I attended PAX Prime this past weekend. 70,000 nerds let loose in downtown Seattle was a sight to behold. Pretty much any game you might want to play, be it a board or card game, a tabletop game or RPG, a hand held game, or even many PC and console games were all there for the playing pretty much any time of day or night, if you knew where to look. It was, in a word, Nerdvana.
I learned a lot of new things, but only one was really blogworthy. Before PAX I was only vaguely aware of the idea of watching other people play competitive video games. I of course knew that there are video game tournaments and even professional video game players, but somehow I still imagined this was a thing mostly confined to the people who play the games at high levels. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that other people not involved in the game or somehow related to one of the players would actually sit down and watch such a thing.
I was very quickly set straight on this point at PAX. The League of Legends North American Regionals were held at PAX, and it was a pretty big deal. There was a giant theater filled with hundreds of people watching two teams of five people compete against each other. Not only that, but the games were broadcast live to various TVs scattered throughout the convention center.
I got to see about an hour of this while waiting in line for swag, and even though I wasn’t exactly paying a ton of attention, I did come away with one insight. It turns out, the commentators for most mainstream sports are fucking terrible. I mean, most of the time, when you watch a football or baseball game, the commentators sit there and give you a run-down of what you just saw. If you’re lucky, the color commentator will say something about how the defense were playing a cover 2 there, and that’s why they were able to get the interception.
What they almost never tell you, though, is why the defense was playing cover 2 in that situation. They either just assume you know (which I’m guessing most people do not) or they don’t think you care, or worse, don’t think you’d understand if they explained anyway. Mainstream sports commentators rarely ever talk about overall game strategies. They will often go over the “keys to the game” before the game starts, but usually they talk about ridiculously obvious things like how the offense needs to convert on third down, or the pitcher needs to get lots of strikeouts.
Even worse, lots and lots of sports commentators like to spend a lot of time talking about bullshit like “heart” and “grit” and “hustle.” They talk about things like which team “wants it more.” Which team can “dig down deep” and “find that extra will to win.” As if any of those things fucking matter.
Not so with e-sports commentators. In the hour or so I watched, I never once heard anybody say the words “grit” or “heart.” I never heard anybody talk about which team wanted it more. And I sure as fuck didn’t hear anybody talk about how one player brings lots of “intangibles” to his team. Instead, they talked about the fucking game, and how well the players were actually playing it. They talked about game strategies and who was using which ones, and why.
Now, I have no idea what a “split push” strategy is in LoL. But I learned that it existed, and I heard about why a certain team liked using it. And best of all, when the players fucked up, I heard the commentators say so, and explain why such-and-such was a bad play. You pretty much never hear that from main stream sports commentators. They tend to be very deferential to the players, especially the stars, and almost never talk about what a terrible play that was, even when it’s obvious to even the most casual fan.
If Derek Jeter played League of Legends competitively, he’d be called out on his horrible defensive skills and nobody would give him a single iota of credit for his “intangibles.” I so wish it were that way in all sports.