“Flukes”: Competitive Rigor vs. Sustainability in Esports

The question of whether or not to stratify different groups of competitors occurs in any competitive setting, but it tends to be ground zero for debate in gaming even more than in traditional sports or fields such as Chess. For this reason, a recent tweet by veteran League of Legends and Overwatch commentator MonteCristo lamenting the lack of “pros-only” tournaments for fighting games garnered a significant backlash.

There’s one core reason for the negative response to MonteCristo: those who consider themselves part of the fighting game community tend to consider the ability for “gods” and “mortals” to meet in open competition—and for god slayers to emerge at any moment—as one of the strengths of fighting games. In particular, people latched onto the use of the word “flukes” as evidence of the esports works being afraid of “true competition.” If esports could be compared to tennis, then to the FGC a world of invitationals (and nothing else) would be akin to the pre-open era of tennis—when pros and amateurs were not allowed to compete against each other at major tournaments.

However, having followed esports for over ten years now, I’ve noticed that this seeming incongruity in values stems from a difference in what aspects of competitive gaming are prioritized. Is it about competition and camaraderie, or competition and sustainability? While the two are not wholly incompatible, the esports side has long expressed a desire for recognition, expansion into the mainstream, and eventually a reverence similar (but not necessarily identical) to traditional sports. With respect to this, figures in esports have emphasized the importance of “narratives,” and seeing how big a deal they are is very telling as to how esports tends to try and achieve sustainability.

In 2010, StarCraft II ushered in a new era in esports, and tournament circuits such as GOM Starcraft League in Korea and the US-based Major League Gaming were established to give players a chance at competition. While there were many differences in their formats—GSL participants played only a handful of matches per day over the course of weeks and months, while MLG pitted hundreds of players against each over a single weekend—both came to the table early on with a certain goal in mind: to create stars.

GSL created a distinction between the cream of the crop (Code S) and the almost-greats (Code A), where players from the latter could earn the right to be promoted to the former. However, in the first few incarnations of the GSL, it was purposely made difficult for players to fall out of Code S. Essentially, the players who performed the worst in Code S had to compete against the best of Code A in a potential changing of the guard. The number of players who dropped down to these “Up and Down Matches” was restricted, and the Code S players could still end up defeating the hopefuls from Code A and send them back down. The reason? To make sure that recognizable faces remained on camera so they could establish fanbases, and by extension garner a sense of celebrity—to be people that fans and players could remember and look up to.

This was also the reasoning behind MLG‘s seeding system for its multi-tournament season, which saw players who did well at earlier tournaments get byes into much, much later stages of later league tournaments. Going on a tear in your first tournament could pay off down the line. If a player earned a top-32 spot in one tournament, they could keep getting place into a high spot for the next, and then play just well enough to not tank out, it meant a stable spot for increased visibility.

Eventually, both GSL and MLG revised their formats to encourage less ossification of brackets and more chances for rising stars to make a name, but that still doesn’t erase the fact that their initial versions tried to create a delineation between the “Pros” and the “Joes.” Central to all of this was the idea that “good narratives draw viewers in.” What better way to encourage a good narrative than to have a consistent cast of “characters” for the audience to know and root for?

Examples of the benefits that heroes and heroic narratives provide to competition are numerous, but one that stands out in particular is the story of basketball legend Larry Bird. At the time, basketball was seen in the US as largely a “black sport,” and thus had a relatively small white audience. Larry Bird helped to change that, as could be seen from one nickname of his: the Great White Hope. Was this racist? Yes, to a degree. Did it also help pull basketball into the mainstream? Yes it did.

(Is there a comparison to be made between this example and the fact that esports vs. FGC exists along something of a similar divide in terms of racial demographics? Also yes, but that discussion will be for another time.)

Narratives do not have to be manufactured whole-cloth. Seeing an underdog defeat a champion, or watching a winner cement his place with an undefeated streak happens just from competition existing. However, in a world where visual presentation can often be confusing to those unfamiliar, presenting these bouts as being between humans with wants and desires and emotions (especially simple ones like anger) can bridge that gap. So it’s no wonder why esports organizations frequently try to control it through player perception, delineations between pros and amateurs, and so on. But one question that arises is, does setting things up so conveniently end up compromising the integrity of competition? The answer is that it can, but it largely depends on severity.

