Competitive shooters and TV

Blizzard’s Overwatch. Competitive shooter, fast paced action.

Bosskey’s Lawbreakers. Competitive shooter, fast paced action.

Epic’s Unreal Tournament. Competitive shooter, fast paced action.

They all are coming soon. After being all the rage around 2000, the arena shooter is back. But there’s a problem: people watch people play now, and it’s a big deal.

I watched Overwatch’s 16 “heroes” and you have to appreciate Blizzard’s surgery at work, how things are readable in a chaos of green, blue bullets, force shields, particles and so forth. It’s amazing how good they are at manipulating color palette.

It is also super fast. It’s pretty much unwatchable for 90% of people if not more. This is what Twitch most watched games are, most of the time:

Those games are slow. If not reaaaally slow. Titanfall is really good and doesn’t appear here. No Quake. No fast paced games. People compare Team Fortress 2 to Overwatch but TF2 is far slower.

Game design wise, what makes Counter Strike far better at being watched is the fact that you can be eliminated in one single bullet from any weapon. Therefore you can’t be running around and you can’t be sloppy in your retreats. You have to be always careful and that creates tons of mechanisms: always move with a teammate, be silent, secure a zone with a flash grenade before entering it,  think how you can surprise your opponent etc.

We watch this, we witness this incredible tension that doesn’t exist in arena shooters because everyone is running and blasting everywhere. It’s fun to play but there is virtually no strategy or tactics compared to CS. It’s too fast! Just kill everybody without getting killed. It’s like a football –soccer- game with only the penalty area and only one side.

The absolute beauty of Counter Strike is its high dynamic: you can rush and play like an arena shooter or you can meticulously form an attack/defense. Everything can work and everything can fail equally. The economy makes every mistake count –if you lose, you can’t buy good weapons-. Which means that watching a match means you never know who is going to win (when teams are about the same level, obviously). I can’t count how many times I watched a game and thought that it was over no way the other team comes back from that oh shit they are fuck that’s awesome they might win!!!!!

Sports fans know what I mean. That’s the core element in watching skill-based entertainment: DRAMA. Automatic, endless respawn kind of kills it, by design.

Second thing that makes CS so good for TV purposes: you don’t have to know classes, there are no classes. Overwatch’s 16 different characters with each different abilities is a lot to remember (and I can’t even imagine the work to balance them out). It’s overkill for anyone not heavily involved in the scene. I don’t want to understand all that. Baseball has classes and like four countries in the world like that sport.

I showed a friend a CS game the other day, it was his first time and in 5 minutes he was into it. Very easy to understand and visualize yet, it’s already borderline pace wise when things get hot.

Arena shooters were the shit and disappear for a reason. Counter Strike is continuously in the top 5 sellers on Steam. They sold over a million copies in August, when the major competition took place in Cologne. 1.2 million people watched the finals (and probably another million watched them later) that’s the score of a modest, successful show on TV. No other FPS comes close to those numbers. It took Counter Strike fifteen years and billions of hours played to be that balanced.

If I was a big company trying to get into esports with a shooter, I would copy the fuck out of CS. Just change the anti-middle East theme and you good for years if not decades.

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