The Spectral Hand of James Naismith

All the E-sports players I knew have seemingly all fell away from fame. For a year, early on in the development of the modern phenomenon that is League of Legends, I followed, mainly through my brother’s much more rigorous dedication to the game, the exploits of that early foray into streaming and large tournaments. HotshotGG and Reginald remain somewhere deep in my brain as the foremost players of a game that does not exist now. Both players have since “retired” from active play, and when I look at the teams now, I have no spark of recognition. For me, League will always be the game it was many years ago, a game that exists but only in a twisted form, as something which I have little access to, and which holds little enjoyment for me.

I know this blog is supposed to be about DOTA, but, well, to me, DOTA will always exist in relation to League. I reached a height of MOBA playing, and reached my deepest moment of hatred of MOBA within a very short amount of time. I’ve never been a truly competitive gamer, and my forays into competitive games have always been short lived. I knew, going into DOTA 2, I would never be able to play it to any conclusive experience. I just can’t take it, and DOTA is even less forgiving than the cesspool that is the League experience. Everytime I start up a new competition, I can just see the hours and hours of pain in front of me, the many defeats, the flaming, and I just find it hard to continue.

What’s hard for me, though, even as a spectator, is the fact that the game itself (League or DOTA or whatever other game comes up) changes. I think a lot of hubbub is made about the difficulty in visibility of the players, of the difficulty in following a game, but for me, the problem with modern E-sports occurs in the hidden corporate control of the games themselves, and how this control seemingly always ends in the neglect and inevitable retirements of whoever is at the top of their game at any given point.

This may sound a bit “kids-these-days” but I just cannot stand how many champions are in League. Each one merely adds complexity, merely adds another potentially meta breaking or even game breaking ability and it usually does. Dr. J’s grand moment can’t really happen, because it would’ve just been patched out a week before. If a champion is suddenly “discovered” as a powerful viable option, well, you can beat it won’t last. The map itself is changed. Everything changes and not in an organic way but through a corporation intent on selling skins working on it. It is as if Naismith exists in spectral form, watching each basketball game and jotting down how exactly the playing field could be leveled. The artistry that becomes the individual player is undermined by this hidden hand.

I see why fighting games distance themselves from the modern scene that is forming. Fighting games, at least to me from an outside perspective, seem much more involved with a set rules system, and allows for moments like EVO 2009, which seems to me very similar to a Dr. J style moment of play artistry. Even Smash is something which never changes, and through this new things were discovered year after year. Ice Climbers, the same ice climbers which were once mocked, are now a viable option. Nothing changed, they weren’t buffed, but the players themselves discovered how to play them well. When I go back and play the occasional League game, just to remind myself of the impossibility of me playing on any competitive level, I always find myself trapped; trapped in time, trapped only with the champions I once knew how to play (I like to think I was once a great Riven player, and my top lane amumu once struck fears into the hearts of my enemies.) The whole enemy team is probably playing champions I never even heard about, and the jungle has shifted. But when I pick up Smash again, I can feel at least a small part of my brain remember how to play. I don’t know any of the fancy techniques but at least I understand how the system works, and I know that system will never change. Just as some deride “media games” as being too influenced by a desire to accommodate the spectators, I feel most e-sports are too accommodating to corporate interests (or well, THE corporate interest.) No one can claim control of soccer, but by god Riot can claim control of League. No one will be watching a great DOTA 2 play in thirty years. If DOTA even still exists, it will be unimaginably changed.

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