Take professional wrestling, which has been predetermined for many decades precisely because the promoters understood that most audience members cared more when the wrestlers had charisma. Famously, when a bland 1940s wrestler named George Wagner dyed his hair blond and became the arrogant and effete “Gorgeous George,” his antagonistic demeanor drew audiences in droves to see him in the hopes that they’d get to witness George getting destroyed. Pro wrestling isn’t a true athletic competition precisely because it becomes easier to control the narrative and get viewers invested.

But even in a legitimate sport like mixed martial arts, the desire for narrative can influence decisions. While the results of matches aren’t fixed, the media and advertising machine surrounding MMA are there to try and produce the best narratives they can, either by using what’s there or cooking up some controversy. That’s because they know that narratives make people care. Athletes will be brought out to drum up a sense of animosity between the two. Is it real? Is it fake? Does it matter if it sells tickets? A guy like Conor McGregor, who’s naturally antagonistic but also an amazing fighter, puts butts in seats. People are eager to see him be on either the giving or receiving end of an ass-kicking.

At the same time, leaving things to chance can be scary for those who have substantial amounts of money riding on the success of their investment. Conor McGregor is in some ways the ideal, but he also has a tendency to get himself in trouble and make the UFC look bad in the process. One can even compare those blunders to the number of players caught blurting out racial slurs onstream. Just because someone’s a winner doesn’t mean they’re a good spokesperson, especially if they have no media training and are just kids plucked out of online lobbies and given an environment to train in. When there are so many variables at play where something can go wrong—quality of the game itself, image of competitive gaming to the outside world, the perception of “nerds”—it’s understandable (though not immune to criticism) why teams, tournaments, and organizations would want to control what they can.

The divide between FGC and esports, or the perception of it, has largely to do with community vs. respectability. The former looks inwards, and believes that having a solid core, a group of passionate players who can weather any storm together through a love of competition, is paramount. The latter looks outwards, and aims to establish itself as a permanent fixture in the world, something that cannot die because it has the size and backing to keep it going forever. The two are not irreconcilable, but finding a balance (if a balance is desired at all) requires parties that can trust each other to not abandon the other side’s principles.

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Smash Bros, Splatoon, and Casual vs. Competitive Online Communities

Super Smash Bros. creator Sakurai Masahiro has long frustrated the game series’ competitive community. A developer whose motivation is to bring in players daunted by the hardcore reputation that precedes fighting games, Sakurai is not against competition inherently, but places priority in ease of access and play for Smash Bros.

A common response from the competitive community is that Nintendo should fully embrace the competitive aspect of the series and push it to the forefront. The argument, generally, is that the competitive fans are more loyal, and it won’t affect the overall reputation of the games. Casual players will still approach it without tournament play, remaining blissfully ignorant. I think this is naive, or maybe even bullheaded.

It is true that any game that can act as a test of skill will inevitably lead to players who are better than others. And yes, Smash has proven itself to be viable for tournament play, despite what detractors say. The issue, however, is how having the series touted as a hardcore, competitive game influences the overall image of it, especially in an age when information proliferates so rapidly.

I love competitive Smash. I don’t play as much as I used to, but I still follow tournaments and keep up with discussion. When I go on the Smash subreddit, I find loads of valuable information on top players, tier list debates, upcoming tournaments, and more. More scarce, however, are posts about the casual side of the games: item shenanigans, stories of playing free-for-alls with friends, etc. While the subreddit is not devoid of less competition-oriented content, it does feel as if those posts get pushed down. I wouldn’t be surprised if more casually minded fans are afraid to post there.

In contrast, while Nintendo’s unorthodox shooter Splatoon has an active and robust competitive element to it, the Splatoon board on Reddit only has about 10% of posts devoted to tournaments and high-level play. While I sometimes wish there was more in-depth discussion of weapons and maps, it also means the outward reputation of Splatoon fandom is more light-hearted and focused on contributions like fanart, lore speculation, and general love of all things squiddy.

Neither subreddit’s approach is inherently better, but it’s clear to me that a game’s presentation and how its fans interpret that presentation into their own hobbyist displays has an affect on a game’s image. People who go to r/smashbros will think that fans mainly care about 1-on-1 competition, while those who visit r/splatoon will come away with the idea that its fans are less obsessed with wins and losses.

Both series see success in casual and competitive domains, but Smash is a case of the competitive reputation encroaching on the chance of casual community interaction a bit more. I believe this is what has long concerned Sakurai, and if he could achieve the casual/competitive balance of Splatoon, then he would.

A Strong Foundation: How the Japanese Smash 4 Tournament Format Helps the Community

Introduction: Japan, Land of Hidden Bosses

If there’s anything that the Japanese Smash 4 competitive scene is known for, it’s a high average skill level across its player base, as well as a great amount of character diversity. Many of the world’s greatest character specialists come from Japan—Ranai and his Villager, Kameme and his Megaman, Shuton and his Olimar, and a whole slew of powerful Duck Hunts. A lack of monetary prizes is frequently cited in online discussions as a reason why so many Japanese character specialists exist, but I think that’s just a starting point and not a sufficient explanation by itself.

On occasion, fans will point to the extremely volatile rankings at Japanese tournaments as proof of Japan being a haven for character specialists, while others will counter that the average format of Japanese tournaments (Best of 1 round robin pools, followed by Best of 3 double elimination often even into grand finals) is inherently inconsistent. However, while this inconsistency might be a strike against the tournaments themselves providing reliable results, I think the format Japan uses is actually a key factor in helping its player base grow and improve compared to the common formats elsewhere (double elimination throughout, starting Best of 5s much earlier in the bracket), especially when it comes to creating those intimidatingly strong character loyalists.

The Mother of Invention

One of the reasons Japanese tournament matches tend to be so much shorter than their North American and European counterparts is time constraints. Often times, these events last only one day at venues that cannot allow them to stay later. They’re working with what they have. Yet if you look at how they use that limited time, it’s clear that the format is designed to give all players the most amount of playtime possible. Best of 1 round robin means that, even if you don’t make it out of pools, you potentially get to face a far greater number of opponents than the two you would encounter in a double elimination bracket. Everyone, even the worst players, get to gain real experience against more characters and more play styles.

Fostering Young Lions

Top players in Japan seem to prefer the “Western” style more because it favors them—as the best, their skill gets better rewarded the longer the sets are. While not going in that direction works against the best of the best, it’s also clear that the Japanese tournaments are meant to be as hospitable to newbies as possible. In addition to the round robin format initially, there’s also something called the “B-class tournament,” which is a separate bracket for all of the players who didn’t make it out of pools. In other tournament formats, less skilled players are usually given a chance to improve by dedicating a section for non-tournament “friendlies.” The B-class bracket is an opportunity to continue to play in a tournament-style setting.

When Japanese Smash 4 tournaments first began, there was even a question of whether or not to restrict the stage selection to Omega stages—flat levels without any platforms—only because it was the only stage type available on Nintendo’s default online competitive format, For Glory. While the Japanese scene ultimately went away from this idea, it shows a desire to cater to newcomers. Combined with extremely reliable high-speed internet that makes Japanese online play better than other parts of the world, this means Japanese tournaments are a good environment for those who are considering transitioning from online play to offline events.

Best of 1: “Random?”

Another aspect to consider is that the Best of 1 format itself might help advance player improvement. Although Best of 1 matches are not preferred for showing who can win consistently, it does foster certain skills that longer formats do not, as once pointed out by fighting game commentators UltraChen. A player can’t wait until the second set to try and figure out their opponent; they need to do it now. Super Battle Opera, once Japan’s most prestigious fighting game tournament, used a Best of 1 format, and its players adapted to it. While a Best of 5 match shows who can adapt the best over a longer period, Best of 1 forces players to learn how to adapt extremely quickly, which in turn teaches them how to “gamble” better when the chips are down. This might be why Japan is somehow known for both more reserved play and riskier (but not necessarily aggressive) styles as well.

