From Esoteric to E-sport



This article was submitted to Crossing Zebras by Cosmonaut Ivanova, a member of Stay Frosty. He elaborates on the difficulties of presenting the AT as an observer sport, and how to make it easier to engage people unfamiliar with the scene.

     Have you ever watched two people argue about the perfect recipe for a cheese and ham sandwich? Did they then immediately go on to have a competition, right there in your kitchen, to determine who was the best cheese and ham sandwich chef in the room? When facing it, the ‘art’ of making that simple tasty snack they were so worked up about seems simple. Kinda like lining up a bunch of spaceships and having them shoot each other. But based on the stacks of burned bread on the floor and smeared cheese on the kitchen wall (yes, on the wall!) it appears far more complex than I’d let myself believe.

That day, which I’ve come to call “The day I thought about murdering two of my housemates”, led me to thinking about the hidden complexities in the Alliance Tournament.

If this year is the first time you watched the AT then maybe, you found the whole thing interesting, but likely didn’t really understand what was going on.

In a lot of ways, huge portions of the match have already taken place and the viewer didn’t see any of it.

There’s a fair bit happening behind the scenes in the AT. Long before a match starts, decisions have been made in response to things like ship, module and point restrictions imposed by the rules of the tournament. Then there are the bans and the choice on whether or not to bring your flagship. After that, the teams need to get their pilots into ships and form a fleet composition they feel gives them the best chance.

For example our comms got silly at some points: “But what if they realise we’ve tried to ban them into that comp? So they’ll take something that beats what we’re planning to take. What if they think that we’re thinking that?!”

Then the teams are moved to the arena system and warp in at their preferred ranges before the fight, which starts shortly afterwards. In a lot of ways, huge portions of the match have already taken place and the viewer didn’t see any of it. Try and get someone who’s not played EVE before to watch the AT and you may end up with a reaction similar to the one I had from my housemate:

“Ok so there’s a red team and blue team…. now the blue team is dead. Yeah I get it. I’m going to the shop do you want anything?”

He didn’t get it, and we’d run out of bread. Well, he did, but he missed out on the nuances that make a match interesting. I don’t think he really had any chance of understanding what was going on beyond which team was losing ships. I tried to explain it, but had to stop every ten seconds to expand on something like what a web does, why that ship can web so far and this one can’t, why being scrammed and webbed makes a ship easier to kill, what scrammed is, and so on. It was more information than they were willing to absorb and it was delivered before they had even gotten their head around the rules of a match.

“Wait so why did they bring a logistics ship? Is that to get all the ships and ammo to the fight?”

the tournament is a representation of the [..] dedication which player groups manifest to get what they want from the game

This is important.

The way people see the game, especially in tournament settings like this, impacts on whether they are potentially going to play it. If their first exposure to EVE leads to complete confusion and frontloading of information, they’re going to tune it out. The AT isn’t indicative of a vast majority of what EVE online is, but it does beat viewers over the head with complexity and, let’s face it, how nerdy this game can be at the sharp ends.

If we’re going to use the AT as a device to convince people that EVE online is a thing they need in their life, and I think we should, then it needs to be clear to any viewer that the tournament is a representation of the organisation, planning and dedication which player groups manifest to get what they want from the game. That the Alliance Tournament is one way how they’re exerting their influence using those tools.

EVE can be an esoteric game and there’s no getting around that, I think, without ripping it’s soul out. Sure you can argue that there’s plenty of other E-Sports which are just as difficult to break into as a viewer. Moving swiftly past that though, and the cries that CCP shouldn’t or won’t spend time looking at the AT. Maybe there are some ways to make the AT a more engaging event for the uninitiated or even people who’ve never played EVE before.

It’s only after spending a lot of time practicing with the A Band Apart team for this year that I gained the ability to understand what I’m seeing during a match and what it means, and I still do that badly. To not understand what’s happening during the match reduces the excitement down to who won in the end, which seems like a shame.

I do have a lot of respect for the people involved in the AT. CCP and the people running it do a great job. The alliances behind the teams put in so many hours of effort, practicing and scheming and that hard work pays off. I don’t think the tournament is bad, but like most things it can be better with a good plan and some vision.

My proposal is that we make the AT more like a sport. I’m biased from my work background to say that the hallmark of a successful sport is that it’s engaging for the audience. There’d still be plenty of spaceship violence, a need to spend time planning, metagaming and theory-crafting, but I’d love to see alternative win conditions aside from ship destruction, or clear objectives within a match which a viewer can keep track of more easily. That essentially means the AT would need to become more of a game within a game, with enough complexity to allow for tactical decisions but simple enough for someone outside the match to pick up the rules by watching and to see who’s winning or losing. (Unlike watching two morons get drunk, make a big mess and then go out to buy Chinese takeaway)

I don’t see a reason why the current system should be kept sacred, so perhaps big changes to how the AT matches currently run could be an answer to make watching and maybe even playing a match more engaging. For example there could be more visual cues that enforce different tactical decisions than the current format. A match could require control over territory or zones within the arena to score points. The arena could be enhanced with terrain features or even its shape and size itself could change between matches.

the real trick is to get them into a position where they’ll want to find out more for themselves

Plucking formats from other sports is a particularly lazy, but effective, way to get new viewers on board while allowing them time to pick up the complexities. You can’t spend all your time during a broadcast holding their hands though, so the real trick is to get them into a position where they’ll want to find out more for themselves. You do that with clear familiar concepts, like interesting narration and direction to sources of further information. If commentators were better at telling the stories associated with the alliances involved, it might lead people to try and discover for themselves the crazy depth that New Eden has to offer.

PVP and spaceship violence is ostensibly the most sensible way to showcase EVE online’s core gameplay elements within a tournament setting. For example, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a broadcast of a mining tournament. Though if a team like EVE-NT want’s to give that a shot I’d love to see it! Right now the AT has a focus on very pure combat. Putting that combat inside a game or sport container with it’s own rules creates a separate level of engagement, which – if done right – means a viewer can learn the specifics of combat at their own pace instead of needing to know them all just to participate as viewer.

Typically, the container which the Alliance Tournament sits in has rules which are there to ensure a balanced fight between the two teams. It might be worth trying to add rules or mechanics within that game so that the combat serves a more obvious objective which gives the viewer more to watch and creates tension over things that aren’t just ship destruction.

Tournaments like the AT and other high exposure events are worthwhile and good for the community. If they can be used to bring more people into this strange world we inhabit, then that’s a worthy pursuit. Rather than letting the Alliance Tournament represent the cliqué nature that EVE can have, where people are left outside the group because they simply don’t know enough, we should be using the tournament as an opportunity to promote the best of what EVE has to offer.

~Cosmonaut Ivanova

Thank you Cosmonaut Ivanova for the submission.

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Tags: ATXIV, submissions

About the author


This is a submission from outside our regular writers.