I like to watch Starcraft II games, what other games should I be following, and how do I get up to speed?
September 5, 2012 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I've begun to watch eSports recently (basically, competitive video game matches), and found them really interesting. For Starcraft II, I have learned how enjoy being a spectator, but it took a lot of effort: I had to play the game, gradually figure out who was worth watching, identify the right YouTube channels, learn the lingo, etc. What other competitive mutliplayer games are worth watching, and how do I get into them?

Specifically, I would be really interested in well-written guides for spectators (like this one for Starcraft II) and lists of great matches like this one (which means not just interesting to watch, but also well narrated).

I am pretty agnostic on the actual game: Defense of the Ancients, Team Fortress, whatever - it should be fun to watch and follow without being a complete expert. Any ideas?
posted by blahblahblah to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you willing to watch other types of games? Starcity Games has Magic: The Gathering events pretty frequently that you can watch. My wife thinks I'm a giant nerd for watching those.
posted by theichibun at 7:11 PM on September 5, 2012

League of Legends has a huge streaming community (Riot does a lot of streaming on their own in additon to all the fan stuff) and is a DOTA-style game with a huge following and very active eSports scene. This site is pretty good for finding streams. The Subreddit actually has a lot of good information for learning to play, specifically the SummonerSchool subreddit linked on the right.

I will warn you, though, while LOL is a fun, intense game, the community is legendarily terrible to people, so expect them to treat you terribly if you jump in and play. I really enjoyed the game itself but got sick of being berated and insulted all the time so I no longer play.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:12 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, for my money, SC2 is the only watchable esport at the moment. LoL and DOTA2 are fun as games but they are super difficult to get into as spectators because all of the crazy skillfull stuff is impossible to see in the blurry, sparkly mess that is a team fight. There was a huge dota2 tournament recently that had this one particular moment that got a standing ovation in the viewing hall. I read a 5-paragraph explanation of what had happened and watched the video clip of it happening several times in a row, but never got to the point where I could be like "woah, that was amazing".

There are some newish shooters that may make for good watching, but none of them have the polished and professional commentary that is (for me) so much of what makes watching SC2 fun.
posted by kavasa at 8:28 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recommend the site Twitch.TV as a great place to find various digital gaming streams.

If you're into Starcraft II, I highly, highly (highly!) recommend Day9 as the most informative and easy to access of all the streamers.
posted by Neale at 8:29 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Company of Heroes is pretty good, and you pick up on it fairly quickly since it's WWII based and doesn't involve magical pixies or anything. The game itself seems to come up in Steam sales pretty often, and is probably the single best way to get acquainted with it, but it's not particularly hard. Similar mechanics to most RTS games, and historical basis means units and abilities are easy to understand.

Plenty of tournaments going on, a thriving mod and game community, and the whole CoH scene is now getting excited about CoH2 - so plenty of renewed interest. Most of the casts tend to be fairly high level play.

As to watching them, Twitch, Justin.tv, Game Replays - but also just Youtube - here are a few of my favourite casters to check out: - most of them cast more than just COH, so check their playlists for COH only stuff, or tournament games.

Krebs COHO

Rogers & Pounder

The Frontline Network
posted by BishopsLoveScifi at 8:56 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love watching e-sports too. And I used to play a lot of it too, at a reasonably high level: placed top 10 for a Warcraft 3 national, a top 30 world ranked team for competitive guild wars (top prizes were $200k) and also played against some big name teams in World of Warcraft.

Unfortunately I think the general answer is, stick to watching Starcraft 2

Starcraft 2 is probably unique among most e-sports today in that it was clearly designed as a spectator sport.

Other games - guild wars, dota, counterstrike - may be more fun to play and have a large following, and even their own tournaments - but are really difficult to watch from a spectator point of view. As an example, a lot of the strategy hinges on cooldown timings: the team leaders are mentally keeping track of everyone's skills - they know the enemy mage blew his counterspell 15 seconds ago and thus there's 9 more seconds until it's ready again: his own warrior's intercept was used 15 seconds ago, and in 5 more seconds it's going to be up: he has a mental tally of ALL THE SKILLS available to his entire team, versus a mental tally of all the skills available to the enemy team, and has to choose when to deploy them.

