Blizzard Starting to Shut Down Hearthstone Fan Leagues – How Will Community React?

The news recently broke that Blizzard is forcing the United Hearthstone League to shut down. If you haven’t heard of the United Hearthstone League, don’t feel bad, most people haven’t (including me before today). It’s a tiny operation that doesn’t compete with Blizzard’s events in any meaningful way. It has a Discord with 100 members, a Youtube channel with 51 subscribers, and no prizes or sponsors as far as I can tell. It looks like it’s run by a bunch of fans who aren’t making any money off it, and are doing it just because they love Hearthstone.

Nevertheless, the UHL’s commissioner, Mike Lowe, reports receiving a call from Blizzard earlier today letting him know the UHL has to cease operating as a league or using the word “League” in its title (he was informed they can still hold monthly tournaments). Presumably, the overt or implied threat was if the UHL didn’t comply it would face a lawsuit from Blizzard. He was told that no league could operate independently of Blizzard, regardless of whether it’s for profit or not, so anyone else looking to operate a fan league like UHL is basically in the same boat. The story is actually the same a across all Blizzard titles (if you don’t believe me try running any Overwatch event with “League” in the title and see what happens.)

I’ve talked about this before, but this is the direction all esports are heading. Unlike traditional sports, with esports game companies literally own the game being played, and have the ability to legally stop anyone else from doing anything esports-related with their titles. A few years ago, when esports were getting off the ground, the companies were content to let anyone host events or leagues more or less as they wished, because this was good for development of the scene. Now, as esports becomes more established (and more money is involved) that’s starting to change pretty quickly.

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My photoshop skills aren’t great, but you get the point.

I remember talking with this with a friend in the industry a few months ago, and telling him that’s the way things were headed: as more money started being made, game companies would start to monopolize the right to hold all major tournaments, and any independent outfits (like the UHL) would get shut down. His reply was “well no, if they did something like that, the community would go crazy.”

Well, they’re doing it. And for the first time people are noticing (well by people are noticing I mean that Mike Lowe’s tweet about this has been at the top of /r/hearthstone all day with 3,500+ upvotes, and a couple of smaller sites have picked up the story). What I’m curious to see now is what happens next. Will this snowball and become a huge controversy like my buddy predicted, or will the story fade gently into the good night over a couple of days?

My hope is that it’s the former, if only because, as I’ve said before, I think game companies monopolizing everything this way is ultimately bad for esports. What’s Blizzard’s incentive to improve Hearthstone as an esports product if they can literally sue any competitor out of business anyway?  However, as it stands Blizzard has every legal right to do what they’re doing. The only thing that can be reasonably expected to stop them, and affect how they approach this issue in the future, is a nice, loot-box sized controversy. I don’t usually cheer for the reddit ball of hate to crush all in its’ path, but, well, fingers crossed time around.

Your Guide To Vancouver During The International

As pretty much everyone reading this already knows, for the first time ever The International, the world’s foremost esports tournament/giant nerd convention, will be held in Vancouver, Canada, instead of its customary home of Seattle.

So pretty!

Since Vancouver is my hometown, and for the past 3 years I’ve actually lived literally across the street from Rogers Arena, where The International is being held, I thought I’d be in a good position to write a little guide for the area for those heading in from out of town. So without further ado, here’s my guide for where to eat, drink and hang out during The International.

Fast Food Near The Arena.   Due to the location of the arena, your only practical option for finding fast-food within walking distance is to exit on the North Side and head down Abbot Street. Some good places you’ll find in this direction:

