Hey everyone, I'm Rod Slasher Breslau, the new guy at GameSpot. Welcome to a new recurring feature here titled "This Week in eSports." I have been involved with and worked within the competitive gaming industry for over a decade, and one of the biggest concerns I hear is how those outside of the industry, and even hardcore fans, have trouble keeping up with what's going on. So many different games, leagues, teams, and players make it difficult to stay on top of all the big stories. I want to change this, and hope this new weekly feature will be a start of that transformation. The first recap encompasses stories on events from this weekend (Shadowloo Showdown, Seasons Beatings Summer Slam, and Iron Squid) and the progress developers Riot, Blizzard, and Treyarch have made recently in competitive gaming.
Editor's Note: This first edition of This Week in eSports is very long because there's a lot of news to catch up on from the past week. Future editions will be much shorter. Please let us know what you think in the comments.
The action kicked off Down Under with Shadowloo Showdown in Melbourne, Australia, the first of two fighting game events this past weekend. The event featured a slew of titles including Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Street Fighter X Tekken,The King of Fighters XIII, SoulCalibur V, Virtua Fighter 5, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, and the recently released Skullgirls. Although there have been multiple high-tier fighting game tournaments over the past few months (Winter Brawl, Final Round 15, and NorCal Regionals 10), Shadowloo Showdown marked the first event of the year where we would get to see many of the top Japanese players in action. This includes EVO 2011 Champion Keita "Fuudo" Ai, Murderface Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi, Evil Geniuses' Yusuke "Momochi" Momochi, and 3rd Strike legend MOV.
Not only were there at least 15 Japanese competitors, but there were also players from the USA, South Korea, China, the United Kingdom, France, Taiwan, Singapore, and Kuwait.
Not only were there at least 15 Japanese competitors, but there were also players from the USA, South Korea, China, the United Kingdom, France, Taiwan, Singapore, and Kuwait. On hand were American superstars Evil Geniuses' Justin Wong, Complexity's Ryan "Filipino Champ" Ramirez, Always Godlike's Kyohei "MarlinPie" Lehr, Korea's EVO Top 3 finisher Chung-gon "Poongko" Lee, China's KOF kings Xiaohai and Dakou, the UK's Prodigal Son Ryan Hart, Taiwan's fan favorite Bruce "GamerBee" Hsiang, France's Olivier "Luffy" Hay, and hometown heroes Jonny "Humanbomb" Cheng and Michael "ToXY" Guida. "There were a dozen legit contenders to win the whole thing," fighting game commentator David Graham, known to most as ultradavid, told me after the event. "This was the deepest AE2012 tournament to date."
After two days of grueling competition, Japan's best Akuma player, Hiroyuki "Eita" Nagata, crowned himself Shadowloo Showdown AE2012 Champion by taking out Banbaban's Cammy in the grand finals, holding off Banbaban after he forced a second set coming from the losers bracket. Eita had performed well in international events, taking out Daigo on European tours, but this was his first major title victory. This was also Banbaban's breakout performance, while Shungoku Neurosis' Bison took third, showing off more of the amazing stuff we got a glimpse of at last year's Canada Cup. Tokido and GamerBee played well, as Déjà_vu struck Justin Wong with GamerBee's Adon and eliminated him from the event in the last round of the last match, preventing him from earning a top eight finish, and marking a repeat performance of GamerBee's EVO 2010 win. With Justin Wong's loss, no North American players finished in the top eight for AE2012. EVO Champion Fuudo did not perform as well as expected, and Poongko dropped out of the top 16.
Most telling about the results is the parity among the characters used, with 12 different characters of the top 16 spots. "The cool thing about the tournament is that it helped show that the game seems fairly well balanced," Graham said. "Akuma is the only character that showed up twice in the top eight, and nobody thinks he's the best in the game. The rest of the top 16 was pretty awesomely balanced. In total there were only four repeat characters, and two of them were used by the same guy (Naruo used both Ryu and Evil Ryu)."
Marvel went much better (as expected) for the Americans: MarlinPie, Filipino Champ, and Justin Wong took the top three spots. After MarlinPie swept Justin in the losers finals, he proceeded to do the same to Filipino Champ and force a second and final set. Down 2-0, MarlinPie (C. Viper/Doctor Doom/Amaterasu) turned the match into one of the best in Marvel history by coming back to force a final game at 2-2, and Perfect'ing Filipino Champ to close it out. GamerBee got the best of Justin Wong for a second time this weekend, squeaking home a 3-2 win in what was a very hype SFXT Grand Finals. Xiaohai dismantled Tokido to take home KOF13, and Tokido did the same to win SoulCalibur V. Both Tokido and Justin Wong displayed their versatility this weekend by placing in the top eight in six different games--not an easy feat by any means.
