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Riots Valorant

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Isn’t even out yet, but it’s already looking like an eSports sensation

 

“The tactical shooter is breaking Twitch records, and it’s still in closed beta.

Riot’s new video game, Valorant, is both a breath of fresh air and completely unoriginal at the same time. The first-person shooter opened its closed beta on Tuesday to gargantuan Twitch viewership, thanks in part to Riot’s deal with the platform that let popular streamers gift access keys to its beta while they played the game live.

After watching many hours of the game and playing quite a few myself, it’s clear that Valorant is a hyper-competitive game catering to perhaps a small slice of the overall gaming community. (Right now, it’s only on PC, with no plans for a console release.) But that doesn’t matter, because it already seems quite likely to be the next big esports sensation, despite its hardcore nature and the fact that it borrows almost every single component of its design from previous competitive titles.

That’s partly because Valorant, even in its beta form, is arriving at a crucial moment for the competitive gaming scene. Much of the esports world revolves around multiplayer online battle arenas, or MOBAs, like Valve’s Dota 2 and Riot’s own megahit League of Legends. There are peripheral esports communities, like the fighting game community and those that surround individual games like Psyonix’s Rocket League, that exist as niche subcultures within the broader esports field, but MOBAs reign supreme.

Only games made by companies with immense resources like Activision Blizzard with the Call of Duty League and Overwatch League and Epic Games with Fortnite have dared to try to buy a seat at the table through unique league structures, high-production values, and massive prize pools.

‘Valorant’ combines ‘Overwatch’ superpowers with a ‘Countrer-Strike’ structure

There is, however, one big exception: Counter-Strike. Arguably the tactical team-based shooter from which Valorant borrows almost all of its structure, Counter-Strike has remained the one competitive FPS resilient to the ever-changing industry and still inexplicably popular all around the world. Counter-Strike has a global fan base that Call of Duty lacks, and it still ranks it as among the top-played games on Steam and the most-watched titles on Twitch, despite its release nearly eight years ago. Right now, more than 1 million people are playing the game on Steam, making it almost as popular on PC than the next four top games combined.

That’s precisely why Valorant seems primed for success. Simply put, the game combines character-specific superpowers heavily influenced by Overwatch with a tense, high-intensity tactical shooter model more or less carbon-copied from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Riot is attempting to build a modern Counter-Strike, one that appeals to a generation of MOBA fans that grew up on the idea of honing your skill as a specific hero with unique powers and an ultimate ability to use in crucial, match-defining moments.

Going from the early reception on Twitch, Valorant is getting that recipe right in a way that might pull big streamers and pro players away from other games. The game broke Twitch’s record for most-watched game in a single day, with 34 million hours watched. And the game’s peak concurrent viewership of 1.7 million people was second only to the 2019 League of Legends World Championship.

There’s another factor that could contribute to the game’s success: Valorant is not a battle royale game. Riot is bucking the trend that’s taken the gaming industry by storm for the last three years or so by releasing a tactical shooter. Since the release of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in early 2017, BR games have consumed the shooter market. Fortnite is one of the most dominant games on the planet across all platforms, while a number of competitors have popped up to try to capitalize on Epic’s moneymaking potential, like Respawn’s Apex Legends and Activision’s Call of Duty: Warzone. But we’re also experiencing a bit of BR fatigue, as the initial excitement of the genre fades and its esports potential has proved hit-or-miss.

Valorant is stepping in to offer an alternative, one with a more traditional, team-based and skill-based approach that hardcore shooter fans seem receptive to because it removes all of the luck and randomness of the BR genre. In the handful of games I played in the beta yesterday, I was shocked at how meticulous and slow-moving the game is. Each match demands one team plant a bomb and protect it, while the other tries to defuse it. You have just one life per round. When one team wipes the other completely, which happens often, the round ends early — unless the bomb was planted, and then it must be defused.

‘Valorant’ plays almost identically to ‘Counter-Strike’ where good aim and reflexes are paramount

The team that wins 13 rounds first wins the entire match. And in my experience, that can take upward of 30 to 40 minutes if you’re going up against a squad well-matched with yours. The hero abilities, while they’ve earned Valorant a lot of comparisons to Overwatch, are not as critical as I thought. Having superhuman aim and reflexes, combined with the ability to predict the opponent’s actions and communicate and collaborate with your teammates will largely determine your level of success. Learning how to use the various weapons you can buy at the start of each round — also a feature borrowed from Counter-Strike — will determine how deadly you can be.

The powers are just there to shake things up and, in my estimation, give people moments of glory that they can brag about online and share on social media, similar to how a well-timed Overwatch ultimate activation can earn you the coveted play of the game highlight in Blizzard’s team shooter. Some are quite fun to use, like Jett’s updraft jump and tailwind dash abilities. And Sova, the Hanzo-like bowman Riot uses for the game’s tutorial, has some fantastic benefits, like allowing you to see enemies through walls and even strike them down with his hunter’s fury ultimate.

