May 24th, 1:03pm America/New_York

PlanetSide 2, MLG, and PC FPS eSports

Taylor "Hydrolis" Linden on Mon, 01/28/2013 9:48PM

This is an opinion article, and is the sole opinion of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the official stance of ESEA or its subsidiaries.

The announcement:

Last Friday (January 25, 2013) a new partnership was announced between Major League Gaming (MLG) and Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) which will bring the MMOFPS title ‘PlanetSide 2’ (PS2) to their Pro Circuit events this year. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate why I don’t think this is a good idea. I find it unfortunate that such a well-established and prestigious league like MLG has chosen PS2 to be their team-based PC FPS title moving forward.

I know this article doesn’t directly relate to ESEA or its leagues (and I'm an editorial writer, I write about my opinion, under no influence of ESEA), but MLG picking up PlanetSide 2 as their PC-based team FPS title should be of some interest to this PC FPS-heavy community. I’m not here to argue that it should have been CS:GO or any other game, but I am here to say it shouldn’t be an MMOFPS such as PS2.

Wait, what is PlanetSide 2?

For those who haven’t played the game, PS2 is the free-to-play sequel to the moderately successful PlanetSide (released in 2003) which was one of the first (if not the first)
PlanetSide 2
massively-multiplayer-online FPS games on the market. PlanetSide was a very unique title that offered ‘epic combat on a massive scale,’ and it provided me, and others who played it, gaming experiences that could not be found in any other game/genre. It is not difficult to understand that if you’re going to have an FPS in an MMO environment, you’re going to have to cut a lot of corners to make the project feasible. A lot of sacrifices will need to be made in FPS mechanics (such as no/reduced hit boxes, very basic recoil patterns, simplistic model movements, as a few examples) in order for hardware of the time to be able to run the player-dense game. It’s not a matter of taking an FPS (such as Counter-Strike: GO) and just making the maps bigger. The PlanetSide developers have often been cited as saying that PS1 was ‘ahead of its time,’ and that too many ‘sacrifices’ had to be made in the FPS mechanics to make the game work.

Prior to PS2’s release, SOE touted a lot of the same features that made PS1 what it was (the massive scale, the unique experience of being a part of a huge team, working in platoon’s of 30 guys in outfits of 100’s), with the idea that less ‘sacrifices’ would need to be made to make the game work. And they weren’t lying, computers now a days are better, engines are better – technology as a whole is more equipped to create and play an MMOFPS game. PS2 (and PS1 for that matter) delivers a unique MMOFPS experience, and I have nothing against the game itself. I played the original game (PlanetSide) for years and it is one of my ‘top 3’ favourite games (and most played games) of all time. I valued what the MMOFPS-genre had to offer and I was extremely hyped to experience the same exhilaration in PS2. Despite having only played the sequel briefly (I just can’t get into it), I've played it enough to back up my above claims with first hand experience. I am not writing this article because I think PS2 is a bad game. In fact, I think it's a great concept and one MMOFPS fans will enjoy. I just do not think it is the right game to bring PC team-based FPS back to the top of eSports.

Why is this a bad thing?

Okay, so why don’t I think PS2 is the right choice for MLG and for eSports? Well, here are a few reasons:

1) PlanetSide 2 is an MMO, and despite the advancements and improvements in the FPS mechanics of the game, it is still designed at the core as a massively-multiplayer-online game. There are foundational ‘corners cut’ in the title that hinder its competitive potential. Despite having vastly improved weapon/movement mechanics compared to PS1, they’re still (in my opinion) very lackluster compared to traditional (‘pure’) team-based FPS titles (whether it is Counter-Strike, TF2, Quake, CoD, etc).

That’s not to say SOE can’t create ‘arena modes’ within their game to simulate the competitive atmosphere (which is what they’re apparently going to do in the coming months) – but why is one of the biggest tournament organizations (MLG) electing to support a title that doesn’t even have a competitive system in the game yet? Why aren’t they supporting a PC FPS title that is already primed for competition? This brings me on to my second point…

2) SOE’s intentions are not exactly clear in regards to their desired involvement in eSports. I followed the press around this game very closely for years after I stopped playing the original game (in anxious anticipation) and it became very clear to me that SOE was extremely invested in this title. This was their baby, they were putting a lot of resources into its development, and they needed it to succeed. I was excited for that very reason, because I was really hyped for the game and I hoped it would be a source of entertainment for me (as PS1 was) for years to come. I feel like this partnership with MLG is a lot less about their love for competitive gaming, and more about their relentless drive to promote their product.

3) John Smedley, President of Sony Online Entertainment, told GameSpot that "PlanetSide 2 players are extremely loyal to their chosen Empires and when it comes to battling, they are beyond competitive and truly enjoy the in-game rivalries so it was the natural next step for us to bring PlanetSide 2 to the most competitive eSports organization." It hasn’t been announced how exactly PS2 will be played on LAN/in competition, but the fact that people
PlanetSide 2 Factions
are loyal to their empires (there are 3 empires you play within PS2: TR, NC, and VS) doesn’t really play into small-scale competition at all. Sure you may be a loyal Terran Republic (TR) solider that likes conquering land in the MMO environment, but when you’re playing in say, a 5-on-5 match (it will have to be small to make it viable for spectators/in a LAN setting), I don’t think ‘empire pride’ really matters. I would argue that the game is not innately competitive, at least not in the way an FPS eSports title should be.