  • Tako, a really good Korean/Mexican fusion fast food place directly across the street from the arena, whose business is probably going to triple for the duration of the tournament.
  • If you’re looking for Pizza, about half a block down Abbot street on your right there’s a pizza place named Uncle Fatih’s. Do not go to the Fresh Slice across the street. It is objectively worse and I have no idea how they’re still in business.
  • About one block North of the arena on Abbot street there’s a mall/cinema called Tinseltown/International Village. On the second floor there’s a food court (it’s not great, the highlight is the Sri-Lankan place on the South end), as well as a couple of bubble tea places. Crucially, this is probably the closest place to the arena to get bubble tea.
  • If you’re willing to a bit of a longer walk, go about 2 and a half blocks down Abbot to Taco Mio, the closest good Mexican fast food place to the arena. For desert you can get some fancy ice cream at CaoCao 70 next door.
  • If you’re wiling to take a longer walk, 3 blocks North and one block West there’s Meat and Bread. As the name suggests, this place basically serves only sandwiches. It only has 2 or 3 options any given day, but it does them really well, and is probably the best quality fast food you’re going to get within reasonable walking distance of the arena. I would not go between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. because half of Gastown goes there for lunch, and the lineups get ridiculous, but if you’re going a bit later in the afternoon it’s worth the walk. If you do get there and the lineups are too long, or you have vegetarian friends with you, there’s a very good Malaysian place called Fresh Bowl next door.
  • If you’re a vegan, head 1 block North on Abbot street, then about three blocks East down Keefer until you hit Main St. There’s a very good an all-vegan pizza place called Virtuous Pie there (yes, I hate that name too). If your meat-eater friends want some protein, there’s a also a fried chicken place called Juke nearby.

Sit-Down Restaurants/Pubs. If you’re looking for more of a sit-down restaurant experience or a pub, your best bet is to again head a few blocks North of the arena into Gastown. Gastown famous for being Vancouver’s “hippest” neighborhood. I put “hippest” in quotes because the fact that it’s known as a hipster neighborhood attracts a lot of visitors, which gives it a touristy vibe and drives up prices, meaning all the hipsters actually live in other parts of town like Commercial Drive or in Kitsilano. Regardless of its level of true hipster street cred, the neighborhood probably has the most good pubs/restaurants per capita of any place in Vancouver, and if you’re going to go eat or drink close to the arena it should be here.

Small note – Gastown is right next to (well technically part of) Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside, one of Canada’s worst neighborhoods in terms of drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness. It’s not really dangerous per se, but head a couple of blocks East of Abbot (anywhere past Columbia St.) and, well… you’re gonna see some stuff. You’ve been warned.

In terms of where to eat in Gastown, I would simply go down Abbot street until you hit Water St. then have a look until you find something you like. Your best bet is probably to head East to to giant runabout with the Gassy Jack statute (a dude standing on a barrel), as most of the good places are in that area.

See below for a handy little map of Gastown (the green area), the parts you should maybe avoid (the red area), as well as a path you should maybe follow along Keefer St.

Marius Adomnica | The Patch Notes

A few places that I would recommend in the Gastown area:

  • Tacofnio. Really good, laid-back Mexican place that’s super popular. Try the fish tacos.
  • Peckinpah. If you want BBQ this is the place to go (they even make their own sauces). Sometimes they have a Montreal smoked meat sandwich as a special. Please, please, please ask them about this, and if they do 1. Order it, and 2. message me on Twitter so I can come down and get one too.
  • Irish Heather/Blarney Stone. I’m putting these together because they’re both Irish pubs and they’re right next to each other. The Irish Heather is the more upscale one. They even have a Shibeen (I believe that’s the fancy Irish word for “whiskey drinking place”) in the back, and a whiskey menu with like 400 options. The Blarney Stone is the more fun one where all the college kids go. The choice is yours.
  • The Diamond. You want fancy cocktails and an upscale, exclusive atmosphere? They have fancy cocktails and an upscale, exclusive atmosphere.
  • Six Acres. Laid-back, hipstery place, with really good vibes. If you’re looking for a quiet, chill place to eat healthy food, you can’t go wrong here. Really like this place.
  • Meet in Gastown. This is actually a vegan place (we’re known for our puns here in Vancouver). Your best bet for vegan food in the area, however it’s hugely popular so be prepared to wait in line at least half an hour if you go there in the evening.
  • Pourhouse. If I had to describe this place in three words it would be Fancy Burger Place. Still, it does both “fancy” and “burgers” well, so if you’re looking for a more fancy experience but don’t want to eat foie gras or anything, this may be the place for you.
  • Chambar. At night this is a full-on fancy restaurant. It does that very well, so if that’s what you’re into, or you’ve always wanted to try frog legs (which are on the menu), by all means. HOWEVER, during the morning’s this is also one of the city’s most underrated breakfast/brunch places. It’s not that expensive and the food is miles better than the very overrated Jam Cafe, which is half a block down. And as a bonus you don’t have to wait in line for 45 minutes.
  • Catch 122/Wildebeest/Tuc Craft Kitchen. I’m putting these together because they’re all good for one thing: breakfast/brunch. Brunch is probably a specialty for Gastown restaurants, and these 3 probably do it the best. Catch 122 and Wildebeest are right beside each other, and are both equally good. For some reason I still don’t fully understand, Catch 122 seems far more popular and always has a wait, while at Wildebeest you can get in right away. Either way, you can’t go wrong. If you want chicken and waffles, or more “creative” brunch options, try Tuc.
  • The Revel Room. Lousiana-themed place with live music. The food is not necessarily spectacular, but they’re one of the only places in the area that has live music, good vibes, and a laid-back but classy atmosphere. It kind of reminds you of the kind of place Don Draper would have gone to to have a good time in the 60s.  Really like this place, or I would if I was cool enough to go drinking regularly.
  • The Cambie/The Pint. These places are basically known cheap drinks and rowdy college kids. Don’t go here if you’re looking for good food or meticulously crafted interior design. Do go if you’re looking for a good time. If I had to guess, I’d think a large part of those in town for The International looking for drinks will find their way here at some point.