But at the end of the day, any other player can take you down with a headshot at basically any moment, rendering any powers pretty much moot. In my Valorant matches, I found myself getting punished routinely for stupid mistakes, like peeking around a corner when I was unsure if an enemy was already doing so or forgetting to walk quietly while using the shift key to dampen the sound of my footsteps. Charging into a situation alone will get you killed almost immediately nine times out of 10. Forgetting to play the objective and getting caught up in small firefights will also put your team at a disadvantage as the timer starts ticking down closer to zero.

Valorant is, above all else, a tactical game that requires you to communicate with your teammates to succeed and demands you practice your aim to have any hope of winning a one-on-one bout. That level of skill requirement and dedication may mean it doesn’t hit mainstream levels of popularity like Fortnite or Overwatch, but the game’s design does position Valorant as a more accessible esport than a BR title or something as chaotic as Overwatch or a MOBA. As Counter-Strike has proved over the years, some games, especially easy-to-understand tactical shooters, don’t need 100 million active players to become popular esports; you just need a community of very dedicated fans willing to tune in and keep up with it.

Tactical shooters move slow enough and have clear enough objectives that they are easy to watch and digest, even for viewers who don’t play the game regularly. I can already see the appeal of watching a big Valorant tournament or keeping some favorite streamers playing it casually on in the background while I do something else.

Valorant’ is much more accessible than more chaotic esports like ‘Dota 2’ and ‘Overwatch’

Each round has a coherent start, middle, and end, and there’s a great momentum that builds toward the halfway point when teams switch sides and then the end of a match that makes tuning in at any moment worthwhile. There are opportunities for highlight plays using a well-timed ultimate ability, and one player can, against all odds, take on an entire team alone if they’re skilled enough. There’s a lot of potential for lasting entertainment with Valorant, even if it’s not really the kind of game you enjoy playing yourself.

Valorant has a long road ahead to release. We don’t know exactly when it’s coming out besides a summer to potentially early fall release window, whether it will even come out on consoles, and what exactly Riot’s esports ambitions are. But the game’s early success and the surprisingly effective combination of elements Riot has polled off set up Valorant as the most exciting new game to hit the competitive scene in years. It has the potential to become the company’s next League of Legends, but that will depend on whether the sum of its parts can give it more staying power than all the games it’s borrowing from”

 

 

eSports Leagues Are Only Game

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eSports leagues are only game in town after NBA and NHL go dark

American sports have ground to a halt. For at least the next few weeks there will be no NBA or NHL, no MLB, no pro lacrosse and no soccer. But one form of competition is still going strong despite the coronavirus pandemic – eSports.

Unlike basketball or hockey, the billion-dollar world of competitive video games doesn’t require much, if any, social gathering. And as sports fans, betting houses and TV networks stare at a calendar devoid of traditional sports, there may be an opportunity for esports to attract a new audience.

“It’s an easy move for our industry from a hybrid of online and live events to all online,” said Andy Miller, co-owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and founder of NRG Esports. “Expanding and getting new tournaments and game-play content up is not a costly endeavor.”

The eSports industry has ballooned in the past few years, buoyed by game publishers, investments by traditional sports-team owners and the backing of corporate sponsors. Video games have global appeal and offer a huge variety – from sports titles, such as the Madden franchise, to shooter titles and cartoonish battles with guns, including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Fortnite.

It’s also live at all hours of the day because of its global footprint. Moritz Maurer, chief executive officer of the esports data platform GRID, said there will be roughly 55,000 professional esports competitions this year in the major titles, an average of more than 1,000 a week. “As everyone cocoons in front of their screens, anything that combines action, competition and social distancing will get a second look,” said Lee Berke, a media consultant.

Even the NBA’s Phoenix Suns are embracing esports. The team said on Thursday that they would be playing the remainder of their games — not on a court, but in the NBA 2K virtual league. The matches will be aired on the streaming service Twitch.

After weeks of trying to conduct business as usual, the US sports world finally conceded this week that play couldn’t continue in the face of the spreading coronavirus. While it looked like the major leagues might try to hold games without fans, an NBA player tested positive for the disease on Wednesday and the league immediately suspended the rest of its season, launching a cascade of cancellations across sports.

Major League Baseball, the NCAA, the NHL, and MLS all suspended their operations. In other parts of the sports world, lacrosse, tennis and minor league hockey and basketball have also shut down. One major challenge for esports organizations – getting the attention of new fans amid the always-cluttered sports calendar – might be easier over the next few weeks.

“The reality for eSports organizations is that they have to expand their audience beyond just active gamers,” Maurer said. “There is a clear trend of growth in viewership that is driven by a demographic that likes to watch but does not necessarily play the games.”

