Sunday, 19 December 2010

Big fish leaving the small pond

Hey, It's been a while. Today i'm going to write something a bit more personal, about making the transition into SC2. Not solely for myself, but it will be mostly about me.

The dust has settled on my SK career and it's been about 2 months or so since i wrote a column. It was always a struggle to keep the Zechs Files weekly but this is by far the longest 'time off' i've had. I've written a few news stories for MYM in the mean time but i don't really count that stuff, and i haven't really done as many as i should have.

But i've started to realise that the reason for this is not just lack of inspiration (although that is part of the problem). Starcraft II is actually kind of intimidating. I'm usually someone who has the courage of my convictions and i laughed off 300-ish comments of pure vitriol back when i published "The man who is Ruining Warcraft." But the fact that is abundantly clear in retrospect is that the WC3 and WoW arena scenes where i was best known were far smaller than SC2's. Sure, i got record hits on SK by writing about those games but i was practically the only game in town. WC3 is big in China, but it never picked-up in English-speaking countries. WoW, on the other hand, is huge, but the competitive arena scene was miniscule by comparison. Gameriot was the only competitor but they didn't have the helping hand of the SK100 - easily the most popular single page in the arena community.

But suddenly with SC2, everything is on a much larger scale. Take commentary, for example. In WC3 there were only a handful of English language commentators. It was back then that i first thought of jumping in and doing it myself, but for some reason i just never did - laziness, probably. In Starcraft there are dozens of commentators, at least, and most of them are fairly well-known. The quality is generally appalling but that's beside the point. Even some of the most popular ones are God-awful in my opinion, but the community seems to be in love with them. Trying to break into the already well-established scene is actually quite scary. The fact that i want it so much actually puts me off rather than encouraging me. On top of that, i'm so hard on the other commentators that it would be kind of embarassing if i just sucked.

On the other hand i know that, logically, i should just get on with it and throw it out there but my ego won't seem to permit it.

How does this relate to my column? Well, it's a similar case. At least when it comes to writing i'm more well-known, but MYM already seems to be a backward step in terms of reputation. I know, i know, i shouldn't give a shit; i should be writing for the joy of it and for the noble art of argument and debate. But i do care, and i can't seem to easily get over it, which is stifling. When i was at the peak of my consistency at SK, i would often just sit down and write a column in 30 minutes or so, just to keep it going. Nowadays i don't feel like doing that. Is it just that my standards are higher? I don't know. Again, i know i should just get the fuck on with it.

This relates back to the games themselves. As a hugely competitive person, i take laddering far too seriously. It was like this in WC3 and WoW and the same thing is happening in SC2. I almost dread playing because i know how stressed i'll get if i lose, which in turn means i don't enjoy winning either. It makes the whole experience of SC2 far more intense than it actually should be and it makes me play much worse. At least, i hope that's true, because i need some excuse for my poor win/loss ratio!

But once again, the moral of that story is much clearer thanks to writing it down: bite the bullet and DO IT.

Stream of conciousness HWAITIIIIIIN. Thanks to Chris Schetter for the inspiration.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Scotland and Spain - a dichotomy of duopolies

Okay, first things first, this is about football not esports.

Watching Barcelona demolish Almeria last night was actually somewhat depressing. As an unashamed glory-hunting Barca convert (in my defence, i'm hunting glorious football, not necessarily success ) that might seem a bit strange, but hear me out. I've been a Celtic fan for many years due to my upbringing and i've seen the inevitable downside of what a duopoly like Celtic and Rangers can bring to not only their leagues, but also themselves. When was the last time you saw Celtic do well in the Champion's League? Obviously that's a rhetorical question.

With Barca and Real Madrid there are of course some obvious differences. Both of them individually have far more spending power than The Old Firm combined. They also both have recent pedigree, which Celtic - despite their European glory days of the past - do not have. But as exciting as the Spanish league can be, the fact remains that only two teams ever win it nowadays, just like the Scottish equivalent.

It's rather a strange situation, and not as straightforward as 'no competition = no improvement.' In Scotland, that is definitely the case, and both Glasgow teams only have six truly top class fixtures to contend with per season. Celtic had even less in the last couple of seasons, since they failed to qualify for the main round. In Spain, despite the absolute dominance of Barca and Real, they still get at least a handful of decent opponents every season. Exactly why they finish top so comfortably is strange when you consider the calibre of the opposition - at least two other CL teams each season.

