The rise of Twitch and esports means that when we're not playing games we're watching other people play them, and now there's another layer in the form of Pro Gamer Manager, a management simulator where you can play a game about watching other people play games. It's a pretty thin layer, however, as there's not a heck of a lot of management to do, and playing a game that simulates watching someone else play a game isn't much different than watching a game play itself. This week, I watched Pro Gamer Manager play itself for several hours.
We’ve got several knowledgeable esports folks on staff, but I report directly to most of them so I decide to model my manager after Tom Marks just in case I make a mess of it. Tom can’t fire me! (Yet.) I nickname myself Marsky, call the team Marksy’s Marksmen, and name my manager Tom Marks. Well, I intend to. I actually forget to enter Tom’s surname, so I wind up naming myself Tom Surname. Close enough. I don’t know Tom’s age, but he seems distressingly young to my ancient eyes, so I decide he’s 19. Tom, are you 19? Let me know in the comments.
Next, I’m given a choice between drafting an FPS team or a FOBA team, the latter of which I assume is a MOBA, except with an F. Honestly, this game doesn’t go out of its way to explain much about itself, so if FOBA is an esports in-joke I have been left out. I sign five members of my team—there’s a ‘negotiate’ button but there’s no actual haggling: they either agree to play for you or don’t—and we enter our first match.
It becomes quite clear that Tom Surname knows what he’s doing, and he’s picked an amazing team. We get off to a 4-0 start, quickly jumping to the top of the memorably named Esport League #5.
I feel like I have very little to do with it. You can set up a strategy and tell the team captain and one other player where to play (jungle, mid, support, etc.), but while matches are being played you just sit there watching the scores tally. This would be fine—I'm a manager after all, not a player—but the matches take ages to end. You can swap between an offensive, balanced, or defensive strategy during the match, but that's it. I always pick offensive, and it always works, which is great because we’re dominating but is a bit dull otherwise because it's a button you push once.
Feeling like I need to do manager things besides clicking a single button during a match, I do some manager things. Your team members gain skill points as they play and win, which you can use to improve their abilites, like how good they are at picking heroes, how well they postion on the map, teamfighting, and other things I assume are important in MOBAs. Or FOBAs. Is FOBA a joke, Tom? Let me know in the comments.
Winning matches gives you management points you can use for other activities, like calling people on the phone, because calling people on the phone is still something people do in this universe, apparently. There are also upgrades to your house, like adding furniture, you can arrange to have merchandise to sell, and hire various other staffers. I can't really afford to do any of that.
I do hire someone to create a team website, which means a little man moves into the house with me and sits in a room making a website. (Is that really necessary? Do I need to live with the website man?) I call the media to tell them how great a manager I am, and I call my team to give them a pep-talk, which is actually more of a threat. A very crudely-worded one.
Though I’m leading my team through an undefeated season, there are still a few problems. First, I’m almost unimaginably bored. Sitting through matches, as they slowly, round-by-round, tally up points, is just dull, even if I push one button every so often. I decide to take a Billy Beane from Moneyball style approach, in which I don’t watch the actual matches. I just minimize the window, muck around on Twitter, and return when the game stops making noise which indicates the match is over.
Also like Billy Beane, I have no money. The team is racking up wins and fans but no cash, and I need cash to enter a world event so I can win a championship and stop playing this game. Checking my finances, I see the problem: my team and staff cost more than my sponsorship contract. Even after negotiating (clicking once) for a higher sponsorship contract, my profit margin is so slim it will take ages until I can afford the $2,000 entry fee into a qualifier.
Time for another page from Beane’s playbook: fire everybody. I can’t kick the webmaster out of my house, unfortunately, so I start hacking the expensive players from my roster and replacing them with what I determine to be undervalued nobodies.
Slowly my finances improve, but far too slowly for my liking. Again, I fire my entire team and hire only the very cheapest of players, regardless of their stats. While this will definitely help with my payroll, it doesn't come as a surprise that The Heavily Revised Marksmen begin losing, immediately and horribly. After the next three games we have a 7-2 record, which is still on top of the league, but I’m afraid it won’t last long.
Finally, we click over into a new pay period, and I’ve got just enough scratch to squeeze the Marksmen into Canada’s FOBA Open Cup. First place is $5,000, with lower payouts for second and third.
Bracket competitions, sadly, are even less interesting to watch than regular matches, because you literally just sit there staring at the bracket as it tells you who wins and loses. There's not even a single button to click, but at least the matches are a little quicker. Somehow my team of underpaid, unskilled gamers make it to the finals, and though they lose to a team called StraightEnemy we still walk away with $2,500, a bump over what we paid to enter.
Well, might as well keep trying. We immediately enter Australia’s FOBA regionals (all this airfare is apparently completely free) and wind up placing third and making half the entry fee back. It's better than I thought, but for Tom "Billy Beane" Surname, it's just not good enough.
Time for a new plan, one that would probably make Billy Beane vomit in fright: fire these cheap losers and hire the most expensive ringers I can find, then try to immediately enter and win a world championship before I actually have to pay their staggering weekly salaries. I think this might actually work, because time doesn’t seem to advance unless you click the next day button, meaning I can compete as many times as I want without having to pay anyone. Now that's some good management.
And it even works! Sort of. The Expensive Very Good Marksmen enter tons of tourneys, all over the world, and even replay several of them more than once. Since time doesn't advance, I always have enough cash to enter, and I never have to actually pay my team.
The part that doesn't work is that we never, ever win a major. We win a few invitationals, and place second or third a few times in other events, but never manage to bring home the big world... cup? Is that what you win in MOBAs? I think it's a cup. Or a plate. Some sort of dish.
I would keep at it, but without even a single button to click, it would simply amount to me staring at a bracket screen for longer than I already have, and it has been far too long already. This year, at least, Marksy's Marksmen will have to settle for runner-up.