Other Stuff To Do. So that’s the food/bar situation near the arena. If you have a day or afternoon free and are looking to do something in the city itelf, here’s some other parts of the city you may want to check out.

  • Robson Street. This is actually Canada’s longest commercially-zoned street (#themoreyouknow). Think of it as way more downscale version of Rodeo Drive. If you want to take a walk on a sunny day but hate nature, there’s worse ways to spend a few hours. Also, for some reason I don’t understand, this street has Downtown’s best conglomeration of Korean restaurants (go all the way West to near Denman St.).
  • Stanley Park. This place always ranks at the top of any list of the best/most famous  city parks in North America. If you’re into parks/nature and don’t know when you might get back here again, you should make time to check it out. If you really want to go all-out you can do a walk around the 9-km long seawall surrounding it.

  • Commercial Drive/Kitsilano (around West 4th). These are Vancouver’s other main “hipster’ neighborhoods. If you’re looking for a nice walk somewhere hipstery but not as touristy as Gastown, try one of them.
  • Richmond. A lot of Vancouver’s (huge) Asian population congregates here, and as a result this place is known for having the best Asian food in North America. Always a good choice for some late night Korean BBQ or bubble tea. You’ll need a car, however, as it’s hard to get around otherwise.

So that’s it. Hope you guys have fun and enjoy your stay.

Oh, also, because I’m sure this question will pop up a lot: The building with a giant silver ball on top of it to the East of the arena is called Science World. It’s a giant museum for sciency stuff. #themoreyouknow

Terrifying Twitter Account Shows How Saturated the Indie Market Is

Further to my recent post on the importance of indie game marketing, if any indie dev wants some perspective about how hard it will be to have their stand out from the crowd, they should have a look at the Steam Trailers in 6s twitter account.

Like its name suggests, every time a game goes up on Steam, the account auto-posts a 6 second trailer of it. This allows you to see, in real time, the fire-hose like rate at which these games are cranked out. A new game is posted every 45 minutes to an hour or so. For instance, at the time of the time of this post, the account had put out 33 trailers in the past 24 hours.

If I was an indie dev, scrolling through this feed would scare the living crap out of me. It’s one thing to read stats on paper about how 7,000 games were released on Steam last year and so forth; it’s another thing to see it happen right in front of you like this, and to know that somehow your game is going to have to differentiate itself from all of these to see any sales.

Lawsuit Filed Against PUBG Mobile Clones

PUBG’s publisher has filed a suit in California for copyright and trademark infringement against Chinese gaming behemoth NetEase, developers of “Knives Out” and “Rules of Survival,” two popular PUBG mobile clones. The move comes only a few days after the release of a mobile version of PUBG, and after its publishers attempted to remove the clones from the app store without success.

Hmmmmmm.

It will be interesting to see how this one turns out. While PUBG essentially created its own genere, things like game concepts and ideas are not protectable IP. Any developer can make their own battle-royale style game, copying things like the airplane drop, last-man-standing format, shrinking play area, etc. without worrying about a lawsuit.