Perhaps it says something about just how good those two teams really are. If they can completely dominate such a strong league, they must be unstoppable. Yet results in Europe suggest otherwise. Of course they do very well, and it's only a season since Barca won the whole thing, but they don't wreck teams four or five nil every CL game like that theory would suggest.

Is it possible that, rather than stifling themselves as Celtic and Rangers have done by dominating Scottish football, they have simply created something like the top four in the English league? Man United and Chelsea don't win every CL game either, but you wouldn't find many takers if you asked people to bet on them finishing outside the top four of the Premier League.

In the end I suppose that Celtic and Rangers just got TOO far ahead of the opposition, domestically. Barca and Real have simply timed their dominance better. It has come in a period where European football is the absolute pinnacle and the format means that they will be testing themselves far more regularly than either of The Old Firm teams. On top of that, the other Spanish teams have got much more benefit than the other Scottish teams due mostly to the fact that four teams can qualify from Spain.

So while, on the surface, the duopolies look very similar, underneath they are quite different.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

An esports drinking game

The rules to this one are pretty simple. You need your drink of choice plus any esports livestream. For maximum chance of alcohol poisoning, try and find a livestream with American commentators.

Once you have the bottle(s) opened and the stream up and running, you take a drink every time the commentator says "wow," "oh my god," or any variation of "oh my god/gosh/goodness."

I imagine that, on average, you will be paralytic inside 10 minutes.

Monday, 25 October 2010

SK Gaming ain't what it used to be

Warning: this shit is longer than most of what i usually write, even in my main column.

So, here's an interesting statistic for you, boys and girls. In a month where SK and myself finally agreed to end our tempestuous relationship, i still have the highest average hit count per article for the month.

I don't mean to toot my own horn - it's not like eight posts in 25 days is something to be proud of - but it perfectly shows the concept of quality over quantity, something SK Gaming seems to have completely moved away from. I guess there's two roads a coverage site can go down. One is massing news, however trivial. 1,000 people reading five news posts is the same as 5,000 reading one column at the end of the day. In the same way, having 15 teams that win a tournament each is ostensibly the same as five teams that win three tournaments each.

But is it really the same?

I know, for example, that bds thinks SK picking up a Source team is the dumbest thing they ever did. There was a time when SK represented quality over quantity in terms of teams as well as website content, but that time is long gone. Currently, on all fronts, SK is like a clusterfuck of undirected ideas and it is a pretty crappy place to try and be creative.

Indulge me for a moment as we go down Memory Lane, back to early 2008. Carmac was still fairly new as Editor in Chief, and i was his first new recruit. Honestly, i rarely visited the SK site before i joined but it was clear that GotFrag was on a downward spiral. More importantly, Carmac's enthusiasm was infectious and my time working under him was probably my most creative period in esports. I was still enrolled in a journalism course at University and he brought a bit of the professionalism i hoped for to esports coverage that it so distinctly lacked (and still does, by the way).

Without wanting to sound churlish, he was inspirational. He wrote opinionated columns and encouraged us to do the same. He gave columnists a personality by encouraging us to use our own pictures. On top of that, it felt safer to be voicing opinions in public when you knew others were doing the same. Oh, yeah, and his 1on1 videos were pretty good too.

But Carmac obviously wasn't a guy to settle in one job, and we were given Malystryx. Presumably, his promotion was based purely on the fact that he had been at SK the longest. When he left SK a few months later, that policy was quickly scrapped. Maly's tenure wasn't an unmitigated disaster, but it was badly timed. I never really got on well with Lawrence - call it a personality clash - so i don't feel like i should say too much about his time in charge, but he was EIC when SK's slip into decline began. Feeling within the previously happy crew was at a low point thanks to the communication issues and the pressure of covering tournaments (if you've never worked in esports at coverage, you really can't understand what it's like to cover a Chinese event, for example). Although immo and Binteh didn't actually leave until Duncan took over, the wheels of their departure were definitely set in motion before then.

