Video Games

On the (possibly grim) future of Overwatch

Posted by Matt Demers on

Blizzard’s FPS title Overwatch is probably one of the most hyped titles this year due to a couple different factors:

  • Vibrant characters give personalities for players to gravitate towards
  • MOBA-like mechanics mean that there are cool things for players to do besides aim and shoot well
  • People saw the success that first movers on Hearthstone were able to get with streaming and eSports

Naturally, this led to a bit of a gold rush and disappointment when Blizzard first handed out closed beta keys. Targeting streamers and YouTubers, the focus on marketing left a bad taste in a lot of peoples’ mouths, but this past weekend Blizzard opened up a stress test to a larger amount of applicants.

While not everyone got in who wanted a key, I did.

Basically I spent five hours with a group of five other players in a Skype channel playing in a fully-stacked group. Here’s what I found:

Learning is easy

Blizzard has learned from the design of Team Fortress 2 in the sense that there are a lot of prompts to do things in order to limit the amount of learning that needs to be done beforehand and the information that needs to be remembered.

Routes to attack and defend are highlighted on the ground before the map starts, giving people a chance to see where enemies might come from. This is great when learning new maps, as you need to be able to move between points of interest at a moment’s notice. I found that playing as a Defender meant that I needed to go through all areas of the map from the initial spawn, giving me a chance to familiarize myself with where I’d eventually be falling back to.

Things like hovering icons on the UI let you know where important objectives are, and a flashing marker on respawn re-contextualizes where your current objective is as a gentle reminder. I liked this because the last thing I wanted to think was “what am I supposed to be doing right now?” when winning or losing the map could be on the line.

A quick hit of the F1 key also gave me a screen that showed me my key bindings and the skills assigned to them. This was great for learning new heroes easily; I also loved how when you died to a hero the game gave you tips on your death screen for beating them next time. Getting mowed down by a hero who could turn into a stationary turret prompted a reminder that that hero can’t turn 360 degrees, meaning he could be flanked.

The game also reminds you when your composition of heroes lacks a certain role, meaning that you (in theory) won’t be completely steamrolled because you won’t have a tank.

All in all this is really important from a design perspective, because Blizzard wants to be able to introduce new and casual players to a traditionally unforgiving gametype in an FPS. The last thing they want to happen is for someone to balk at the amount of learning to do when starting up, or dismissing a good opponent as “cheap” and not booting the game up again.

Teamwork is important

I probably had the best time with Overwatch due to the fact I was playing with five other competent FPS gamers. I cannot imagine the chaos of solo queue, and preferably, I never want to.

Being able to co-ordinate class balance is amazing, because I never ran into the Team Fortress 2 problem of five people wanting to play Sniper and no one claiming Medic. Sure, the opening few games were just people trying out a bunch of classes, but once people found their comfort zones we actually went on a fairly huge streak due to being organized.

Having at least one healer is so essential due to the length of spawn times and the travel time getting back to the main warzone. Tanks soak damage and often have valuable disruption abilities that let damage dealers or assassins to work. Even snipers have a role due to Widowmaker’s completely broken Infra-vision ultimate that lets you see a red outline of all alive opponents for a short time.

I can see this game being similar to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive where communication is essential, but for a different way. You need to be able to adapt to information on the fly and feed it to teammates who may not be in the know. Things like being the only one to notice that someone snuck behind us to capture the point directs the whole ship to success.

Like I said, I did not spend any time in solo queue, and sadly I ran into a friend as an opponent in a match who was doing so. We steamrolled them particularly badly, mostly because we could co-ordinate mass revives, pushes and defenses where they couldn’t.

Depth is needed

The one thing that worries me about Overwatch is that need to balance the new player’s experience with the ability to actually have long-term fun. Despite 21 heroes, I feel like there will be a tier list that develops soon enough, and optimization is a quick way to kill the experimentation that lengthens a game’s life.

I can hear it now: “Why did you pick Reaper when McCree is so much better? We would have won if you had picked Mercy, she’s so OP right now.”

I want to see more game types, more map designs that favor multiple approaches, and strategies that benefit from having a distinct hero composition. That’s the kind of depth you usually see from a MOBA like League of Legends or Dota 2: creative risk is rewarded.

Right now, I can see Overwatch running into a pitfall where as new heroes get released, they will either succumb to the same MOBA power creep problem (where old heroes are not adapted to new playstyles, and fall out of favor) or maps will become painfully exploited as new mechanics are introduced for which they were not originally designed.

In trying to combine a FPS base with MOBA elements, Blizzard may have introduced themselves to a combination of problems inherent to both genres, as well. I hope they have the talent on hand to recognize and fix those problems.


I had fun with Overwatch, but with a $40+ price tag without the promise of free map packs or modding tools, I don’t see myself investing into it as heavily as if it were free-to-play. I do not have faith in Blizzard to not charge high prices for new heroes like Heroes of the Storm, and I honestly don’t feel like grinding for access in order to have the fluid lineup you need for success.

Edit: I’ve been informed that Overwatch devs have said they won’t be pursuing a HotS-esque pricing model, and that they don’t want to restrict people’s access to the 21 heroes. However, the wording is very specific to the “original 21”, so the strategy when it comes to new heroes may change.

Seeing that stationary hero turret from before and realizing that I haven’t unlocked or paid for the hero that is his counter is going to suck. Seeing pubs or casual players being limited to a free hero rotation (invariably leading to very bland lineups) is also going to be a problem.

These are all assumptions, but I wish that there were more information to keep me from making them. As it stands right now, all I have to go on is previous business practices and the tendency for games to try to nickle-and-dime as much as possible for add-ons, even when you invest for the base product.

I hate even calling it a “base” product because I feel like I’m resigning to the fact that multiplayer games can’t just be games anymore; they have to be franchises and money-mills for their parent company. While some monetization methods are okay, they’re accepted because they make a relevant, “fair” trade-off: the game will be free with only cosmetics buyable, or essential stat-boosting elements won’t be accelerated by payment.

