Posts Written By Noctua

The potential of the e-sports industry (and the people who don’t understand it)

Dear e-journal,

Whilst my studies previously had a diminishing effect on my activity on Gamers Decrypted I am now finding that my current uni project has done the opposite. I have encountered a new exciting phase in my education which requires me to conduct my own smaller research project. Of course, given the choice of what to focus my research on, I went straight towards gaming – this to the horror and dismay of my supervisor. Together me and Ludvig (my studymate and partner in crime – for the next few weeks at least) will have a closer look at the communication channel Twitch and how it can be used by professional gamers to build and maintain relationships with their fans. Therefore I’ve been spending some time looking over the latest lolesports.com figures and the PVC e-sports consumer market report.

As you might remember from my article “Your typical e-sports fan”, 36 million people watched the League of Legends World Championship finals last year. This was already a larger number than that of the people who watched the World Series or the NBA finals. This year the League of Legends World Championship finals was seen by 43 million people. According to the PVC report, the audience watching electronical sports has now grown to contain 70 million people. That’s 10 million more than the population of the UK! This is a fascinating growth for anyone interested in the e-sports industry or marketing. Since the attention of people truly is the most expensive currency in the world today, this is huge. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to focus my research around this flourishing but relatively unexplored industry. I eventually found someone crazy enough to agree to conduct the research and write the paper with me.

The first step for us was to pitch our research project to two professors. The goal here was to convince them that our chosen field of study was relevant for the academic field of media and communication science. Our pitch resulted in one of our professors looking confused and the other raving on about the wonders of future marketing methods connected to the research we would be conducting.

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The magic of Pokemon Go

Over the past few weeks people have been breaking their old habits and straying from their usual behavior. They have been taken to changing their normal routes home from work or to simply wandering the streets, parks and other public spaces, seemingly at random. However, these odd new movements are not random at all. They are actually quite the opposite because these people are chasing the invisible Pokémon that now have come to inhabit our cities.

Pokémon_Go_Fuller's_Brewery_ad
A pub in Portsmouth, England advertising a PokéStop location on the premises

The success of Pokémon Go, unforeseen even by it’s creators, is currently dominating the app world, claiming the focus of every social media site and shocking the stock market. Shares in Japan’s Nintendo soared as the phenomenal success of Pokémon Go has triggered massive buying in Nintendo shares. From a marketing point of view, this game opens a whole new door for smart business owners to come through. Many businesses have discovered the success of buying the in-game ‘Lure’ item which attracts Pokémon to your location for 30 minutes. This way you can tempt consumers through your doors at the low cost of £1.58 an hour. Pokémon Go has proven itself to have the power to control the movement of a vast amount of people. For this reason the potential effect of it’s business and marketing opportunities are staggering.

Pokémon_Go_-_screenshot_of_mapFor those of you who live under rocks: Pokémon Go is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game released in July this year. Making use of the GPS and camera of your phone, the game allows players to capture, battle, and train fictitious little creatures called Pokémon.

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Your Typical Esports Fan – Let’s call him Alex

It’s Monday 8 am as I’m writing this post. This morning finds me in a favourite coffee shop of mine, not far from Trafalgar Square. Considering I’m off work today you might wonder what I am doing here so early (I know I am) or maybe you don’t care at all. Either way I will tell you. After a night of limited rest, instead of trying to fall asleep again I decided to come here and do some research on a topic that has interested me greatly the last few weeks. The subject in question is Esport – the Esport fan base to be precise.

Professional gaming has had my interest for a long time. However, my curiosity for the identity of it’s audience specifically was sparked when I came across some fascinating statistics. Did you know that in the year of 2013 – 32 million viewers tuned in to watch the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship whilst only 15.7 million watched the NCAA Basketball finals? Last year, according to LoL Esports, “peak concurrent viewership” (PCU – the highest number of fans tuned in at any one point) for League of Legend Worlds was 14 million. LoL Esports also claim that the overall unique viewer count for the Finals 2015 was 36 million.

2013viewship

Why do these numbers excite me so much, you might wonder. Because Esport is still at it’s infancy. I can’t help but wonder about the potential of the industry and the effect it might come to have on the world of sports as we know it. What is clear is the considerable marketing opportunity this new industry provides. Esports have an audience of incredibly engaged fans who have proven challenging to reach through traditional media channels. Advertising through Esports is also done at a low cost in comparison to other marketing channels. This is because professional gaming is still a relatively new market to invest in. Though marketing strategies might not be as interesting to the average GD-reader as it is to me, I implore you to indulge me, just this once. I’ll even tell you why I find it is so deeply interesting, if you didn’t already close the page at the first sight of the words “marketing strategies”. Because if we start looking at the Esport scene from a marketing perspective, we need to ask ourselves: Who are these 36 million people tuning into the League of Legends Worlds last year? And all of a sudden it becomes relevant to you and I as well. Marketing teams need to know the identity of the audience because it’s important in order to get the most out of their money. You and I want to explore it because we are tired of the same drawn out stereotype defining a gamer in today’s society. So let’s do a bit of research and find out more about the Esport audience.

