming but less successful than football (soccer)? Can the answer illuminate the conditions that have to be true for MMOGs to be successful professional environments? Is it possible that MMOGs could provide the virtual world and the professional “game” be a mini-game hosted within them but consistent across them? Can that mini-game, whatever it is, have the characteristics it needs to support professional gamers?


Recently at the i26 LAN event in the UK -- a 1000 man LAN -- Guild Wars was used as a tournament game with both PvP tournaments and a "48 hour ascension challenge". There were also plenty of people playing WoW etc. Guild Wars has competition built right into it, however, with 8v8 guild battles (they did an "Own the Devs" event with ArenaNet devs versus a group of players) and strong PvP from the get-go.


I don't know, but I would think that the player-made team bases in COV would be a perfect place for a tournament of sorts. Maybe a race to the finish, or a "treasure hunt" of sorts, where the players look for certain objects in the base, or maybe a "survival contest" where a contestant has to fight waves of mastermind produced mobs, the winner being the contestant that either killed the most mobs within an alloted time or wave ammount, or the contestant that is last left standing. preferably with limits on stealth and invisibility.


The reason why other competitive games fit into a league-type e-sport is that all players begin with an even playing field.

In CS, you all start out the same. Same with Starcraft or Warcraft.

In MMOs, the majority of them have some sort of skill or level system that creates a diversity of player based on time invested, number of kills, number of quests, etc. You also have alot of item centric systems.

Would a WoW competition where people started out on an even playing field (similar gear and levels) be interesting? Sure! But doesn't that sort of negate the rest of the game?


Trackbacks don't seem to work correctly here, but here's my reply:



Marketing and promotions aside, sporting events appeal to spectators the most when they can perceive them as contests of skill between individuals or teams -- and the more immersively or vicariously they can be experienced the better.

The popularity of the infamous WoW "Leeroy" video is an indicator that MMOs can entertain nonparticipants. You instinctively understand what's happening, you're amused by the group's "failure." It's reality television and "TV's Bloopers" all in one, even when you know it's a hoax.

So entertaining spectators won't be an intrinsic problem in creating sporting events out of MMOs. I agree with Raph Koster's criteria -- competitive balance, elimination of rich-get-richer, decent matchmaking. What I would add to them would be a game design that emphasizes player/team skill in the act of competition, not just character design or equipment selection. First-person shooters and real-time strategy games deliver that, but current MMOs don't provide that kind of experience except at the large group level. Guild-vs.-guild or faction-vs.-faction battlefields give a much better spectacle than solo dice-rolled PvP.


Reading the comments here, and the comments from Raph - my main reaction is: why a (persistent) virtual world? The descriptions and suggestions primarily focus on one form or another of "embedded" esports, basically reproducing something like a CounterStrike death match in WoW. This generally isn't how people play WoW, and it isn't what gets most WoW players excited - otherwise they would be playing Counterstike. As Raph points out, any single-to-multiplayer game can be embedded in a VW. Perhaps such embedded games can add to the VW, but what does it add to the *game* that it is in a VW?
The idea that MMORPGs can make a good spectator sport is interesting though. I agree that they definitely could - and the fact that people would stand around and watch an Onyxia raid doesn't surprise me at all - watching castle sieges in Lineage can be highly entertaining (you can also buy tickets to watch players in death matches against mobs in the Giran arena). The question is what makes an Onyxia raid/castle siege interesting? I think the e-sport aspect of it only explains part of the appeal - the context embedded in a persistent world is equally important. Andrew Phelps describes the excitement on the Rallos Zek server (Everquest) when the top guilds grouped together to defeat Kerafyrm (aka "The Sleeper"):

The chat channels across the server were ablaze as no less than 5,000 of us listened in with 'OMG They attempting the Sleeper! Good luck d00dz!' Everyone clustered near their screens, sharing the thrill of the fight, the nobility of the attempt and the courage of those brave 200.
Setting aside the more hyperbolic aspects of the description, the idea that people would tune in to watch uber guilds battle the bosses or other guilds in various MMOGs is probably not so far-fetched, and more importantly these are the kinds of events that can only happen in a persistent world. To answer TL's question - I think in the end if VWs are to become e-sport-like it might be more interesting to see dedicated servers for professional gamers with their own rules and structured events (for example, castle sieges in Lineage [I and II] are scheduled in advance). While some changes would probably need to be made to make such servers more open to competitors (eg. the stuff mentioned in the posts above) - the persistence of epic characters, guilds and the world itself could add to the experience of spectators, rather than simply being a backdrop for a death-match.


