While League of Legends fans had this weekend off from watching the League Championship Series, eSports fans have had their cravings satiated by the DotA 2 World Championships called The International.
Perspective is important in eSports, and while I’ve never been a huge DotA 2 fan, watching The International has given me some ideas on what can be taken to improve League of Legends broadcasts. On the flip side, there’s also certain things that I found lacking in The International’s presentation, which can hopefully be filled in to make a well-rounded product.
Obviously, League of Legends has an advantage in that Riot Games has had time to tweak things that didn’t work. The difference between the League Championship Series’ first few weeks and the lead-up to World Championships have been immense, as we’re seeing new features like telestrator breakdowns, guest analysts and on-screen visuals for quick snippets of information. However, there are more abstract things that the LCS does well that may not be appreciated until you notice their absence.
TI3: The International needs to tweak the balance between “hardcore” and “newbies” when it comes to commentary.
As someone new to the game, the main complaint I had about watching The International’s commentary was that the numerous acronyms, short forms and assumed knowledge the announcers imparted. It got to the point where I was keeping a Chrome window in a second monitor open, specifically to Google what each champion did and what items like a “Mek” and “BKB” were.
Names were thrown out, but there was no context; even mentioning the greater role of a hero to the team composition was omitted. While broadcasts are hyping up second screen experiences, now, it should not be required to understand the basic functions of the game.
Of course, this is a balance issue that comes down to the production, the direction it wants to take and the initiative of the commentators. If DotA 2 wants to satisfy long-time players, they’re doing it; however, if they want to be able to acclimate newer players to both the game and the professional level of competition, they will need to improve the way they frame this information.
This does not mean explaining every single skill for every single champion for every single match, but realizing that not everyone has an idea of some basic functions will be valuable.
TI3: Find another interviewer.
I’m not sure of the landscape of the DotA 2’s community scene, but there had to be a better interviewer than Kaci Aitchison, a Seattle Fox News morning news anchor. There were repeat mentions (even by her own admission) of her lack of knowledge of competitive DotA, and while she’s improved considerably over the weekend, the role should have been filled with a greater enthusiasm and knowledge of the scene.
This, of course, is a decision that needs to be made at the tournament organization level, and something that will hopefully be improved in the future. Professionalism and craft need to be taken into account, and someone, at some point, thought that Kaci would be a good choice because she has experience. Hopefully as DotA 2 grows there will be more chances for the community to cut their teeth and become broadcast quality, but for now the between-game interviews felt a bit lacking.
TI3: Dedicated observers for camera control.
One of my favourite things about eSports is the crew of people that hang around in this Skype chat that I frequent. They make watching tournaments and discovering new things more fun, including getting their own observations.
“Optimus” Tom Searfoss noticed that a major difference between the LCS and The International is that the former has a dedicated observer running a camera, while the latter has the announcers running their own. The International also does something very Korean in that they show the mouse cursor for the final broadcast; while this gives the viewer a focus point, but ultimately it’s down to audience preference as to whether it’s distracting.
Camera control is a fickle beast because it splits the commentator team into two sets of desires. It takes some agency away from the announcer, but lets them focus on what they’re being paid to do: explain the game and call the shots. It means that they are not going to be showing what they want to talk about; they are at the mercy of the observer.
The flip side of this, however, is that multiple observers means that few things will be missed when different people are looking for different things on the map. For instance, two announcers calling a fight may not notice a player slipping by defenses to take out an objective, or something game-critical in the same vein.
It’s my personal opinion that the announcer-led camera made The International’s broadcast erratic, and prone to miss important events. However, there is also the in-game spectator tools that may make an observer-led view more awkward: we’ll get to that in the next few points, which flips things back to what the LCS can learn from DotA 2
LCS: The post-game analysis desk introduces more voices into the broadcast.
A feature that I grew to appreciate in The International was the four-man analysis desk that came after each game; the main difference between this approach and what the LCS has been doing is that this was a lot less scripted with a greater emphasis on personality and conversation. While the LCS has a highly-structured post-game sequence, I find that it leads to something rigid that rarely brings us anything that wasn’t pointed out to us already in the cast.
