Wow, nearly forgot my post for the day. That would have ended my streak.
Auto brought up an interesting question – what makes a sport like AFL or basketball, or even a game like chess, so popular despite the fact that it’s never “updated’ or changed? If you look at the gaming world, many of the top competitive games are constantly being patched and updated. They’re still in the process of porting all of the DotA heroes over to Dota 2, and heroes are constantly being changed in order to keep the game “balanced”. Starcraft 2 has a new expansion coming up, and it also gets updated. I think the only exception may be console games that aren’t able to be patched, and there are quite a few competitive console games, like FIFA, Dead or Alive, and MrFodder would hurt me if I didn’t mention Smash Bros Melee – which has never received an update, though there are mods that try to emulate it, but bring it up-to-date with the new characters.
The simple part to answer is that one big difference between physical games and computer games is that you don’t have software bugs in physical games. No matter how hard you try, there isn’t going to be some weird part of the football field where you can latch on to a badly smoothed piece of wall, allowing you to jump up into the sky. So on the question of exploit fixes, I think it’s mandatory for computer games to fix those, because they allow people to have an unfair advantage over everyone else. Especially when you consider the fact that things like computer-aided-gaming exist. For instance, there’s a program that you can run in the background that monitors your gameplay in Dota 2, and when specific conditions are met, e.g. an enemy hero comes into range, it will automatically cast certain spells for you with split second timing, something an ordinary human will not be able to do.
But on the topic of sports rules vs computer game features, why is it that sports rules tend to stay the same? I don’t know about the history of other sports, but in the case of chess, that game wasn’t always the way that it is now. Pawns couldn’t always move two spaces on their first move, en passant wasn’t a rule, castling didn’t always exist, and queens and bishops were once limited in movement. But it has been quite a long time since the rules were changed (other than meta rule changes for tournaments introduced by the governing bodies, but that doesn’t really affect the your average 1v1 game). A lot of sports have just had a long time to mature. All the major issues have been ironed out. Most computer games have a fairly short lifespan in comparison. Many game companies will release the next title in the series, and there will be a divide of the player base. As happened in the case of the split from Starcraft: Brood War to Starcraft 2.
Unlike sports like soccer, where you have FIFA, or Australian Rules football, where you have the AFL, it doesn’t seem in the interests of a game company to have a ruling body to govern the competitive scene. Sure, Riot and Blizzard sponsor various tournaments for their respective games, and of course, you can’t forget Valve’s massive once-a-year event, The International, but in general, they aren’t the ones working on making their game a huge spectator sport. It’s very much a fan-driven thing (with some sponsorship from e-sports related companies). Imagine if the AFL had a kickstarter to fund the grand final. Not required, they’ve already built up a huge fan base who is willing to spend tons of money on tickets to their events.
So there’s also the chicken and egg problem. In order for e-sports to be big, it needs a large fanbase. In order to increase the fanbase, there needs to be good games. In order to have good games, you need good player. In order to attract good players, you need good prizes. In order to have good prizes, you need sponsors. In order to have sponsors, you need a large fanbase. Add to that the fact that the number of people who would watch competitive e-sports is already limited (I mean, I consider myself a gamer, but I rarely watch competitive matches, because I’d rather just play myself), the fanbase is already split over the multitude of games that exist out there. Similar to watching sports, you need to learn all the rules before you can really enjoy watching, and if you try to spread yourself too thin over multiple games, it’s very hard to follow along with the ins-and-outs of the game without completely giving up the rest of your life.
Add to that the fact that games companies don’t really make money from their tournaments. Their main drive is to sell copies of their game. Once everyone who is going to buy their game has bought their game, their income source has dried up. But servers still need to keep running, support staff continue to require payment. What’s the solution to bring in more money? Release an expansion, or release the next title in the series. The AFL has no motivation to start the AFL 2, because it’ll just cannibalise their own market share. It’s just not worth the cost, for so little gain. Whereas games constantly have to stay relevant. If you were never to update your game, people would get bored, and move on to one of the millions of other games out there. Sure, people can change to other sports, but when you already have the team scarf, and the bumper sticker, and the garden gnome (yes, MrFodder’s mum has a garden gnome supporting her football team), it seems like a huge investment to swap over to another sport. A lot of people also build their personalities around liking various sporting teams. There’s a guy on my team at work who is a devout Essendon Bombers supporter, and I have to say, I have a lot of respect for him because his loyalty never wavered despite the supplements controversy.
I do think e-sports is becoming a bigger thing though. I can’t speak for other games, but at least in Dota 2, there are a lot of people who are perfectly content to buy digital tickets to the events. Even for events that are completely free, and the digital tickets only unlock cosmetics, people still shell out the cash. I hope that games companies, like Valve, will start to realise the potential in e-sports, and build more support around it.