Why do people watch FPS eSports in the first place?

I feel there are a few unique ‘draws’ that FPS games have to spectators, and those aspects need to be heavily utilized in order for a shooter to succeed competitively. Most importantly, the skill cap has to be insanely high when it comes to aiming the weapons themselves. Pro-players need to be able to consistently make shots that amateurs would never be able to make, and even veteran players would have a hard time landing. The ‘wow factor’ of split second reflexes and pixel precision excites the viewers, and this is a thrill only FPS games can provide. A game that does not have developed FPS mechanics will lose out on this sense of excitement, which is one of the unique aspects FPS games have over other genres.

Of course, it’s not all about the FPS mechanics – and sure, maybe SOE & MLG are going to be prioritizing other elements when it comes to their tournament mode. In Counter-Strike there is the money system, and the strategy involved when it comes to purchasing weapons and equipment. In Quake it is the timing of weapons and armors. These aspects, in concert with the high mechanical skill-cap of these games, make them great FPS eSport titles. PlanetSide 2 not only lacks the high skill cap, but the tournament system doesn’t even exist yet. What ever happened to games earning their stripes and getting picked up by leagues because of their pedigree and competitive track record?

Another interesting thing to me (that isn't related directly to PS2 as an eSport) is that the game currently lacks many features that should be found in an MMO. The guild/outfit system is very poor, a lot of the stat-tracking functionality has yet to be implemented, the game lacks guidance, and it houses no real mission/objective system. It seems odd to me that SOE is spending time, money, and resources into eSports (and creating this ‘tournament mode’ alongside MLG) when the features of their current product are lacking. Which begs the question, why has MLG picked up PlanetSide 2, and why has SOE decided to make PS2 an eSport?

Why has MLG picked up PlanetSide 2?

As I mentioned earlier, it is not exactly clear to me why MLG has decided to bring PlanetSide 2 onto their Pro Circuit. Sundance DiGiovanni, CEO and co-founder of Major League Gaming said in the press-release for the partnership: “From the first time I played PlanetSide 2, I knew that it made sense for the MLG community.” I have no insider information, nor have I reached out to anyone at MLG,
MLG & PlanetSide2
so this is purely speculation – but being someone who has played PlanetSide 2, this game does not feel like a competitive title. It concerns me a little bit that the CEO of a competitive gaming league feels an MMOFPS (which again, are deliberately designed with subpar FPS mechanics because they aren’t purely FPS titles) ‘makes sense’ in his organization.

I could be wrong, but I think it is safe to say (and I’m sure most of you are already thinking this), the reason PS2 is a part of MLG is not because of the games eSports potential, but because of the size of SOE’s pocket book. Now this is not the first time this has happened, and I am not by any means saying it is always bad when developers are pouring their own money into eSports, but I don’t think it is a good thing in every scenario.

Legitimacy and consistency across electronic sports as a whole is not going to be achieved if developers of innately non-competitive titles (which PS2 is, in my opinion) start buying their way into the most prestigious leagues in the world. We’re going to end up with a bunch of leagues running tournaments for the highest bidders, that fade away after a single season when the developers shift their marketing goals. It looks silly when the IGN Pro League (IPL) hosts a $100,000 ShootMania tournament that gets less viewers than a single League of Legends player gets while practicing online. It’s not healthy for our scene, it’s not good for eSports.

Concluding remarks:

This entire situation kind of reminds me of when World of Warcraft Arena had its stint in competitive gaming. In this case, it was an MMORPG that already had a ‘tournament/competitive’ system within it. WoW was haphazardly transformed into an eSports title, and I think most of the pro-players/proponents of the game would agree with that. I did end up watching WoW Arena competitions and there were some epic moments, but the game as a competitive title fizzled out as quickly as it rose to stardom. There are so many great games out there (whether it is FPS/RTS/MOBA) that have passionate and competitive fan bases which would appreciate and benefit from being picked up by a league like MLG, and it saddens me to see a game that doesn’t even have a ‘tournament system’ within it yet being described as an eSports title.

In summary, I feel PlanetSide 2 lacks the FPS mechanics, the strategic potential, and the eSports pedigree for it to be a competitive electronic sports title. I feel that the team-based PC FPS community will lose legitimacy in the eSports scene by this partnership, and most importantly, that a successful eSports title should not be a spin-off ‘competitive’ mode of an MMO game.

I commend SOE for their interest in competitive gaming but I fear this collaboration is more based in marketing and making money than it is in building FPS back up as an eSport, and other deserving titles will be overlooked as a result.

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Follow: @ hydrolis
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