However, I’m really nervous Overwatch is going to just say “screw it, people are hyped enough for our game already, we’ll just do all the monetization and the majority won’t complain because we’re Blizzard.” Then people will buy it anyway in order to play with friends, fueling the perception that that kind of model is fine as long as you can weather initial outcry.

Gamers are impatient and their passions are fleeting. They’ll find something else to complain about by another company tomorrow.

Maybe this whole wrap-up has been a bit unfair to all parties involved. I’ll try to keep some optimism for Overwatch, because in the end, I’d like to enjoy it.


Matt Demers writes about eSports, gaming and culture. You can follow him on Twitter, Twitch, Facebook and YouTube. He writes a weekly newsletter about the above topics every Monday.

Video Games

Thoughts on Kero Blaster

Posted by Matt Demers on

One of the most beloved video games of all time is Cave Story, a labor of love by one Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya. Developed over the course of years, it was initially released for free, and eventually ported to consoles like the Nintendo 3DS and WiiU later.

Basically, if someone wants an example of a passion project that turned out amazing, you go to Cave Story. It’s pretty much the best freeware game of all time.

It took a while, but Pixel eventually released Kero Blaster, his next title, to a Western audience through a digital download, and on November 11, it hit Steam. I bought it, and beat it last night.

Fans of Cave Story will be happy to note that Kero Blaster is really similar to it. You jump, shoot and platform to kill enemies, complete stages and defeat bosses. Along the way you get money that can be used for permanent weapon and health upgrades; unlike Cave Story, you unlock four weapons as the game progresses, and each can be upgraded three times.

The game also differs in that it uses a traditional lives/Game Over system, which can be really unforgiving. Each hit you take docks you one heart from your meter, and you start out with two. After all your lives get expended, you start at the beginning of a level with all the money you collected still intact. To an extent, this means the game is grindable.

Unless Game Over-ing, you save your progress each time you enter a new room, and will spawn at the beginning if you die. The game mixes modern mechanics with challenge that I think gamers are looking for these days; Kero Blaster is unforgiving in Boss patterns, but it’s really rewarding when you clear it.

It’s not really the Dark Souls of platformers, nor is it just unfair like I Want To Be The Guy or Kaizo Mario levels.

Like Cave Story, the art style and the music are top notch. There’s a decent amount of exposition by characters that feel like they have personality despite minimal graphical complexity and chances to speak. It’s a fun, silly game that doesn’t have too much of a plot to it, but it doesn’t feel neglected.

Where Kero lacks is its length: you can beat this game in about 3 hours, including the grinding it may take to beat bosses. After finishing the game, you can open up a New Game+ mode with three collectibles to find in already-existing levels and a Boss Rush, but besides that the replay value will likely be taken up by Speedrunners or people looking to break the game.

For $10, this might be something that’s best left on your wishlist to wait for a sale, but supporting it means supporting one of the best philosophies in gaming: make something good, put your heart into what you make, don’t take your audience for granted and don’t be afraid to be weird. I’m cool supporting that in Pixel, because despite Kero Blaster not being revolutionary, the work he put into this and Cave Story (the latter over five years) seems worth rewarding.

Maybe that’s me mythologizing him a bit, but I think in this current age of gaming it’s healthy to examine that builds loyalty and how we respond to it. For me, Pixel’s story is one a lot of people can learn from, and his work ethic puts mine to shame.

Kero Blaster can be found on Steam or Playism. You can play a free demo called Pink Hour on Steam or Playism for a sampling of the mechanics.


Matt Demers writes about video games and eSports from Toronto, Ontario. You can follow him on Twitter and Twitch.

Esports

50 women in esports: a brief list

Posted by Matt Demers on

Sparked by a debate that happened yesterday about female representation and role models in esports/gaming, I decided to compile a list of women in the industry that I enjoy following on Twitter. I’ve included a little blurb about what they do and a follow button beneath all of them. I encourage you to follow them if you’re interested in expanding your horizons to the different voices within our industry.

As a disclaimer, though, I wanted to stress that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to be a woman in gaming; like guys, they should be able to enjoy, work at and participate in whatever they want to. They are not obligated to educate you, be superhuman or deal with you longer than they want to. Some just want to enjoy their hobby, passion or job, and that’s up to them.

This is not meant to be a definitive “valuable women in esports” list. There are definitely people on this list that I am not aware of, and by all means, you should seek them out. If you know of some, share their stuff and encourage more people to check out what they’re involved in; people sharing their stuff is the best way to help them grow.

By getting a better perspective of these people and how they contribute to esports (again, in as big or a little as a way they want to), I hope we can encourage success and help our ecosystem thrive.

If any of the people listed want to be removed from this post, please feel free to get in contact.

Dota 2

Sheever is a personality in Dota 2, and streams playing the game both by herself and with other personalities. She primarily works for the ASUS ROG DreamLeague, and has worked as talent for The International and other events.

Caitlin McGee is a statsperson for The Standard Deviants, a group of people who provide on-screen stats during competitive Dota 2; she is also writes about ergonomics in gaming, and how to avoid the pain that comes with it.

ProveDota works as a freelance caster for Dota 2, and also has a YouTube channel where she makes videos such as her “History of Dota” series. She has also worked as an interviewer during TI5.

Evany Chang manages Team OG, a player-owned Dota 2 team, winners of the 2015 Frankfurt Major and the 2016 Manila Major.

LlamaDownUnder is a play-by-play caster for Dota 2, and she can be found speaking at increasingly high speeds while casting games for BeyondtheSummit and Starladder.

Sajedene plays a heavy role in the operation of DotaCinema (the largest Dota 2 YouTube channel) and Digital Chaos, a professional team. She also streams on her own Twitch channel.

