(This is Part 2 of a series about competitive electronic sports [colloquially called esports.] In Part 1, we talked about the rise of esports and how the MAC member schools have impacted its growth at the collegiate level.)
Esports is a wild, wild west when it comes to what exactly it’s comprised of.
The idea of a competitive video gaming in the first place is a relatively young idea, with the mere concept created back in the late 2000’s. Most video games popular on the circuit, outside of a few exceptions, haven’t been on the market for much longer than a handful of years, lending a certain new-car smell to the proceedings.
But at the heart of competitive esports is the same drive and desire as most other passions: the love of the game.
Ask anyone who’s played a video game, and they’ll immediately relate to you their first experiences as a child, how it felt to grow up with games around them, and what they play now-a-days. Ask a esports player to explain how they play a game, and be prepared for a staggering amount of technical exposition and IQ which could rival any collegiate sports athlete.
So we did just that.
We figured if we were to start covering esports here at Hustle Belt, it would serve the reader well to have the games the various MAC-affiliated squads play be introduced by the players themselves.
Over the past month, we’ve been interviewing players and gathering information about the games with the most popularity, and have also included some video for how each game looks.
Below is Part 1 of our “In Their Own Words” series:
Counterstrike: Global Offensive
(Above is a video from a match between Georgia Tech and Kentucky in 2017, as we couldn’t find a MAC-related video.)
Counterstrike: Global Offensive (known as CSGO or CS:GO) is a first-person shooter game with multiplayer team elements created by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment. You might recognize a few of the elemets from other games like “Call of Duty” or “Battlefront,” but it is a fairly distinct game in how friendly it is for strategic team-oriented play.
CSGO is a 5-on-5 search-and-destroy format, with one team labeled as terrorists and the other team as “defensive” forces. Depending on the team you’re on, you have a different objective. “Terrorists” have to plant bombs in two different sites, with about 100 seconds to do so, while “defenders” have to prevent bombs from being planted or defuse them within 40 seconds. The winner of a round is the team which is able to complete its objective first, with the game winner being the team who can reach a set number of points.
Tournament play usually has come combination of “best-of-one” or “best-of-three” set-ups, with each map having a maximum of 30 rounds. The team which gets to 16 points first is usually the winner, though there are overtime contingencies in case of ties.
“What’s most common, is MR3 10k, meaning the teams play 3 rounds on each side, first team to win 4 wins, and each team starts with $10,000 per player,” University at Buffalo esports gamer Ryan Lippe, aka eXploZions, explained. “[The] money is [then] used to buy weapons and equipment such as grenades and armor.”
At the start of each half, each player starts with $800, which is only enough to buy the basics for the most part. Teams are then rewarded a certan money bonus based on the result of each round, with the winning team getting $3400, while the losing team’s reward varies depending on circumstances.
Between rounds, teams and players talk strategy and buy upgrades to help bolster their attack or defense, depending on the scenario.
Teams communicate using voice services (such as Discord or Teamspeak) to relay strategies in real-time, using PC’s, mouse and keyboard to play the game. In a tournament setting, these teams will usually be faced opposite one another using a LAN (local access network) to cut out pings or lag.
It’s this team-centered aspect of CS:GO eXploZioNs enjoys the most.
“It’s the feeling of being able to think one level deeper than another team or player in order to win rounds [and] matches,” eXploZioNs said when asked about what he loves most about the game. “Every match is very different, even playing the same maps. There’s always room to come up with new strategies that you’ve never tried before.”
(Above video is the Marist University club Overwatch team live mic commentary vs. Miami University in 2018)
Overwatch, a “hero” first-person shooter developed by Blizzard Entertainment, first came out in 2016, and is widely considered to be the second-most popular eSport behind League of Legends. The 6-on-6 shooter game is unique in its variety, with several different game modes and almost a doen characters to choose from for optimal customization.
What sets Overwatch apart from other first-person shooter multiplayer games is its emphasis on “hero” play, meaning that players can choose from a variety of characters with specialized team roles and abilities.
“I like to think of Overwatch play-by-plays as similar to Football. you have Offense and Defense fights, and each player has a role in the skirmish,” University at Buffalo’s Adrian Kahaner (aka Potato) said. “The main differences are that instead of requiring physical hardiness to tackle a player or catch or throw a ball, you need to have the reflexes and gamesense to know the weaknesses of a certain hero and the ability to take them out when the opportunity presents itself (or you make the opportunity happen.)”
