heroes of the dorm: a brief foray into competitive gaming

Events, Game Design / Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Heroes of the Storm is an upcoming MoBA release from Blizzard Entertainment, and having been a player of StarCraft, Hearthstone and World of Warcraft (in that order of proficiency) at some point in my life, I was invited to the Beta and had been playing primarily with Julian since January.  When Blizzard announced Heroes of the Dorm, our friend Eric invited us to form a party with him, and so team ‽ (that’s an interrobang, a combination of a question mark and an exclamation mark, and yes, I came up with the team name, thank you very much) was born.

Team Interrobang: Sudhanshu, Julian, Eric, Akshay and me (taking the pic, obviously)...
Team Interrobang: Sudhanshu, Julian, Eric, Akshay and me (taking the pic, obviously)… in my project room on the weekend ready to play.

We did not by any means expect to go far.  Sudhanshu and Julian were good players, Eric had a lot of DotA experience but was just getting the Beta key for Heroes, Akshay was brand new and Heroes was also my first MoBA although I had been playing since January.  However, we all signed up for the fun of it, and it gave me a good peek into the world of eSports, or competitive gaming.  After a couple of no-shows, one tragic defeat that involved the other team going all-in when we were two levels up and could have prevented it (Julian still gets angry about this), and a couple of epic victories, we ended up finishing our final two rounds 4-3 on 4 April, but not advancing to the next round.  Given that we were all busy with project work and had very little time in less than a week to practice, or even come up with a strategy and team comp, I think that’s a decent finish.  And if we’d had more time… well, who knows?

An eSports competition such as Heroes of the Dorm offering college tuition as a prize definitely says something about society and the rise of competitive gaming in popular culture.  Smaller colleges like Robert Morris and Pikeville have introduced League of Legends as a varsity sport and started offering scholarships to players.  In fact, Robert Morris’ programme has grown to include DotA 2 and Hearthstone.  Whether this is a flash in the pan or a growing trend remains to be seen, but while it is a win for gamers, I am hesitant about the real benefits of including video gaming as a recognised university sport.  There are values that I certainly picked up on playing with my friends, like communication, teamwork, anticipation, planning, strategy, which are much like regular sports, but still, competitive gaming seems more of an industry (and a fast-growing, lucrative one at that) rather than a college sport.

Team ready up to enter game, preparing to be annihilated by better players.
Team ready up to enter game, preparing to be annihilated by better players.

Playing Heroes of the Storm with people I know and trust and being able to communicate with them over Skype while in game so we can strategise together has spoiled me, and now Quick Play with strangers gets me even more frustrated when teammates don’t know what they are doing.  This competition also made me realise how eSports have impacted game design – it is now essential to not only make games fun to play but to also make them fun to watch, which can be an added challenge for developers.  Competitive gaming is an industry that deserves to grow as quickly as it has been, opening up the gaming community to more exposure such as broadcasting the finals of Heroes of the Dorm on ESPN on 27 April.  I would also like to advocate the inclusion of girl gamers in the competitive gaming mix, to elevate female-only tournaments such as the ones Counter-Strike does to a world where these tournaments do not need to exist.

As for me, I’m definitely competitive (and angry) enough to want to play competitively, but I lack the skills and time commitment needed to go into eSports.  I think it’d be boring to play the same game all the time, no matter how good I got at it, and frankly, I don’t understand how it is physically possible for those best StarCraft players get 400 actions per minute.  Entering the competition was a good experience, though, not only to learn more about eSports by getting a small taste of it, but more importantly for me to have an excuse to play with friends regularly, which we rarely do any more now the competition is over.