Seasons Beatings Summer Slam
While the action closed out in Melbourne, things were heating up at the Seasons Beatings Summer Slam Road to EVO 2012 qualifier in Columbus, Ohio. North America's best were in attendance including Complexity's Mike Ross and Peter "Combofiend" Rosas, Evil Geniuses' Ricky Ortiz, Eduardo "PR Rog" Perez, and BrokenTier's lineup of Jay "Viscant" Snyder, Michael "IFC Yipes" Mendoza, and Kevin "Dieminion" Landon. With most of the big names occupied in Austrialia, there wasn't much international competition to be expected. That was, of course, until Western Wolves' Korean superstars Lee "Infiltration" Seon Woo and Ryan "Laugh" Ahn showed up.
By the end the salt level for PR Rog was higher than a supersized meal at McDonald's.
After getting sent down to the losers bracket by PR Rog, Infiltration went on a winning spree that included eliminating Dieminion, Ricky Ortiz, and Combofiend in a row. This saw him use Hakana and Oni before switching to Akuma to come back against Combofiend down 0-2 to take the set 3-2 and force a rematch against PR Rog. In what seemed like a blur, Infiltration completely dismantled PR Rog in the first set 3-0, forcing a second set with an opponent he has broken mentally. PR Rog's composure was gone, and it was all downhill from that point as Infiltration continued the punishment, leading to an even easier 3-0 finale, crowning Infiltration the AE2012 Champion. By the end, the salt level for PR Rog was higher than a supersized meal at McDonald's.
Noel Brown (Wolverine/West/Wesker) came through big with one of his first major UMVC3 victories, taking out PR Rog, Combofiend, and EVO 2011 Champion Viscant in the finals. Noel's results have continued to improve from 2011 to 2012, culminating in his performance this weekend. His good friend Justin Wong tweeted afterward that he was "so happy that NoelBHungry won Seasons Beatings." Infiltration and Laugh teamed up to win the quite entertaining team SFXT tournament, a format that fits well for the game.
A full list of results for all games, and VODs, can be found here.
MMA Tames the Iron Squid
While fighting games were on display in the US and Down Under, Starcraft II was center stage in Europe at one of France's debut live events for the game. With the historic French Electronic Sports World Cup a shell of its former self, there has not been an event in France to showcase Starcraft II since the game's release. This changed when two of France's biggest commentators, Pomf and Thud, decided they want to create a new event to fill the void and announced their plans in January. "The name Iron Squid was chosen to refer to the ability of multitasking that the pro gamers develop throughout their career," the official website said.
The event had multiple online qualifiers and invites to both the world's best Korean and foreigner players. There was plenty of star power on show, with champions Lim "NesTea" Jae Duk, Jang "MC" Min Chul, and Lee "MarineKing" Jung Hoon, along with foreigner heroes Ilyes "Stephano" Satouri, Greg "IdrA" Fields, and Marcus "ThorZaIN" Eklöf. This culminated in four groups of five players each playing online, with the top two from each group moving on to an online quarterfinals. The winners of each of those games advanced to the live finals event in Paris, which we'll talk about in a minute.
Korean players dominated the online qualifiers, leaving no foreigners remaining by the time we hit the quarterfinals. NesTea advanced along with IPL4 Champion Han "aLive" Lee Seok and former GSL champion Moon "MMA" Sung Won looking to rebound off recent losses. The biggest surprise came from TSL's Kang "Symbol" Dong Hyun, an up-and-coming Korean Zerg who hasn't been able to find much success in GSL or GSTL but plays well in online events such as the ESV TV Korean Weekly. Smart play earned him a decisive victory over MKP. Two Terrans, two Zergs. Sorry Protoss lovers, you always have GSL this season, and don't be surprised if we have a PvP final.
So, that live event in Paris? It was held at Le Grand Rex, an 80-year-old, 2,800-seat venue usually used for cinema, theater, and music. While most events are held in convention centers and are tied to larger gaming trade shows, this was one of the very first to be held inside a large venue like this, especially one as prestigious as Le Grand Rex. "Pomf and Thud specifically wanted to bring Starcraft to the center of Paris," Iron Squid's editor Clement "LeLfe" Laparra said. "Le Grand Rex is in the very center of Paris with comfortable seats. It was an easy choice." They had the venue, and they had the players, but would the people show up? Tickets were priced at $47, and this was their first-ever live event. Skepticism could certainly be forgiven.
