Bridging Worlds

When Eron asked me a while back if VGT would be willing to run a series of essays on the aesthetics, the design and infrastructure of MOBAs, I agreed blindly. And in a literal sense, too: Although I have been playing video games for a quarter of a century and nowadays even earn part of my rent writing about them, I was pitifully ignorant of a phenomenon that is not even just the future, but very much the present of video games.

As Eron writes in his introduction:

The broader problem in talking about video games in a nuanced way is massively amplified with MOBAs since [they] are tricky for both lay and academic audiences, especially since it can take literally hundreds of hours to learn to play these games with any amount of skill, let alone to explore their communities.

This hits home especially for those writing about games professionally: In the already hectic circle of news-previews-release-reviews-oblivion, there is simply no time for most journalists to spend that amount of time on a single game, period. (And to point out a fact most readers of games journalism might be unaware of: Most of the men and women writing about games who are lucky enough to be paid at all, are freelancers. That means they are paid for the text, and not for the time spent playing the game they report on. It's only the absolute minority of games journalists, usually those actually employed by the few remaining specialist outlets, print or online, for whom play time is paid work time. Let that sink in for a minute.) The title of this series is well chosen: It is a de-mystification that's going on here, all right, and a very welcome one at that.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. This is the final part.

Watching ten people sit hidden behind computer monitors on a stage might sound like the very stuff that purgatory is built of, with a barrage of swirling laser lights and dubstep blasting only adding insult to injury. But a massive number of people have come to love watching esports, and by massive I mean top tournaments for Defense of the Ancients 2 (aka Dota2, by Valve Corporation) and League of Legends (aka LoL, by Riot Games) can draw tens of millions of viewers, which is on par with top traditional sporting events like the baseball World Series. Blizzard/Activision’s Heroes of the Storm (HotS) doesn’t draw quite as many viewers, but was only launched in the middle of 2015, and is backed by the company that has historically been a pioneer of esports via StarCraft.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. This is part 7.

With the explosive rise of Valve’s Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA2), Riot’s League of Legends (LoL), and Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm (HotS), the mainstream media seems to be quite deeply perplexed by the claim that video games could be a sport. It is incredibly rare to be present in the earliest days of any cultural phenomena, but similar to seeing the supporting structure of a half-finished building. This primordial vantage point is immensely interesting because it provides a clear view of how culture is constructed both in fans and from the sporting organizations. In fact, getting to watch this process of a professional sport that is only a decade old (via StarCraft) trying to legitimize itself highlights the artifice and art of all sporting events. As esports are still uncharted territory, each game company has made distinct choices with their experiments in trying to promote, share, professionalize, and define their game as an esport.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. This is part 6.

Last week’s Demystifying Mobas examined the ways that the resource gathering models of MOBAs highlight their differing ideas about balance and fairness. But to fully understand some of the curious complexities of why lightning fast mirco-games of precision and speed like last hitting, are not just prioritized, but even possible, it is critical to understand how MOBAs are a mutation from the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre. Warcraft 3 (by Blizzard Entertainment), which is the fantasy flavored brethren of StarCraft (also Blizzard), is the source for the entire MOBA genre.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs.

In the previous editions of Demystifying Mobas I’ve broken down some of the basic elements such as the maps, characters, and history of the three major esports mobas, DotA2 (Valve Corporation), LoL (Riot Games), and HotS (Blizzard/Activision). Now that we’ve shaken the hypothetical box, looked at the game board, and examined the pieces, let’s set these games in motion.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs.

In today’s instalment of “Demystifying MOBAs” we’re going to move on from the characters and take a look at the maps and landscape of Valve’s Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA2), Riot’s League of Legends (LoL), and Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm (HotS). One interesting way that many MOBAs resemble traditional sports fields (and chess) is that they have a single standard map for all competitive play. LoL has added a couple of variant game types which each have distinct maps, but these aren’t used in professional play so the focus here will be on the core map.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. Part one, part two

Wait, What’s A Mid-Fielder Again?