However, it’s still possible for PUBG’s publishers to succeed if they can establish NetEase’s games copied the “look and feel” of PUBG . This is a pretty nebulous legal concept that basically means that, even if NetEase didn’t directly copy any actual code or art assets from PUBG, if the two games are substantially similar in terms of both visuals and overall functionality, NetEase will have infringed the PUBG’s publishers’ copyright.

Generally these kind of infringement claims have been successful in regard to less complex games with easy-to-define rule sets like Tetris or simple tile-matching games. PUBG is of course a far more complicated beast, and its publishers will probably have an uphill struggle on their hands showing there are enough similarities between it and NetEase’s two clones to establish infringement. If this claim succeeds it will probably be the first time the a court will have found this kind of infringement between games of this level of complexity.

Is the Clash Royale Crown Championship the Future of E-Sports?

If any of you are wondering what the e-sports landscape is going to look for most games coming out the next few years, the best place to look probably isn’t major events for established titles like the International, or Blizzard’s Overwatch league, but rather Clash Royale’s Crown Championship Series.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Clash Royale, it’s a mobile game by the makers of Clash of Clans. It’s got its’ own small (but growing) fan base, but it’s no DotA or CS and doesn’t have a huge pro scene. However, that didn’t stop SuperCell, the game’s publisher, from pulling out all the stops in putting this event together.

As you can see from the video above, this event involved, among other things: a full studio arena with live crowds and expensive-as-hell looking giant projection screen showing the proceedings, multiple sets of commentators and assorted studio people, and an $150,000 USD grand prize for the winner. For some previous events they even traveled to the players’ homes to do human interest pieces on their home lives and families.

There’s absolutely no way that SuperCell came anywhere close to making back the money it put into this event (the video above only has 1.5 million views for instance). But you know what, they’re probably OK with that. Putting something like this together helps generate interest in the game, which should lead to more revenue in the long run. And if it helps kick-start a pro scene, perpetuating self-reinforcing cycle of interest in the game, which leads to more events, which leads to more interest, and so forth, even better.

If I had to guess, I’d say that in the long run, this will probably be the model followed by games that aren’t quite at the top-tier in terms of an e-sports audience. Putting together events like these, and supporting a competitive scenes that would otherwise probably not be strong enough to support themselves, will become almost standard practice for companies that can afford it, going into their marketing budgets right beside traditional advertising like TV commercials, magazine ads, and paying for good reviews sending swag and perks to game websites.

 

Pokemon GO Lawsuit Settles for $83,000

Remember that Pokemon GO lawsuit I posted about a few months ago?  It turns out that Pokemon GO probably is protected by the right to free speech, as the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors has agreed to settle the case for the sum of $83,000, with the entire amount reportedly going to the plaintiff’s legal fees. The park board will also agree not to enforce the ordinance at issue, which creates an awkward permitting process for any augmented reality games to be played in Milwaukee public parks.

This settlement comes after a July court ruling holding that it was likely that the plaintiff would succeed in establishing that the park board ordinance banning augmented reality games from public parks violated their right to free expression under the first amendment, and granting an injunction preventing the park board from enforcing the injunction.

This is as close to a 100% win as you get in law, with the board agreeing to give the plaintiffs everything their were asking for, and pay their legal fees. Score one for the forces of justice and freedom.

How is the E-Sports Revenue Pie Going to Be Split?

Pie
Yes, I got lazy with the picture, but you try finding something that matches “e-sports revenue pie”

I recently did a podcast with local game developer Christian Sears, and a really interesting question came up and I thought I’d write a post about it, as it’s probably one of the most interesting issues to follow as the e-sports industry develops. The question comes down to this: as e-sports, and in particular e-sports leagues, become more established, how are revenues they earn going to be split?

One good starting point for an answer to this question is probably traditional sports. In most traditional pro sports leagues like the NBA and NHL, revenue is generally split roughly 50/50 between owners and players. Each league has arrived at that split after years of hard-nosed labour negotiations, including lockouts, strikes and countless melodramatic press conferences, so maybe there’s something about that number, and we can expect that in e-sports revenue will also end up being shared along those same lines.