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Superstitions and MMO’s

The Daedalus Project was an online survey of MMORPG players which is currently in hibernation, but the archives are still available. In relation to the survey Heather Sinclair, a member of the Dungeon and Dragons Online development team, made an interesting comment:

“From beta all the way through months into launch players were CONVINCED that if you used the diplomacy skill on a chest it would improve the loot you got..

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Are pro gamers athletes?

Today I stumbled across the video below on YouTube. It made me wonder. Are gamers athletes? What defines an activity as a sport and a person as an athlete? Is it the physical effort? Strict rules and competition? Does the skill level have to be high? Does the person have to be a professional? The definition seems ambiguous at best. Golfing, dancing, curling and even chess are all activities considered sports yet most people outside the world of gaming would hesitate before calling a PC gamer and athlete based on his performance in a video game.

Oxford English Dictionary defines a sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” In this definition video games fall short, but so do other sports that are still socially accepted as an exception to the rule. Other activities such as Cheerleading (which has been determined by a federal judge to not qualify as a sport) should by the Oxford English Dictionary indeed classify and be up on the list together with football and basketball.

What’s your opinion? If you are (or hypothetically were) a professional gamer, would you call yourself an athlete?

Photo attribution: Photo derived from “Ases en la EPS” by artubr licensed under CC by 2.0

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The Virtual Skinner Box

What is a Skinner box? And how can it be related to gaming? In this blog post I will discuss the psychology utilised by MMO game developers to condition a desired gaming behaviour in their costumer clientele.

Skinner boxes are small glass or plexi-glass boxes with levers and drinking tubes. In this box laboratory rats are placed and conditioned to perform different tasks through what is known as “positive” or “negative” reinforcement.

Positive and negative reinforcement according to Sheldon Cooper:

So what is positive and negative reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement means a reward (in the Skinner Box the rat gets a food pellet). Negative reinforcement means the removal of a reward or positive consequence which works out as a sort of punishment (in the Skinner Box the rat gets a small electric shock unless they perform the tasks in time). The method is called “Operant Conditioning”. In the Skinner Box the rat is conditioned this way to perform very basic tasks at first. After a while these tasks become more intricate. Similar techniques are used by game designers to condition players to pursue more and more elaborate gameplay.

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Why do we care about fictional characters?

Have you ever really cared for a character in a video game? There are those that pass us by unnoticed and then there are those we couldn’t detach from even if we tried. The gaming industry has now more than ever shown itself capable of creating bonds and meaningful relationships between us, the players, and the fictional characters we encounter. How do game developers pull this off? How do they make us care?

Researchers of the university of Middlsex mean to say that we are predetermined to care about these fictional characters.

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Team Ranked in SWTOR: Player Perspective and Insights

The data collected in these articles comes from interviews with 12 Team Ranked players in SWTOR and from observing team’s successful or not so successful communication on streams. The information given is in accordance to patch 4.0.3. The players interviewed for these articles are:

Dakaru from TRE & TOFN
Gerikke from TRE & TOFN
Gladias from Harbinger
Jaq’n from TRE & TOFN
Larsson from TRE & TOFN
Molra from TOFN
Morvin from TOFN
Myzran from TRE & TOFN
Naid from TOFN
Terrikus from T3 & TOFN
Vara from Harbinger
Zherio from TRE & TOFN

These players were chosen to be interviewed for the purpose of representing a variety of roles, classes and levels of experience. This is to get more varied points of view in order to better understand the current state of team ranked in SWTOR. I conducted these interviews and watched many more hours of team ranked streams than I’d like to admit, all because I found myself curious of the ways in which communication might affect the win/loss ratio of team ranked arenas. In many situations in life it’s hard to measure the value of effective communication and so it is regularly underestimated. In team ranked however the positive impact of effective communication is suddenly clear when the difference between a win and a loss often comes down to something as small as a miscommunication regarding a stun. That said, when it comes to the two competences required (mechanical and communication skills) it needs to be said that they are completely co-dependent on each other. You cannot be great with only an understanding of one of the two. At the moment the pool of active team ranked players is very small which results in an intimidating environment for new players to enter. The purpose of this series of articles is to give insight to new players in the hope that it will make their learning curve a little less steep.

Because of the amount of information I ended up gathering I decided to split this article into five parts. These will be released successively over the next few weeks leading up to the start of season 7. Below you will find the links to each individual article.

1. Setup and strategy
2. Healing, tanking and deal damage in Team Ranked
3. Team Ranked Communication
4. Team Ranked Communication: What not to do
5. I want to try to make a ranked team but I have no experience. Where should I start?

Thank you to all of the players interviewed and to all of the streamers who have unknowingly helped me write these articles. Also, to the friends who helped me, a very special thanks to you for always being supportive through all of my crazy projects.

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Team Ranked in SWTOR: Part 5 – I want to try to make a ranked team but I have no experience. Where do I start?

