Every Friday, the PC Gamer team pile into the war room to fight over the best and worst of the last seven day's in gaming. Up first, the best bits. Read them quick, before the bombs fall...
Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes serious, sometimes silly column about Dota 2. The image above is from the ESL Flickr account.
We've always had a complicated relationship with e-sports. By 'we' I mean not just PC Gamer but PC gamers: I think it's fair to say that the paradigm shift that e-sports represent hasn't always been widely understood or accepted. That makes sense—it's a form of gaming that the majority of gamers will never participate directly in, and this is a hobby that is defined by participation.
ESL One Frankfurt: Loda discusses Alliance's tournament performance, rat Dota, and the impact of winning The International
Jonathan 'Loda' Berg has been part of the competitive Dota scene for as long as there's been a scene to be part of. He was the man holding the Aegis of Champions aloft at the end of The International 2013, and his team—Alliance—are one of the most effective, efficient, and idiosyncratic teams in the world. I first met Loda at TI3, when I interviewed him the night before the grand final. That interview became this article. After Alliance's loss to tournament champions iG in the semi finals of ESL One Frankfurt I spoke to Loda for half an hour about the current metagame, that incredible match against Cloud 9, and the way that winning TI3 has affected Alliance for better and for worse. This is a long interview, but I think most Dota fans would appreciate seeing the whole thing so you'll find it all below.
Images courtesy of the official ESL Twitter account.
'Timing' has been the watchword of this entire tournament. It was a concern this morning, when another late start threatened to force the entire show to run long, with the last quarterfinal match - Na'Vi vs. EG - not starting until 10.30am. It was a concern when the arena's internet connection went down and when Fnatic's voice comms broke for twenty minutes. It was a concern in-game, too, as the strengths and weaknesses of today's greedy, ult-centric metagame came down to who had power at the exact minute when it counted.
Timing problems caused a fair amount of heartache today, but I also got to see a terrific showcase of what the best Dota 2 teams can achieve when they're moving to their own rhythm. In addition, the event itself held together despite the technical problems to deliver one of the best large-scale e-sports experiences that Europe has seen since TI1. Great casting and analysis and a hugely engaged crowd made Frankfurt a great place to spend a weekend - and I'm not just saying that because I've been surviving on beer, sausages and energy drinks since Saturday morning. Well, mostly. The point is: it's gone midnight and I've got games to discuss, so let's get into it. As ever, spoilers below.
Later this afternoon I'll be heading to Germany to begin a weekend of coverage of ESL One Frankfurt, the last major Dota 2 tournament before The International. It's shaping up to be really exciting. The scene is in good shape, with varied and exciting play coming from a broad range of teams. Eight of those teams—Alliance, Na'Vi, mousesports, Fnatic, Cloud 9, Evil Geniuses, Vici Gaming and Invictus Gaming—will be competing in Frankfurt for a crowd-boosted prize pool of over $200,000. I sat down with fellow Dota nerd Janusz Urbanski to go over our predictions for the event.
Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes serious, sometimes silly blog about Dota 2.
Last week I wrote off the concept of MMR as part of a not-entirely-serious list of 'meaningless' numbers in Dota. My thinking at the time was that discussing the problems raised by ranked matchmaking at all was going to attract a particular attitude in the comments, so I'd be better off treating it as a punchline. That was an error. I tried to use irony to mask something that I think and care about rather a lot, falling into the same trap that I'd accused certain competitive players of falling into only a week earlier. Sly winks don't carry well on the internet, and when you're discussing the relative worth of somebody's internet wizard skill rating it's fair to assume that most readers are going to take it pretty seriously.
I want more people to play CS:GO. With caveats made for its flaws (64-tick servers, uninspiring stat tracking, the modest number of official maps, and imperfect cheat detection), CS:GO is the best competitive FPS on PC today. Until Evolve or Rainbow Six Siege come around, I expect that to continue uncontested.
But for the veteran player, someone who’s thrown hundreds of hours at that competitive mode, a CS:GO Steam sale like today’s—$7.49 / £5.99 until Friday—isn’t a happy event. It’s a harbinger of hackers and competition-souring “smurf” accounts.
Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes silly, sometimes serious column about Dota 2.
Dota 2 is a numbers game, but then again they all are, really, aren't they. Counter-Strike is about shooting numberbullets into the other guys' numberfaces until all of their numberbrains fall out. Football (see also: soccer) is about how many goals you score and how many shirts you sell and how much it costs to ship vast premanufactured chunks of stadium up the Amazon.
It's all numbers, and Dota 2 has no greater or fewer than any other game. But it does host some truly, spectacularly, galvanizingly pointless numbers. Digits that communicate nothing and convey no worth. They exist outside of any formula or algorithm, and to treat them as if they mean anything is to slip into the kind of superstition usually reserved for numerologists. We're dealing with the unknowable, here, with un-knowledge: you might want to sit down. Some people can't handle it.
Sorry, Battlefield: Hardline, it's nothing personal. Your cops and robbers CTF battles have the subtlety of a playground pile-on, but I've managed to extract a few moments of fun from the chaos. I like the violent, bass fart of your P-90, as I did in Battlefield 4, and Battlefield 3. And I like the way you use the Frostbite engine to fill the air with floaty bits of burning chaff even though I have no idea where it all comes from. The problem is the competition. There's just so much more laughter and joy to be had in a seven year old free game called Team Fortress 2.