Since that time, SK simply has not been the same place it once was. I can't honestly remember exactly when bds left, and i didn't actually have much interaction with him myself, but it was around the same time Duncan came along. It's no coincidence that SK has picked up seemingly random games since bds' departure. Even before he left it seems clear, in retrospect, that he had little to do with the running of the company towards the end.

Maybe one day i'll write about the Halo team's debacle...

Ironically, it was actually towards the end of Carmac's reign that i made The Zechs Files a weekly column. But there's no irony, and certainly no coincidence that it became less and less frequent in the time since Duncan took over. Since Carmac left i used my own picture less often too, and eventually removed it altogether. Just as it was comfortable to write opinion pieces while others were doing it, so too it was more difficult to do it alone. It's not like anyone from the upper echelons ever offered me support. The only time you heard from them was generally indirectly through Tim, after you'd done something wrong.

About three times over the past year i have been threatened with being sacked for not writing enough news. On the most recent occasion i just accepted it - despite having clearly told Duncan that i was in Spain on holiday, and thusly unable to work. Whether Duncan bothered to tell Tim, or exactly whose responsibility it was, is currently unknown to me. Communication and clarity of roles has never been a strong suite in esports, but this is especially true in SK nowadays.

I digress. After the other two threats, i promised to buckle down and work harder. For a brief time after each incident i did just that and forced out some of my poorest columns. It was genuinely comical to me to see Tim post "nice read!" on my first column after each "disagreement." In his defence, Tim is a nice guy, seemingly put into a bad situation by spineless people too afraid to do their own dirty work. I suppose every company has to have someone like that, but if SK had so much organisation in the rest of their business, it wouldn't be in such a shambles.

As for Duncan himself, the guy in a new-writing machine in a very real sense. My interactions with him have been few, but he seems to have the personality of a machine. Well, that's not quite fair, i have had one or two laughs with him, but only one or two. He is, however, a very hard work, and for all his manifold failings as an actual Editor-in-Chief, you have to respect someone who can average 100 pieces per month. He already has nearly double my post count in about half the time (though, i must point out, my average hits are over 2k higher - quality over quantity) and is just days away from having the record of most news of any writer SK has ever had (currently held by gosey, if you care).

But sadly, SK's personality and charm has all but disappeared. Where once there were the best esports opinion pieces on the internet there is now just copy-paste-edit news you can read from another dozen sites. Granted, there are many, many more of them, but look at the number of comments and the amount of hype they generate. SK is now completely devoid of originality and creativity in much the way GotFrag is and i fear the former is heading in the same direction as the latter.

I'll leave you, for now, with another interesting observation. I once worked for Clanbase as a Eurocup and Nations Cup admin, back when it was in its pomp. Shortly after, i left to work for ESL as a CSCL admin and Clanbase more-or-less died off as a real powerhouse in esports. Then i left CSCL to become a writer for Team AMD Gamer; CSCL proceeded to die. I then successfully applied for a job at GotFrag and TAG went under thanks to some baffingly stupid management. Briefly after GotFrag was bought by MLG, i left and joined SK. Look at GotFrag now - a joke, a shadow of its former self. And so now i leave SK to pastures new...


Monday, 18 October 2010

Game Politics - when good turns to blind

In case you don't know it already, is a great website for anything remotely bringing gaming into the political world (and vice versa). It's brought me numerous stories for SK over the years - especially the WoW vs China debacle - and a great deal more that don't really come under the esports banner.

Hell, even the comments are intelligent and readable from time-to-time and we all know how rare that is on the intrawebz.

However, sometimes the commentators' zealousness goes a little too far. Anyone with even the slightest bit of self-awareness has to admit that gamers aren't always right and that sometimes their critics are correct. I can understand the defensiveness in a world where ignorant politicians and officials use games as a scapegoat, but once in a while, rarely, the system is correct.

But what makes this particularly relevant now? Well in the last few of days, i've read a couple of stories about Blizzard taking on hackers in SC2. The majority of people reading this (can you have a majority when there's only two people?) would see this as blatantly being a good thing. Yet some comments on the story in question were defending hackers, claiming they had a right to edit the single player campaign and play the way they wanted.

