While starting off the month strong, you may have noticed that I’ve been absent from the blogging front for the last week or two. This has been an unfortunate side-effect of work which, coupled with the amount of time Working As Intended takes up every day, left me with room nor energy for much else.

In the words of a famous killer robot “I’ll be back” however, or rather, I am. I was going to mark my return with a long post on the Activision Blizzard layoffs as they relate to the publisher’s competitive scenes. Some of you would have enjoyed it, all fire and brimstone, but right now it does not spark joy for me. Instead, I want to have a little fun as we wrap up this lovely esports-filled weekend. So here are some videos I enjoyed recently, but did not get around to tweeting/posting about yet.

Lara goes Through the Fire and Flames

This video is not really about gaming per se, but it definitely showcases skill behind a keyboard. Australian streamer lara6683 has a degree in music as well as a condition called synesthesia, which gives her perfect pitch and “shows” her what you and I only hear. On her stream she fields musical requests, one of which was Dragonforce’s Through the Fire and Flames. She never listened to the song before this, yet I don’t think I can hear it any other way now.

Shanghai Dragons end The Streak

One of the big stories last week was esports’ longest losing streak, Overwatch League team Shanghai Dragons’ 0-42 record, finally coming to an end when they beat the Boston Uprising. It seems to have allowed the organization’s players to leave the past behind them as they’ve found more success since and it looked a little something like this.

Jin Air Green Wings.. do not

Another team which could do with some of that sweet victory medicine is Korean League of Legends team Jin Air Green Wings. While never having been a big contender, they’ve racked up a 0-17 record in the current Split, with play that’s even starting to get to casters Atlus and Papa Smithy.

Shroud the human aimbot

Although I enjoy it as a drop-in game, I’ve had to come to the painful conclusion that I’ll never be as good at Respawn’s title Apex Legends as some of its pros. Shroud’s stream is a constant reminder of this. I already tweeted this clip earlier, but I’m going to add another because what? Just.. what.

LEC flexes its skill

Both the quality of gameplay as well as production for Europe’s League of Legends competition has gone up quite a bit in recent years. These are perhaps not the best examples of the latter, but I can’t stop watching them all the same. Also, have you checked out those standings? It’s a good race to watch overall.

Second to none

Lastly, after 11 Grand Finals and at what could have been the end of his career, Korean Zerg soO finally gets his win.

I hope that at least one of these you smile, something I feel we could all do more of. I’m going to watch the conclusion to IEM now (go ENCE!) and will be back with some proper writing later this week. Unless, that is, someone gets a compilation of all the IEM dick jokes together before that. Good luck, have fun indeed.

It’s been a little hard to miss that Respawn Entertainment has a new game out. In what’s probably the quickest turn around from “we didn’t make the game you wanted” to it becoming the title everyone‘s playing, Apex Legends has been smashing record after record.

At this point it can be considered somewhat inherent to the battle royale genre that each year should bring a new top dog. Scant a year ago PUBG still sat on its throne made of the bones of H1Z1 and DayZ, before the usurper Fortnite rose to fame. And now a new challenger has arrived.

The cynic in me comments on this with something about generations and attention spans, which I used to put forth about the genre as a whole with its short, random games as well, but damned if Apex isn’t fun. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s the “Fortnite killer” or not, in fact I find that rather lazy writing. Fact is that Respawn have, without fanfare, released a polished product that speaks for itself, while its competitors are still lounging in early access throwing ideas at a wall to see what sticks.

The game’s well thought out communication system is one of its main draws. Picture credit: Kotaku

As for the game itself, I’ve seen it described as the Hunger Games meets Overwatch, but where the latter’s matchmaking is a constant downward spiral of rage, Apex Legends makes teamwork very smooth with a well thought out communication system. The result is an accessible, low-toxicity, squad-based shooter, played on a gorgeous map and whose developers have a clear vision for its future.

It’s a shame I’m not better at it really. Coming from an RTS and MOBA background, Overwatch was the first FPS I played for any extended period of time. The skill does not translate, let me tell you. On the upside, I’ve become pretty good at dunking my squad in the ocean, so I’m set if Respawn ever does an Aqua Legends spin-off.

I kid, sorta. Still, below are some tips that helped make the transition a little less bad for me.

Respawn released the game with a clear vision for its future.

Get familiar with the characters and map

There’s plenty of “legend tier list” and “best drop spots” articles out there already, but you really just need to play a lot to get familiar with it all.

Use the ping system

At its core, Apex is team game, even if you’re never forced to talk to anyone. Communication will win (or lose) you games. This includes pinging your inventory.

Learn how to glide

You can’t win the game if you don’t stick the landing. There’s some trickery to it though.

Don’t revive teammates in the middle of a firefight

Seriously, don’t. Probably don’t waste time with finishers until the whole unit is down either.