At the start of the month, Mojang developer Erik "Grum" Broes reiterated to server owners that charging Minecraft players for perks was against the rules of its end-user agreement. It sparked a vocal backlash from the community—particularly the moderators and patrons of the game's largest servers. Shortly after, Mojang officially updated the rules around server monetisation—relaxing certain criteria, but expressly forbidding the selling of non-cosmetic game features. Eventually, Notch stepped in, defending himself from criticisms of being "literally worse than EA".
Clearly then, Mojang's response hasn't placated the largest communities in the Minecraft multiplayer scene. So is there any validity to their concerns? I've rounded up some of the arguments for and against the new EULA, and have emerged largely in agreement with Mojang's plans. Let me explain why.
Battlefield Hardline is an odd patchwork of action crime flicks and large-scale Battlefield 4 warfare. I've been playing the closed beta, and though speeding down a freeway in a cop car is a new experience, it feels a lot like BF4—except that seeing a uniformed police officer wielding an RPG is uncanny. A few days before the E3 reveal, I asked Visceral Games VP and GM Steve Papoutsis to explain why, for instance, the cops and criminals have military-grade weapons.
Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes silly, sometimes serious column about Dota 2.
Yesterday I discovered a phrase that I like. I was reading this article about faster-than-light travel in the Washington Post, an article that includes probably the most exciting picture of a spaceship on the internet at the moment. The article links back to a previous interview between io9 and leading NASA engineer Harold White in which he describes the search for his "Chicago Pile moment".
"Chicago Pile moment" is his own coinage, and refers to the development of the first nuclear reactor in Chicago in 1942. It generated very little power, looked like a stack of bricks, and took up most of a large room - but it was proof that nuclear power was a possibility in practical terms. After the Chicago Pile, building a viable reactor was a matter of improving on proven principles. It's the difference between trying to tame the yeti in your garden and trying to prove that the yeti exists at all.
I've always loved Halo, and I've always believed that it should have had a bigger presence on PC. That sentiment is probably enough to get me drawn and quartered in the comments below—we always get a few people who believe that a holiday in console land warrants permanent exile from the PC's glittering clubhouse. I don't feel that way. If we ignored what consoles we're doing we'd never have brought Dark Souls to PC. If we don't pay attention the games that they're getting and we're not, we miss out on our chance to broaden the range of experiences on our chosen platform.
Seeing a synchronised murder squad butcher their way through an 18th Century Parisian ballroom was my first ‘wow’ moment of E3. I watched Microsoft’s press conference huddled around a TV in our office with staff from various magazines and web sites, and as the hooded assassins continued cutting a swathe through French noblemen, a female colleague from our video department noted that at least she’d be able to play as a woman in the co-op mode. Another colleague made the point that it still meant playable female characters were being segregated outside the main mode, or only allowed to star on niche formats like PSP. It turns out they were both being too optimistic.
Scroll through our coverage from the past couple of days and you'll see a lot of tough-looking men and a couple tough-looking women frozen in action: firing a gun, reloading a gun, ducking away from an explosion, leaping over a victim, driving a motorcycle. These are the big PC games of E3: multiplatform games that look great in carefully composed screens and trailers, here to promote consoles. They may turn out to be great—Evan enjoyed Rainbow Six Siege, for instance—but they all feel familiar.
Right now, Steam's featured games show me a brooding warrior, a corpse, another corpse, readied space marines, another brooding warrior, a lone survivor, a Nazi, a brooding soldier with a sniper rifle, a snarling dinosaur, a ghost, a brooding hacker, and a lost astronaut. It doesn't sound like a diverse set, but it is: some are indie, some are from big studios, some tell linear stories, some generate stories with the systems-based gameplay I love most. The PC has the most variety of any platform, but it's missing one thing: smiles. Can someone please smile?
EA's conference was the strangest of the three I attended yesterday. Laid out more like an awards show than an E3 presentation, with dinner tables instead of places for everyone to sit, the publisher hit viewers with a strong mix of announcements and demos (kudos for breaking up the melodramatic sports trailers with explosions, dragons and a battleship on a golf course, too). Reveals took a different format this year, with mini-documentaries accompanying games that weren't quite ready to be seen in action yet. For Mirror's Edge, Criterion's next project, Star Wars Battlefront and BioWare's brace of new titles, EA focused more on the behind-the-scenes work and gave us only a few bits of new footage to dissect. I'm not sure it's an approach everyone is fond of.
The Electronic Three is nigh. Next week, the entire gaming industry will descend on E3 2014, eager for big announcements at flashy press conferences and as many video games as can fit in LA's massive convention center. There will be new PC games and new PC hardware. That's all expected. But what about the unexpected? What E3 announcements will blow our minds? Is this the year Gabe Newell finally walks onto a stage and says "Half-Life 3 is done, and you can play it right now," and we all leave E3 early?
Probably not. As we psyche ourselves up for E3, the PC Gamer staff have made some wild and not-so-wild predictions about Oculus and Steam Machines and the biggest surprises we'll see at this year's show.