What’s more, the inconsistency of Best of 1 pools might actually help in giving more players experience as well. If the very best players advance every single time, this means that the lesser players do not get to feel what it’s like to move up the bracket and face increasingly tougher opponents. With the “randomness” of Japanese tournaments, many more players get to feel what it’s like to be in a Top 16 or Top 8 against the country’s best.

Conclusion

The Japanese format is geared towards expanding the Smash 4 tournament scene by being an inviting space for players of all stripes. Best of 1 pools and B-class side tournaments not only allow all competitors both strong and weak to experience a variety of players and characters, it allows character loyalists and champions (two groups which do have crossover!) to level up at a higher rate. Shorter matches also foster a certain type of adaptation, and the inherent volatility potentially gives many more players to get accustomed to playing at later stages of a tournament. Whatever the ultimate goal of a given player, the Japanese tournament format provides the foundation for a strong player base.

The Dilemma of Casting an Esports Grand Finals

No matter the game, whenever an esports grand finals rolls around, there’s contention as to the best approach for commentary. What is the best style of casting for the later stages of a tournament, when the audience tends to be the largest and the matches themselves tend to be the most high-level?

I don’t think there’s one true answer, because it really depends on the objective of a given tournament. Rather, I want to highlight to the esports-viewing audience what makes this such a difficult balancing act, and why commentary that does not cater to their own tastes is not necessarily bad or inferior.

The Top 8 and above matches of tournaments tend to get the highest amount of viewers. This means there are more non-experts watching. They might still be fans, but there’s a good chance that they’re not going to know the nitty gritty of the game. Things that a more experienced player and ardent viewer might recognize with little effort might fly completely over their heads. In this case, one sensible solution would be to cater to a relatively more casual audience. You might have to explain some of the more complex aspects of the game, or perhaps ignore or simplify them so that these viewers aren’t overwhelmed with information they can’t understand.

However, those final matches are also typically where the highest amount of skill is displayed between competitors. While earlier rounds might be filled with one-sided victories or lesser players making mistakes, by the time it hits grand finals there is a strong chance that the play will be on another level. If the accompanying commentary aims more for the larger, more casual part of the audience, it potentially alienates the more hardcore fans who want to know the small details. If a tournament wants to show the full depth of their game, it might be necessary for commentary to be more complex and high-level.

If going by a pure numbers game, the “obvious” solution is to aim for the larger, more casual audience, but there are a few monkey wrenches that need to be taken into account. The casual-hardcore dichotomy can be rather nebulous. Some fans who are casual might want to feel like they’re part of the hardcore audience, and the best way to give them that impression is through commentary. A “true expert” at a game probably does not need a commentator to tell them what’s going on, so they might find technical explanations tedious for the opposite reason that the casual viewer might dislike them. In that case, the dry delivery of top-level knowledge of a player like Mew2King can be more appealing, especially to fans of those players.

Depending on the game, there might be no such thing as a “casual fan.” After all, esports has a general issue with not being as obvious in terms of goals and objectives as traditional sports—compare looking at the score in basketball vs. trying to interpret who’s ahead in League of Legends without having any prior knowledge of either.

Professionalism is another factor. As esports scenes grow, a lack of professionalism might drive away new viewers, but at the same time a slick, polished product might come across as too sterile to maintain interest. Suffice it to say, different people want different things from commentary. There are so many conflicting values that some tournaments have even tried having alternative streams to cater to casual audiences, but that potentially leads to an inconsistent presentation for a tournament.

Any tournament, big or small, wants to put its best foot forward. The problem with reconciling all of these different factors is that no one commentary can possibly cover them all, not even a team where each commentator specializes in something different. Some consider play-by-play to be the most important. Others believe that emphasizing the human drama between the players is key. Others want deep analysis of every situation. Ultimately, it requires some sort of compromise, and I think it’s important to see it not as a concession or a loss of quality. Criticism of commentary is justified and should even be encouraged, but it should come with the awareness that one’s own perspective exists among many.