Moving on from last week’s examination of representation and art styles in mobas, each of the three games we’ve been looking at in the series also has a rather different idea about your relationship to your character and what it should be doing in the game. It’s important to note that in all three games, each of the five players that make up a given team will fill different roles, which are similar to positions in other sports like baseball or football. DotA2 has by far the most complexity and fluidity in character positions, but as is typical for all three games, each player will eventually come to specialize in a particular role or position.

There are unofficial subsets of the characters that are considered “correct” in each role, though there is nothing aside from poor strategy to prevent “wrong” characters to be used in any given position. At the most basic level, each character in all three games has a combination of six or more abilities. These abilities determine the characters’ usage in any given team. For instance, one character could be very fragile but have abilities that rain down damage afar, while another character might be able to only attack up close, but can go invisible to close that gap to the fragile character. Similar to a football match, games are played out strategically based on the strengths and weaknesses of each team.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. Part one is here

While MOBAs seem quite basic, their design decisions are often focused on the interaction of small details and procedures. What can on the surface seem familiar and simple from other video games can quickly blossom into a panoply of complications in MOBAs. As such, there are innumerable places to start our comparative re-examination of Defense of the Ancients 2 (aka DotA2, published by Valve Coportation), League of Legends (aka LoL, published by Riot Games), and Heroes of the Storm (aka HotS, published by Blizzard Entertainment), but I’m going to open by examining and exploring one of the first things that any player will do after starting one of these games: picking a character to play.

In DotA2 and HotS the characters a player picks from are simply named “heroes” since they are the virtual representation of you, the player, while in LoL your character is called your “champion.” This is because in the LoL world mythology, you, the player, are actually playing as a separate but never shown in-game personality called a “summoner” who is a wizard and political figure who through some manner of unexplained virtual-reality-mind-control elects and takes control of another character in the world for each combat. This interposed (and rather meta) relationship of the player and character was written out of the backstory in late 2014, but Riot has kept the term champion and somewhat confusingly now uses the term summoner interchangeably with “player” during their esports broadcasts. It is still possible to see a number of other legacy uses of the term such as the main map of LoL being called “Summoner’s Rift” e.g. the place where summoners disagree and work out their political differences and personal grudges.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs.

“And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.” T.S. Elliot

“Every art is produced by the tension between a series of aims and a series of resistances to their achievement…” Arnold Hauser

The triple glories of money, terror, and fame rule the landscape of the mass media press. On the rare occasions when they talk about video games, this usually means that we get to hear about the creator of Minecraft outbidding Jay Z and Beyonce for his new house, some attempt to shoehorn a troubled youth’s love of Call of Duty into his violent behavior, or the inevitable hyperbole about how Hollywood has been superseded in revenue by the video game industry.

But one curious manifestation of the American fixation on the spectacular is that, when it comes to coverage of video games, the two games that have received the highest profile and subsequently the most exposure to non-game-fans, are two of the most opaque to outsiders and the least covered by the game criticism community. The games are League of Legends (Riot Games) and Defense of the Ancients 2 (Valve).

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT guest author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. These articles are intended as conversation starters about the burgeoning intersection between the fine art world, academic studies of games, virtual photography, and video game creation. This essay follows up on his thoughts here.

We live in a world of screens, simulations, rendered representations, and hybrid media. The deluge of digitally-generated spaces are all-pervasive in our businesses, in our media, in our hobbies, in our leisure, and in our relationships. Underpinning all of these virtual places are complex systems of code and hardware that create the rules of that particular feigned reality. The physics, the lights, the textures, and even the rules governing the rendering of perspective, are all crafted to seamlessly let us experience the space as being as visually real as possible.

The virtual photograph, whether it is a screenshot from a video game or from a Google Street View scene, is particularly compelling in our time regardless of whether it features a glorious moment of beauty or a jarring glitch precisely because it is leveraging one of the simplest ways we know and share in the Instagram age, photographs, to directly explore the immensely complicated systems that produce the myriad of digital realities that swarm around us.