Now, firstly, these people are obviously from a whole different world of gaming to you and i. I realise that a lot of people who play Blizzard games couldn't care less about online play, let alone esports, but i assumed - wrongly, it seems - that they were at least aware of it. The issue of hacking in single player is completely moot since Blizzard includes their own cheats in just about every game they make. Clearly, the bannings and legal action are about people who make maphacks and the like for online play. How you can defend people who are ruining the game for 90+% of the community is beyond me.

It's simply a case of ignorantly defending people who are "sticking it to the man." I'm fully aware of the dislike for the new Activision version of Blizzard, but ruining a fantastic game is not the way to make that dislike known and defending the people who do it is nothing short of moronic.

Good job, Blizzard - keep up the good work!

Friday, 1 October 2010

A much needed break in Spain

Well, i'm heading off to Spain today and, although the timing is a bit awkward, (WCG probably the last major WC3 event ever as well as GSL finals tomorrow) for me it's much needed. My coverage output has been average-to-low, and my creative/original content has been non-existent lately.

Frankly, SC2 is a bit intimidating and frustrating. I feel like a noob all over again. Despite being 'okay' at the game there is a lot more English-language content to contend with and people who are already well known thanks to their SC:BW fame. In WC3, quality English media was much less prevalent since the game was never really popular in America or England.

On top of that there is almost zero opinion-based content around nowadays. I've been toying with an article about this for a while, but it's quite frustrating when you're the only one putting your neck out and risking your reputation. Back in the Carmac era of SK we had several writers who would write columns and various other sites were doing it too (though, not with the same high level of results), which made it much easier to ignore the moronic flames. But in recent months 'the column' seems to have died off, including my own Zechs Files.

For me, it's hard to stay motivated recently. I feel a bit like i was a big fish in a small pond, but now SC2 has come along the pond has flooded. Team Liquid is now a relevant entity to me, as are all the clone-like American SC2 commentators ("Wow!"). Commentary was something i'd considered for about 18 months in WC3's dying days, but now SC2 has come along with a huge plethora of irritating mono-syllabic yanks and i feel a bit like i missed the boat. I didn't, and there's plenty of time for new blood in such a new game, but it FEELS like i did.

On top of that, i feel pretty out of the loop these days. Journalism is about connectivity, networking and contact-making - all thinks i'm not very good at. I was supposed to do an interview with Morrow recently, but i still haven't prepared fully, 3 weeks after he agreed to do it. This makes it all the more frustrating when SK doesn't send me to tournaments - the main reason i got into esports writing in the first place. Meanwhile, Duncan, who i was originally told would "not be attending any events at all," continues to attend every event under the sun, even cherry picking the ones he doesn't like (he didn't go to ESWC because he "doesn't get on with France.")

Yes, call me bitter, i am. That's why i hope this ill-timed excursion to Spain with my wonderful girlfriend's family will give me some perspective. Better yet, maybe it will give me some inspiration to write again. Otherwise, it might be time to enquire about MYM again.

Adios para ahora!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

How Infi helped me to love SC2 even more

When SC2 first started to kill off my beloved WC3 i was naturally upset. So many great memories, so many legendary matches consigned to memory - never to be added to. Luckily, it turns out that SC2 is a fantastic game anyway (surprise, right?) but at times i still pine for the old WC3 days.

Ironically, it was a replay from a WC3 pro - WCG winner, Infi - that helped me move on. I was watching a game of his against an Asian zerg named PanDaLuffy (at least that's what the website said, the in-game text was Korean). His playstyle transcended the boundary between the War- and Star- prefixes. I've noticed that a large proportion of ex-WC3 players pick up terran in SC2, especially the human players. But Infi was the first that i've seen actually make building armour upgrades. Masonry for life, baby!

So thank-you, Infi for reminding me that no matter how cheesy SC2 can be at times, at least building armour upgrades is totally ineffective (in case you were wondering, he lost the game). Raise a glass to a competitive RTS future free of mass towers - cheers!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

If you get unlucky often enough it ceases to be luck

One of the earliest and most important lessons you can learn about life is that when you get lucky often enough, it stops being luck. In esports this is especially true; your opponent's 12th "lucky" headshot is probably not luck.

But getting a bit more meta, this also applies to tournaments and organisations. ESL is a great company, doing wonderful things, but their tournaments do seem to suffer horrendously from network problems. At IEM Global Finals this year the WoW tournament was set back by six or so hours, for example, and back at the American qualifier last season things were even worse. Today is the 2nd event of the new season and they're having more problems (glad i got up early to watch -_-;).