There are three types of Heroes, each with their own roles: Tanks (“characters with the ability to take a lot of damage,) Damage (“have less health, but the ability to dish out a lot more damage)” and Support (“focused on keeping teams alive by healing players, or making it easier to kill the enemy.”)
Continuing the football analogies, Potato compared Damage players to a running back or receiver due to their big play ability, Tanks to offensive linemen since they “make room for damage players to advance” and Support to the safety or tight end position, as they are a safety valve in terms of advancing the objective with blocks or providing re-enforcement on defense.
There are also twelve maps, with four different objectives, incuding Assault (akin to a tower defense game,) Control (a “king of the hill” type game where a team must stay in one spot for 100 seconds), Escort (a payload mission) and Hybrid (a mix of Assault and Control.)
In tournament play, maps and objectives are usually agreed upon prior to the game, with points upon completion of an objective. Escort, Assault and Hybrid maps determine victors based on how far they got a payload or the percentage of the point that was captured, with Control maps being best 2-out-of-3.
“What brings me back over and over is the people I play with,” Potato said. “Sure, a new update with a new hero or a rework to change overused strategies keeps the game relatively fresh, but the reason we all keep playing is because it’s a game we can play together regardless of where we are,or of our physical skills.”
“The rush you get when you’re coordinated and pull off a last ditch defense or attack that gets your blood pumping, that’s always an amazing feeling... Every character you can play in the game has personality, and can be used by players to channel their own personality into the game (something that sets it apart from shooters like CSGO and COD).”
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
(Above stream archive is footage from an on-campus tournament hosted by EMU Smash Ultimate Club in 2019)
Super Smash Brothers, it could be argued, is perhaps the oldest eSport.
With the first edition of SSB released in 1997 on the Nintendo 64, and a thriving tournament scene created in part by networks of dedicated gamers over the last 20 years, SSB is a beloved game— and one which puts Nintendo in a unique position as well, as a console game amidst a sea of PC-based competitors.
Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, released in 2018, is the latest edition of Nintendo’s fighting game, featuring over 80 playable characters from a variety of Nintendo, SEGA and Square Enix titles. It’s unique from other arcade-style fighting games in its simpy massive ability for customization, thanks to its ability to create house rules, the intimate care given to every character’s skillsets and a library of over 50 stages with their own properties and dimensions.
All 80-plus characters have their own unique attacks and combinations, derived from the same basic movement tree, while stages can have their own interesting twists (such as movement or hazards.) The game also allows for several different controller options, so players can play the way they feel most comfortable with, whether that’s a hitbox, a Switch Pro controller, a GameCube controller or even the Joy-Cons.
Tim Bonk, aka RIP_Bonk, is the president of Eastern Michigan’s “Smash Club,” a club-level organization dedicated exclusively to the game.
“What makes Smash unique,” RIP_Bonk explains, “is that its combo system is very fluid. There are not as many set combos as there are in other fighting games, so the players must react to factors such as the damage, the knock-back, and the opponents behavior in order to follow through with combos.”
Unlike other arcade-style fighting games, characters do not have a set amount of hit points (HP,) but rather, have a percentage meter. The higher the meter is, the easier it is for a player to get launched off the stage and lose a stock (life.) Once a player runs out of stocks, the round is over. Also unlike other fighting games, items from various Nintendo properties can be turned on or off, adding more chaos and strategy to the proceedings.
As alluded to before, with over 20 years in the eyes of gamers, Smash holds a place in the hearts and minds of many gamers, and it’s an aspect of the game which keeps them coming back. In recent weeks, EMU Smash Club, in partnership with Gen.GG, started a collaborative program with high school Smash players in the southeast Michigan area, a recurring event meant to help build the community in a positive fashion.
“What I love most about Smash, especially as a TO [tournament organizer] myself, is the community,” RIP_Bonk said. “Since so much of Smash takes place offline at in-person events, it naturally builds up a very tight knit community. There is a lot of regional pride in Smash; for example, Michigan players will often rally around other players from the state and will cheer them on when they perform well in national tournaments. I love getting to build up and support that community, and will to continue to do that to the best of my ability.”
Next time: Part 2 of “In Their Own Words,” including Rocket League, League of Legends and Rainbow Siege 6.