The event sold out all 2,800 tickets in less than two weeks. Saturday morning saw thousands of fans head to Le Grand Rex, e-sports apparel on their backs and colorful signs in their hands. Before the doors opened, a long and winding line formed outside the venue, which went down the block and around the corner. That image on the right? That's a map of the whole line ahead of the event.
Fans on-site were treated to comfy seats, live music, and alcohol, which is a rare sight at e-sports events outside of IPL's new casino events.
Fans on-site were treated to comfy seats, live music, and alcohol, which is a rare sight at e-sports events outside of IPL's new casino events. "The spectators were the best crowd ever," said Laparra. "They were cheering and chanting for the four players, and even NesTea was moved when hearing his name that loud!" The live production was stellar for those there and watching the French stream online, though things were wonky on the English stream, which suffered some visual problems and audio issues. Casters John "Totalbiscuit" Bain and Shaun "Apollo" Clark were not present at the event and were casting from home, which caused some problems.
After the past few months of lacking results for SlayerS' MMA, he was able to earn his first title since winning the Intel Extreme Masters event in Kiev. He took out aLive in the first set in a close TvT that went the full five games, and then took out an inexperienced Symbol in the grand finals. Symbol was able to take out NesTea's ZvZ--one of his best matchups--to reach the finals, but did not have enough experience to go up against one of the world's best Terran players. "The finals were astonishing in terms of scope and showmanship," caster Totalbiscuit told me after the event. "The casters and organizers Pomf and Thud have a very unique way with a crowd and were at their best in front of the 2,800 loud French e-sports fans. The enthusiasm of the crowd was not diminished by the lack of foreigners in the RO4. Symbol's underdog story was brought to a close in the finals but not without incident, taking two maps from one of the best TvZ players in the world and dismantling NesTea in the RO4, which just doesn't happen in ZvZ."
The win earned MMA some much-needed confidence, $12,500, and quite an interesting trophy. He was presented by a weird squid-looking helmet that left both MMA and the audience confused. Apparently the real trophy was stuck at customs. "This mask was an item made for pimping Iron Squid, an item of decoration in the studio and looked pretty badass," said Laparra. "MMA was a bit surprised with the trophy, but he wanted to offer him something. He will receive his trophy ASAP."
Blizzard, Riot, and Treyarch Step Up
1) Starcraft II
Blizzard has made a lot of news this past week, with the latest coming on Monday as Blizzard Starcraft II production director Chris Sigaty made a welcome announcement regarding much-needed updates to Battle.net that will come with Heart of the Swarm. Notably, this includes multiplayer resume from replays, cross-region global play, multiplayer replay viewing, unranked matchmaking, a clan/group system, and multi-language support. Resuming multiplayer games from replays stands out as the most-requested feature by the community. Las month, thousands of Starcraft II fans at the IPL4 finals in Las Vegas (and those watching at home) chanted "We want LAN" after the biggest and most important game of the event--MarineKing vs. Parting in the GSTL Finals between Prime and StarTale--dropped after a half hour of nonstop action. This potentially cost Prime the championship and started a rift between both teams after the event. Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime and lead designer Dustin Browder were in the audience and heard the community loud and clear. "We know how important eSports is for the Starcraft II community, and it's important to us too," Sigaty says in the update. "For some time now we have been discussing ways to improve Starcraft II to ensure that tournaments both large and small run as smoothly as possible. While we are discussing many different improvements, we've heard your feedback and are creating a way that games can be continued if they are ended prematurely during an eSports event." We won't be getting LAN anytime soon for a number of reasons, but this is a great step forward to ensuring we don't have a repeat of the controversy surrounding the GSTL Finals at IPL4. Although the community is applauding Blizzard for implementing these new features, many are frustrated that they have not come sooner, as Blizzard originally announced many of these after Wings of Liberty's release. "It's hard to really justify how long it took to get these sorts of features announced," TeamLiquid marketing manager and longtime Starcraft enthusiast James "Kennigit" Lampkin said. "The fact that they will be around for the next generation of competitive play is pretty positive. The Connect From Replay feature won't put an end to lag affecting player performance, but I think it's the best we can hope for at this point."
Heart of the Swarm will be playable for attendees at the Spring Championships at MLG Anaheim. Additionally, Blizzard will be releasing news in the next few weeks about how participating in the upcoming Arcade (1.5) beta can win you chances to get into the upcoming Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm multiplayer beta test.
Heart of the Swarm will be playable for attendees at the Spring Championships at MLG Anaheim. Additionally, Blizzard will be releasing news in the next few weeks about how participating in the upcoming Arcade (1.5) beta can win you chances to get into the upcoming Heart of the Swarm multiplayer beta test.