All this information is completely not available to the spectator. The only spectators who can appreciate what's really happening in the game are the ones who're good enough to be a top tier team leader themselves. Otherwise it's just an incomprehensible mess.

On the other hand, everything you need to know about Starcraft happens right there on the screen.

Casters - or Commentators - can help a bit with this issue. They can help explain what is happening. But here again, Starcraft 2 has the advatange - there is enough "money" in Starcraft 2 that casting the game can be a full time job. Artosis and Tasteless do an excellent job of covering the scene in Korea - one of them plays Starcraft himself at a high enough level to understand what is going on, and they're both good at the actual casting.

I haven't seen any casters of equivalent knowledge + ability in the other e-sports.


If you still want to watch one more besides Starcraft 2 - it's going to be a toss up between League of Legends and DOTA2. Both these games have a huge following and lots of tournaments and support - there was a recent DOTA2 tournament that awarded a million dollars to the winning team.

This is probably the play referenced above - it got a standing ovation from the crowd and they were chanting the team's name. I didn't even need to watch it to know what happened, because - to an experienced player - it was obvious from the hero picks. Again this highlights why DOTA and LOL are so difficult to spectate, but are very rewarding if you do. Basically, both teams have to pick and ban 5 heroes each from a pool of 100, and they do it in turns - as each team takes a turn to pick and ban, more and more of the team strategy gets revealed, and their expectations and choices get modified accordingly. Many many games are entirely won or lost in the picking phase before the game has even begun, by forcing the opponent into traps and bad combinations. This play was notable because Na'vi allowed iG to pick up an incredibly strong hero combination - Naga+Seer+Tide - without trying to break up that combination with their own picks or bans. The entire crowd couldn't believe what happened during the picking phase, gasps of shock / horror / disbelief depending on which side you were rooting for, but incredibly, you could see Na'vi laughing with each other when that pick happened, so that set things up for you to think, maybe they DO have a secret plan to deal with it... and they did. Great set up and payoff for the spectator.

In any case, I will have to recommend DOTA2 over League of Legends (LoL) as a spectator sport - because DOTA2 has a much much higher risk / reward factor.

LoL is a much more forgiving game, which is great if you want to learn and play it as a beginner. If you were asking for a new game to play I would say try both, but try LoL first.

But it doesn't have the "big plays" aspect that DOTA2 has - a team doing well in DOTA2 can gain a huge advantage over the losing team, you will see players with literally twice the gold and levels of opposing players, because the consequences for dying are so great, and the lethality of the game so high compared to LoL. Also with high lethality there's a lot more combat and killing going on in DOTA2 which again is good for spectators =P There are games in LoL where the casters characterize one team as having a "huge" advantage over the other but the difference in gold income is something like just 15%, while in DOTA2 a "huge" advantage over the other team is something like a 60% advantage in gold income. DOTA2 is a game of extremes - it's not uncommon to get to the point where some carry heroes can kill supports with a single strike. Everything is more low key in LoL - the fights last longer, and are arguably more strategic / tactical - but there are far fewer "holy shit" moments like you get in DOTA2.

Wow. Wall of text.
posted by xdvesper at 8:58 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

xdvesper, do you have any suggestions for where a noob should watch DotA, to learn to be a good spectator?

I tried watching some games from the International, but it didn't go well. Between the jargon ("AS", "CS", etc), much of the action happening off camera, and the huge multitude of items and abilities I've never heard of, I can't really follow. Watching pretty fights is kinda fun, but I'd rather understand the strategy a bit. (I don't want to learn by playing it, I have RSI.) I'm encouraged that teamliquid.net picked up DotA2, since they're such a good place for SC2 info, so I really want to give it a fair shot.
posted by vasi at 8:56 AM on September 6, 2012

I prefer watching LoL but that's mainly because it's the only major eSports game that I've ever played (and still play regularly) so it's pretty easy to follow along. Interestingly, even trying to watch DOTA2 is confusing to me because I'm never sure what abilities that champions have and what exactly is going on, even though many are analogous to LoL champions. The strategies and concepts are just different enough to keep me from following along as well as I'd like.
posted by This Guy at 10:06 AM on September 6, 2012

