I’d like to raise some concerns about Arenanet’s continual descend into poor decision making in terms of game design/e-sports ambition.
A successful Esports needs two things:
Players, and spectators. The game is actually not as important. Spectators are a straightforward concept, the more, the better. Unfortunately GW2 isn’t a particularly friendly game to spectate, and only now has Anet begun to address this issue. In terms of players there are 3 types. You begin as a player who is uninformed, trying to learn the game, and experiment. With experience you become the average player who knows the ins and outs of the game, with the ability to help the uninformed. Finally, players of this category can make the extra push to be a professional. A professional is often a beacon of inspiration for the average player; creating new ways of thinking for the meta to change and in turn, engage the developers into doing things in new ways. All three echelons of players are important. Professional players help drive the game in different directions and show spectators the amount of depth the game can have. Your average player-base helps translate this depth to the beginners. Which is where the forefront of GW2’s issues lie.
Issue #1: “Lets make GW2 the most inaccessible E-Sport out there”.
Anet have said time and time again they want to make GW2 a proper E-Sport. How well is that turning out isn’t an issue here (but the answer is not very well). The frame work for an esports community to build up just isn’t there. Three years on we still don’t have fundamental features like; saved builds, a working matchmaking system, game history and in game rankings. These aren’t just features that are QoL, these features are crucial. A competitive environment is about having the features in place for people to improve
GW2 features high customisability, which is not unlike other successful esports. Customisability is a good thing. The problem with GW2’s version of customisability is that it exists at the beginning of a PvP match. This is not a good thing for both players and spectators.
If you look at a successful MOBA like DotA 2 or LoL, you’ll see that the game type starts off with the players having very little abilities to use. Gameplay at the very beginning of a match is very mechanics-based. But as the match develops and casualties are suffered, more options are available to players to adapt and change the tide of battle. Most MOBAs involve the purchasing of items in game which essentially allows builds and tactics to change.
Now if we look at GW2 conquest, very little of this is present. Builds are locked in from the get go (which I actually agree with). Once a match gets underway and points are accrued, staging a comeback becomes much more ‘skill’ based rather than tactics based. Even this isn’t the problem, but it does make GW2 more akin to a game like counterstrike rather than a team-oriented, RPG PvP game which it is often presented as. CS works as a spectatored esport because the visuals are so easy to understand. You aim, you shoot, you win. This isn’t the case with GW2. There are hundreds of different spell effects a spectator needs to know, and for a casual spectator, the result is more important than the method. Watching a sinister engineer do a complex rotation to win a point from the opponent is boring, even though it requires great timing and skill. Watching two teams race to kill a guild lord in Stronghold on the other hand can be much more exciting. Skillful prowess in a video game are often much harder to translate visually than tactical prowess.
So not only are we wrestling with a game that is difficult to understand visually, we are also hampered by one of GW2’s most core principles:
Issue #2: “No defined roles, no 7LF Monk”.
First of all, I absolutely applaud Anet for making PvE solo friendly. The removal of the holy trinity was a very good thing. For PvE. But for PvP it falls flat on its face. I’m not saying we should have healers and tanks in PvP but we need clear and visible roles for each class. The problem is that, outside of a proper premade team, soloQ players are completely oblivious to what their team members are doing and/or capable of. You can make the argument that players are supposed to communicate, but even to that extent, the game is making it difficult for players to do this successfully and efficiently. Many team sports have a great visual and informative component that tells spectators what might happen before the game even begins. Its the dispelling of these preconceived notions that adds to the excitement of the game. In football, if you see a 4-5-1 formation you would probably expect that team to be extremely offensively minded.
In DotA and LoL during the character picking process you can easily formulate a strategy based on the preconceived roles that is attributed to that particular character. It becomes easy for random players to know what their role is, and great for spectators to watch. If a player plays a character differently to what their preconceived role is, it becomes exciting and innovative.
With elite specializations the issue mentioned above becomes even more difficult to deal with. What can I tell about a team in GW2 involving a thief, a ranger, a mesmer, a necromancer and a revenant? Not much really. If we had saved build changes we might alleviate this problem slightly, at least we can quickly change builds before a match, but even so to what extent? Currently GW2’s esport game type, Conquest doesn’t even necessitate clear and defined roles because:
Issue #3: “Conquest sucks.”
Conquest favors players being able to survive and stand on a point as long as possible. It might feel fun to play, but it is extremely boring to watch. I think Anet has realized this with the removal of the Minstrel’s amulet. This actually isn’t the biggest problem. The issue with conquest is that character defeat almost always directly translates into objective failure. If you die fighting over a point, you will most likely lose that point. This game structure doubly reinforces a team’s impending loss by both awarding points to the finisher, and the map objective.
This ends up diluting the map objectives to the point where player skill becomes much more important that team tactics, which in turn is not good for spectators. Here are some comparisons where player defeat does not equate to match defeat.
In DotA the designated roles create a weighted importance on which players need to survive. Player defeat doesn’t necessarily equate to a disadvantage for the team if certain map objectives get completed in the process. For instance, sacrificing yourself to destroy a tower allows extra tactics to emerge as the enemy’s map control diminishes due to losing a tower.
Even in a game like Counterstrike, player defeat is an important component of map awareness. Since encounters are so brief in CS, losing a teammate will quickly inform the rest of the team where their map exposures are and the necessity for the team to change tactics and adapt.
It is for these reasons why maps such as Temple and Foefire are more successful, the extra objectives on that map adds both the necessity to change tactics and is spectator friendly. I think in this respect, Stronghold is a much more successful game type for SPvP, and Esports spectating in general, but it isn’t without its own set of clunky mechanics which I won’t go into here.
Issue #4: “Visualsgate”
I’ve already alluded to “spectability” earlier on, so I’ll touch up on it here. Anet has recently been toning down their graphical skill effects lately. These skill effects are beautifully created in the first place mind you, but these changes don’t seem to have been taken well, nor achieve what they are trying to do. Large group combat is still a mess. In short it probably has something to do with the scaling of ‘impact’ effects when stuff virtue of judgement gets activated on an enemy in PvE, but I don’t think the problem is to do with the art at all. In fact, I find it insulting (for the art team) they are making such kneejerk changes to the beautiful effects.
The issue isn’t large balls of fire being hurled by an elementalist. These visual cues are important for an esport. The issue is just that there are too many different types. The visual effects also lack a sense of hierarchy as to what is definitively powerful and what isn’t. A mesmer’s greatsword AA massive bolt of energy should be reserved for something powerful and infrequent rather than something that appears on screen every second. On the other hand, it’s the engineer’s Orbital strike getting toned down? It doesn’t make sense.
These issues could’ve been tested very early on simply by asking a seasoned developer to commentate on a round of PvP. How successful will they be at doing it? How do you differentiate the importance of one fiery fireball effect vs another? And what about all these crazy combo fields? Even as a player you’d struggle to know whether you’ve successfully activated the field you want to activate thanks to the overlapping combo fields rule, how do you expect a spectator to understand it?
For the record, I think combo fields are fun as hell, but just terribly implemented, and visually distracting.
GW2 is a very fun game to play PvP wise, when you remove map objectives and what not. Its incredibly fun to survive and claw your way back against an opponent, but unfortunately, its just terrible to watch. No amount of visual downgrades will help either because its the inherent mechanics of the game itself which are the issue.