Learn to loot

I’ve noticed that the majority of the good players unlucky enough to get paired with me go through the available loot in an area very quickly, never content with one weapon set or location. I guess this is one of them battle royale things I’ve yet to pick up, but it makes sense. The less time you spend on inventory management, the more you can spend on not getting dead.

Learn the loot

Related to the previous, some gear is just way superior to others. (Hint: It’s not the Mozambique.) Figure out which is which and switch it up if the situation requires it.

Learn to aim

Yeah.. still working on this one, but the best way appears to be to just get into a lot of firefights. I do wish the game came with better training options in this regard, but I suppose getting shot in the face could be considered a teaching moment too.

I’ll probably have more for you later. I’d also like to note that the game’s first for-money tournament will be played in two parts, one of which takes place today. Sixteen squads will compete for $200,000 USD in this Twitch Rivals Apex Legends Challenge, which will be an interesting prelude to what feels like an inevitable move onto the esports scene.

For now, I bid you adieu, because I have a dropship to catch.

This post is part of a series. Start from the beginning here.

To better visualize the differences between the various MOBA types, we will use aforementioned “big three” titles of the genre as our goal posts. There are of course a lot more games out there, all with their own idiosyncrasies, but we’ll visit these as we go more in-depth on specific features.

For now, if we place them in the order Dota 2, League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm then, in a general sense, we’ve also captured them in decreasing order of complexity. Dota 2 has the largest variety in mechanical goings-on and item/skill timings, whereas Heroes has the least. Similarly, Heroes has the largest action focus with 10-20 minute brawls, while Dota 2’s regularly hit an hour or more and League sits comfortably in between.

It’s important to note that this does not make one or the other better, just different. These differences in complexity do result in very different-looking play for what, to an outsider, are essentially the same games. They can be boiled down to a triplet of design considerations we’ll refer to as micro, macro and map. (I appreciate that the last one probably requires a better name at some point.)

Micro choices in MOBA design have to do with direct player actions. This means things like moving one’s character, last hitting and denying but also the design of character skills themselves. Dota 2 has long animations and turn rates, neither of which League has. This results in fights in the latter feeling much faster, even though they take place under the same premise in both.

Macro decisions, in turn, deal with economy. It’s not just gold that we’re talking about here, it goes for any “currency” in the game, however intangible. Yes, Dota 2 has two different types of gold. Heroes for its part has none, but it does distribute its experience very differently. Both have a significant impact on the balance of power in their matches.

Whole spreadsheets have been dedicated to the most efficient way of using the jungle to a team’s advantage.

Lastly, there is the map. The map’s layout and the additional objectives provided on it greatly influence the ebb and flow of battle as well. This is the one we’ll start with, before circling back to the other two for their implementation.

To understand how map design influences gameplay you need not look further than the towers, a mainstay in all three titles whose demise is an integral part of winning them.

Towers serve to maintain a certain equilibrium in the creep waves and deter the enemy force from coming too close. Even in death they exert an influence on the match, however. After a tower falls, opponents will find themselves with a larger attack surface to defend, whilst the “home team” is left with fewer places to obtain money and experience. This makes the when and where of their destruction an important timing issue, especially when you take mechanisms like first tower gold and turret plating into account.

A similar equilibrium can be found in other non-player-directed map objectives. League, for one, has consistently been balanced to always have one team member jungling, which is the killing of creep camps in the areas between lanes. This adds another threat, as this person won’t always be visible and depending on what character they’re playing, where they were seen last and which route they’re taking, they are a threat to look out for at specific times. Whole spreadsheets have been dedicated to the most efficient way of combining these factors to a team’s advantage. Then there are runes, boss monsters, buffs and item shops to consider, all of them creating additional factors players have to take into account to achieve victory.

How do you decide which to use in your game and where? A good rule of thumb is that the more things you put on the map which require player attention, the more spread out said players will be. If there’s only one thing to defend, after all, it stands to reason that this is where they’ll congregate, whereas if there’s multiple, decisions will have to be made. Similarly, if one objective provides a much larger advantage than the others, it’ll again take most of the player attention. A balanced spread is required to ensure this pull does not become too strong.

Another consideration is that, the more there’s to do, the harder it will be for players to spread their attention to cover it all. If you have to last hit, harass, pull creep camps, get runes, buy items on time AND watch enemy movements, at some point you’re going to run out of brain-space. It’s a fine line between creating a skill proposition and overwhelming your players.

Next time, we’re going to start on a simple map design and see how putting things on it will change its flow. I hope to see you then!

As one of a PC gamer heritage, Bioware’s games have always held a special place in my heart. In recent years, however, it’s been a bit of a struggle to remain enthusiastic about their offerings, which have increasingly felt unnecessarily padded and, frankly, unfinished.

