If you read Alvin Baylor Lives! you know I have a soft spot for video-gaming. I believe e-sports is a behemoth that is primed to outgross every other form of entertainment. I had the pleasure of spectating some matches at the Blizzard Arena in LA for the last day of the Heroes of the Storm Western Conference and I had a blast.
What’s the Blizzard Arena?
The arena itself is built into the old Tonight Show stage at what used to be NBC studios. When the unfunny Jimmy took over the show and left for NY, the space was vacated. It is now the Blizzard Arena. A place for games-maker Blizzard to showcase their latest and greatest games in public competition. Hardly an arena – it’s more of a large theater where the teams play, color commentary of the game is spoken and a giant jib arm pans overhead for dynamic shots of the players. The crowd was young – under forty, and most were staring at multiple screens – eyes flitted from the giant LCD to tiny phone displays in their hands. I’d say a third of the spectators were playing a cell-phone game while they watched the competition. Take note, these folks could later be playing the game itself, if the games-makers get savvy.
I however, kept my attention divided between the game and technical crews. I enjoyed watching the IT support run around to keep the gaming setups working. This is admittedly a personal fixation as I used to do tech support for film studios. I consider it professional courtesy to see a tech guy run. It comes from working in environments where systems can be billed at $1000+ an hour. I also got to watch the broadcast crew yawn as they operated the camera jib. But I digress. It was easy to park, get in, get out and it was cheap! I got free tickets (thanks Gary), but they’re only $10-15 and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Plus clean bathrooms. Parents – drop your kids off and leave them all day! If nothing else, it’s a brilliant way to group babysit.
But Can You Follow the Action?
HOTS (Heroes of the Storm) is another MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), but it’s got the Blizzard polish. I sat down a few days before the tournament and got myself immersed in the game. Basically, it’s a 5-on-5 team battle for control of a map. Destroy the enemy’s keep and you win. It’s surprisingly fun and I appreciated the way the class mechanics are modeled on World of Warcraft. It was easy to learn the attack rotations based on that experience. It was more enjoyable than League of Legends (a different MOBA) for this basic familiarity. That being said, I dislike over-head views and mouse-click movement controls. I prefer to be in the action. WOW’s arenas had close-up tactical combat and I wish it could be wrapped into the HOTS experience. There’s no reason why a graphics engine couldn’t take us down into the fight – oh wait. The game is free. My guess is they don’t want to spend on development for complex graphics and controls. They want a free game to run on any crap computer. Oh, well. In short, it’s a fun game if you have friends and free time to study the classes and builds. Think of it like fantasy chess – with a colorful cast of animated characters and environments standing in for the pieces and game board.
If You Build It, They will Come.
I also dragged my special lady-friend along to the event. She had no idea what was going on, but seemed to enjoy the theatrics and said she could better understand Alvin Baylor Lives. I took that as evidence that it was impactful – even to someone who would dismiss the notion of watching people play video games for money. It’s certainly a dorkfest and HOTS is a hard game to follow, but I see potential. One day soon, some company is going to get smart and design a game specifically around spectating. When that happens e-sports will break out. Imagine a massively-mutliplayer battleground where home players can get in on the action? Maybe someone from the crowd gets to move from their cell phone to playing on stage? All ages and genders are welcome. Got a disability? Try a different controller. Even Grandma can play. E-sports is going to eat up game shows, sports events and the lottery to become the 800-pound gorilla of entertainment. I’ve attached a video below of the trophy ceremony. It’ll give you a view of the stadium environment as well as the “pomp and circumstance.” Team Dignitas of the EU took the trophy. Good for those kids.
You can read more about it here – https://esports.heroesofthestorm.com/en-us/articles/22018057/a-champion-is-crowned-in-la