Watching a group of gamers kill an unkillable monster is understandably interesting. They're doing something that, according to the 'Gods' of the world, should not be able to happen. It's interesting because it's notable. Like when Lord British was killed. But those aren't sports.

They are a different kind of entertainment completely. Like Chip noted, there's infamous Leeroy Jenkins. Also, I saw a WoW video of someone hiding behind a wall and possessing an NPC that players were supposed to return an item to. As soon as the player would get close, the possessed NPC started attacking them. This stuff is comedy gold! They're definitely entertaining, but they're not sports.

Watching a video that shows the highlights of someone beating Super Mario Brothers is not worth watching for me. And that's what I see with every dungeon-run and castle siege video. People beating a game in the way in which it was designed to be beaten isn't interested to me at all, unless you're doing it faster or much more interesting in some fashion. (Say, with no magic, or only with clubs.)


Franek>Mr. Taylor offers some suggestions

In the best traditions of in-joke, community-binding replies, I shall point out that it's not Mr Taylor, it's Dr Taylor.



Many thanks -- I should have done my homework. Barring that, though, "Hey, T.L., SUP?" just seemed to ... familiar :)


Interesting how this tracks with a discussion I just had with some management consultants. One of things to come out of that is how closely PvP battlegrounds resemble sporting arenas. It is surely only a matter of time before EA (or whoever) takes their various sporting franchises and build them into a MMOG, with instanced battlegrounds, spectators, a competition for the best announcers with the winners becoming professional commentators, etc etc. Blizzard could do the same thing in Arathi or WSG, but the aesthetic of the world is wrong for it.

I'd certainly put money into a MMOG that was structured around this. It'd be an interesting change from hack-and-slash or social worlds.


Dan, how would you feel about building your career as a professional player on an environment controlled entirely by a single, multi-faceted enterprise like EA or Blizzard? Even an American football player has some options if the league disappears. And there the league is fully committed to only a single sport.


Dan, how would you feel about building your career as a professional player on an environment controlled entirely by a single, multi-faceted enterprise like EA or Blizzard? Even an American football player has some options if the league disappears. And there the league is fully committed to only a single sport.


As has been pointed out by others here: a key problem with most MMOGs is the Character Vs. Character aspect of competition. FPS and RTS games attract competitive players because the playing field is balanced, only the player's own skill determines the outcome.

MMOGs tend to attract, and forgive me for saying this, bullies. MMOGs today are designed with bullies in mind who want to have a tremendous advantage over their opponents. Those of us who do have a competitive background are more likely to have sportsman's athstetic; there is no victory in defeating someone who is at a disadvantage because he didn't grind or farm some instance.

A very clear example of this was demonstrated by Guild Wars. Throughout the game's development competitive gamers were psyched up for what promised to be a true Player Vs. Player experience. Then at the launch they radically changed the game's dynamics to "Thou shalt grind for combat effectiveness." Predictably competitive gamers who had pre-ordered played for a week, realized the game had abandoned them for the World of Bullys audience, and never returned. I understand that the devs have reduced the grind requirements, but at the end of the day if I have an advantage over you based on my Character's skills, it is just school yard bullying and not sporting.

Once MMOGs tire of trying to appeal to the (relatively) tiny audience they have all been stealing from each other, I sincerely hope we will see real PVP that will be engaging to a mainstream audience who grew up with a healthy sense of sportsmanship. Only then will there be a CAL for MMOGs.


Detritus helped me understand something I was trying to come to grips with… just what is the skill that a _player_ masters in the competition?