With the disappointment that was Andromeda still clear in mind, I entered this weekend’s Anthem open demo with a mixture of hope and apprehension. Would one of my favorite developers still be able to bring the magic, or had they truly become just another EA imprint as the Internet’d scornfully been suggesting?

It’s probably not fair to jump to either conclusion based on a few play sessions over a two-day period, but I have come to believe that, rather than the epic role playing sagas delivered to us before, Anthem is a multi-player focused shooter with RPG elements, that appears optimized for consoles.

Exposition not included.

The latter is noticeable in everything, from the obtuse UI to the bad control scheme. Word has it Bioware will revisit those after release (which will be on the 22nd of this month), but this does not really inspire me to order the game now.

And that’s kind of the issue I had with the whole demo. It was apparently more playable than last week’s VIP event, although I personally still experienced quite a few issues throughout, but the build does not demonstrate what we have to look forward to very well. Not in a positive light at least.

The one Javelin (your Ironman-esque suit of flying armor) available was kind of bland. Others are supposedly more exciting, but they were only there for the VIPs. In flight, the machine handled like a box of rocks and combat, while familiar with its use of Mass Effect’s enemy color-coding and third-person shooty fun, felt very sluggish as well.

Not your daddy’s UI.

Story-wise things were not much better. The first person I met in the demo, a striking bald lad who clearly had something on his mind, would not part with his thoughts for anyone who did not own the full version of the game. In fact, none bar one of the NPCs in the starting area would and story exposition was done through voices in my headset, telling me where to go next.

These different destinations would be selectable on an overview map similar to Bioware’s earlier games and the journey to them lead through a collection of loading screens. Graphically the game looked great mind, but with performance being what it was and missions regularly interrupted by said screens, I found myself missing the original Mass Effect’s elevators.

On top of that, the game constantly reminds you that it’s best enjoyed with other players. While this makes me wonder about its longevity if it does turn out to be another Andromeda, it’s also just not true. Matchmaking issues aside, allies are not tracked your mini-map, which means you frequently lose sight of one another. Since only one party member is required to trigger story events, this in turn results in you often missing key story points. Add to this that when the original lobby creator leaves the mission, everyone does and you’d best get ready to replay everything multiple times.

Good thing those mountains are pretty, because you’ll be hitting every single one of them with these controls.

Perhaps Bioware is hoping that getting players together in a single environment will create impromptu stories as has happened in other titles. Perhaps the full game harbors an amazing story. Perhaps it’s just not finished.

Fact remains that, going by this weekend, the developer’s delivered another contentious game in a time when it could really use a home run. While I don’t fault its team for wanting to make something different, the demo did not make clear what sets this game apart from competitors like Destiny or Warframe. Worse, it appears as if the studio has either forgotten its own strengths or was at least dramatically unable to showcase them in this demo.

I honestly hope that come release day I’ll be proven wrong, but for now I can only recommend holding off, at least on the PC version, until after launch to see whether Anthem will actually fly.

Earlier this month, after yet another frustrating attempt at searching my esports newsletter‘s not that extensive archives, I tweeted:

I figured I’d give you a little update on this.

My original decision to start Working As Intended on Medium was made because I wanted to separate it from this blog, to allow me a little more freedom what to write about here. I remembered the platform as a good-looking offering and its built-in audience felt like a nice signal boosting opportunity without having to spam /r/esports with clickbait. And fair’s fair, on these counts the choice has paid off.

However, much like what Reddit has been doing, I feel like most of the changes made to Medium’s software in recent times have been to.. entice users to sign up, get them to download the app and upsell them the paid plan. Often this feels done to the detriment of the actual reading experience. The company also holds fairly tight control over publications’ branding and customization options, statistics are opaque and their related content is often old and more often just not that related.

Part of this is that it’s become the prime platform for marketers and, at least in gaming, blockchain and gambling companies. There are awesome esports writers on there, mind, but you have to look for them pretty hard which kind of negates what should be one of the platform’s main selling points.

The way I see it we can do better banding together, providing our different viewpoints to a shared audience. Especially in these rough times, which have seen several esports publications go under and the remaining ones nichifying along society’s battle lines and whatever else brings them the most views, a fresh, less commercial collection of voices feels like something that could not only work, but perhaps is needed.

Most of us don’t do this professionally but may aspire to though and a move to a new place with someone you don’t really know is not without risk to your existing audience. As such, while I have been approaching people one-on-one and running some exploratory ads to gauge interest, right now this feels like it’s going to be a longer term project than I’d hoped for.

Which is not to say that I’m quite ready to give up on it and if you do have an interest in or ideas on all of this, I’d love to hear from you. For now, I’m finally feeling a little better after having been ill for most of the week and I’ll be focussing on publishing a lot of new content both here and on Medium over the next month or so. But I’ll be circling back to this. Hope to see you there!