Monday, February 6, 2012

Is This The Run??? Why Speedrunning Has Gone E-Sports...

If you asked me the question about e-sports and speedrunning years back, I thought you would be crazy. E-sports has become a term that has compiled a mixed bag of reactions in certain gaming communities in recent months, but we are five weeks into 2012 and other games that you don't expect have risen to that status besides the ones we're used to now like your Starcrafts, League of Legends, and Street Fighters. A recent rise of popularity in speedrunning has become one of the hot new things in the world of gaming streams. There was Speed Demos Archive's big marathon for the Prevent Cancer Foundation where they raised over 150,000 dollars by speedrunning games old and new. Speedrun races are the future of speedrunning in general filled with moments that scream e-sports. All of this makes you wonder has speedrunning really gone e-sports? The answer is yes and there is so much potential on how it can be taken to another level.

A big part of speedrunning's popular stretch lately has to do with one man's hunt for "the run" in Super Mario 64. Siglemic is arguably the most popular runner now in terms of stream numbers since he claimed the 120 star world record a month or two ago. For numerous weeks so far this year, he has been attempting to claim the 70 star world record from Nero (a Japanese SM64 player), but many resets and close playthroughs have been preventing him so far. Yet, hundreds of viewers and even in the low thousands at times are intrigued and have been watching him try to get the run done hence why "Is This The Run?" meme has been making the rounds in gaming streams. The big question with speedrunning streams is why would you watch someone beat a game so fast every day? At first you may be like that is boring why I would watch that? Then you have to question the amount of time, skill, and practice runners devoted to a particular game that once perfection is being put together, it is the most amazing thing you'll see especially to games you loved back in the day. Its finally time that amount of devotion to a game such as Mario 64 besides your other e-sports games get the limelight and maybe even some money thrown into it.

Watch live video from Siglemic on
Last weekend's big 120 star speedrun race between Siglemic and Nero in Mario 64 was a big indication that speedrunning has become e-sports. It was heavily advertised on TwitchTV, the premier gaming stream website and even though it was at a late time of 11 pm PST, over 8,000 viewers wanted to see arguably the two best runners of the game go at it (it was the #1 game to watch on Twitch Saturday night over Starcraft 2). That is as many people as watching a weekly Starcraft 2 stream and even a fighting game major. The skill is unparrallel for a normal player at the game as they make jumps that seem impossible possible and use some glitches that are allowed in a format like this. There was even a 70 star race that went down to the wire after the advertised 120 star one as a bonus too. What I mean by down the wire is that it was an one second victory and it is one of the more intense and dramatic showdowns I have seen in a while in any gaming stream. Basically it was as e-sports as it gets as people had their favorite players to root for like any other gaming tournament. With such promotion for a big race like that, imagine if you throw in bonus money into the equation. As I led to earlier, it is time to see runners get paid for their successes and victories in races other than ads on their streams. I could see Twitch throwing in bonus winnings to a race and all of a sudden you will see sponsorships from other companies too. The one big thing that is holding back such sponsorships from happening is the publisher/developer of the game themselves with Nintendo being the main example here for the two most popular speedrunning games now Mario 64 and the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I just don't see them getting involved into the pot seeing their games get exploited and glitched up heavily in a popular setting. There are big glitches in these games as it is not so bad in Mario 64, but Zelda OOT is a different beast when players go out of the map floating around in space to get where they want to. There have been exceptions where Nintendo acknowledged speedrunning which was the Mario 25th anniversary event at their store in New York City as popular 2D Mario speedrunner AndrewG played the original Super Mario Bros. in front of Shigeru Miyamoto.

SpeedRunsLive has also become a factor in all of this now getting players to race more easily and on a timely manner. Their big moment so far to me is a big 70-man race in Ocarina of Time last month where that many players competed for a specific goal that is not just to beat the game the fastest. It was a specific goal in the Forest Temple where you had to beat the main Poe with the Iron Boots and Giant Knife equipped at all times. Twists like these put a great spin to speedrun races if you're tired of a normal run through the game. The stream was great showing promise switching between other players' streams from time to time while having great commentary by Cosmo and Jiano, two extraordinarily good OOT players, explaining what the players are doing and the certain strategies they use for those new to the scene. This race (starts at 2:04:00 below) was also filled with memorable moments that also went down to the wire because it was a close one. It was a great race to see which routes paid off for certain players as well. These races are another reason that speedrunning has in e-sports especially with the potential if money gets thrown in for multiple man events.

