This month we had a nice battle in the game League of Legends between Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban against Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich. Cuban dusted Krzanich.
But what is pretty funny about this is it brings back memories of a race I had on the track against a guy in a new Porsche 911. I toasted the guy but it wasn’t really fair because I had a coach telling me what to do and the other guy didn’t. What you can see from the video of the League of Legends matchup, which is rather fun to watch, is Cuban had a coach while Krzanich is playing solo.
But I think overall this showcases the potential of online games to truly move mainstream and become broad observer events. Clearly the big tournaments have pulled huge crowds and there are online streaming events like this one you can watch but we aren’t yet at the level of professional baseball or football in the US where folks watch this en masse.
But we’re getting there, let’s talk about what is needed.
In watching this game what really makes the difference is having professional commentary. These guys tell you what to watch and provide an exciting dialog that helps keep you in the game, and their side comments make it entertaining. It is good, but I think it could be far more because unlike sports events you aren’t limited to set camera positions and the commentators could actually aggressively change the camera angle and do instant replays of major plays.
One issue is with games you have dead time when these can be done, but the way these games are played now they are one long game without the needed breaks for this activity. Getting around this is the control over the screen itself. You could have another window for instant replays or other shots and allow the observer to switch screens from his couch to better focus on a particular piece of action.
You can see this commentary and camera angle in a fighting game like Mortal Combat X, here the commentary really draws you into the game and the perspective drops you deeper into the game than an overhead view does when combat is between two players. The ability to instantly change perspectives, and the potential of nearly unlimited camera angles could—much like an expert DJ can get more out of a track than if you played it yourself—give you as an observer a far better viewing experience.
Caring About The Players
Part of what made the Cuban vs. Krzanich thing interesting was that you likely know of at least one of the players and they are real people. This is clearly true of every professional sport with the exception of professional wrestling—which is more of a scripted reality show event anyway. Here, screen names get in the way of engagement and it is hard to develop a background interest in the player that would make them far more interesting to watch. In professional online gaming, clearly other players—who form the core of the observer base—have that background and care about the players. You have to realize, however, that most that watch football and baseball don’t play. They just observe, and for them to get engaged there needs to be a broader effort to connect us to the players.
Now, the back stories are often interesting and but the effort isn’t yet made to make them household names and an interim step may be to have matches like the Cuban / Krzanich match which places people we know against each other rather than the little known pros.
I think we’re getting close to the point when watching video games will move from just game players to a general audience. The commentators are good enough now someone needs to think through how to get creative with camera angles and develop a way to do instant replays. In addition, online gaming needs to develop a back story for players and teams that creates the kind of connection between the teams and players and general fans that professional sports enjoy.
Finally, because the PC industry lives and dies on churn and gaming—which drives PC performance—it is great to see a PC industry CEO personally get involved in the effort. You’d think, given Cuban had a coach, he might want to have one as well because playing is fun, but winning, well that is what you take home to your executive team and family.
I expect, in a few years, many more of us will be watching video gamers fight rather than current professional sports. You get more violence, less injuries, and it is all about skill. Sex and size don’t matter. I can hardly wait.
You can watch the matchup between Cuban and Krzanich here: