You’ve got to read Sakurai’s take on serious Smash play.

Smash 4 producer Masahiro Sakurai announced he would be taking “an extended vacation” in a recent edition of his long-running Famitsu column, according to translators at Source Gaming. Please read the whole translation there, while I have linked two paragraphs, there’s plenty more in the original post that you should read.

At long last, the development on Smash for has ended!! To all of the staff who were involved in this project, thank you for all your hard work. To all who supported and followed the game and its development, thank you so very much. Personally, I’m happy I can finally take an extended vacation.

Going through the entire post, however, I ran across a larger theme for the article, which could be summed up as Sakurai’s reluctance to deviate from the tent pole elements of Super Smash Bros as a franchise. This next passage gave me the weirdest realization about casually accessible games becoming serious esports by its player-base’s sheer will:

What [the relatively high average playtime] means is that the game can wear you out pretty quickly every time you play. If you turn on items and visit a bunch of different stages while playing with a group, things will unfold differently every time, so there aren’t a lot of problems. However, there are a lot of people who enjoy serious matches, and in order to win, they’ll narrow down the number of fighters that can be used, and that diminishes some of the breadth of the game.

This sets up Sakurai’s explanation for how he has approached designing the game from the original releases to the most recent batch of DLC characters—including a certain witch—which is to say, he can’t be held responsible for what tournament organizers and theory crafters do to restrict the ruleset to make Smash 4 a fair game in the competitive scene.

There are other tidbits in there not just about stereotypical players of the greater competitive scene but more aspects of Smash 4 that have been even mildly controversial. Important Sakurai points to be on the lookout for include:

  • His insinuation that players who play only one game mode are not fans of the game
  • An assertion that including new fighters in the game is a serious branding issue
  • His claim that post-launch DLC fighters are intended to be more powerful by design
  • And more!

If I come back to Source Gaming repeatedly in the future, I’ll definitely be contributing to Source Gaming’s Patreon. If you read news from them on the regular, you should probably start pitching in, even if it’s just a little bit. The alternative is display advertisements… which ends up not really being an alternative at all.

First details of Overwatch’s player progression hit as the beta returns.

The wait is over: the Overwatch beta has returned and it came with a roughly 5GB patch that included new maps and game modes. I don’t think I have a beta invite yet, so I’m watching my email inbox hoping that I’ll see a nicely formatted message from Blizzard saying I’ve been invited to the Overwatch beta.

The patch isn’t the only thing being released today, PCGamer published an interview with Overwatch manager Jeff Kaplan about the game’s player progression system. A couple of key bits from his responses:

“As you gain levels—and there are unlimited levels, we don’t have a level cap, you can always gain levels—each time you gain a level, we give you a loot box. Inside the loot box there can be four items that come out of it,” he said. Loot box items are randomized, and each item has a rarity level: common, rare, epic, and so forth. And, he emphasized, they are all purely cosmetic.

Blizzard saw what happened to CS:GO and made the choice to not turn their first competitive FPS into a game that facilitates underage gambling and scams. A smart move from Blizzard. The random drops described as part of the progression system only affect the game in a cosmetic capacity, just as skins do in CS:GO. Unfortunately, as the loot drops are tied to leveling up, the player level mechanic ends up becoming more of a potential style meter more than anything else.

For duplicate item drops, a system is in place that allows players to exchange a duplicate item for credits to, in turn, directly purchase cosmetic unlocks from an internal storefront. The obvious money grab from this style of exchange system is to allow players to buy credits using real-world money. For now, Blizzard remains non-committal about selling credits:

“We haven’t made any philosophical decision of whether or not we will ever [offer credits for purchase], or not do that. I think right now, the biggest question we want to answer, when the beta comes back up next week is, ‘Are the loot boxes fun? Do people like the items?’”

With the beta coming back after a hiatus of nearly two months, I’m not sure if players are going to be able to critique anything for at least the first week (with the exception of Internet cool guy @oPlaiD because he’s pretty smart). I do predict that this beta cycle is when we’ll see Overwatch’s key community figures become integral to the scene, as well as impactful competitions between the game’s first esports teams. There’s plenty to look forward to.

It’s just too bad my account doesn’t have beta access.

CEVO crossing the pond for S9 Finals is neat.

CEVO has been killing it lately. Running major qualification tournaments and reputable online leagues has solidified CEVO’s CS:GO operations as a solid option for players looking to escape Valve’s matchmaking system.