Watch live video from Cosmo-OoT on
Speedrunning in e-sports has a bright future ahead especially with the way it has been going this early into the year. It actually gives way more variety of games to watch now on Twitch besides the current top games as older games can get the spotlight every now and then, which was the case with Mario 64 last weekend and Zelda OOT last month during Speed Demos Archive's big marathon. Marquee and advertised races will play a big role in speedrunning's future, but regular streams are better numbers as the days go by. There are some issues that might prevent this from a bigger thing, but it is still a young concept in the world of gaming streams that will be improved on. I hope the players will eventually get rewarded the right way especially with the amount of time they spend on these games, which is as much as any other major competitive game out there today. Whether you love or hate the term e-sports, this is just another stepping stone of it becoming bigger than we ever thought it could be.

PSN Demo Showcase (Part 2 for the week of 1/31)

This is part two of last week's PSN (now SEN) Demo Showcase as I will discuss multiplayer demos for Twisted Metal and Starhawk.

The return of Twisted Metal is next week and after not making a good first impression to me when I started playing, I had a better time with the demo once I knew what to do and its way more fun than I expected. Even though it is only one map in the demo that can be played offline and online, this demo does a very good job of showing people what to expect in the full game. There were enough vehicles to choose from and two modes to play with regular old deathmatch and the interesting objective-based Nuke mode. The point of Nuke mode is to get some random person to sacrifice on a nuke silo (there is a stationary one and a truck that moves around the map) and then launch the nuke to the opposing team's giant statue for points. It is however a long game of three rounds if you are not into that as you can just go back to ten minute deathmatch games, which can go faster than you think. Once I got used to the controls (I highly recommend playing the tutorial first) after some matches, which are fairly unconventional for a modern game these days, I was able to consistently do well with the tactics I was rocking. I also found a car that suitable to my style which was the Outlaw, a Police SUV with good enough health and a easy to use special attack that is the auto-lock machine gun turret. I love the variety of the cars in this game as each have their own identity and playstyle, which is rare to see in mutliplayer games generally. From speedy cars, bikes, helicopters, trucks, ambulances, etc. they have their advantages and weaknesses in certain situations as developers Eat, Sleep, and Play did a great job of balancing them the best they can. So far in the demo, I haven't noticed a top tier vehicle beasting on the opposition, but I'm pretty sure in the final game players will find what is the best as they have more time with it. I also had a tough time getting into matches along with the majority, but that was fixed during the weekend so you would not be stuck in the online menus for minutes.

Other than that, I had a blast with Twisted Metal's multiplayer demo as it definitely sold me on perhaps getting the final game next week. Who knows if I do, but it is a great car combat game and a return of one of Sony's popular first-party franchises. In general, it is awesome to see weaponized car combat back again in the gaming world and it is very satisfying to blow up the opposition especially when you're on a roll. I hope the game does well sales-wise as David Jaffe and his Eat, Sleep, Play team do deserve it.

The other big multiplayer demo/beta exclusively on PS3 is for Starhawk. It has been in the beta stages for quite a while as I got in last week because of getting a new copy of Uncharted 3 when that came out. Playstation Plus owners had the beta for over a couple of weeks and anyone can access it either this week or next week (I think tomorrow) till it ends later this month. Anyway, if you played Warhawk, Starhawk is basically that in a different setting and more additions to spice up the gameplay. Playing this beta however has reminded me that I am not really a fan of big scale multiplayer shooters due to the fact of the enormous maps and if you don't have a vehicle to move around quickly, it is not that fun running on foot all the time. Despite that, Starhawk definitely has its moments for me once you do the cool stuff. One of the big things the game has going for is its building mechanic as you can build with a limited amount of points walls, turrets, jetpacks, vehicle spawnpoints, and more to benefit your team until they get destroyed. This is really handy in objective-based games such as capture the flag (there are some modes to play than just that and team deathmatch) building up your base to make it harder for the opposition to win. Another thing I'm not a fan in Starhawk of is the over the shoulder aiming when on foot as it is too close on the person than it normally should be in other third-person shooters (maybe Uncharted has spoiled me too much). The angle on the default assault rifle can be tough to get used to at times when in close encounters as I would just hip fire when I'm in that situation.

Starhawk has what it takes to the next big mutliplayer game exclusively on PS3 when it comes out sometime in the spring. Who knows if the Call of Duty/Battlefield crowd would move on to such as differently paced game, but there are fans out there that play it for hours leveling up. The building mechanic is a nice touch and once you get in the cool vehicles, then it gets fun. Personally for me, I try to be the team player in these type of games with a designated role of going for the win rather than trying to improve my kill/death ratio (yeah Call of Duty players on blast sort of). If you're into big scaled multiplayer battles, Starhawk is worth trying out now.

That's it for the PSN Demo Showcase for now. I'm getting the Simspons Arcade Game tomorrow so expect a review of that later this week (Hint: if you read my X-Men review, it might go similar to that).