Why eSports is ruining PC gaming

Remember just playing games for fun?

There's more to games than eSports, you know. I don't mean to disparage them, though I admit to having little interest in them myself.

Even so, I do find it an odd and slightly depressing trend for every new multiplayer game to be almost knee-jerk rated based on the chances of people foam-fingers bearing the name of their favourite team, and underpants emblazoned with the faces of their e-sporting heroes. I'm assuming that happens. If not, marketing oportunity for someone!

And yet I know several people who won't even touch a new game if it doesn't look like esports will give it longevity, and more still whose opinions on its current state are more rooted in the meta of events like Evo than whether they're actually having fun. Oh, for those halcyon days of picking Street Fighter 2 characters because they were cool, not because someone has crunched the numbers and mathematically proved the ultimate schoolboy question: Ryu vs Ken.

Also that thing about whether you can see Chun-Li's naughty bits if you pause the SNES version on exactly the right frame. (Answer, yes you can: you just clearly don't want it enough.)

Street Fighter V

Street Blighter

Now? Apparently we shouldn't complain that Capcom put about a seventh of a game into a digital box and sold it under the name Street Fighter V, all because it was important for pro-gamers to get it now. It's justified because of how many people have signed up for EVO as a result. Everyone else… pfft. Those missing features will be along soon, probably. Arcade mode? Basic features to handle regular interest gaming problems like rage-quitters? Eh. We'll think about it. Until then, get good, etc.

It's a strange push, because most of us will never play e-sports professionally, and the mindset of doing so has about as much to do with casual play as olympic swimming versus having fun on the swimming pool inflatables.

It's very much part however of a general trend right now for time gaming to mean something, be it via Achievements that forever prove you were totally not wasting your time, the online high-score table of something like Devil Daggers, or the way that every other person now seems to want to turn their gaming into a public show via YouTube or Twitch or simply shouting into the street "It's okay! This has meaning beyond enjoyment!"

There's a lot to be said for simply enjoying a game, without feeling the need to review it on Twitter, or get anything more out of it than a simple diversion. Blizzard's Hearthstone is perhaps the perfect modern game in this respect.

While dangling the carrot of being able to play or talk about games for a living over more active players' heads, it still caters to the regular-ol casual with free card-backs and gold for competitive play, and once a week lowering further to any old Muggins with the Tavern Brawl - a chaotic new ruleset that anyone can splash around in regardless, usually anyone, of how many cards they have or how well they know the meta.

A new hope

There's nothing necessarily wrong with hoping that a new one will take off, though the longevity it brings isn't necessarily the longevity that keeps it fun and crazy for the average player.

Team Fortress 2 for instance has only truly been able to get wackier and wackier because the serious players have been building more mines in Starcraft or whatever. You can argue that its descent into hat-obsessed purgatory killed it, and yes, probably, but at least before that we had several good years of crazy events and cool twists and a world that existed first and foremost for fun.

Now I think about it though, maybe we just need different games to take off. The latest Street Fighter, the latest MOBA, the latest FPS, the latest blah, blah, blah. Imagine a world where it was something like The Ship instead. Now, if you've never played that one, let me give you the basic run-down - it's Assassin, on a 1920s style ship. You and other players are guests of the mysterious Mr X, surrounded by NPC guests.

The Ship

Each of you has a target, with the goal being to find a weapon and find your target when they're indisposed or away from the ship's oddly efficient security. Seriously, that doesn't make sense. Run a murder party or don't, Mr. X. The whole thing is then made more complicated by everyone having a full set of needs, like having to eat and drink and go to the bathroom, purchase disguises, and lots of other cool stuff.

But oh, the esports potential. All the drama of something like Dota, all the team play and the shocking twists, only everyone's much more polite about it and a Ship-esque twist is bursting in on someone in the toilet with a flare-gun and lighting them up mid-poop. Tell me that wouldn't be a better moment for any Twitch streamer than "Earthshaker did the thing that he does, probably," or "Congratulations to Ryu for pulling off the Hadouken instead of accidentally jumping."

Like I said, I'm probably not going to be an esports star any time soon. But I would watch this, especially if all the players showed up in their booths in tweed, with canes and monocles and party dresses, and the community was coming up with cool terms to describe common tactics like, "Oh, he's deploying a genuflecting swizzle," or "Quick! She's only got five seconds for a drop-and-dump! And- yes! She's taken out her assassin! The poo can flow! The poo can flow!"

Dota 2

Of course, what would probably actually happen is what happened to The Ship the first time around, that all the tactics and careful play became secondary for being the first to get the fireaxe and go hacking and whacking like a very literal minded Butcher Pete. But I like to think not, just as I hope that the new Remasted (see what they did there) version that just hit Early Access on Steam isn't just going to be successful, but get the audience it deserves.

Future-fretting

What would be crushing is if it, like many other games, doesn't get a shot because fretting about the future kills the fun in the here and now. Esport potential isn't the only reason why they fade of course, just look at Turtle Rock's Evolve - a fun game largely smothered in its crib by greedy DLC plans

But it is one of the easiest failures to point to and go 'nah', even in cases that could have offered a ton of fun in the short to medium term without having to become an Important Game. There's often as much raw fun to be had in something as simple and goofy as Gotham City Impostors or whatever as the next Call of Duty, especially if it's cheap, cheerful, and none of the players have been mentally wired to think of it as anything more.

Team Fortress 2

I know that for my money, Valve's most impressive achievement was that for years you could jump onto just about any Team Fortress 2 server and simply have fun without being railed against for the slightest mistake.

If that general feel stretched to more titles, where everyone didn't see themselves, at least partly, as part of a league that stretches up to godlike play and plumbs the deaths of, well, me playing Dota 2, I'd play far more of them. At least there's always Hearthstone, where I get at least a few wins a week, and nobody gets to be a meanie.

Though goodness, have some people mastered saying "sorry!" in a sarcastic way.