Soe works as an interviewer for ESL, and has worked on camera for a number of different eSports events. She also is a talented artist and streams on Twitch.

Helen Xu is a Chinese-to-English translator in Dota, working with teams at events like The International 5 to provide a bridge between languages. She also has worked to make vlogs for behind-the-scenes looks at The Nanyang Championships in Singapore.

New for 2016

Shannon Larkin works with Valve to put together amazing events for the Dota 2 community, like The International and Majors. She is the architect of the event known as the Midnight Snack, for which players and talent are forever thankful.

AnneDroid casts Dota for online and LAN events at a speed never thought possible by mortal ears. She also tames dragons, so that’s probably where she gets the magic from.

Slotherina (aka Alyssa) manages Digital Chaos, the runners-up for last year’s The International. As any Dota 2 manager can tell you, this is equal parts triumph and herding cats.

Ashnichrist is both a streamer and a leader of the Desoladies, a Dota 2 community for women.

Andra Ciubotaru leads DotaBlast, a site that has both interviews and news for the game. Based in Romania, she also has experience reporting on politics.

League of Legends

sjokz is an on-screen personality for Riot Games’ League Championship Series, leading panel discussions and interviewing the biggest players in the game.

Bridget Davidson is the Head of Esports Player Management for Riot Games, working to co-ordinate and educate the professionals of the LCS. In most cases, if there’s a problem on that front, she’ll know about it.

Froskurinn works as a caster for the Oceanic Pro League, serving as an analyst both on the camera and off. She is also a frequent guest and host on League of Legends talk shows.

Kelsey Moser is a journalist for theScore eSports, writing about the EU LCS and LPL China regions. She writes deeply analytical articles about game and team strategy. Disclosure: I am one of the people who edited her work at theScore.

Rachel Gu is a writer and translator who works for Gamespot and writes content for GoldPer10. She is one of the major Chinese-to-English translators in League of Legends.

Remilia played professional League of Legends for the LA Renegades, and was the first female player in the LCS. She currently streams League of Legends.

Anna B. Baumann is a legal academic in European Law, and advocates for player rights across eSports. She has served as a legal resource for journalists and has volunteered her expertise in community discussions.

Emily Rand is an eSports writer who has contributed to numerous eSports publications, such as LoLeSports, FolloweSports, GoldPer10, and more. She is the foremost English-speaking expert on the Brazilian League scene.

Curly is SK Gaming’s Editor-in-Chief, and has worked to publish numerous articles and interviews with players from around the globe.

Velvet works for Riot Games as a referee for LCS games. You can see her behind teams laying down the law when it’s needed.

Sam Brown has worked as social media and promotions for League of Legends teams and currently works at streaming company Twitch. Beware: she has memes and knows how to use them.

Brittany Brown has worked for companies like OnGamers and Gamespot as an on-screen talent, and has experience with radio as well. She currently works as a Partnerships Associate at Twitch.

Nicola Piggott is a Communications Manager for Riot Games’ eSports operations, and is the main point of contact for everything press-related when it comes to the LCS and beyond. Practitioner of photo stealth.

Becca Roberts works in PR at Riot Games for the eSports operation. Often posts behind-the-scenes photos at some of League of Legends’ biggest events.

Katherine Stull has written about eSports for LoLeSports, the Daily Dot, Team Dignitas. Currently a game design and journalism student.

Erika Tseng worked in Player Relations for Riot Games, and helped lead the Taipei Assassins to a Season 2 World Championship title. After departing from Riot, she now works at Epic Games.

Sigils is the manager for the Chiefs eSports Club, working in Australia to help build the International scene of League of Legends. Her team has attended numerous International Wild Card events.

Jamaica King works in Web Content Operations for Riot Games, and helps them publish videos, articles and infographics about the LCS. She also is a fitness/running blogger in her non-eSports time.

Amanda Stevens is a journalist and hosts The Analyst Desk, a podcast about analyzing League of Legends.

Cassandra is one of the hilarious people behind eSports Express, a satire site about the people and storylines that make eSports colorful.

Grace is a Korean translator for League, contributing to LoLeSports and offering a look into KR media that may otherwise get ignored.

Leah B. Jackson is an eSports Web Content Co-Ordinator for Riot Games, and helps make LoLeSports function. She also writes articles and provides observations through social media.

New for 2016:

Alex is a freelance video producer and editor, working with teams like TSM, Dignitas, Renegades, Team Liquid, and more.

Smash Bros (Melee, 64, 4, etc)

Pidge is a Smash 64 Tournament Organizer and has done a number of things to ensure the survival of that competitive scene. From volunteering to pushing for acceptance of DIY solutions to the shrinking supply of N64 controllers, Pidge is an advocate for a niche community.

Lilian Chen works for Google as a designer for YouTube Gaming. In the past, she has given a Ted Talk about “responding to sexism in gaming with empathy,” and has advocated for a more inclusive gaming community.

Holly Hua works at a major gaming company in public relations; she is also a frequent Smash Melee competitor and streams her gaming on her Twitch channel.

Yink is a Smash Tournament and charity organizer, speedrunner, and committed Nintendo fan.

Narcissa Wright competes in both Smash 4 and Melee, and is a prolific speedrunner. She has held world records in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.

New for 2016:

Alicia is a graphics designer for ShowdownGG, a company that produces weekly game nights, including the ever-popular “Get Smashed at the Foundry” series.

scf3 streams for Splyce and competes in Smash tournaments; besides Smash, she’s primarily affiliated with the Pokemon series, and does graphic design work for other streamers.

Suzy is an artist, clothing designer and organizer at a grassroots level, but is also a core part of the nigh-unstoppable “Pewzy” doubles team with Kevin “PewPewU” Toy.

Other eSports

Lauren Scott is a commentator for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, World of Tanks, Dirty Bomb and Battlefield 4. She works for ESL in both online tournaments and live stadium events.

