Competitive Gaming 101

I promised when I made this blog that it would be for all sorts of gamers – from you mudders, MMO players and dragon slayers to the CS 1.6 fanatics, from new players to pro players. The purpose of this guide is to give those who know nothing about it an insight to competitive gaming in a broken down and easy-to-read fashion.

In addition to that I wanted to begin creating something for those who were eager in one way or another to begin their gaming careers and it was while reading a spotlight interview on Cadred last night with the British player “hudzG” that this struck me:

Have you ever done – or considered doing – anything like that yourself? Helping new talent come through and giving them a shot.

Yeah of course, I would consider doing it, I was considering it before mTw contacted me, I mean so many people play CS:S so there has to be some raw talent you can tap into and some of us have to start doing it. Because when we’re all 25 or 30 and gone from the game, who will be left to take over and push games – whichever game it is – forward? Look at any normal sport, young stars are always being developed, then you look at CS:S, and eSports in general and hardly anyone is being pushed to the forefront. I know Fetish taps into the young Danish talent regularly and he reaps the rewards, after joining an “average team” 9 months on ub3r geekz were winning events. It just takes time and people have to be willing to give that time up and stop worrying about their own game and help develop others.

Competitive gaming can be incredibly introverted and at times, like hudzG makes question to, who will champion the legacy of competitive gaming after us if we’re selfish miserable bastards not willing to give people a try?

1. The Basics

The bedrock of competitive gaming revolves around those individuals who want to draw more from their game experience and take public gaming further. You may have friends or cousins who play Modern Warfare 2 on the Xbox or Playstation – chances are when you see them they’re playing on a public server, logged into the game along with several other random players from all over the world.

2. People can play these games both online and offline – and no, this doesn’t mean you have the capability of playing Hello Kitty’s Island Adventure in multiplayer with your friend Wendy while she’s at her house while the internet is switched off.

Online – players play through an internet connection on dedicated (or not) servers. Servers are frequently run and configured by players or administration to a standard set by leagues, tournaments or groups of players.

Offline – tens of thousands of people might gather in locations around the world where they will take their own computer or rent one for what are people most often refer to as “LAN Parties”. For want of a better description, here is one from Wikipedia:

A LAN party is a temporary, sometimes spontaneous, gathering of people with computers, between which they establish a local area network (LAN), primarily for the purpose of playing multiplayer computer games. The size of these networks may vary from the very small (two people) to very large installations. Small parties can form spontaneously, but large ones usually require a fair amount of planning and preparation. As of 2007, the world record for the size of a LAN party is 10,445 connected systems, set at DreamHack, in Jönköping, Sweden.

DreamHack Winter 2007

DreamHack Winter 2007, Courtesy of http://forum.lowyat.net

As you will discover later, these offline events are the basis of competitive gaming and provide people with the ambition and aspirations to set off in the world of esports – large cash or hardware prizes and being streamed live to an audience of tens of thousands.

3. Teams and Players

When players find themselves wanting more than a noob-tube fest on pub, they find themselves naturally progressing towards a team of one kind or another. There are several different types of team from those starting out with their friends to salaried professional players. Most, if not all teams, will use a voice communication programme to co-ordinate, depending on how organised they are. From the bottom:

Friends smashing it up on pub with a grenade launcher and extreme conditioning

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Public clans or teams who play friendlies or PCWs (Practice Clan Wars) against one another

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Early competitive teams competing in online leagues or ladders such as Clanbase

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Maturing competitive teams competing in online and offline leagues and tournaments such as Antwerp Esports Festival or the Electronic Sports League

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Experienced competitive teams who have achieved decent results at online and/or offline events and seek private sponsorship – going it alone

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Experienced competitive teams who have achieved outstanding results at online and offline events and seek to join an organisation with greater sponsorship opportunities

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Veteran competitive teams are composed of individuals who have probably played for teams as part of an organisation at least once before and have won significant prize money in the process either for themselves or for their organisation

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Professional competitive teams are composed of highly skilled and experienced online and offline players who are salaried by their organisation to perform at the highest level in esports and represent them across the world at events such as the World Cyber Games

So what really draws people to being part of an online team, besides getting sick of claymores and grenade launchers? Well actually, the noob tubes and claymores are quite an important aspect of why there is a division between public and competitive gamers. But, most find that playing as part of a team because it gives the game an added dimension, or even two if you count the competitive community in itself. Playing in a team gives you a very specific role, whether it’s an SMG player in Call of Duty 4 or a Squad Leader in Battlefield 2.

The Joys of Public Gaming

Quick note: competitive games are not based on the same released version of the game that is popularly played on public servers. In many cases it is a modified version of the game created by players to alter aspects of the game such as removing the ability to use weapon attachments or increasing movement speed for a faster and more challenging experience.

