Black Ops: Developing a Competitive Structure

A minute to learn, a lifetime to master.

Developing competitive rulesets is challenging. It becomes even harder when faced with the numerous performance issues currently plaguing Call of Duty: Black Ops. Despite this, building a competitive structure is not just important for the community, but also for Black Ops’ potential to succeed. One of the best the ways to think about how Black Ops should be play competitively is to look at the most successful franchise in eSports history: StarCraft. StarCraft follows a very simple axiom – A minute to learn, a lifetime master. This concept is something that the community should try to foster within Black Ops: that any gamer can quickly pick it up and play in our events, but truly mastering the game takes great skill and teamwork.

Finding such balance can be difficult though. Changing settings – such as gun damages to make the game require more skill – is dangerous simply because no matter how objectively we look at the game, our view is biased. Just because something is extremely powerful within the game, should we modify it or take it out of the game completely? StarCraft has numerous builds and strategies that are extremely powerful, but at the end of the day there is always a counter strategy and build available and thus winning comes down to an individual player’s skill and ability to execute in the clutch.

This past week, CyberGamer and National ESL released details on their Proving Grounds Tournament and CTF Kickoff Cup respectively. With this information, the three major North American competitive leagues have officially begun the process of developing their individual Black Ops rulesets. While I already briefly touched on CEVO’s settings in my previous entry, let’s take a moment to compare the three announced settings.

Apologies in advance if I incorrectly labeled a league’s rules as I had to parse through each league’s announcement individually to create this table.

CEVO National ESL CyberGamer
Perks No No Yes
Second Chance No No No
Attachments No Yes Yes
Rapid Fire No No No
Flamethrower No No No
MasterKey No No No
Grenade Launcher No No No
Infrared Scope TBD Yes No
Equipment No No No
Primary Yes Yes Yes
Dragunov Yes No Yes
PSG1 Yes No Yes
WA2000 Yes No Yes
Secondary Yes Yes Yes
Launchers No No No
Specials No No No
Grenades Yes Yes Yes
Nova Gas TBD No No
Concussion TBD No No

Of all the leagues, CyberGamer’s first Black Ops event will be played the closest to the stock version of the game with the inclusion of both select perks and attachments. Addressing perks, CG has decided to allow all perks – with the exception of Second Chance – as well as their pro versions. While I do agree the inclusion of perks makes the game more dynamic, this presents numerous problems. First and foremost, such a ruleset essentially requires teams to unlock the pro version of all perks in order to compete at the same level.

While this should be generally easy to accomplish – just jump into an empty ranked server with your team and complete the objectives – it hinders newcomers from competing on a even platform. Furthermore, several pro perks offer advantages I’m not sure are suitable for competitive play, namely Marathon Pro. Having extended sprint is definitely makes the game faster, but unlimited sprint is just one step too far in my opinion when we cannot assume everyone competing will have the pro version.

Additionally, because the ruleset will include so much of the stock game, how will the CyberGamer admins officiate violations of the rules? If I “accidentally” use Rapid Fire because I “accidentally” switched to my AK-74u custom class, how will that be handled? Will every round I play with that particular class be forfeited? Officiating under this honor system requires very clear and strict rules such that those who might try to cheat the system are punished appropriately. While these issues are not necessarily at the forefront of our minds, they do create problems when presenting Black Ops as a competitive eSports title.

National ESL
Although National ESL was the last league to release their initial competitive ruleset, they did not disappoint. I find the inclusion of attachments and the exclusion of perks to be quite interesting from a competition standpoint. While attachments do offer several in-game performance advantages, they also offer the added bonus of customization. Additionally, without the Warlord perk, players will only have one attachment to choose from. I actually find this to be a good thing as it really puts pressure on the individual player to think about his chosen attachment.

One of the more interesting aspects to the ESL rules is the exclusion of the Dragunov, PSG1, and WA2000 Sniper Rifles. I never use these sniper rifles so I cannot speak firsthand, but I find their exclusion odd. Another interesting element of the ESL ruleset is the inclusion of the Inferred Scope. CEVO seems to be torn on whether it should be allowed, but CG has excluded it from their initial ruleset. Truthfully, I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another on whether Infrared Scopes, but that’s most likely because I have yet to see them used effectively in scrims firsthand.

This week’s video comes to us courtesy of bagel who originally posted it one forums. While Yahtzee’s review Call of Duty: Black Ops does not include the multiplayer or PC performance issues, I believe it to be a fairly accurate overall review.

Recapping the Rulesets
Let me start off by saying I have no personal opinion as to which league’s ruleset is necessarily better than another. Frankly, I don’t even believe that is a subject that should be addressed as these are only initial rulesets for the league’s initial Black Ops events. Developing competitive rulesets take time, and rushing towards the finish line for the simple claim of “first” can be dangerous when the game and the community is not ready.

Fortunately, I don’t think any of the leagues above are going to make this mistake as they all seem to be approaching Black Ops the right way. Whether or not it was on purpose, I do find each league using the three distinct rulesets (1. no perks/attachments 2. yes perks/attachments 3. no perks/yes attachments) to be a good thing as it allows the community to fully test every aspect of the game in a competitive environment.

Wrapping Up
Ultimately, the ability to develop a lasting successful competitive eSports structure does not solely rest on the community’s shoulders. As organizers and players, we can only do so much with the tools provided to us within the context of the game system. Even competitive StarCraft required the assistance of Blizzard to help balance the various aspects of the game. Likewise, for Black Ops to succeed as a competitive eSports title it will also need support from its developer, Treyarch. In my next blog entry, I’ll be addressing this issue of developer support and have an interview with someone who currently works within the video game development industry.

Stay frosty…