Panem et circenes!

Bread and circuses in their literal meaning.

This post is a reply to Blog Banter 40: Interstellar Blood Sports

Fresh from publishing the community spotlight on the EVE blogosphere and Blog Banters, CCP Phantom has suggested a banter focus on competitive tournaments.

There is no finer spectacle in the universe of EVE Online than the explosive dance of weapon-laden spaceships in combat. The yearly Alliance Tournament is the jewel in EVE Online’s eSports crown and the upcoming New Eden Open should deliver the same gladiatorial entertainment showcase.

Given the scope of the sandbox, what part should eSports play in EVE Online and what other formats could provide internet spaceship entertainment for spectators and participants alike?

eSports is not a new concept

I’ve used to be a hardcore Quake 3 Arena player back in 2001-2003. The term “eSports” was born back then, and “normal” people had no clue what it means. Ten years later, eSports is nearly everywhere: there are Real Time Strategy Tournaments and there are First Person Shooter Competitions, not to mention Sports games imitating real football. People perception has changed as well: not only (almost) everyone knows what eSports is, but when watching a Call of Duty match, one can clearly tell what’s going on in the game (at least who is winning, more less).

Sport needs spectators

Granted, Alliance Tournaments have been there for as long as EVE exists, but it has not been viewed as an eSport until recently. But this isn’t surprising at all. EVE is so different from let’s say, a footbal game or Quake deathmatch. Last couple of ATs had commentators, live video streams and spectators – just like real sports have. But real sports have much higher stakes bacause of RL cash prizes. Prizes is what drives emotions of players and spectators high. So we have a competition platform, we have players, and we have spectators (and spectators love games, because all they need is bread and circuses; literally, because some beer is made from bread). Is this enough to call EVE a sport?

Sport needs rules

Sport is an environment where everyone has the same initial conditions and the same chances to win. In a normal day-to-day EVE this would be impossible, because there are no rules that would enforce that. A lonely pilot wanting to fight a 1 vs 1 can quickly end up outnumbered and dead. In FPS games everyone has the same shitty gun and no armor and in RTSs one starts up with one structure and 5 peons. No one can interfere in a 1 vs 1, because it is built in the game rules. Alliance Tournaments is what adds additional rules to the vast sandbox of EVE; rules that enforce the same initial conditions (like maximum number of ships, their types, etc.) and give everyone equal chances to win. Sport is fair, EVE is not.

Rules have to be enforced

Tournaments are organized in an empty system fully controlled by the CCP, who enforces the rules (let’s call them referee in this example). Other games have it in their design. I’ve already mentioned RTS and FPS. But how do you do that in an MMO? Is it possible to make computer the referee?

Yes, you can create a special area (an Arena) where there are additional rules compared to the rest of the sandbox. Rules that allow fair play clash between teams or individuals. There is no such area in EVE currently, but other MMOs already have them. Introducing such concept to New Eden would have a lot of impact on the game. The famous unforgiving and often non-consensual PVP would be reduced substantially, because instead of roaming for targets, players would simply head to the nearest arena. There they could find equally blood-thirsty group and beat the shit out of them.

Is Arena PVP the only solution?

Apart from a protein-based referee? Yes. Open sandbox is too open to become a fair sport. Unless of course you take “no rules” as your only rule 😉