Not immune

eSports hasn’t been entirely unaffected by the virus. Riot Games Inc’s main League Of Legends circuit, for example, announced it would cancel all live audiences, tailgates and press availability at its studios until further notice. Activision Blizzard Inc made a similar announcement for its Overwatch League, and its tour-based Call of Duty League will stop traveling. In all three leagues, the matches will continue online.

That might be valuable content for betting houses and media networks. Broadcasters like ESPN and Fox Sports will lose plenty of live sports in the next few weeks, if not longer. Miller, whose NRG Esports organization operates teams in six different titles, said those networks might look to acquire esports rights as a way to continue showing live competitions.

A few leagues already have media partners. Earlier this year, YouTube scored exclusive rights to broadcast both major Activision Blizzard franchised leagues. ESPN has nonexclusive rights to Riot’s League Championship Series, which airs on ESPN+ as well as YouTube, Twitch and Riot’s website.

That said, there are dozens of other leagues whose matches might be available for broadcast to satisfy hungry sports fans. Two hours after the NBA suspended its season, former NFL player Chris Long was already thinking about how to entertain himself moving forward.

“In a month I’ll be glued to a Livestream of a dude in a Cedar Rapids basement playing Zelda,” Long said on Twitter. “Might as well be the Super Bowl at that point.” – Bloomberg

 

Esports Doping Problem

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eSports Has Its Own Doping Problem

 

“Where there’s a large amount of money to be made, people will go to great lengths to get ahead. This has been seen in professional sports from Olympic doping scandals and the so-called “steroid era” of Major League Baseball some 15 years ago. Now, as eSports become more widespread and accepted as a legitimate form of entertainment, this growing industry is going through a similar issue.

Here, amphetamines are the big drug of choice. Drugs like Adderall allow players to stay alert for much longer than they would normally be able to, as well as helping them focus much more during a match. While it could very easily give a player an unfair advantage, it’s also not exactly clear what can or should be done about it.

 

 

The first time anyone looked seriously at doping in eSports was after Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) player Korey “Semphis” Friesen mentioned that he and his team, Cloud9, had taken Adderall before a tournament. This led to the Electronic Sports League (ESL) putting anti-doping measures in place to try and get ahead of the problem rather than deal with the kinds of scandals that plagued baseball and cycling over the last couple of decades.

A move like this could make a difference within the largest eSports tournament organizer, but they are far from a monopoly. Unlike major league sports, which are centralized under individual organizations for each sport, eSports are fragmented between various leagues and organizers, many of whom are turning a blind eye to the issue of doping.

While there has not yet been a successful attempt to do an in-depth investigation of eSports, reports from players indicate that the problem is widespread. In response to a tweet from eSports consultant and insider Rod Breslau, Fortnite streamer HighDistortion said, “Dude the [Gears of War] community has easily over half the players using it.”

Other reports point to drug abuse among players being an open secret in the eSports world. Adderall and Ritalin are the most common drugs, while even marijuana can give an unfair advantage, helping players calm down intense situations.

There has been some movement to address the problem. The Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) was formed to deal with this, along with other issues like betting fraud and corruption. It is not the case that no one cares about the doping in the eSports world — it’s that no one is really sure what can be done about it. It’s not a straightforward problem that can be solved with simple drug tests. Traditional sports still struggle with this, even when there’s a single national or international body that governs all of it, and it’s more complicated in eSports for a number of reasons.

First, the cost of screening for Adderall usage makes the idea of implementing mandatory drug tests difficult. ESL has been doing tests for doping since 2016, but it’s an easy cost for a large organization like it to absorb. Smaller leagues, especially ones without support from game publishers, are going to have trouble paying $40,000 a year for the infrastructure necessary to do full drug tests on all competitors. Requiring drug testing from tournament organizers would put a huge financial burden on the smaller ones, a cost they’ll be unable to bear. This would further consolidate the power of the largest tournament organizers, a running problem in eSports in recent years.

 

 

 

All of this, of course, assumes that a tournament is taking place in person. In cases of online tournaments, ones where competitors are playing remotely, there’s no way to test everyone. Plus, trying to implement a drug testing policy that covers everything from the CS: GO Majors to a Rocket League tournament set up by a couple dozen people on sites like smash.gg is virtually impossible to accomplish. Smaller tournaments like these are often a stepping-stone for semi-pro players trying to make it to the big leagues, so they have to be regulated somehow, but there is no clear way to completely ensure the games are fair for everyone. ESL’s drug testing policy and the existence of the ESIC have clearly not been enough, but what would be?

 
Doping seems to be rampant in eSports, and there’s not much anyone organization that can do to hold it back. While it’s getting more attention, it’s not clear if there’s enough will yet to force everyone to make a real change. Even if there was, it’s not clear what could be done, leaving the eSports scene in an awkward situation as the player continue to pop pills.