That makes yesterday’s announcement that it would partner with Gfinity to bring the Season 9 Finals to London is pretty great news for the many not-quite-minor-league CEVO teams on both sides of the Atlantic. Sporting an improved prize pot of $125k USD, it’s safe to say that some of the mainstream teams are probably taking the competition for a slot in the Gfinity Arena LAN playoff seriously.

Every new season of organized play typically brings about a few changes, but Season 9’s route to the London tournament has been cut down considerably. As this GosuGamers write-up points out, qualification will be decided by four single-elimination 16-team playoffs. It’s a much quicker process that will obviously yield higher stakes games, but it was change requested by several professional teams. Professional teams, after all, play in so many events over the year, so condensing the process would certainly help any pro team schedule their time more wisely. Ultimately, the single-elimination qualifiers should be fun to follow—especially if a professional team is sent home by a minor team.

CEVO Season 9’s regular season is ongoing, and the Finals are scheduled to be held at Gfinity Arena between 28 April and 1 May.

Can Yahoo succeed with esports coverage? Ehh.

ESPN made a splash, as I wrote about at the time, when it announced it would launch a dedicated esports section to host reports covering top tier games. Announcing the vertical alongside widely recognized talent in the form of Fionn and Slasher as well as other respected community figures. 

This afternoon, The Daily Dot reported that Yahoo will begin its own esports coverage. While the major names behind the section have not been disclosed to The Daily Dot, a vague overview of the staff’s contracts was leaked.

Many of the writer staff will be on full-time six month contracts, with the possibility to extend if the section does well, sources close to Yahoo tell the Daily Dot.

With no comment at this point, it’s time to wonder what Yahoo is waiting for–or even if they won’t formally announce at all.

It’d be interesting (not to mention it’d be a nice change of pace) if they skipped handing over content to competitors, as ground breaking and important as press-covering-press process stories are (sarcasm sarcasm sarcasm), and just have their reported put their heads down and begin working hard on producing quality content.

But, real talk: this is Yahoo. The last hip thing they did was buy out Tumblr.

The Division is shaping up to be Ubisoft’s third-person Destiny, I’m sad to say.

I’ve kept an eye on The Division since footage of the closed beta started being posted to YouTube and I have to say, it’s definitely piqued my interest. I had a bit of hope that it would create a compelling MMO-like experience like the one that Destiny had attempted to create—even though it’s a third-person cover-shooter and is practically doomed to fail—but after a certain developer gaffe, I’m not so sure that Ubisoft’s development studio is even sold on the idea of their Tom Clancy-branded iteration on Destiny.

via PCGamesN

via PCGamesN

Most recently, an interview done by Team Epiphany with unidentified developers of the game revealed that the consoles ports may not see parity with the superior PC version. Some publications jumped to the conclusion from these comments that the more capable PC version of the game was being held back by console version that couldn’t keep up.

A console version of a game not being able to keep up with its PC counterpart? Unheard of.

Today, Ubisoft fired back with, what I’m assuming is, an intentionally vague statement about the quality differences between PC hardware and current generation console. PCGamesN published this comment from Ubisoft as an update to their original writeup:

It has come to our attention that a comment from one of our team members has been perceived by some members of the community to imply the PC version of The Division was ‘held back’ and this is simply not true. From the beginning, the PC version of The Division was developed from the ground up and we’re confident players will enjoy the game and the features this version has to offer. And the feedback from PC players who participated in the recent closed beta supports this.

So, a few things off of the top of my head:

  • Ubisoft’s standard misdirection PR doublespeak is on display here. The statement seems more as if it was aimed at putting PCGamesN on notice instead of offering details that would prove the PC version was not lowered to a console level of parity.
  • “[F]eatures this version has to offer” implies that the PC version of the game is actually meant to have a superior feature set to the console version. What are they going to make available on PC that they won’t allow for console platforms? A first-person mode? VR support? Additional premium content?
  • If other features are available for the PC version or are being A/B tested on (even if I refuse to give Ubisoft that much credit), why haven’t any of the closed beta testers figured out the differences between their version of the game and the console edition given how long the closed beta test ran? I’d imagine that a whole week would have been long enough for the likelihood of someone being able to take part in the test for both versions of the game to be more of a certainty than a chance.
  • Is the original developer quote a case of Ubisoft lowering expectations in the case that the reviews of the game label it as a third-person iteration of Destiny? If that’s the case, does today’s statement mean that Ubisoft wants to lower the standards even more?

Ultimately, I’m not sure I will be paying to find out. Destiny’s grind and lack of value made me feel like a worthless player if I didn’t put fifteen or twenty hours into the game every week, in the end, and I imagine that The Division is ultimately going to demand that same level of commitment to feel any sort of confidence in the game. With the scope of The Division’s playable area unclear before its release, and probably unknown until a couple of weeks after launch, it’s not really possible to judge the game pre-release unless a games journalist wants to break some Ubisoft-imposed embargoes.