Sophia Lyon works in marketing and content for Titan, one of the biggest Counter-Strike: Global Offensive brands.

Hafu is a Hearthstone pro gamer, playing it competitively and streaming for her fans. In the past she has played World of Warcraft, Bloodline Champions and Diablo 3 at a high level.

Emily Chow is a Product Manager at ESL, helping to bring some of the biggest eSports events in the world to life. She is also a former FGC competitor, and apparently can beat you (yes, you!) at Soul Calibur.

Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn is a Starcraft II player that is regarded as one of the top foreign talent to play the game.

Rachel Quirico is a veteran host and personality of numerous eSports. She has lent her interviewing talents to numerous shows, agencies and operations, and was a member of the FragDolls.

TL Taylor is the author of Raising The Stakes, an academic look at competitive gaming and the forces at work within the industry. She has also co-authored Ethnography and Virtual Worlds, a guide for those who want to study virtual worlds.

Helena Kristiansson is a photographer for ESL, and produces some of the most iconic looks at players’ happiest (and sometimes lowest) moments.

Anna Rozwandowicz works for ESL as Director of Communications and Boss of PR. Essentially, if there’s information coming out concerning ESL, she is the one overseeing it.

Susie Kim is a commentator, Korean translator, interviewer and resource for creative player selfies. Currently living and working in Korea for Twitch.

Jaycie “Gillyweed” Gluck is a commentator for the burgeoning Heroes of the Storm competitive community, and has casted live LAN tournaments including Blizzcon 2015.

Sue “Smix” Lee is a Partnerships Associate at Twitch, and also works as a host, interviewer and personality for multiple eSports.

GN4Rcandy is a former Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player and manager that has since moved to Dirty Bomb, a team-based shooter. Currently streams and radiates positivity.

Sunset is a writer and personality that writes about Starcraft, League of Legends, Smash 4 and Heroes of the Storm. Has freelanced for Red Bull eSports and LoLeSports’ Oceanic web site.

Tricia Sugita works for Azubu in Talent Management, and is a Tournament Organizer YouTuber, streamer and for multiple games.

As I said above, this is a personal list, and not a definitive one. I do not mean to offend by omission.


Matt Demers writes about eSports on a freelance basis. You can follow him on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube and Facebook, and support his work on Patreon. He writes two newsletters about eSports/work/productivity, and BetterDota.

Esports

Thanks, Marcus – a Dyrus obituary

Posted by Matt Demers on

Some of you know that eSports is something I came into by accident; it was never supposed to be a career, but more a hobby.

Marcus helped pull me in.

I started playing League of Legends casually in 2010, a little bit before Season 1. Garen has just been released, putting my start date around April of that year; I was garbage at it, and to a certain extent, I still am.

Marcus helped me get better.

I picked his stream out of a lineup of the popular players of the time; I started with Chauster, migrated to TreeEskimo, then finally found a chill stream with a monotone guy who wasn’t above the occasional trolling.

Marcus wasn’t (and isn’t) totally emotionless; you just had to grasp the subtleties of his happiness, frustration and triumph. When he did emote, you knew it was something both serious and worth paying attention to.

Like that stoic dad who never needed to raise his voice, it became easy to respect the guy behind the keyboard because a lot of us could empathize with what someone in his position faced.

That’s particularly what draws me to eSports: seeing how young men and women with a very specific skill set deal with a massive amount of attention and expectation. Marcus did as well as anyone could have hoped, but also seemed to hide his struggle behind a barrier that few of us will ever really pass by.

And that’s fine. He’s entitled to.

This weekend we saw Marcus’ tearful goodbye speech at the 2015 League of Legends World Championships, along with an outpouring of gratitude and memories. While his statement was somber — he thought he had let his fans down — it felt like he didn’t need to apologize. He tried his best, stayed true to himself, and that was enough.

While some might argue that he isn’t worthy of the praise that people might heap on him now that he’s done, I think there’s value in someone who’s performed at a consistently high level during his career, represented his generation of players and stayed loyal to his teammates.

When others stepped to criticize TSM, Marcus was one to defend them. When people thought to speak for him, he realized that people could never see the whole picture. Like I said before, he was stoic until he needed to be otherwise, and even if people disagreed, they tended to listen.

Despite never winning a Worlds, Marcus will be remembered by the League community as a unique personality and voice. However, as he retires, a number of his posts seem to point towards a period of rest and reinvention.

After giving so much of his time to this game and seeing competitive League of Legends evolve from fighting about players streaming weekly online cups to competing in a full-year, unified league, I would not blame anyone for wanting that time.

While the Internet tends to reward those who go “all in” on their passions to make a living, there’s a sad problem where it tends to suck the fun out of it. For a little while it’s been more evident that long-time players are tired, burned out, and that can cause negative feelings to seep into something they once loved.

Trust me, that really sucks.

Despite League being such a unique and vibrant phenomenenon, sometimes you just need to step back and find out who you truly are. We might see Marcus step back to the spotlight soon, or we might see him fade away and be more comfortable watching from the outside.

I don’t think anyone should blame him for taking either route.

Thanks, Marcus. You were different, in a good way. I hope you find the peace you deserve with the people who support and love you. You gave me a personality to empathize with and follow as I waded into the shallow end of eSports, and you were still there while I tread water in the deep.


Matt Demers writes about eSports from Toronto. Follow him on Twitch and Twitter.

The Media

Experiences with the Valve/HTC Vive VR

Posted by Matt Demers on

This past week at The International I managed to get some time with the Valve/HTC virtual reality project, the Vive. I’ve never tried VR before, but tales of friends who have Oculus Rift developer kits and the general progress that the industry has made really got me interested.

The Vive is a combination of a headset/visor and earphones that you wear; it has a “tail” of cables that come out of the back of the visor and really gives the vibe of being plugged into The Matrix; keeping in mind where the cables are when you’re moving around the Vive environment is crucial, not only to break from immersion, but because I wanted to keep from possibly breaking the demo model.

