What makes an indie eSport? Games like Nidhogg, Pole Riders, Bari Bari Ball, and Ramiro Corbetta's Hokra certainly qualify as spectator games. But what makes an eSport, the indie equivalent of Starcraft?
Minimalism is important, competition is important, and ease of play is incredibly vital. Perhaps most necessary, though, is the vibe.
To Corbetta, that feeling can be likened to the difference between designing for the stadium experience and a televised experience. Traditional sports, like soccer, are like a religion. They permeate a culture, and in the stadium there are these rituals you perform, actions that involve the spectators with the sport by being in this confined space with other fans. Coming from Brazil, Corbetta talked about the “avalanche” that happens in the stadium his family goes to, where the entire mass of people move down when a goal is made.
Television doesn't match that live intensity, and Corbetta likens the larger esports, like League of Legends or StarCraft, to that televised experience. It's exciting, but not as engaging.
“I think indies are doing the stadium experience,” Corbetta says. “There are certain design similarities between these games, too - they're all pick-up-and-play, for instance. You need to be able to play them right away, and get some enjoyment out of it.”
“They're very readable for an audience,” he notes. “You can come in having never played it, and easily understand what's going on. That was very important for me when making Hokra,” he added, showing a picture of people playing the game at the Babycastles art game arcade in New York. “None of these games should last more than 5 minutes unless something went wrong,” he added.
“These games are very different from StarCraft and League of Legends,” Corbetta says.“There's a certain cultural necessity around these really big 500-hour games. If you think about spectator sports, the NFL is the biggest spectator sports institution in America. The reason why it matters is it's culturally ubiquitous. The reason I cared about soccer growing up is everyone around me cared about soccer. And that's really hard for indie games to do. StarCraft and League of Legends have a much better shot.”
“Starcraft, unless you've played it for 5 or 10 hours, it doesn't matter that much. It has so many units and rules, that if you don't know them already, you can't tell what's going on. With these indie games, they're more immediately watchable. Unless you're going to reach that level of StarCraft's popularity, you need to really concern yourself with how easy it is to know what's happening.”
“Maybe we [indies] can get that cultural significance later, but right now, we're showing at these parties, and these special events, and it reminds me of these dirty basement parties in Brooklyn or something, like an indie band.,” he says. “And to me, as a designer, that might just be enough.”