Folks have suggested:

o It might be variations of races – within an environment, attain a goal more quickly than a competitor.

o It might be based on physical skills like competitive first person shooters with the avatar’s abilities and weapons held constant.

o It might be based on tactical skills with more autonomous (but equal) avatars directed by players.

And we could consider team versions that combined those (and I’m sure other) kinds of skills.

To tie those examples to my original questions about what it would take to create a MMOG based “professional player” environment …

o Can the professional transfer skills between various MMOGs so that they can achieve their professional goals (money, fame, …) even if a particular MMOG goes under or changes? Could that be achieved by having mini-games that depend on a particular skill sets but which are themselves MMOG independent?

Would we imagine a national leveling championship where the person that gains the most levels in three 20 minute sessions on three different MMOGs is the winner?

o Are games so defined emotionally accessible to the fan base that supports professional players? Can fans identify with the players? Can advertisers gain sales though their endorsements? Can a community build up around the professional players and the games?

Would a community of fans build up around tournaments for our hypothetical leveling game? Would the MMOGs vie for being one of the three MMOGs in the playoffs? Would fans watch the players on split screen television broadcasts? Would people replay the pro’s efforts to see what techniques they used? Would joystick or game pad manufacturers want to supply their own products to the pros? Would there be battles over which input devices constitute “legal” alternative (like arguments over golf clubs and golf ball designs in the past?).

If MMOGs are to be environs for eSport I assert two things
1) That the above conditions have to be met
2) That MMOGs have to achieve them more compellingly than on-line games that are not embedded in persistent virtual worlds – which I don’t believe they do.

Dr. Taylor’s experience at DreamHack suggests that existing LAN based games like Quake allow for professional rewards, emotional attachment for fans, and economic opportunities for businesses. When you add that these games have a head start in the professional-competition environment over MMOGs the near-term likelihood for much growth in MMOG eSport seems small.


There is another factor involved with the success of professional sports which hasn't been discussed so far: entertainment value. What's responsible for the popularity of the NBA compared to the lackluster performance of the WNBA? Both leagues play the same game, but in one players slam dunk the basketball and in one players lay it up. Even within the NBA league executives bemoaned the slow, defensive style of play of a team like the Detroit Pistons because it was felt that it led to boring games and reduced popularity for the league overall. The big question with all online gaming is how fun is it to watch?


Detritus helped me understand something I was trying to come to grips with… just what is the skill that a _player_ masters in the competition?

I don't think you need to single out any one intrinsic value of sports. The skills required for various sports are often unique; if ESPN2 is to be believed, memorizing words for a Spelling Bee is a sporting skill. We can make a competition out of anything.

I think you're on the right track though with trying to figure out what will be needed to consider an MMOG a sport. Watch some ESPN: arm wrestling, chess, and bowling are all considered sports. The skills involved and the nature of the competition vary. The only constant throughout is that player is matched against player with an even start. I understand that an exception to this exists in Golf, with handicaps, the inclusion of which was also introduced into Quake 3 Arena though I suspect to poor result as it was never duplicated.

Your leveling game would be akin to drag racing, I believe. I am affraid I am doubtful of the public interest in such a competition, but I would have said the same for Spelling Bees and lo I can't pull myself away from ESPN when they're on.

As a competitive FPS player since '97 (Quake 2), I would personally perfer MMOGs to focus on player combat that favors dexterity and cunning.

Dexterity: Mastery of the interface between the player and the character. Chiefly with regard to navigation through the environment rapidly while maintaining awareness of opponents. (e.g. Scrambling quickly for cover, keeping a bead on opponents)

Cunning: To observers, the trick to being good in FPSes is aiming the mouse at the other guy's head. The real trick is keeping the other guys mouse off of yours. (e.g. Threat assesment, tactics)

Some people might assert that to achieve these things the game must be "twitch" based, but I disagree. There is no reason this emphasis wouldn't fit into the mechanics of any real-time combat model or game engine. The biggest change we need to the common MMOG is the disparity between players based on their investment into characters. Only 5 million people want to play with the treadmills, the rest of the world is waiting for real gameplay.

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