After signing into a desk for the demo, I was taken into a room alone with the presenter; the room had four laser projectors on poles, which I was told were to coat the activity area with something for the headset to reference. In essence, it was like the Wii, where an IR emitter (the Wii bar) was used with a sensor (in the remote) to determine where you are, what you’re facing, and what to show you. After some research, it looks like these emitters will be mounted on walls in a consumer usecase, because I’d imagine setting them up in a house might be awkward.

Articles have stated that these emitters will be able to sense where objects are in a room and plan accordingly, so you won’t need to have a specific blank space to interact in. If you do reach a boundary inside the demonstration, a grid of light lines comes up, signalling that you’re hitting a “wall”.

Putting on the visor, I was taken into a test environment that had a lobby of different scenarios. It was kind of like the Wii’s home screen, but closer to an art gallery. I was given two controllers, and tested some buttons: eventually a ballon blew out of my left controller, and I was able to bat it around, watch it float upward, and blow new ones. The left controller also had a wheel to choose balloon colours, which was responsive and gave enough feedback that you felt you were actually there.

A large concern for me coming into this demo (and VR in general) was the immersiveness of it. Things like me wearing glasses caused worries that I would not be able to kind of lose myself in what was being presented; that ended up not being a factor at all (here’s a photo that I snuck of me wearing it).

All in all, I do not hesitate to say it was a life-changing experience.

Numerous demos showed off different things. I explored a sunken ship’s bow where minnows swam away from my “hands”, assembled a sandwich in a kitchen to show off interactivity between objects, painted with light in a 3D space and explored a Secret Shop, straight out of Dota 2.

Despite the environments not looking completely photorealistic, everything just kind of sucked me in. The audio and the resolution of the eyepieces were at such high quality that eventually I kind of forgot what I was doing; I was largely pre-occupied with the demos, but I remember having the biggest grin on my face because one of the most attractive tropes of science fiction was actually here.

The controllers have thumb pads for things like menu selection and fine manipulation, as well as side and bottom triggers for things like grip. There was never any virtualization of arms or legs, but sometimes the implements made a big deal, since menus and options were projected onto them.

With the light painting, I could spin menus on my left implement with my right, dabbing as if I was choosing paint off a palette. In the Secret Shop, I got my own light source, and moving it around the environment cast dynamic shadows and could cause reactions from simulated characters.

These moments just felt… amazing. Discovering new things and fighting the conditioning that you’ve learned from “normal” video games was exhilarating: simple things like reaching into a giant soup pot and realizing that there was no awkward collision mechanics just blew my mind.

In that cooking mini-game, I noticed how much I relied on games to fill in complicated blanks, which I actually had to do here. Reaching deep into a pot instead of waiting for an ingredient to snap to my hand, or just not having a “press A to pick up” prompt just felt alien; this is a good thing, because it signals that this medium will actively change how we approach interaction in a digital space, and from a futurism perspective, it’s crazy to think that it will be available now, instead of twenty years.

I know they were just tech demos, but I couldn’t help but think about the possibilities of using a Google Sketchup open-source marketplace to design and publish models that could be brought into a VR environment and then manipulated, annotated, or studied. I thought about the blue whale I saw on the ship’s deck, and how we could simulate an aquarium without the need to house animals.

I thought about the implications of a virtual reality-influenced existence, where people may get addicted to an ideal, controlled environment.

That last point is obviously a job for more accomplished philosophers than me, and is kind of scary to delve into.

This demo instantly made me a believer that VR could be done right, and has kickstarted a little bit of a fire in me. I want to see where this medium goes, and I want to grow up alongside it, so to speak; depending on the price, I might just be an early adopter, but I can’t wait to see what five or ten years will do for it.

Until then, it’s just a matter of waiting.


I’m Matt Demers, and I write about tech, eSports and more. Follow me on Twitter, Twitch and Instagram for more like the post you just read. Subscribe to Matt dot 808, my weekly newsletter, for recommended reading, streaming schedule and mini-thoughts that don’t make it to my blog.

Esports/Video Games

Dota Reborn is out! Here’s things I like so far

Posted by Matt Demers on

I recently had the chance to play around with the Dota 2 Reborn beta after it launched earlier this week. Obviously, being a beta, there’s a bunch of stuff that needs to be improved — things like connectivity issues during custom games, spectating and Hero MMR are all kind of struggling.

However, I thought I’d write a bit about what I did like, which was quite a lot; as I said before, in my previous blog post, the main enjoyment I’m getting out of this is knowing that Valve are implementing and improving Reborn so quickly that it doesn’t feel like I have to just deal with the crap for the foreseeable future.

The Interface


The interface for Reborn is smooth as hell, and that’s something that really makes me grin. With some games you just feel good going through the menus, and this is one of those times.

There’s less of a loading time going from tab to tab. Things load quickly, and assets rarely “snap in” unless there’s some kind of model to load. For screens like the hero select or the armory, you have an easy-to-navigate set of buttons that click, snap and shift with awesome effects.

Things like the “ready to play” button moving from “accept” to a list of icons to show who’s ready just look awesome.

The Friend Feed


These kind of features tend to be a little cyclical: if no one uses them, they fall by the wayside. However, I’ve made a habit of checking and commenting on friends’ stuff from time to time, just to give a bit of light-hearted ribbing or just see if it works.

Knowing that my friends are playing and progressing gives me an idea of where I stack up against them, and that’s always a motivator to get better. I’ve been playing more Dota over the last two weeks than I have in months, and having incentives like streaming, the Compendium and friends to play/compete with are really helping me get more out of the game.

It also helps to see who’s queuing up for custom games, and I’ve already found myself grabbing lobbies with people I haven’t talked to in years because “hey, what’s one game?”

