Saturday, 26 November 2011

Why MLG's Flawed Format is Important

Slowly but surely, my blog roll is growing.  I find that a lot of the stuff you can't read about on Team Liquid or any other major esports site gets quietly discussed elsewhere.  They're so much more inspiring than the usual "Player X wins Tournament Y, wasn't everything amazing?!"  This particular entry in my blog was inspired Marc Onforio of FXO.  I'm a bit late to the party, but it seems he caught a bit of flak for criticising MLG's abomination of a tournament format.

Sometimes you wonder if people are beyond help; how anyone except MLG can defend the MLG format is beyond me.  But since I was thinking of writing a blog about why I'm so hard on MLG, this is actually perfect timing.

Ever since I got involved with esports, I wanted it to live up to its name and be an actual sport.  Legitimacy is everything, as far as I'm concerned.  But what MLG appears to want is a show.  Sporting integrity be damned if 200,000 people tune in to the livestream appears to be their modus operandi.  Now, all the little psuedo-economists that come out of the woodwork for this kind of debate will hasten to point out that stream numbers are necessary in order to turn a profit.  Well, that's alright then, is it?  If the only thing people are interested in is making money there is basically no argument to be had.  It's a bit like trying to debate  with staunch christians: if your only answer is "God did it" we aren't going to get anywhere.

I get it, okay.  Making money is necessary.  But if it comes at the cost of turning esports into WWE, the price is too high.

So how does all this affect the format?  I flip-flop between two stances on the MLG system.  Firstly, it could just be an honest mistake, poorly thought out.  Secondly, it could be a cynical effort to protect the stars.  Naniwa was a God-send for MLG earlier this year, when he won a tournament after coming all the way from the open bracket.  In the eys of someone with poor logic, he proved that the system worked, because the creme rose to the top.  Never mind the fact that he had to win more than twice the number of games that his opponent did in order tog et there.  But in a deliciously ironic twist, he finished 2nd at last week's seasonal finals with a so-so record of 7-6.  If the sytem worked, 7-6 would not net you $25,000.  As Marc pointed out, Nestea went 20-5 and made nothing.  I don't see how anyone can reasonably argue that the MLG system isn't flawed.

I don't want to talk too much about the extended series - I think everyone knows how dumb that is by now - but it's another brick in the imbalanced wall.  People argue that winning should give you an advantage later in the season/tournament.  Well, maybe, but isn't getting to the next round of the tournament advantageous enough?  Simply avoiding the lower bracket or straight up elimination has always been a big enough advantage for other sporting events; "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" springs to mind.

MLG often appears obsessed with numbers: stream numbers, live attendance figures etc.  Well, take a look at the numbers Marc posted last weekend and try to defend them.  MLG's tournament format is undeniably imbalanced and unfair.  Even the vaguely sensible arguments attempt to justify the imbalance, rather than deny it ("it's what the fans want" - I did say vaguely sensible).

With all the positive changes in prize money expected next year, I sincerely hope that they have a real good look at the tournament structure.

Taking off the Kiddy Gloves

I woke up this morning to some interesting logs in the ESFI Skype chat.  You know when you get that feeling that the world is sort of revolving around you... For example, on the bus, yesterday, I was thinking about the frustration I feel towards esports and how much of that comes from the coverage.  Today, I woke up and found that some of the ESFI staff had been discussing something integral to that: are we too nice?

To anyone that's read this blog before, you'll immediately assume that my answer is yes.  Well, screw you, smartass.  But the reason you're right is because I almost feel like I have to overcompensate for the lack of introspection in the community at large.  Contrary to appearances, I don't actually hate everything, but I don't feel like anyone else is asking questions of people like MLG (why do Boxer's travel expenses cost more than the first prize at an MLG tournament?)

Every sport has its sacred cows, but esports seems like it has an inordinate amount.  More than once I've been "told off" for criticising commentators.  To be fair, I do write about them an awful lot, but "who are you to criticize Apollo?" speaks volumes about people's attitude towards these guys.  God forbid I ever slate Day9 or Tastosis (oh, wait...).  These people are placed on a pedestal and deemed untouchable by the masses.  Yet, actually, they're largely the best of a bad bunch.  I think that phrase could honestly be applied to a raft of things in esports.