5

This is part five of my “Team Ranked in SWTOR: Player Perspective and Insights” series of articles. The content of this series is divided into five parts which will be released successively over the next few weeks leading up to the start of season 7. Thank you to all of the players interviewed (full list in the link above) and to all of the streamers who have unknowingly helped me write this article.

I want to try to make a ranked team but I have no experience. Where do I start?
In accordance to patch 4.0.3

In this fifth and last part of the series I will be going through advice from myself and the people I have interviewed in regards to what strategy to start out with as well as what classes to choose for each role. I will also go through some other basics such as how to set and use your focus target. Make sure to check out the list of team ranked streamers in the end of this article. If you have any questions regarding the terminology or anything else then please don’t hesitate to comment below or contact me here.

What strategy do we start with?
There are many different options revolving around the classes you are going to choose. That said, if we begin by zooming out and looking at the greater picture then we can start discussing strategy on a more general level. All classes have different specs which allow very different type of gameplay. The first question here becomes: Burst or pressure?

The Burst Approach
Hard swap is a term used to describe a team synchronizing their stuns, interrupts and their damage in a way that will allow them to swiftly burst an enemy target down while the enemy tank is incapacitated and unable to switch guard. It requires a lot of communication and synchronization between team members since the strategy revolves around creating a perfect moment to swap and burst a target. The hard swap tactic was discovered and mainly used for team ranked in older patches. The later patches introduced a shorter cooldown on breaker making this strategy less viable. Today you can still use a hard swap tactic but you need to adapt it to the current meta which is all about wearing the enemy healer down by splitting your damage on several targets. The way the hard swap has been adjusted to work in this patch is to go for constant kill pressure. Split damage and quick switches pressure the tank to focus more of their attention on guardswaps and positioning. CC’s are used to force defensive cooldowns and eventually lead to a kill. This type of strategy relies on all burst specs. Even your tank is likely to have to focus damage with you during the hard swaps to be able to get a kill since the sorcerer/sage heals are so strong at the moment. For inexperienced team ranked players this might not be the best way to go.

All players interviewed agreed that the best thing for new players is to start off with pressure comps (setups with focus on damage over time, i.e. DoT specs). This is because the strategy that comes with a burst comp can be straining to pull off even for experienced players who are not used to playing together. Burst classes and specs also have distinct weaknesses that can be exploited by more experienced players. In order for this to work your teamwork needs to be really sharp. Since effective communication in team ranked takes time to develop it is to your own advantage to start out with a composition that puts less strain on your communication and gives it room to improve.

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Team Ranked in SWTOR: Part 4 – Team Ranked Communication: What not to do

4

This is part fourth of my “Team Ranked in SWTOR: Player Perspective and Insights” series of articles. The content of this series is divided into four parts which will be released successively over the next few weeks leading up to the start of season 7. Thank you to all of the players interviewed (full list in the link above) and to all of the streamers who have unknowingly helped me write this article.

Team Ranked Communication:
What not to do

This article will be using terminology explained in part 3 of this series. If you haven’t read it yet and find yourself lost follow the link above.

 

What not to say in a ranked arena match:

Example 2: The Team With the Many Target Callers
A team unused to playing together are trying out new setups. From time to time there is a lot of noise in the channel consisting of several people calling out tactics and plans of actions simultaneously (mistake no. 1). Mass taunts are being overlapped (mistake no. 2) and no one is interrupting the healer (mistake no. 3). At a crucial moment when the slinger of the team is very low on health the tank is distracted by communicating tactics with the other DPS. When the healer tries to call the tanks attention to the slinger needing a guard there is noise in the channel and the tank doesn’t hear him (mistake no. 4). By the time the slinger finally receives a guard it is too late and the enemy team kill him through the guard.

Mistake no. 1 – Agree on general tactics before going into the arena. Don’t change tactics mid game. If your team exists of a lot of personalities who like calling targets then decide on a target caller before queuing. All of the above is to avoid clogging up the communication channel with noise which is guaranteed to result in misunderstandings.
Mistake no. 2 – Always communicate and rotate mass taunts in order to maximise the damage reduction your taunts offer.
Mistake no. 3 – Don’t make it easy for the enemy healer to keep his team alive this way. Communicate interrupts. Agree on who will interrupt the healer in what order.
Mistake no. 4 – Reduce the noise in the channel!

 

What to avoid
Both Molra and Terrikus point out the importance of having an articulated plan before going into an arena. Don’t disrupt your focus by starting to question your strategy in the middle of the arena, you can do that after. Play it through and learn from your mistakes. In my interview with Vara he also cautions new teams against giving up on any one strategy too quickly. Just because it didn’t work the first time doesn’t mean that it’s an invalid strategy.

On the topic of what not to say during a ranked arena match, Gladias tells me:

“There’s a lot of stuff. I know this because I’ve done it myself. You should never yell at your team for an example. It demoralises them. It depends what kind of personalities you have on your team of course, some are fine but others it will really dishearten them. When you do that the player will just start playing worse so just speak calmly and maintain it – which is where I have to take a leaf out of my own book.” – Gladias

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