The Game Itself


Reborn made a bunch of changes to the map, both aesthetically and functionally, and from the few games I’ve played on it I really enjoy it. It’s not something so huge that I’m sitting there saying “Damn, never again am I going back to Source 1,” but at the same time things feel snappier: I played a Viper game where killing creeps seemed simpler. I played a Keeper of the Light game where I was a bit let scatterbrained than normal. I had more awareness. I was more clutch.

Completely subjective, obviously, but that’s the whole point of this article – for all I know, playing on Reborn with the mentality of trying something new out could’ve given me a huge placebo effect.

I mean, that’s at least better than hating it, right?


I really can’t wait for Reborn to get to the point where the things I love about Dota 2 1.0 (heh) are implemented: I play a lot of Compendium Challenge games, and not having those count for heroes and challenges kind of sucks.

Like I said, though, I’m amazed that there’s been a wealth of changes already from Valve to fix things that players are noticing: this isn’t something that’s released as a novelty in order to sit on the shelf and rot. This is the next life of Dota 2, and hopefully one that will last as long as possible.

In short, it’s pretty awesome from the get-go, but what’s really great is that this is only the foundation from where things get better.


Matt Demers writes about eSports. He lives in Toronto, and works as a Supervising Editor for theScore eSports. Follow him on Twitter or Twitch.tv, where he streams Dota.

Esports/Video Games

Dota Reborn: Three things I’m excited about

Posted by Matt Demers on

A couple days ago Dota 2 fans were treated to the launch of Reborn, a web page devoted to the updating of… a lot of things.

The first part focused on the out-of-game experience, which includes the client and the way we can watch matches from within it. This is really important, as it serves as a foundation for how we experience Dota: it’s like a city that needs good logistics, because otherwise it becomes a convoluted mess.

As someone who’s played League of Legends since beta, one of my main gripes is that its client is pretty much held together with duct tape. It also lacks certain features that other games — well, let’s be real here, Dota — do really really well. This update reminded me how much I value a good infrastructure and how much I love little bells and whistles.

Here’s three things I like about what the first part of Reborn brings to the table:

1. Improved Viewing Experience

Let’s look at this image. Real time graphs. Minimap. Chat. Ad space for tournaments. Side UI elements that (hopefully) can be hidden. Third-party streams. Hopefully real-time item build/timing information. I’m pretty biased because all this stuff really makes my job easier, but it also makes it easier to step inside the mind of the pro as they’re playing.

Knowing when/how pros get their timings make emulating them easier; obviously I’m not going to be able to be like them completely, but suddenly you have a concrete idea of what’s slow, fast or in-line with how the good people are playing.

2. Hero Tinkering

I’m going to confess that sometimes I play Dota 2 like a dress-up game. I like to see cool combinations of cosmetics, and if I want to test a hero I rarely play, it can be a pain to load up a custom game, make sure cheats are enabled, only to disconnect and recreate because I want to try something else.

It looks like Dota’s going to make it easier to tinker with heroes, and I’m definitely all for that. I’m a huge fan of guides built in to the client (sometimes to a fault) and reading them before I’m in game and under a time pressure will be awesome. I’m also really curious about there being “more information to help you determine if a hero is right for you,” because a question I commonly ask my stacks is “what should I play?”

Sometimes you just need to be nudged in the right direction, and hopefully with the new information the game is going to be tracking on you (see below), it’ll be able to be accurate.

3. Playstyle Analytics

This is the big one for me. I’m not exactly a hardcore data geek, but I love looking at numbers and seeing my performance quantified — even if I suck, tell me where I’m sucking and where I can get better. Even if I don’t end up trying to fix things, at least I know where my strengths lie.

I think that’s why I’m kind of enjoying the 10 Hero Challenge in this year’s Compendium and the associated Coin Challenges; they give me a reason to step outside my comfort zone, and when I accomplish them, I almost always have a moment where I mentally remind myself that it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Sometimes it’s really easy to take those challenges and be self-defeating. With the integration of deeper stats and visualizations, players might at least be able to gain confidence to where they excel so that their shortcomings don’t hit as hard.

It’s this kind of information that helps me invest in playing the game for a longer span of time because I won’t hit roadblocks as hard; if I want to stay and play Dota 2 (which I do), I will have more tools to get more out of the game and learn from mistakes.


In the end, I’m happy to see Dota 2 getting a massive upgrade because it makes me feel that Valve cares about their player base; sometimes it’s easy to just feel like you’re funneling money into the game, but at least large, sweeping improvements like this show that complaints aren’t being ignored.

In the Reddit reaction thread to this update, someone said that this literally took concerns from the past two years and fixed them all at once. Then someone else reminded people that this was the first of three parts to Reborn. I legitimately felt like a game I enjoy was both secure for the future and in good hands.

That’s something I’m really not used to.


Matt Demers is a Toronto writer who is a Supervising Editor for theScore eSports. He’s also still waiting for replays in League of Legends. Follow him on Twitter and Twitch, where he streams Dota 2.

Uncategorized

This hurts to write

Posted by Matt Demers on

Like many people my age, I got hooked on computers early on in my life. I remember playing games like Dangerous Dave, Monster Bash and Commander Keen, which led to Dota 2, League of Legends and others today.

I also was a pretty big journal kid. My parents divorced early, and I spent a lot of time writing out feelings because the privacy was attractive. Something secret, safe and secure meant that I could just vent. I felt like a spy, carrying important thoughts and information with me in a book.

The two combined, and here I am, writing. The problem, through, is that the last year has spawned issues with my hands. I sit down at a desk, start working or playing, then realize that pain is an inevitability. The back of my hands burn. My joints ache. My fingertips get numb.

Coming from someone who sees my grandma’s arthritic fingers stick out at odd angles, this is terrifying.

The easy thing (and what most people suggest) is breaks, but it feels like I cannot afford them. I have no complaints about my job, as they have been accommodating — what sucks is just a feeling of helplessness.