To use Call of Duty 4 (COD4) as an example, teams at a competitive level are made up of 5 individuals – 2 SMG players, 2 Assault players and 1 Scope. This gives you an idea of what kind of role individuals might be expected to perform: the SMG players are those with fast reflexes who rush up the map building up their frag count; Assault players are the calm and calculated who take aim from a distance; the Scope uses positions around the map to kill his/her opponents from a distance and to give valuable information on where they are to his team-mates. Amongst these players there is usually one individual who stands out from the rest and is willing to lead the team in the ensuing matches – someone to call the tactics, someone to pick up his team-mates when morale is low.

The success of this team in the wider competitive world will be reliant on a number of things, not least their individual skill, how they play together, whether they actually get on as individuals and their ability to weather the bad times. Here’s a quote from D1ablo, Reason COD4 player (full article http://www.tek-9.org/articles/the_perfect_team-518/the_perfect_team-6.html) on the importance of team play:

I once heard an inspirational quote from Ville Valo, a member of the Finnish rock band ‘HIM’, which says “a band or any group consists of several individuals that all go through their highs and their lows, for everyone to experience a good day at the same time is too much to ask, but when they do, the results are magical.”  Remember, team work builds friendships, structure makes them triumphant.

The mechanics of an esports team are really more detailed than I’d care to go into right now, but the basic idea is this: you take the leap from public gaming where you’ll find a significant gap in skill difference. You either weather that and crack on, improve your game and find a team of players at the same level of you, or you wither away like a piece of fruit left in the sun to your public server haunts. People who embark upon the first option will find themselves flung into a strange and wonderful world; an upward spiral of things that will test their mental and social capacity with the others they call their team-mates.

4. Strategy and Tactics

Teams at whatever level can and will create strategy and tactics to outsmart their opponents. Tactics evolve over time and teams must adapt. Any team wanting to make it at a relatively high level will have a good grasp of the tactics and strategy in the game at that time and be able to adapt should they need to.

Let’s take Counter Strike as an example:

– Two teams of 5 face each other on opposite ends of a map and play to win rounds – 15 rounds per half, best of 30.

– The Terrorist Forces have to plant a bomb on a particular site – A or B, located at different sides of the map.

– The Counter-Terrorist Forces have to defuse this bomb before the time runs out.

– If a team eliminates the other entirely before the bomb has been planted, that team will win the round (once you’re killed, you’re dead until the start of the next round).

– Like COD4, each player in the team has his/her own role whether that be covering a certain area of the map or using the sniper rifle to make long-distance shots. Regardless, players must have sound communication skills to co-ordinate their attack or defence on a map.

Most Popular Map in the World?

As a game between two teams progresses, there is at the very basic level a need to alternate the bomb sites at which the Terrorists will plant, and the Counter-Terrorists must react accordingly. This results in a number of different strategies from “faking” one bomb site with smoke or flash grenades or a full rush on another. Of course, it becomes a little more complex than this with some incredibly skilled, experienced and innovative players going head-to-head.

5. Maps

It’s worth making a brief note on maps here. Many maps, especially in Counter Strike and COD4, are designed with competitive gaming in mind, especially if they have been created, designed and implemented by modifications by players. Like in any battle, there will be areas where you can gain an easy advantage over your opponents, and there will be areas which will leave you exposed to an enemy onslaught.

The creativity of these maps can determine the calibre and dimensions of competitive gaming in that given game: maps will be designed in such a way that funnels enemy teams together, creates open ground for rushing, or give viewpoints onto bomb sites or enemy spawn points.

6. The Bigger Picture

Are you still confused as to why people put so much effort into playing computer games? For this last and final point in my guide to competitive gaming, I’ll try and summarise what makes it so special for those involved and why teams build up such large fanbases.

Intel Extreme Masters Season III prize pot: $750,000

GameGune Counter Strike Finals, July 2010: 12,000+ viewers online

December 2009: $5.53 billion in video game sales in the US alone, exceeds movie box office

March 2010: software sales in the video game segment grew 10% on the previous year with $875 million in sales

Bureau of Labor in the United States estimates: careers in software development by 2018 will rise by 29%

The stats for gaming speak for themselves. People want to be part of this growing market, and not just the public sales market. All over the world gamers want to take that next step into the competitive gaming scene where they’ll want to build on their raw talent or create the next best team. As D1ablo mentions in his article, it is not one thing but a combination of many which will make a team successful and be able to compete at the very highest level for eye-opening sums of money.

Some people want to play games competitively with friends, to have a taste of the high octane matches to keep things exciting for them. Others – and I imagine this is most people – aspire to be the best in their game and use the professional players as inspiration for this. We all start at the bottom and it’s the players at the other end of the spectrum which spur newcomers on. The chance to have your match commentated on in front of thousands of people, a chance to show off your skills and develop an online reputation.

Reason.COD4 going large at CIC7, Enschede, Belgium.

Some people play simply for the thrill of winning, and that really is the key in my opinion. The competitive gaming scene is filled with people who like winning, and winning big. The hunger to take your game to the next level on a platform where, if you have what it takes, you’ll be playing against the pros a lot quicker than you might think. More often than not this brings about excitement in itself for fans and players alike as players years in the making have their debut for a newly formed team crammed full of raw talent, the next level of strategy making and the potential to make it big.

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