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Is eSports a real sport? [Interview] – Shootmania dev weighs in

8 Sep 2012  by   John Robertson

Shootmania Storm

Toss up the question of whether eSports is a really a sport at all and you’ll typically get one of two responses; either an absolute no, or a yes coupled with a venomous attack for even implying that it might not be.

Clearly, the answer is not simply. Although, just for the record, I’m firmly (and rightly) on the not-a-sport side.

But we’re not here to understand what I think, we’re here to understand what someone working in competitive gaming thinks. Edouard Beauchemin is producer on e-sports targeted Shootmania, a Nadeo game and one that forms part of ManiaPlanet (alongside Trackmania).

I recently discussed the issue of eSports with Beauchemin and what the future holds for the concept, before moving on to talk about the direction of Nadeo and their plans for Shootmania.

Our own thoughts on Shootmania can be found in our most recent preview.

IncGamers: Is e-sports a real sport?

Edouard Beauchemin: I think e-sports is a name that sounds good. We refer to it as competitive gaming, as it fits better and there are lots of games that are competitive. Even chess, for example, those guys are real athletes but it’s not considered a sport despite being a very competitive game.

I think that if archery is a sport, then e-sports is the same because you need accuracy and focus. [E-sports] doesn’t require the same physical training, but the line between physical condition and accuracy is very difficult to define – even in traditional sports.

It makes sense to call it e-sports, even though it is misleading for many people.

IG: Unlike ‘traditional’ sports, e-sports rules are changing all the time because the games are constantly switching and being used in competitions as new titles are released. Is that lack of consistency creating a barrier to entry, for both participants and spectators?

EB: That’s one of the challenges, for sure. E-sports as a whole must settle on a few games to be consistent and competitive to a high level. Some titles have stuck around, such as StarCraft and Trackmania. You really need a long term plan.

One of the things we spoke to Ubisoft about before we joined with them was that they had to be prepared to support [Shootmania] over the long term. They understood what was/is required and they’re up for doing it. In order for it to progress and gain popularity and quality we must support the game for a long time.

I think that if you’ve played a lot of Battlefield 3, Team Fortress or Counter-Strike then you’ll be able to get to grips with Shootmania quickly – at its core it’s about aiming, moving and communicating effectively with your team-mates. As it stands today, speaking about e-sports in terms of genres – rather than games – is more helpful.

Dude presses button, gets excited

IG: The concept of e-sports has been around for a number of years, but ultimately it’s still in its infancy. Do you think it can become as popular as a mainstream sport – football, tennis, basketball etc – and be consumed through popular and established mediums such as television?

EB: That’s one of the things we’ve thought about when designing Shootmania. Traditionally, e-sports were played using games that weren’t designed for such competition. The games that were (and still are) played in an e-sport environment were simply the ones that were well balanced and fair.

We’ve balanced the game as well as we possibly can, but we’ve also made it accessible for people to watch. For example, we don’t have unnecessary violence that might turn some people off and we use recognisable character types. We’re aiming for 12+ ratings so that we can broadcast on TV channels.

Hopefully it’ll get on TV one day, but we also broadcast on the web and get around half a million viewers. Those numbers are in line with some of the viewing figures for traditional sports, so we can say that e-sports is already a challenger.

Will it become a mainstream sport and stay there? I don’t know. We’ll see.

IG: Is this the first game designed specifically to be an e-sports title?

EB: We don’t know for sure, and we don’t want to speak for other studios, but this is the first one that we know of. We’ve put all of our efforts into making Shootmania as balanced and as competitive as possible, though, so we’re confident it will satisfy what we want it to be.

IG: What are you working on now?

EB: Well, we don’t need to have a team dedicated to creating content – such as maps – because the community can create and share them between themselves. I think that helps to keep things fresh for experienced players and gives new players lots of options when they first start playing. Rules and tournaments can also be created from within the game.

Our job at the moment is to push Shootmania as a an e-sports title, and there are lots of people dedicated to making that happen and making people aware of it.

IG: Was it difficult to convince Ubisoft that the e-sports angle was something that had legs and would be successful?

EB: Trackmania Nation has reached 12 million users, which helped our case. Primarily, it has been so successful because it allows people to build what they want and share that with friends and people they don’t know. However, its popularity has also been aided by it being part of the competitive scene.

Ubisoft were well aware of that and were happy to jump into the FPS side of things with Shootmania.

IG: What do you think is behind the disparities of e-sports’ popularity across the world? In some countries, such as Korea, it’s shown on national TV, but in other countries almost no one knows of its existence.

EB: Different cultures have a better natural fit for different things and with certain games. I was born inCanada and we’re really big on curling and ice hockey. Other countries that have the potential to be good at those sports – sayGermany, for example – are not interested and are therefore not very strong in them.Germany are not good at ice hockey, but they have the resources to be and more people are slowly becoming interested.

It’s the same for e-sports, I think. Some countries, like Korea, started a long time ago and it’s found popularity because the culture has been accepting of it. In time I think other cultures will become interested because they have the resources and the culture will eventually come around.

IG: Nadeo have so far focused on creating editing tools. Do you see yourselves as a creation enabler, rather than a traditional game design studio?

EB: Completely, yes. Every time we see a problem in a game we try to work out what kind of tool – we call them instruments – we could create to solve that problem.

Every time we design a new instrument we want to give people more options to create their own content and liberate them to express themselves. There are millions are people out there with the time and imagination to create content and enjoy doing it.

It’s like the emergence of the internet 2.0, when everyone was happy to be able to create their own content on YouTube and blogs and even just commenting on forums. Why not take that idea to videogames and let people express themselves there?

Also, we think even more people will create content for Shootmania than they did for Trackmania because shooters are a more popular genre than racing.

IG: Are you ever afraid/apprehensive about giving that level of control to the users and them employing the tools in ways you can’t predict?

EB: To a degree, and that’s one of the reasons we release games in a different way than a traditional studio. We start by releasing the very basic elements and then work on improving functionality and diversity of the instruments.

When we started the Shootmania alpha, we only released a small number of building blocks in order to test the game and see what people could create within the small perimeters, and see if there were ways to cheat and create content that was wrong for the game.

Also, we keep very tight control over the physics of the game so that people can’t fly or change the rules of the world in that way. We want people to discover lots of things in the game and how to use them, but there will also be a chunk that you can’t change completely – weapon types and movement speed, for example – so that our games have a central and unchanging feel and so that people know what they’re getting into when they play a new game mode or map.

IG: So you can’t see yourself ever making a ‘normal’, perhaps linear, game?

EB: Well, no. We can’t see ourselves ‘going backwards’, as we like to say. It’s very exciting and thrilling to create your own game and be able to make it your own. It’s a pleasure for us to log in to the servers and see all the things players have created with our tools and it’s nice to know that we’ve given them a chance to do that.

It’s like internet 2.0 again, why would you go back to what it was like before?

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