Playing and watching are different things.
I know that might sound obvious, but I genuinely think we forget that in esports, assuming that to be a fan or have knowledge of a game we need to play it. That’s especially true when it comes to talent, particular if said talent is supposed to be an expert on a panel. These people get more grief than anyone if they aren’t playing the game at a high level and on a regular basis.
Yet for all of that, some of esports’ great panel members are those who don’t play the game regularly or even at all in some cases, yet regularly get hired for events and are (by players and fans alike) respected highly.
It’s the same for me in Dota. I hear it a lot, “He’s a great host, but he knows nothing about the game.” While I may not have great in-depth knowledge of every intricate part of the game, the notion I know nothing about it is farfetched. The point is, though I might not play much, I absolutely adore watching the top players in it, and you’ll regularly find me searching late night Dota channels trying to find my next hit. And that’s the point. High-level Dota is like a drug for me. I know I should go to bed after watching 12 hours of streams, but just one more won’t hurt, right?
And so, when the most recent patch (6.87) came out this week, I was as excited as an 8000+ mmr player, but perhaps for different reasons. I’m intrigued by how teams and players will adapt to it. How will it change the meta? What style of play will work, and which won’t? Which inevitable heroes will suddenly become must-ban, and which will have the greatest impact in game? How will supports fare? Will Mirana be relevant? All of these and more are questions I have when a big patch hits. They aren’t related directly to me playing the game, but instead on how I enjoy watching it.
Likewise, when the 12 invites were announced for the Manila Major, I’m consumed with questions on why some were invited over others, how Alliance will fare, and isn’t it great to see Natus Vincere back in there too. The entire thing fascinates me in a way few other esports can.
Reading this as a high-level player or long-time casual player, you might find this more than a little odd I guess, and while I usually dislike real sports comparisons, this is a good time to ask: is it really any different? I’m not going to drive a Formula 1 car (sadly) any day soon, but I’d challenge you to find many more knowledgeable or passionate about watching it. Likewise, my old legs are done when it comes to playing football, but I love watching it, even if my team does rather suck right now.
In other words, let’s try not to be too dismissive of those who might not play the game, or play at a high level. We can be fans of Dota and gain a lot of knowledge from simply watching it. The same goes for any other esport. Just ask Thorin…
This leads me on to the other age old issue: Which casters you love and hate. For most fans, they enjoy the hype of a play-by-play caster, even though the 8000+ mmr person totally hates the same caster and will often complain about lack of knowledge. That person wants two high-level players to cast together and would then love it, even if the casters are boring, monotone and have no technical casting ability. Likewise, the more casual viewer would detest two high-mmr players casting, understand very little of what they say and find the game completely boring.
I’m generalizing, of course, but to make the point clear. We absolutely need a great mix of play-by-play and-high level explanation during a cast, which is partly why partnerships like Toby “TobiWan” Dawson and Troels “syndereN” Nielsen are so popular. It isn’t that Tobi knows nothing about the game, but he leaves space in the broadcast to ensure someone who can deliver the high-level stuff better. That’s a skill often overlooked, too: sacrificing your own knowledge for the better of the broadcast. And only the very best play-by-play casters do it. It also comes at a cost that many believe their game knowledge isn’t as good as it should be and yet, they couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s no different on the desk hosting. If Scott “SirScoots” Smith, Alec “Machine” Richardson or I ask a question that might seem “noobie,” or show a lack of knowledge, it’s more often not the case, but instead us doing our job properly: to allow the experts to answer in the best way possible. Our role is to make the panelists shine, not to take over and make ourselves look smart.
Think about those things the next time you want to go on a rant about talent knowledge and ask yourself, do you really believe esports organizers continue to hire people who know nothing about the game?
So, to play or not to play. Both have their place in esports and while playing the game can undoubtedly make you understand it far better, don’t ignore the fact that watching thousands of hours does add up to something more than just a casual interest.
Photos by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com