Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Awkward World that is Player Vlogs

Doublelift sits at a desk in a disorganized room filled with empty Coke bottles and discarded clothing. Light glares through the curtains behind him, shining in on what little we can see of Chauster, who toys with a new soundcard while hunched over his computer. Random chatter can be heard from his CLG housemates in the background, and the ever-present sound of frantically clicking keys.

Doublelift winces as his video begins. “It’s just another boring me talking to the camera thing,” he sheepishly admits, rubbing his chin with a selection of ‘um’s’ and ‘so...yeah’s’ while dishing out the mundane details of his day.

It’s a common scene in player’s vlogs, those little video slices of life that every pro is doing. Most of them are awkward at best, with uncomfortable hosts staring at the camera, straining for something to say. Even Meteos, so well-known for his fun banter during his streams, is often left speechless. “I don’t like vlogs,” he mumbles apologetically to his viewers. “They’re so hard to do.”

But whether it’s Zuna cooking chicken strips at four in the morning or LemonNation getting a haircut, dedicated fans can still be counted on to watch them. Daily vlogs can boast over 30,000 views, with some of the more infamous of them garnering 150,000 views or more.

Normally, vlogs are just a few minutes of unscripted rambling, with the pros touching on things like what they ate today or commenting on their performance in a game, followed by a quick shout-out to sponsors. Doublelift talks about everything from setting up their new televisions, to his Ashe play, to going to the gym with his teammates.

“Yeah, like you work out,” his landlord interjects from the hallway.

Doublelift glances over his shoulder. “I was going to work out. I was going to...!” he shouts back, his cheeks turning two shades of red.  

While not always that entertaining, vlogs give you a pretty accurate view of a player’s world outside the game, proving that their daily life is just as humdrum as our own. Tours of their environments reveal unmade beds and dishes piled in the sink, or grumbling teammates half-asleep in generic hotel rooms. It’s a world not unlike that of any gaming nerd, and it’s a comforting affirmation that we’re not alone.

Once in a while though, vlogs can be incredibly poignant or insightful. Memories of Xpecial’s heartfelt confession, “we’re having a bit of a rough patch,” readily come to mind. It was an honest bit of soul searching that resonated with its viewers, followed by over two-thousand replies of (mostly) encouraging words.

As hard as it is to see distress on a player’s face, Esports fans are notoriously drawn to team drama. Elementz, often the whipping boy in r/leagueoflegends, received an outpouring of support after he posted a gut-wrenching vlog where he addressed his trash-talking teammates. Dyrus got an earful of armchair counseling when he asked his fans to drop their attacks on Reginald, and CLG gained a ton of renewed fan love when the normally arrogant Hotshotgg humbly choked out, “the way things have been going, I’ll be left with nothing.”

Moments like that stand out all the greater when you've seen these players on an ordinary day, sharing a meal with their teammates and smiling at each other’s jokes. Because you've been made a part of their private lives, you experience the emotions with them, and it ties you to them on a very personal level.

No other sport asks its players to make vlogs, but it’s fitting for a game whose main fan base is online. Internet audiences are used to having that kind of intimate connection. And on a map where players are represented by digital champions, it’s nice to be reminded they’re still human.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Riot Plz - The ARAM Conspiracy.

As of this second, I have 307 wins and 307 losses in ARAMS.

No one really contemplates these things, which is part of why it works, but all thirty-eight of my closest ARAM friends come within ten points of a 50-50 win / loss record, and that is far too perfect a percentage to be by chance alone. While keeping a player interested, motivated and challenged requires losses, player satisfaction requires wins, and 50/50 appears to be Riot's golden ratio of happiness...but how exactly do they do this if an ARAM is 'All Random?'

The answer isn't all random. There's nothing random about it at all. It's all carefully planned and orchestrated to create the illusion of randomness. In truth, outside algorithmic forces are at work. The deck is always stacked in favor of one team over another, and you've all seen it happen plenty of times. Certain characters have a very high win rate in ARAMs and you can be sure there will be several of them on the opposing team when it's your turn to lose. Of course, skill level can still prevail in these match ups, but skill level is measurable as well, and ELO clearly is taken into account and calculated into the equation.     

But, the conspiracy goes deeper still!

Once I was made aware of Riot's sneaky manipulation, I began to discover just how far they will go to prevent me from getting a win. Yesterday's glorious losing streak is a prime example. I was subject to suspicious problem after suspicious problem, and Riot was clearly at the core!

For starters, I went 'bug splat' link dead at the start of three games, severely crippling my team. Then I was bugged in game and unable to buy, and had to completely reboot. During one particularly difficult game where we were coming back against all odds, the transformer on my street blew, plunging us into darkness. The lengths that our unscrupulous Riot will go to are beyond belief! This morning, my cat turned my computer off mid-game...under Riot's silent feline directive. In the next game, they made Kaspersky bring up an override screen in the middle of a team fight.

Know those games where someone goes afk at the start and never leaves base? Those are evil Riot agents, added to even out the playing field when a game cannot be run without you winning. Likewise, those people who just stand behind your tower and run in circles are also Riot bots! And they're programmed to heckle your build, no matter what direction you go in. 'AP Ezreal is stupid, he does like no damage!' or 'AD Ezreal? Why? In an ARAM?' simply to make you waste a minute in base while you type back an explanation. (Or in my case, a few expletives.) And on those rare occasions when the system glitches and gives you an amazing line up, Riot will quickly fix the problem with a fake 'summoner has quit' message.

They're probably watching me right now with their high-powered satellite surveillance, just waiting for any attempt on my part to breech the 50/50 ceiling. They have full control the power grid, the internets and the government. This is why most of our lives also seem to fit the 50/50 mold. Not to blow your mind, but the phrase 'you win some, you lose some,' has been around for a very a long time.

This is because Riot is behind it all.

And now you know the truth.