The International is definitely not commentated for new players. This is in stark contrast to the Riot NA Regionals which were realllllllly basic. If you want to watch Dota without any background in the genre, there aren't a ton of great resources. This article from TL is nominally what you're looking for, but I think it assumes a little too much in terms of basic genre concepts that you might not have. But it's a good place to start nonetheless. Beyond that, it's one of those things that takes a bit of determination. Playing is certainly easier than just purely watching, but watching videos on YouTube can help a lot. If you just search for something like "dota2 tutorial" you'll find some decent stuff. Any of the "How to Play Dota" guides will be useful for you to learn the basics. You might also get something out of Purge's videos. They're not really all aimed for new players, but can still be pretty educational.

As for the relative qualities of different esports, my feeling is that Dota2 is strictly better than LoL for watching. LoL tends to be quite snowbally - the team that gets ahead early usually stays ahead and wins the game. Team fights resolve reallllly quickly and tend to be decided by someone getting caught out. There are very few ways to escape a gank in LoL other than to simply be aware of it and not be there when it happens. This creates very passive play that centers around silly poking fights around towers and just depend on a skillshot landing. In Dota, there are so many ways to force a fight that fights tend to happen in more diverse places with more interesting terrain effects. Plus, they last longer and have really interesting post-fight juking to get away.

But ultimately just try things out and watch what you enjoy! There's nothing purely intellectual about what makes a good sport. Arguing about whether hockey is a better sport than baseball is mostly silly. We just get trained that video games are consumer products that can be stacked up against each other and compared in some objective way. This is bullshit. It clicks with you or it doesn't, and it can be about the game, the commentators, the teams, or simply whatever you got introduced to first. There's no right answer here. I may like the Dota community and experience better than LoL, but that doesn't mean it's right for you.
posted by heresiarch at 12:03 PM on September 6, 2012

I don't think there are any dedicated DOTA2 video streams for newbies.

There is a Spectator Client for DOTA2 available on Steam, for free, which might be an alternative of sorts.

The spectator client will allow you to spectate any current live games as well as any previously played game, including the entire International tournament that just ran. Even better, this puts you in total control of what you see: you can select to move the camera yourself, use an AI driven "directed view" which follows the action, or you can put yourself "in the seat" and watch what the any of the 10 actual players are seeing and doing, down to actually seeing their mouseclicks.

You can fast forward, rewind, go to a specific spot in the game. (if it's an old game, obviously can't do this for live games, we haven't invented time travel). You can use "auto speed" which will fast forward through un-interesting and boring parts of the game, again on the direction of the in game AI. You can pull up graphs and data tables, showing in real time the progress of each time: comparing gold earned, items bought, showing in minute detail which team might have the advantage.

If something happens that you don't understand - a weird skill - you can pause the game, and click on the different heroes and read what their skills do - you can see which ones are on cooldown, showing they just used it. Then rewind 10 seconds and watch it again. You can even watch it again in extra slow motion.

If available - like for tournaments - you can select from your choice of up to 4-5 different commentators (but I usually mute them).

When you go to the "Watch" tab, it will bring up a list of live games going on - there are typically around 500-1000 live games at any time. The pages are ranked in order of skill - so the first page, by default, shows the top players in the world as they are playing random pub games. This depends on what time zone you are in - in my current time zone, Australia, after work when I get home I frequently see players from China and SEA online - so LGD, iG, aL, Zenith, ORANGE.

I sometimes just drop in on their games and just start watching if I don't feel like playing, I turn the spectator client to windowed mode and continue surfing the net. Watching these top players just practice and mess around is just as good for me as watching an actual tournament.

For example, I'm a fan of Ferrari, from iG, so if he's online and playing I'm definitely going to check out what he's doing. If I want to see how he plays a certain hero, I can bring up his historical games - EVERY single game he's played online - and I can spectate any one of them. I especially like watching the games where he loses, they are interesting too =P

I guess this is in some way a democratization of information: commentators are no longer the gatekeepers of tournaments, so even if it's unavailable, there's ways for fans to get the content.
posted by xdvesper at 8:21 PM on September 6, 2012

Just noticed this new video about how to watch Dota2. I didn't go through it all (it's over an hour) but it's ostensibly exactly what you're looking for!
posted by heresiarch at 1:38 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

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