Shortly before all of this, Blizzard and the Korean gaming leagues GomTV and OnGameNet, along with the Korean e-Sports Association, came together on May 2 to announce that they will be working together for the betterment of e-sports. Several previously speculated items concerning the future of Korean e-sports were confirmed, including Starcraft II finally being officially recognized by KeSPA (the Korean e-Sports Association), the next ProLeague season to feature both Brood War and Starcraft II with solely the latter the following season, and OGN's plans to hold an individual SC2 league in July with an English broadcast stream. The news from Blizzard, the leagues, and KeSPA was coupled with the confirmation that current Brood War legends, including the best player of all time and potentially the biggest e-sports star in the world, Young Ho "Flash" Lee, will be making the switch to Starcraft II. Despite the meeting between all the parties, there has been nothing said between the Korean leagues and KeSPA on how they plan to implement the current Korea or foreign SC2 stars into OGN, or the current Brood War stars into GSL. OGN representative/League of Legends caster and former GomTV worker Trevor "TorcH" Housten, along with TeamLiquid editor in chief Kwanghee "Waxangel" Woo, who was in attendance at the event, appeared on the weekly e-sports show Live On Three (hosted by myself, Marcus "djWHEAT" Graham, and Scott "SirScoots" Smith) to discuss their thoughts. Housten told me that OGN is willing to work with the current Korean SC2 and foreigner players, but that KeSPA is the one holding things up. Woo said that not many additional details were released at the event and that he felt Blizzard tried to make all of this happen at the last minute as a showing of good faith, not leaving much time for each entity to work out issues. Woo also had a chance to interview Blizzard COO Paul Sams and chairman of the SC2 Federation/StarTale coach Won Jong Wook, which can be found here.
2) League of Legends
Riot has announced that its Season 2 World Championships will have a record-breaking $3 million prize purse and will span six different events across the world. Locations include Seoul at the OGN e-sports stadium, Shanghai at the ChinaJoy festival, Cologne at GamesCom, and the North American Finals in Seattle at PAX Prime. This will be the largest e-sports presence ever for a PAX event. Riot released a neat infographic detailing the season 2 tour dates, along with comparisons of viewer numbers for their past events to an average MLB game, all of which beat the MLB numbers. Earlier in the week, Riot announced that the full release of Spectator mode will come in the next patch, which includes "[being able] to jump to specific points in the action with Timeshift controls, allow[ing] the computer to control your perspective through Directed Camera, and spectat[ing] your friends' games that are already in progress."
Riot has announced that its Season 2 World Championships will have a record-breaking $3 million prize purse and span six different events across the world.You can also watch top players by selecting from a number of featured games on the PvP.net front page. PC Gamer talked with Riot's VP of e-sports, Dustin Beck, regarding the new prize purse, dates, and spectator mode. "As a game that was designed with eSports in mind from day one, the League of Legends competitive scene has been growing alongside the game itself," Beck says. "The size of the prize pool, features like our enhanced spectator mode, and everything we do for competitive play--it's all to give the LoL eSports scene the support it deserves. We want it to be entertaining for fans, engaging for players at all levels of competitive play and a lucrative career choice for the best teams around the world."
Riot also banned players from the game after a mastery exploit was used by many players. Riot community manager Andrew "Tamat" Beegle had some harsh words for the cheaters, stating, "If you've been playing online games for any length of time, you probably know that most games eventually have to deal with scum-of-the-earth cheaters that enjoy ruining your experience. That's bullshit, and we're not going to allow it. I'm happy to report that the immediate fix has been implemented, and we'll be restarting all regions this evening to add some redundancy, which will prevent similar exploits in the future. We've identified all of the players that have been using this exploit, and we're going to be taking firm action against their accounts."
3) Call of Duty
Finally this week, Treyarch officially announced Call of Duty: Black Ops II. While news of the game came with details of a new, futuristic setting, the bigger story is the focus on e-sports that Treyarch is claiming. Black Ops II lead game designer David Vonderhaar discussed his enthusiasm about competitive gaming: "Black Ops 1 was on the MLG pro circuit for PS3. It was a really fascinating learning experience for me and for the entire team. What we saw was the most passionate and honest community that I have ever seen. These were some of the most genuine and hardest core fans of the game that I've ever had the privilege of meeting, and I have met a lot of hardcore fans, none of them as mature as this group of people." The passion from the community has led directly to how the new game is being developed. "E-sports has a really big influence. It helps us envision ways we can make the game for a competitive mind-set, so there's elements of e-sports directly influencing the game design," he said. "But what's also really fascinating is e-sports as a spectator experience."