Of course, with e-sports you have a third power group that doesn’t really exist in traditional sports: the companies that make the games. While no one “owns” basketball or hockey, someone does own games like Overwatch, League of Legends and DotA. Anyone who wants to operate an e-sports event needs the game maker’s consent, which means the game maker is going to get a piece of the pie. For this reason, I think the key issue regarding how revenue will be allocated in e-sports leagues is not the split between players and owners, like in traditional sports, but the split between the game companies and everyone else.

That seems to be the direction things are heading for a lot existing sports leagues. For instance, the League of Legends North America League Championship Series (NALCS) recently unveiled an overhauled revenue sharing model that states revenue will essentially be split three ways with Riot Games, the company behind LoL, getting 32.5% of league revenues, teams getting 32.5% and players getting 35%. In Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch league, the split is apparently going to be 50/50 between Blizzard and the teams (with no details regarding how much of the teams’ share will go to the players).

While 32.5% and 50% are already significant numbers, if I had to guess, I would say that as things continue to shake out, the revenue going to the game companies is only going to increase. This is because, as discussed above, they’re literally the only game in town, and have all the bargaining power.

Say for example Blizzard goes to the owners and players in the Overwatch league a few years from now and asks for 70% of revenue instead of the current 50%. Even if all the owners and players were united against Blizzard’s demands, they can’t exactly tell Blizzard to f*** off and start their own league, because, as discussed Blizzard literally owns the game their league is based on and can prevent them from doing that. Instead, the owners and players would have essentially two choices: (1) take the 30%, or (2) stop operating and make nothing.

Blizzard, on the other hand, could always find more teams and players to replace the ones sitting out. They probably prefer not to go through the effort, but if the league is making money hand over fist and that extra 20% of revenue works out to a lot of cash, the effort may be worth it to them. Plus, if the league is doing well financially, there will probably be no shortage of new teams and players looking to sign up, even if they’re only getting 30% of revenues instead of 50%.

The bottom line is that Blizzard can always find more teams and players. The teams and players can’t find another Overwatch league.

Right now, the owners and players in e-sports leagues are basically in the same situation baseball players were before unrestricted free agency came along. They’re basically at the mercy of the game companies, who can pay them the minimum they’ll accept to continue operating and no more, then keep all the remaining profit for themselves.

I may be overstating things here of course. There’s obviously PR aspects to this I haven’t really considered. As EA has learned recently, the gaming community can get petty worked up by things they perceive as unfair. This would also take a certain cold bloodedness from the game companies that we haven’t really seen yet, nor would I expect to see anytime soon given that a lot of these e-sports leagues are just getting off the ground, no one knows how successful they’ll be, and everyone is in the “let’s all get together and make this thing work” phase.

However, and as e-sports gets more established and the amount of money at stake increases, that phase might start to give way to a more business-minded approach by the game companies (it’s worth noting, for instance, that Blizzard has essentially spent the year essentially shutting out independent Overwatch tournaments, harming the Overwatch scene in the process, in order to prepare for the roll out of the Overwatch league), and lead to the kind of negotiations you see in traditional sports. If that does happen, I can tell you right now who’s probably going to win, and it’s not going to be the teams or players.

CD Projekt RED Struck By Blackmail Attempt

It looks like the video game industry isn’t immune from the kind of ransomware attacks that have been hitting…well, everywhere, recently, as CD Projekt Red, the Polish developer behind the Witcher series, reports being subject to a blackmail attempt by thieves who have stolen some early development materials for its’ upcoming game, Cyberpunk 77. The blackmailers have reportedly threatened to release the materials online if their demands aren’t met.

What’s been great to see is the way the company has responded to to the situation. Taking a page from the Jaromir Jagr handbook, they’ve basically told the blackmailers to go ahead and release everything. They’ve also put out a public statement summarizing the situation, and noting that the materials are old and don’t represent the current state of the game.

All in all, this was a fantastic way to handle this by the company. In the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if the positive PR, and the extra exposure  for Cyberpunk 77 that the company gets as a result of this incident (ironically enough, this story will probably be the reason many people hear about the game for the first time) will outweigh any damage done if the materials are released.

Full statement from CD Projekt Red below:

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