I’m happy to live in a time where large numbers of people can watch competitive video game competitions. I love that fans can appreciate the skill, effort, and thought that is present in both the games themselves and the players who are vying to be #1. I’ve even grown fond of Twitch chat as the English equivalent of Nico Nico Douga’s scrolling text, for the way that it can provide a shared experience for esports enthusiasts. However, there inevitably comes a time when whatever is on streams is deemed “boring” by its viewers, and the chat starts to turn against the game. If done often enough, it can drag down the spirits of others, including those invested and excited in what’s going on who might start to be convinced by the Twitch chat that what they’re watching is indeed better suited for chronic insomniacs. What I find is that it creates this culture of expectation that demands that all competitive matches be super entertaining or else.
To be clear, some games are less exciting than others, or at least do not require as much investment into a game to get hooked on or appreciate its adrenaline-pumping qualities. Some games are more prone to slower paced matches. Almost all games will at some point have bad players fighting against other bad players, and when two players clam up and don’t do anything, then it becomes boring. However, I find the need for constant excitement to be rather unfair to esports as an entity. If we look at traditional sports, even big, exciting things like basketball or soccer, not all games are going to be nail biters, or have people jumping out of their seats.
In some cases, I think the demand for immediate gratification in terms of excitement also causes viewers to actively prevent themselves from enjoying what might be an interesting and engaging match that’s not as overtly electrifying. The Simpsons once even made a joke about this:
Compared to high-pace, high-scoring games common in the US, soccer might seem slow and full of people doing “nothing,” when in fact the strategy, as well as the ebb and flow of moving the ball back and forth across the field is something that can appeal to soccer fans who understand the game. Of course, some soccer games will also be more or less exciting than others, especially if you factor in the personal investment or national pride of something like the World Cup, but I still don’t believe that people expect every single game to be action-packed.
I think good commentary can play a significant role in helping people to appreciate both those games that are actually just boring, and those that are exciting provided you understand what’s going on. For the lower-level matches where the players aren’t quite skilled enough to show a game at its best, commentators can (and the best often do) highlight the depths of these games that these inexperienced competitors could be accessing if they brought up their skills. For higher-level matches where two titans (or groups of titans in some cases) are coming up against each other, conveying the fast-paced, involved decision-making and physicality of a match can only do good things.
Fighting game commentators should be praised in this respect, because I find that the best have been able to accurately convey tense situations that might not appear to be exciting on the surface. The best example I can think of is Grand Finals of Ultra Street Fighter IV at Canada Cup 2015. Commentators UltraChen work to emphasize that the simple act of walking back and forth in Street Fighter at the highest levels is filled with intensity:
That said, people will think what they want to think, and trying to convince them that a game is actually exciting might not necessarily mesh with how they view the very idea of “excitement.” At the end of the day, this isn’t inherently a bad thing—people should be able to hold opinions of their own on what they enjoy and don’t enjoy. This also isn’t to say that commentators should just fake hype all the time in the hopes of deceiving someone into believing that a game is exciting all the time, and in fact I believe that potentially adds to the culture of demand for excitement. Rather, what I simply want to see is everyone who loves a game, from fans to commentators, strive to grow appreciation for a game in various forms while resisting the ravenous need for action and excitement (without necessarily abandoning those factors).