And while we also have professional League players brought on for a few games’ analysis, not every person they recruit is going to have the expertise or the ability to convey things properly to an audience. By having a larger stable to work with besides two people (and possibly a weatherman), the conversation feels more fluid, there are more points to bring up and experiences to draw on.
From what I can tell at the moment, a large part of the LCS is teleprompted; this fits in with the large emphasis on control that the LCS seems to exude. While it’s worked well for them this season, it could stand to be said that after the proof of concept groundwork is laid, there could be a little more experimentation to find a balance that will satisfy everyone.
LCS: The Compendium makes the competition feel more “real”.
When I first heard about the Compendium, a ten-dollar buy-in for The International, I was considerably jealous. Acting as a fantasy league, trading card game and supplement to the massive prize pool, the Compendium allows players and fans to get personally invested to the games being played on a greater level than what League of Legends currently offers.
Taking cues from DotA 2, League introduced purchasable team icons with proceeds going to the teams, but we are neither aware of how much will be sent to the people we enjoy watching, or get to see a giant ticking prize amount go up. And up. And up.
The Compendium allows players to enjoy the massive appeal of fantasy sports with in-game benefits that reward them for a small monetary investment. It is not necessary, but allows hardcore fans to participate in a way that will produce positive results for them. While the LCS reads fan tweets on-air, the segments feel like something to fill space, rather than feeding into a living, breathing ecosystem.
If there’s one thing DotA 2‘s developer, Valve, knows how to do, it’s introduce sub-games into their titles to both drive user engagement ( TF2 hats, anyone?) while providing things for different types of players to latch on to. For every casual Team Fortress 2 player, there’s a hat trading fanatic, pumping hours (and money) into the game.
Perhaps most importantly, the Compendium acts as a bridge between the casual and the hardcore. The former can throw $10 to support the scene and the prize pool, but be sucked into the fantasy league and watch teams that they would not have been interested in otherwise. It expands the palate, encourages people to pay attention and rewards players with little investment on Valve’s part.
I’d call that a damn good part of any experience.
LCS: Spectator tools improve the presentation considerably.
When pointing out the difference in the spectator tools between League of Legends and DotA 2, it becomes difficult to do so because in order to see change, it needs to be at a developer level rather than a decision made by a director. While League had made strides in improving their spectator client (draggable scoreboard elements, low-health pings), there are two elephants in the room: the lack of replays, and the ability to get a full experience from within the client.
Being able to watch The International from within the DotA 2 client gives us the amazing ability to choose which announcers to hear (if any); for some, cutting them out entirely makes for a better environment to concentrate. Also, the ability to move the camera on your own, bring up graphs comparing both teams and even mirror the player’s own camera movements is immense.
However, it’s important to consider that Riot may be limiting spectating by technology and ideology. Constricting options to Twitch, Azubu.TV and YouTube allows Riot to easily amass analytics, reduces the amount of maintenance they need to do with a lacking client, and form partnerships with those networks.
Replays also play a big part in what makes DotA 2 different because it provides a tool that the community can use to hone their skills and give up-and-coming casters a place to add their own spin on high-level play. You want to encourage community content and viral videos? Give people the ability to remix – and more importantly learn - from what the professionals are doing.
As eSports keeps speeding along towards a greater profile within gaming and the mainstream, possibly the most interesting thing is how competition will make different games better. The International is impressive, and effectively puts League of Legends on notice; they must answer back with a stellar World Championships in order to keep the competition going, and make the LCS as good on a weekly basis as what Valve can put together yearly.
I’ll be attending the League of Legends World Championship, and hopefully I’ll be writing a post in mid-October about how Riot Games has fired back with something that defies all expectation. If not, there will obviously be comparisons, and maybe the genesis of a fiercer eSports war.
If it means a better experience for viewers, content creators and players, I say bring it on.
Matt Demers is a 24 year old writer who hopes to make a living out of his passions. He writes about gaming, League of Legends, comic books and other nerdy things. You can follow him on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. If you’d like to read or watch more in-depth eSports coverage, consider donating to help with associated costs.