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.

With Hearthstone on the iPhone now, my battery is surely forfeit.

The long-awaited update to the iOS version of Hearthstone was released this afternoon, and will soon™ be on the Android handsets that can support it. I downloaded it, which didn’t take long at all, and gave it a whirl since I could burn the five minutes it would take to play through a casual match to unlock the free pack they’re giving away for completing your first game with an iPhone.

It took five minutes. I beat a custom Warrior with a basic Rogue deck. Cha-ching: free pack.

First thing’s first, with the condensed UI, you should consider tapping the board as a menu escape method if you need to zoom all the way out from looking at your hand and just considering what’s on the table. Otherwise, it’s best to operate one tap at a time to reduce the possibility of messing up what moves you’re going to make in your turn. Assigning minions to attack specific targets still works in the logical sense—sliding from the attacking minion to the minion you wish to damage—but avoid swiping from the bottom edge in quick succession, due to bottom drawer’s triggerbeing ‘any upward swipe from the bottom edge.’

Other than that, there are minor quality of life improvements made to the UI so that you don’t have to tap on the screen additional times to get things done, such as opening packs. No more dragging a pack and then clicking an ‘open’ button. You drag the pack, you get your cards—nice and simple.

I’ll add more in the future as play more games of Hearthstone. As far as progress, I’ve not completely unlocked all of the basic decks for all nine classes, but I’m getting there. I haven’t played a solo adventure since I unlocked the casual matchmaking feature, so I’m getting slowly used to the meta. I even have a couple of custom decks, but I don’t own nearly enough of the cards that exist to really use a custom deck in a match.

Oh, and also:

But it’s only available for download on the Amazon Appstore, at the moment. Which is LOLtastic.

Well, now all of the Android people can play cards now!

I became a stoner this week… a Hearthstoner, that is.

Screenshot 2015-03-02 17.25.34

I’m not entirely sure how it came up in the mm1 Slack, but between whatever we were discussing and the fact that World of Warcraft will be adopting a PLEX-lke currency for game-time in the coming months, I figured I would go ahead and give the Battle.net client an install.

Hearthstone appealed to me on a time-waster level, but not as something I could just sit there and play for hours on end. I mean, if I did, I’d probably have to be multitasking. Since I don’t think that Blizzard will allow multi-tabling to come to Hearthstone, I would imagine that I’d probably end up playing poker or something at the same time if I really wanted to commit time to the game. However, if I’m not taking the game super seriously and I treat it expressly as a time-waster, I think I’d get the most out of it at that point.

It’s the same sort of attitude that I’ve been giving a couple of other casual mobile games from a certain developer called Supercell. Clash of Clans and Boom Beach are freemium timer-based-tactics titles. The’s a timer for nearly every aspect of the game. Want to upgrade a type of unit in Clash of Clans? Pay thousands upon thousands of Elixir and then be prepared to wait two days for your upgrade to finish. Want to expand your Radar coverage in Boom Beach? Get ready to wait for days to gather the stone needed, and then wait twelve hours to perform the upgrade. The way to escape this particular cycle is to use the gem/diamond currency that can only be used to speed up production/timers.

However, being able to play these games without giving into the need to spend real currency to skip a timer just a handful of times isn’t worth it to me. It’s not that I expect to eventually turn into a pro gamer at either game, but I just don’t want to feel beholden to the game going forward. I want the fun that I’ll have fighting other bases with my armies to be genuine and not something I feel like I just have to get used to—like the feeling I get sometimes when it comes to Destiny and paying for that season pass.

And in that way I could definitely see myself passing random bits of time playing Hearthstone and trying to make as many coins so that I could unlock all of the cards without spending money. However, Xûr’s in the bar near the hangar, and I have some strange coins to earn, then spend.

Here’s what I learned from CheckPoint S3E25.

  • Oh no. Another Angry Birds spin-off title. Oh no.
  • The second most popular game on Twitch last week was Diablo 2? Standard, since the only folks playing Diablo 3 anywhere near normal as it should be are on now-last-generation consoles. Nice job there, Blizzard.
  • Square Enix iOS title pricing joke aside, Rovio’s incessant push towards monetizing every single aspect of their Angry Birds related games (and every other game they release) is starting to really push me away from ever seriously considering future mobile titles that are priced as ‘free’ in their respective stores. At least with most of Square Enix’s titles, I know what I am paying for ahead of time because they’re simply porting their products they’ve already ported to other less popular platforms, like the Nintendo 3DS or the Playstation Vita.
  • It’s not a huge secret that development on the next title begins after shipping the game that your development house has been working on, and it’s definitely the case in the dynasty that is Gran Turismo. GT6 wasn’t a launch title for the Playstation 4, but that’s being addressed with its release this week. Forza never really held much of a candle to GT’s extreme simulation of everything car-related, but it was a title that Xbox One users picked up at launch. GT6 will certainly see success, but how long will it be until PS4 early adopters head back to their local game store, pull out their wallets and buy a new game? A fair question, I think.
  • Twitch integration has come to Minecraft. I’d have rather that Notch had been working on 0x10c instead, but I understand that subjecting the masses of Minecraft players to Twitch broadcasting while trying to run Minecraft in a stable fashion comes second to revenue generation.
  • Putting cameras in an average person’s living room with a microphone didn’t yield a second thought because of all of the marketing research potential that could be gathered from their players, but they didn’t realize that a camera pointing at a player could mean dicks on the Internet? Clearly, Sony hasn’t thought through the consequences of a player-facing camera as Twitch has decided that it would rather not list the PS4 Playroom as a title on their service, but what is MSFT going to do when this same situation affects them due to horribly, average Xbox One users?
  • Localization mixing as DLC isn’t exactly a new thing, but I suppose that Square Enix getting behind it makes the whole thing newsworthy. I’d buy the pack, but I still have to finish FFXIII, purchase and finish FFXIII-2 and then purchase FFXIII-3 before the optional patch becomes even remotely relevant to me.
  • That answer is easy, Graham: it’s FFVIII. Emo kids run about with swords that are also guns doing wire-fu maneuvers in order to save the world while playing random card mini-games and lamenting about not being in a relationship or something like that. What’s so hard to understand about that? It’s not so simple like the balance of the world has been destroyed and a party fights to correct it, yet I’m fairly sure I’ve got it nailed down in one run-on sentence.
  • GTA: San Andreas is the logical next step for Rockstar’s mobile gaming / porting strategy. Even though the controls aren’t really the greatest, all of their titles play flawlessly on iOS and Android. Can’t wait to not replay GTA:SA.

