Publishers: Your Press Events Are Not Esports
It’s boring and embarrassing nobody likes it.
All images courtesy of EA
EA's pre-E3 (pre3?) press conference came and went with all the fanfare of a trip through a Wendy's drive-through, despite Janina Gavankar's valiant efforts to hype the audience for Star Wars Battlefront 2's probably-gonna-be-fine campaign mode. Much of the presentation's audible thud could be attributed to the extended Battlefront 2 multiplayer demonstration, which came complete with Influencers™ and esports commentary from people with actual media training.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to show off the multiplayer in series that has, traditionally, traded almost entirely on its multiplayer. Give the folks at home some of that red-hot Battle Droid action, go wild! Show people why it's interesting, why it's exciting, and specifically for a Battlefront-style game, show the kinds of emergent story moments folks can expect while playing with friends.
Framing your unreleased game like it's an established esport is perhaps the most boring and ineffective way of doing this, and it's frankly baffling that publishers keep trotting out new shooters in this fashion. To understand why this is a mistake, however, let's talk real quick about spectator sports in general.
In broad terms, a sport is more immediately enjoyable as a spectator event when it is more clearly understood. Not to say that there isn't additional enjoyment to be gained from understanding the intricacies of a sport, obviously, just that you don't need to know how fencing is scored to be entertained by a swordfight. Some games are dynamic and exciting on their face and those games are more entertaining to watch without context.
Games like DOTA2 and CS:GO, meanwhile, require knowledge and context to make sense, visually or otherwise. A great play in a MOBA looks like a big incomprehensible mess if you don't have experience with the map, the characters, and their abilities. Yes, CS:GO is an esports behemoth, but footage of CS:GO boils down to a bunch of samey-looking shots of soldiers in warehouses with no context for why what's happening is entertaining.
In essence, if your game's context isn't promptly self-explanatory, it'd better be fun to look at. That's not the case with most shooters, and it wasn't the case with the Battlefront 2 fauxsports presentation. As a viewer who has never played this unreleased game, I have no vocabulary for what the challenges of this mode are, why the different classes have the advantages they do, what the specific parts of the map look like from the ground, etc. All I'm getting out of this is a bunch of quick cuts between identical robots and spaceships flying around each other in ineffectual circles.
Robots and spaceships are great, and if I was being shown a high-energy trailer cut together from radical shots of explosions and dogfights then yeah, I'd probably be mad pumped right now. Instead, I'm given a cold plate of humdrum video with some very soulless commentary laid on top of it, and it lasts a million years. I get that there's money in esports and this is also intended to court naive shareholders, but it primarily makes the game you're trying to sell me look boring as hell and I'm embarrassed now because of the commentary or, in the worst-case scenario, the scripted team banter.
Please, y'all, please stop doing this. From someone who wants to see a game and be excited about it, please stop trying to convince the audience that this boring thing isn't boring and do anything else. Make a trailer, make me laugh; do anything that doesn't pretend we all have this knowledge and fondness for whatever this thing is that you've just told us exists.