People seem to tolerate and even celebrate medicority in esports.  A large part of esports is made up as we go along and so it's expected that things aren't perfect, I understand that.  But does that mean we should just accept that this is the way it will always be?  Should we accept commentators yelling incoherently because they lack the vocabulary to say something interesting?  Should we accept horrible tournament formats because, well... MLG wants to make sure the fan favourites make it to the final day, I guess?  Esports is constantly evolving and improving, but without criticism and questioning, that evolution will grind to a halt.

There has to be a middle ground between my cynical whinging and everyone else's head-burying.  What frustrates me even more is that I know that people are aware of these problems.  I'm not some kind of prophet who sees flaws that others don't, it's just that I'm one of the few who are too stupid/honest to ignore them.  I hate to sound so full of myself - there are others, like Keeker and Marc Onforio - but the dissenting voices are strictly limited to personal blogs like ours.

If you're not convinced, go back and look at Midway's interview with ESFI.  His biggest regret about GotFrag (an absolutely perfect example of my 'best of a bad bunch' theory, by the way) was that they didn't go after CPL when they started shafting people.  If there was another league doing similarly shady things, would anyone step up, or would the mistakes of history be repeated?  I look at the position MLG is currently in, and I wonder who would dare to risk being banned from their events if it came to it.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Better Living Through esports Music

It's a truism that music affects people's lives.  But for me, music goes hand-in-hand with esports for a whole host of reasons.  Firstly, I got into esports at the most important time in my music-listening "career," 16-18.  My earliest memories of Counter-Strike are soundtracked by music I was just discovering through friends at the time: Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Tool et al.

But in the early 2000's, there was an even more direct link: gaming movies.  I discovered what I'd consider more sophisticated music (Soundgarden being a perfect example) through social channels, but esports movies gave me Nightwish, Hammerfall and Pendulum.  Of course, I had to sift through an awful lot of shitty Nu Metal to get there, but I like to think it was worth it.

When I began watching CS movies, they featured almost solely Nu Metal and Symphonic/Fantasy Metal.  Anyone who doesn't know "Ice Queen" by Within Temptation is surely an esports noob.  Hell, i didn't even like the eoL movie, but it introduced me to a whole body of work I would never have come across otherwise.  In fact, it's quite an ironic trend that shitty movies introduced me to better music.  If anyone remembers the Ocrana multi-gaming movie, they probably also remember "My Secret People" by Dover - a Spanish band who are fairly obscure outside of their homeland.

Then, of course, there was the fantastic Annihilation series, which introduced me to Guano Apes - well, kinda.  I knew of them, but never bothered to listen to much of their stuff until I realised how fucking awesome "Open Your Eyes" is.

But alongside Within Temptation, Nightwish were probably the best find.  Their somewhat pretentious mix of operatic vocals and melodic metal, combined with 2nd-rate fantasy novel lyrics, is a lot better than the sum of its parts.  They were almost unavoidable in early 2000's CS movies, but, unlike the other, shittier mainstay (Linkin Park), I was actually glad of it.  Not only because I like the music, but it was very appropriate.  Go back and watch Neo - The One, or Art to Frag, and tell me the music doesn't work.

By the mid norties (eww, ewww, i can't believe I just wrote that "word"), I was playing WoW and my tastes were about ready to broaden again.  A lot of WoW pvp movies made use of the same fast rock and metal i was used to, but as editing skills evolved past flashing when something exciting happened, electronic music became a natural fit.  Good editing became a way to hide average skills and the music was a huge part of that.  Check out Eviscerape 2 for how I discovered Pendulum.  WoW players will probably recognise that he isn't even that good of a rogue, but that movie blew me away when I first saw it.

Of course, Pendulum is so big and popular now that I would probably have discovered them anyway.  But the remix on that movie led me down a long and winding road into trance - a genre I had always viewed with some disdain.

So where should I go with this blog now?  It was a fairly self-indulgent stream-of-conciousness, so I guess i'll just leave it here.  I would've been no good as a script writer for kids cartoons ("the moral of the story is, um..."), but I would've appreciated the theme music, at least.