Another day, another esports scheduling crisis averted.

A short message posted to Twitter this past Tuesday could have turned the middle of next June into an interesting threesome for competitive gaming.

The announcement was regarding Major League Gaming’s Spring 2014 finale, traditionally hosted in Anaheim, CA, informally referred to as MLG Anaheim 2014. In the past, this event is one of the biggest live spectator events in esports and an event that I’ve personally attended in 2012 supporting ESFI’s on-scene coverage of the event. It was awesome.

And then, one of their European counterparts looked at their calendar.

The Dreamhack representative went on to reference this press release published in May 2012, two years in advance and also mentioned that the date was included in last year’s post-event release for Dreamhack Summer 2013.

Slasher, reporting for Gamespot, was the first to publish the story in a relatively proper context. Most notably, he made the mention that the date also conflicted with another favorite video game industry pastime—the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

With hints from Twitter posts following Adam’s informal announcement, one could conclude that there would have been some backchannel discussions taking place between MLG and the Anaheim Convention Center crew, and, presumably, the publisher/partners who would be lending their games to the show to find an alternative date.

Today, only two days after the initial announcement, a revised announcement was made via the MLG executive’s Twitter account:

Not a bad turnaround for an organization that seemed to be losing favor with parts of its audience because of the company’s switching games based on business decisions. Personally, I don’t have a problem with MLG playing favorites when it comes to making money and keeping their business afloat so long as they don’t start fixing tournaments or begin catering to a younger audience for the sake of advertising dollars. It’s a business decision and they want to create some cool entertainment that a wide-sepctrum audience can watch and enjoy, and maybe even pay for.

All of this is more impressive when you consider the following, as SirScoots points out:

I don’t think that MLG simply called up the folks responsible for scheduling the Anaheim Convention Center out and politely asked for the dates they previously arranged to have changed without a legally compelling reason, unless Blizzard or another publisher was at the table with them. I could be wrong about that, but my read on the situation is MLG had to work pretty hard to change the dates for the convention center deal they made for this next summer and the public was clued in by MLG’s SVP out of a need to appeal to their potential audience that they no longer have to decide between one of the best produced events in the business and one that isn’t. It comes down to business.

Though I also would have thought that Twitter isn’t exactly the best way to publicly announce something as big of a deal as MLG Anaheim 2014. I could be wrong about that, too.

A prelude to a few investigations.

The larger idea that prompted the above tweet is the following: is the viewership to players ratio for any given game a factor in esports marketing ventures?

I’d like to take a look at the numbers game, so to speak, behind esports events and broadcasts. What is coveted ‘critical mass’ behind the explosive growth and inevitable decline of a game’s viewership?

I want to try to understand this particular train of thought because I’m not sure there are many marketing perspectives from the video game industry’s side of esports. Perhaps that’s why Valve hid Dota 2 behind the beta invite wall for so long? Maybe that’s why Activision could throw a million dollars at Call of Duty one year and not do the same the next year? What gave Blizzard the idea that its much smaller scene could support the reformation of its World Championship Series events against its competitor’s League Championship Series? Why did Shootmania never ascend to replace Quake?

As with anything esports-related, the scope of the initial questions that has prompted me to look into things as simple as numbers has outgrown its initial goals over time. Of course, this also means taking the time to actually sit down and watch these events, something that I really haven’t done lately. Which series of events for each game should I start with? This is the crazy question I’ll have to answer first, really.

Maybe it’ll get me excited about esports again.

We’ll see.

It’s as if Blizzard and MLG are playing chicken instead of negotiating details of a live event.

For over the last month, when the North American StarCraft 2 community would have normally heard about details for an upcoming MLG tournament, MLG has been silent. For reference, the last credible communication that was given before this week was a comment made by a certain League Operations Manager on Reddit stating that details about the event would be surfacing soon, save that those details were not released in that timeframe.

Someone posted a question to /r/starcraft community this past week asking if there had been any new information about SC2 at Anaheim. Nothing.

A popular Boston-based BarCraft organizer shared that their event was in jeopardy as their typical event hub required a month’s notice for large parties like theirs.

Practically zero communication from MLG (or Blizzard, though it’s not entirely their place) on either of these concerns.

And then… Continue reading

A short rant about the state of WCS America.

To preface this rant: I’m just upset that the whole WCS thing feels rushed out the wazoo and that Blizzard is content to just sit back and throw money at folks who actually do most of the work. I have decided not to publish more scathing rants than this, if only because as much as I don’t like what’s going on (from what I know), I still want this all to succeed for the good of the game.

That having been said, let’s get on with the ranting.

Continue reading