“Every Game Has to Be Entertaining”

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).

Pre-Evo Thoughts: Video Games vs. Chess Analogies

Introduction: “It’s like Chess, but…”

One of the most common ways to try and explain the appeal of competitive video games is to make a comparison to chess. Starcraft is “real-time chess.” Smash Bros. Brawl players used to explain the importance of decision-making by saying the game was more “chess-like” compared to Melee. While I haven’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone called Dota 2 “chess where each piece is controlled by a different player.” Making the connection is essentially shorthand for highlighting a game a “thinking man’s endeavor.”

The accuracy of the comparison is often limited to the most basic similarities, and tends to fall apart under greater scrutiny. Despite that being the case, however, I find that there is another kind of chess comparison that can open up greater understanding of how we view competition through games. Namely, if we think about not just the western version of chess, but also the many variations of chess and chess-like games that exist in the world, then it can help us understand and appreciate the unique qualities of video games that are from the same series but have differing gameplay.

As a note, I am not an expert on chess or any chess-like game. There will not be any high level examples, and most of the comparisons will be based on descriptions I’ve found from others. I’m also knowledgeable but not amazing at any competitive games I mention, so keep that in mind as well.

Chess vs. Shogi: Similar Games, Different Dynamics

Chess and shogi (“Japanese chess”) have a lot in common. Both are turn-based games played on large, tile-based boards where the goal is trap the enemy king in an inescapable situation. Both have different types of pieces, each of which have different rules for moving, with the most common pieces (the pawns) having the fewest choices and the strongest pieces being much rarer. However, there are differences of opinion as to which game is better, and they hinge on a few key elements.

The queen: chess’s mightiest warrior

Chess pieces have more freedom of movement compared to ones in shogi. Chess has two rooks and two bishops on each side, who can move as far as the board (and any interfering pieces) can take them. It has two knights who can jump in that characteristic “L” shape. And it has the queen, which can move across the board in eight directions. In contrast, shogi pieces can cover much less ground. Not only is shogi board bigger (10 x 10 as opposed to chess’s 8 x 8), but players get only one rook and one bishop, and there’s no such thing as a queen. Shogi has pieces that chess doesn’t, but all of them are much more restricted in terms of their mobility.

The gold general in shogi is extremely powerful, but no chess queen

The result of this difference is that chess emphasizes the center of the board as a major point of contention because the pieces simply have more movement options. Shogi pieces take more turns to get from one place to another, but this also means skirmishes can happen all over the board. Also, whereas the king in chess is seen as a relatively weak piece because it can “only” move one space at a time, in shogi the king is a fearsome fighter because of its relative versatility.

Example in Esports

In spite of their similarities, chess is a game where greater range and possibility of movement produces one range of play, while shogi’s shorter range per piece produces another. They’re actually different enough that a person can love one but hate the other. One can find a similar relationships in other games in the same “families,” of which I’ll be listing a couple below.

Take the Street Fighter series and the Marvel vs. series, for example. Movement in Street Fighter games are traditionally very restricted. One walks back and forth and maybe has the ability to do a small dash, but jumping is a risky commitment and the game stays very grounded. In Marvel Vs. games, however, characters can make massive leaps, fire large beams that cover most of the screen, and dismantle each other quickly. Even though they’re both fighting games, tweaking certain elements means one could be great in the former type but awful at the latter.

Even games within the same series can be as dissimilar as chess and shogi. When discussing what makes Smash Bros. Melee such a beloved game among its fans, one common reason given is “movement options.” Not only do platforms allow for vertical movement, but a plethora of advanced inputs exist for players to practice—wavedashing, dash dancing, ledge dashing, etc. Other games in the Smash Bros. franchise, such as the more recent Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U (aka Smash 4) have nowhere near as much range of movement, but small steps matter more. Melee top player Mang0 has mentioned in the past that walking (as opposed to dashing or wavedashing) is under-utilized in Melee. When looking at Smash 4, walking is incredibly common.