Silent keys means you’re not writing. Silent keys means you’re not playing. Silent keys means you’re not improving. Silent keys mean that other people are getting ahead.

Again: terrifying.

As a tall guy at six-foot-three, it’s hard to make things comfortable . Chairs, desks and monitors are all too short. I’ve had to improvise with phone books, exercise balls or jury-rigged shelving. It reminds me that my body is weird, non-standard, and clumsy. I don’t fit. Breaks exacerbate this.

If you’re trying to correct years of bad posture, the pain on back, wrists and neck can be a bit of a shock. You make these changes and tell yourself that it’ll pay off in the long run, but it’s easy to fall back into comfortable habits to stop pain.

But if you’re in my position, where your hands are your life, there can’t be a compromise. It’s either fix this, or shorten your time doing what you enjoy. It’s a tough choice, but a necessary one: I cannot afford to give up now, or leave the game early. I have a responsibility to myself to keep living this dream I’ve earned for myself while still having a (relatively) pain-free future.

It’s time to sit up straight.


Matt Demers is a Supervising Editor for theScore eSports. He enjoys tea and hip hop. Follow him on Twitter.

The Media

On comics, and evolving tastes

Posted by Matt Demers on

Today I went to TCAF 2015. Usually, it’s a pretty big event during my calendar year; I really love comics, and seeing a lot of independent voices always felt really good.

However, this year it didn’t do a lot for me. It felt weird. I felt a little more detached than I usually do. I wasn’t as excited to experience new things; I found that there was less of the feeling that I was looking forward to.

It’s hard to explain, but my enjoyment of comics has shrank so much in the past year. Choices made by Marvel and DC have pretty much alienated me from anything superhero-related, and I don’t find myself hooked by anything new in the wide-open land of creator owned, or tier 2 publishers like Image, Dark Horse, etc.

Lauded series (Saga, East of West, Sex Criminals) don’t really hold my attention enough to look forward to new issues, and I rarely find myself wanting to binge-read in order to catch up. I’m finding that I only feel a need to keep up in order to be “with it” with current “good” books, but instead of wanting to take part in a community I’m feeling increasingly insular.

The comics I have enjoyed in the last year tend to be “classics”; I read the entirety of Usagi Yojimbo and Akira, and damn, those are some good books. They remind me of good experiences I had in the past, and the lovely release you get when you close the back cover, exhale, and think “that was some shit.”

With modern comics, I’m feeling that less and less.

I’m at the point where I am content to have comics being something I am completely selfish about. No blogging, no discussion, no speculation, no work. No reading blogs about the latest outrage, no worrying whether if it’s my “fault” when a book I’m not interested in fails.

Instead, I’m content to just read what I want, enjoy it how I want, then not talk about it with anyone. While I still like comics, they are no longer a consuming passion that I want to experience in its entirety.

For now, there are parts that I want to keep and cherish, and I’m content doing just that.


Matt Demers is a Toronto writer who works in eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.

Esports

Games in Motion: Dignitas vs Cloud 9 HyperX

Posted by Matt Demers on

Up until this week, I was noting a very worrying trend for LCS matches; I was getting bored. Games lacked a certain competition that usually glues me to the screen; while players can do some wonderful plays in one-sided stomps, I’m a lot more engaged when I’m on the edge of my seat, knowing that the balance of power can shift at any time.

Perhaps that’s what made this match between Dignitas and Cloud 9 HyperX awesome. Dignitas’ run up until that point was rough, as they were thoroughly trounced at the Battle of the Atlantic and ended their first three LCS games with a 1-2 record. Cloud 9, on the other hand, are regarded as the strongest North American team, winning the Season 3 Summer Split and avenging their World Championship loss against Fnatic at BotA.

All predictions pointed to a pretty one-sided match, and a Cloud 9 victory.

But that didn’t happen.


Week 1: North American League Championship Series

Dignitas Cloud 9
Zed (1) Kassadin (2)
Kha’Zix (3) Kayle (4)
Yasuo (5) Annie (6)
Jinx Shyvana
Thresh Elise
Dr. Mundo Riven
Gragas Leona
Vi Lucian

The pick and ban phase told a big story in terms of what each team was looking to do; Dignitas spent all three of their bans on mid-lane champions, denying C9’s Hai any comfort picks. Cloud 9 answered in kind, taking Kayle and Kassadin away from Scarra, and keeping an Annie support from disrupting the diving composition they wanted to build.

With Hai cut off from many of his regular champions, Cloud 9 made the call to choose Riven in order to fit with their theme; each of their picks had abilities to chase and lock down their opponent with crowd-control, letting Cloud 9 outlast engagement and kill those trying to escape.

I don’t want to say that either team lost the game within the pick phase, since no one was forced onto champions they were particularly uncomfortable with. I don’t doubt Hai’s ability to play Riven, but what we’ve seen from these LeBlanc/Zed/Riven mid choices is that they need to snowball quite hard in order to survive.

The game started with a familiar “line of scrimmage” set up, transitioning into a traditional 2v2 bottom lane. From there, the early game progressed pretty evenly; each side got their initial farm without much incident. Early aggression was deflected by supports in the bottom lane, while mid and top traded when they could.

Things picked up at the five-minute mark with a timely gank by Crumbzz’ Vi on Balls’ Shyvana. CruzerTheBruzer’s Dr. Mundo got a great first blood, which gave him a little boost to fend off the Dragon Lady’s relentless push.

The commentators pointed out two things that were extremely relevant: Balls’ goal in the early game was to bully Mundo and take the top tower. He was unable to do so because of Cruzer’s under-tower last-hitting and Vi’s gank killing his momentum. The First Blood gold also let Mundo start building tanky right away, which kept him from getting forced out of lane.