I've generally been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. WoW is not a good tournament game in many ways, and one of those is the lack of LAN capability. But there is no WoW today, and although Quake Live's offline mode is fairly new there didn't seem to be any problems at QuakeCon last week. So when does bad luck stop being luck and turn into incompetence? I'm not sure, and without being much of a tech-head myself i'd hate to point the finger, but my good will is starting to run out.

Friday, 18 June 2010

(soul)Shards of memory

So, this isn't exactly an esports blog today, but it is about WoW.

I was playing on my warlock earlier and i figured that i never ever ran out of soulshards. Really, i don't think i've ever had zero, or even close to zero. So that means that at least one of my 28 Soulshards must be some kind of level ten Defias Brotherhood mob of some kind.

I'm not a roleplayer by any means, but i found it pretty interesting anyway. I wonder if i've got any interesting souls in my collection - i know my warlock spent a lot of time in SSC back in the day. Maybe i've been carrying The Lurker in my bags for three years and never realised.

I wonder if there's an addon, or some other way to find out what's in there, just for curiosity's sake.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Zechs-rated video footage?!

One thing i've wanted to get involved in for quite a long time is livestreaming/commentating. I've always been a bit shy about it but today i at least took the baby steps of downloading's free software and setting up a channel.

I don't know exactly what i want to do with it just yet, but ideally i want to commentate on live matches at some stage. It might take some time for me to get good/confident so if anyone has any tips they'd be much appreciated. As a bit of practice, i thought i might commentate the replays of SK's insider-only SC2 tournament. SC2 seems to have an odd mix of commentators but all the ones i've listened to at least know their stuff. At this early stage, with no BW experience, i think that is my biggest challenge. I feel like my vocabulary is better than the "omg wow omg i love that play omg" crap that comes out of some mouths but the trouble is that i'm still learning a new game.

Still, i'll give it a shot and see how it goes. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

I'm not saying it's imbalanced, but...

Like most people, i fast-forward through chunks of replays. When an undead is healing up in his base, or both armies are creeping, it's pretty hard to stay interested. But i noticed something vaguely amusing (hi, Tash!) when i was watching The Return of Lucifer replays just now.

I had been skipping through some non-action when Lucifer's orc opponent showed up for a fight. I quickly spammed the "-" key seven times to get back to normal speed. Except, i was following the blademater, and he moved so fast with boots that i pressed it again and didn't realise for about 10 seconds that i was on 1/2 speed . It's not the first time that's happened either.

Now i'm really not saying he's imbalanced, but...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

From Hero to Zero in one conversation

They say you should never meet your heroes and now I kind of understand why. I wouldn't like to name names in this blog, but being an English WC3 fan kinda narrows down the possibilities.

If you're reading this, you probably know that I have a regular column on which is released every Tuesday (when i'm not feeling too lazy/uninspired, anyway). There are often inflammatory comments made but sometimes there is a good bit of banter and some interesting debate. This is how i thought the conversation with Mr B was headed.

He was typically ignorant towards WoW, but that's something you get used to very quickly from people who don't like the game. I thought it was all in good humour so i messaged him on MSN with a quote from Orly - the guy my column was about. Again, i was just hoping for a bit of a chat and a debate. What i didn't count on was being called a prick and being asked why i was still talking.

This shocked me for several reasons. Firstly, i had always been a fan of this player so it was somewhat upsetting to be childishly insulted by someone i had previous respected and supported. Secondly, my experience with professional gamers is generally quite positive. I liked Grubby when i interviewed him and all the truly high-tier WoW players i've met are genuinely nice people except for Serennia. This was especially true at CeBit the other week when i had a great time with SK US, despite the crappy "hotel" we stayed in.

Now, the WC3 player i was talking to would not accept that WoW was a professional game. I hope i don't have to spell out the irony in that statement coming from a player who turned a light-hearted discussion in the worst kind of immature trolling. It's often been put forward that esports games could be killed off by the attitude of their players and communities. I've rarely seen such good evidence in support of that statement as i did today.

So the old adage is at least partially true: never meet your heroes, at least if they're anything like Mr B.