Is larger range of movement and prerequisite to a better game? The answer is that it’s largely a matter of personal preference, as opposed to any sort of objective standard. Take this 2007 post from the chess blog The Only Winning Move:

I do think [shogi] is probably more complex than chess …

Naturally, “more complex” doesn’t necessarily translate into “more fun” …. I much prefer Chess…. My favorite Chess game, in fact, is one of Bobby Fischer’s, which he describes as a “lightningbolt,” in which he absolutely castrates a fussy opponent who spends so much time setting up the perfect defense net that Fischer is able to just zap him with an unexpected sacrifice. That kind of thing happens a lot less often in Shogi, and this makes it less thrilling … Chess seems more integrated and elegant to me. It’s a beautiful thing in the hands of skilled player. I never get the same feeling of being in the presence of beauty watching Shogi players at work….

All the same, at the end of the day I would rather play Shogi – and that’s simply because it’s mindfood….

Chess is more fun to watch, and more fun to play for amusement. It’s a truly beautiful thing when done right – and thus better appreciated as a spectator sport. But I ultimately like Shogi better.

And Still More

If the chess vs. shogi comparison seems too simplistic in terms of how games of a similar genre can differ, keep in mind that there are many variations of chess-type games out there as well. Xiangqi (“Chinese chess”), for example, is famous for having a very explosive mid-game, as well as obstacles to get around in the form of rivers. Perhaps your preferred game resembles xiangqi more than chess or shogi.
Let’s Appreciate the Differences

Games can be “chess-like,” but it’s potentially better to bring that up relative to other forms of chess so that discussion can be more fruitful. The examples I’ve given do not map perfectly to chess and shogi, but the point is less to find a perfect analogy and more to show how games that can look the same on the surface can produce very different games that can carry different appeals to their respective player bases.

 

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The Safe Appeal of Fallen Champions

After a small drought of first place finishes, famed Smash Bros. Melee player Mang0 of Cloud 9 Gaming recently took home the gold medal at Royal Flush 2017. The tournament’s viewership was fairly modest throughout the tournament, but by the time grand finals rolled around the viewer count spiked to an impressive 73,000. While Mang0 is a perennial crowd favorite for his flashy, yet intelligent play and his devil-may-care attitude, I think there was another factor at work drawing eyeballs to his Mother’s Day victory: the appeal of a dominant champion turned underdog.

People love an underdog, as the saying goes, but there’s often an emotional investment to trying to cheer on a player or team with the odds stacked against them. For every Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs breaking their decades-long curses, there are many more across various competitive fields that wither and die in the early stages without achieving anything. Is it really worth cheering on someone who loses in the first round of a tournament every time? If it is, there’s typically some other element to consider: regional loyalty, character loyalty, etc.

But when it’s a known commodity, i.e. a former champion with a record of winning but who’s fallen off more recently, then there’s a different appeal at work. Think of Michael Jordan on the Washington Wizards, an aged George Foreman, or JulyZerg in Starcraft: Brood War. In each case, they arrived to make up for a loss of physical prowess with skill, experience, and ingenuity, but in their pushes for victory one thing was certain: though they fell behind, there is historical evidence of an “it” factor: the will to win, and the potential to snatch victories from the jaws of defeat.

In a certain sense, cheering for former champions become a case of trying to have your cake and eat it too. People cheer for underdogs, yes, but they also like to cheer for winners. When you have a former great, you get the best of both worlds. They’re a comforting pick because, even if they lose, a person can simply look back in time and say, “But I know they have what it takes!”

Mang0 is not the same as the examples I gave above. He’s still a top 3 player in his game, and slumps are often exaggerated in the world of eSports because the concept is so young and people think 3 months is a long time. However, if it were a true veteran of the past who enjoys legendary status such as Liquid’Ken, the “King of Smash,”  then I believe even more spectators would have flocked to Royal Flush.