While this was going on, however, Cloud 9 equalized the momentary advantage by taking Dragon immediately and sending Riven to keep their top tower from taking too much damage. Both of these actions kept a snowball from forming, and almost reset the tension of the match.

This game had a very distinct ebb and flow. When Scarra swung momentum in Dignitas’ favour with a solo kill on Riven, it was hard to celebrate; fans know how good Cloud 9 is, and that they could take that power back whenever they wanted.

To their effort, LemonNation’s Leona and Sneaky’s Lucian tried to do just that soon after in the bottom lane with the help of Meteos’ Elise, but great positioning by KiWiKiD’s Thresh allowed Imaqtpie’s Jinx to escape despite her Flash being down. The Box took up such a large portion of the bottom lane that Sneaky was kept on the other side of it; without any major source of damage, the gank was called off.

Moments later, a counter-engage by Vi left both teams with little health, but no kills; even a roaming Gragas couldn’t find anything due to Sneaky’s timely Flash. Opinion on the roam was a bit split, as the commentators lamented that Scarra couldn’t pick up any kills; however, as Coast Gaming’s Alex Penn pointed out:

Cloud 9 took the second dragon of the game with a bit of a Cold War standoff; no one from Dignitas engaged, which is almost a little strange. For those of us who’ve followed the team for a while, this kind of restraint is a marked improvement; losing multiple members at that dragon fight could have easily meant a revitalized Cloud 9.

It was clear, however, that Dignitas wanted to take advantage of a trend we’ve seen emerge from Cloud 9; the latter is successful because all of their lanes are individually strong. However, when placed in a situation when they’re working from behind, or when one lane loses convincingly, it may be difficult for them to catch back up.

Hai’s Riven had an especially difficult game, with Dignitas punishing him repeatedly to the point where he was a non-factor in later team fights. While I don’t want to single this out as the chief reason they won, a Riven without any items is like a LeBlanc without items: significantly less scary.

On the other hand, Scarra’s Gragas getting fed was exactly what Dignitas needed. It was clear by the mid-game that he was out-damaging Riven with only a couple of Doran’s Rings and a partially completed Zhonya’s Hourglass. He was also instrumental in dispersing her dives with Explosive Cask, leaving Hai on the outside of most melees.

By the fifteen minute mark, Dignitas stood with a five to zero kill score, but less than a 1,000 gold advantage. Checking the gold totals, many matches were even despite C9 lacking in kills.

The scoreboard also told another interesting story: Crumbzz’ Vi had been involved in all but one of those kills, and it was clear that he was a key reason they had a lead at all. Vi was able to close gaps or immobilize key targets at just the right time; despite Cloud 9’s champions being suited to the chase, they had to burn these gap-closers to avoid Vi’s wrath, putting them on cooldown.

While the small lead in gold was a testament to Cloud 9’s game sense and farming ability, I feel like there was a point where they got frustrated and tried to force some team fights without the necessary vision. A 6-1 lead crept to 10-3 in Dignitas’ favour after an engagement lead to the deaths of Vi and Thresh, but allowed Dignitas’ Jinx and Gragas to mop up.

The important thing to note here is that Dignitas made a concerted effort to peel for Imaqtpie, letting him get crucial ramp-up auto-attacks on Jinx‘s minigun. QT’s always been a slippery character (usually on Ezreal), but playing an escape-less Jinx seems to have put those senses into overdrive. There was no hesitation or over-commitment; it was a nice, pleasant balance that netted him a big lead over his lane opponent.

The rest of the game felt a bit surreal, as I’m not used to Dignitas playing consistently enough to avoid heartbreak. They traveled as team, focused down appropriate targets, warded competently and genuinely out-fought Cloud 9.

All these little advantages came together quite nicely: Imaqtpie’s Jinx was a damage source and focal point for Cloud 9, allowing Scarra’s Gragas to focus on laying down AOE damage and disperse dive attempts with his Explosive Cask. By this time, CruzerTheBruzer’s Dr. Mundo had three tank items of his own, adding considerable bulk to their frontline, while both KiWiKiD’s Thresh and Crumbzz Vi provided engage and disengage.

It’s like someone basically injected Dignitas with a steroid that allowed them to play these champions and their composition’s function to the best of their ability.

They also somehow were able to siphon Cloud 9’s brainpower, as Dignitas didn’t panic when they were suddenly faced with a huge lead. There was no Dignitoss at Baron, costly tower dives, lengthy chases or unnecessary lonely roams. When they took down an inhibitor, they accessed their ability to get another one; when they were turned away from a push, they picked another lane and shoved safely.

Their eventual gold lead gave them a cushion of damage and tankiness that Cloud 9 just didn’t have; Ball’s Shyvana couldn’t provide a necessary front line and LemonNation’s Leona was not an equivalent substitute. Their victory was not flashy, but systematic; they put themselves in a position where victory was the only option, and executed.

I’m proud of Dignitas in this match because they did not win with a crazy level one fight, nor did they play some outlandish composition that Cloud 9 had trouble countering. You could see each individual player shining in their own way – especially KiWiKiD, who has been steadily improving his Thresh. In the end, they made better choices than they usually do and simply outplayed the North American champions.

It’s not every day that you can say you did that; I just hope that this isn’t some one-time greatness that we’ll never see again.

In short, Dignitas:

  1. Defused Shyvana and kept her from taking an early tower; this kept her from finishing Blade of the Ruined King quickly in order to progress to tank items
  2. Killed Hai repeatedly, and kept Riven from farming an advantage back
  3. Forced attention onto QTPie’s Jinx, allowing Scarra to remain relatively untouched.
  4. Chose smart engagements with Vi and withheld skills (Flash and Explosive Cask, notably) until they were absolutely needed
  5. Remained calm and took objectives when the necessary vision groundwork had been laid. No knee-jerk reactions to equalize Cloud 9’s progress

Thanks for reading this recap. If you liked it, consider following me on Twitter Facebook, Twitch and Youtube.