It’s too bad, though. I wanted to get into another MMO-ish game.

I suppose I’ll just play one of my classic PS1/PS2 RPGs wait for Fire Emblem Fates to launch. Or try to get out of Silver in CS:GO. One or the other.

Another step along the path to Twitter’s self-inflicted end of relevance.

BuzzFeed reports that Twitter will be rolling out a nice, new update next week that will completely upend the reverse-chronological timeline central to the service and replace it with an algorithmic solution that sorts tweets by relevance. The Verge’s rundown of the news is a bit more comprehensive and has a few lines that cause me to question Twitter’s future as the chronological timeline I’ve relied on it to be for the past nine years.

In 2014, CFO Anthony Noto said displaying tweets in reverse chronological order “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user.” And in reference to last year’s tests, a spokesperson said, “We’re continuing to explore ways to surface the best content for people using Twitter.”

I understand that the $TWTR stock has taken a beating on the stock market for perfectly legitimate reasons, lately, but at what point does a corporate financial officer end up being able to point at the product and saying ‘our product is broken, folks’? I would absolutely copy Facebook instead?’

And this gem about the rational behind these changes make me question Dorsey’s stewardship of one of the tent=pole services on the Internet.

CEO Jack Dorsey is determined to make Twitter more user friendly and intuitive for people just starting out with the service. Since a lot of them are probably also using Facebook, they’re already accustomed to seeing friends’ posts out-of-order. If Twitter can nail the execution (that’s a massive if), this could in many ways make the product more valuable for more people.

At least the first reports from users (like @joshsternberg, below) familiar with Twitter’s higher-end advertising system suggest that the anti-chronological timeline will be an opt-in feature, instead of brute-forcing their entire user base to adopt a new standard for tweets on the service.

I still don’t like it for the same reason that I don’t rely on Facebook to keep up with friends’ lives over there: if I can’t keep up a chronological context, I might as well be reading some sort of science fiction story or something pretentious.

Back to the blog.

It was a fun experiment while it lasted, but I think it’s best that I re-evaluate posting exclusively on Medium, especially since the recent updates have dramatically changed how some important bits work.

They removed comments from posts and merged that functionality into a universal response system. Depending on how I begin writing a response to a post, it gets treated differently by Medium: some responses end up being listed as posts in the top part of my profile page immediately under my identifying information, while others get relegated to a third section too far down the page past a feature that displays my recent highlights.

So, while I’m not going to stop using the service entirely, I am going to stop putting content there first and make a return to placing this blog at the center of what I’m writing on the Internet. Every once in a while I might post something to Medium first, but I don’t expect that to happen too often.

That being said… I wonder what’s happened to WordPress since I last used it.

A few suggestions for future editions of the EMEM.

This post is a response to Esports Market Ecosystem Map — January 2016 and originally appeared on Medium.

A few suggestions for future editions of the EMEM:

  • “In-Game Items Economy” should simply be called “Gambling” to avoid confusion with API-based services and… well… gambling. Additionally, I feel that it should be further scruitinized to gambling sites that allow for underage gambling and those that verify their users’ ages. Maybe it could be split between “Gambling” and “Illegal Gambling” for good measure.
  • Move Reddit from the “Reporting” category to a new category named “Authoritative Shitposting.” Pretty straightforward. Especially since Reddit mods for popular subreddits like to follow their cold, dark hearts and confidential conversations with publishers instead of adjuicating content based on a subreddit’s rules. (Okay, fine, not all subreddit moderators are horrible people, but they do some pretty dumb things in the name of “community management.”)
  • The list is missing fighting games. When the final rounds of a grassroots tournament for a fifteen year old game draws about 100k concurrent viewers on (nearly) a monthly basis, it’s time to start including it in a top tier. Also Capcom called, and it wanted me to ask you if you thought Street Fighter V was chopped liver. And while you’re at it, consider adding Shoryuken to the “Reporting” category.
  • Mobile games aren’t so much about competition, they’re about profitability. If Vainglory makes the cut as a ‘game to watch’ on your chart, I’m pretty sure you’re missing at least ten other more profitable properties that could reasonably claim to be a realistic, viable top-tier title in the mobile world. Clash of Clans comes to mind before Vainglory does. Furthermore, Vainglory’s not even listed in the Top Free Games on the App Store at the moment. There’s an officially licensed Yahtzee app that is listed at 27th on the Top Grossing Games chart right now; Vainglory is at 132nd.