It's been a busy couple of months in 2016 so far. While our team hasn't competed in every event I've attended, I've personally been to the Minor, the Major qualifier, the Major, the CEVO LAN Finals, and most recently, Dreamhack Austin. After each event I've taken some notes on a few things here and there that I'd like to see changed/improved/fixed, and so on. This post will be sharing most of those items.
There are a couple of things I'd love to emphasize on the scheduling front-- and some are probably common sense, but worth sharing regardless.
First, it's really important to the players , casters, production, etc. to not have crazy marathon-long days of matches. It's extremely draining on everyone involved, so the better this can be handled on the front end, the better life will be for all involved. Starting earlier on a Friday to allow for the extra match to ease the pressure of it on the weekend isn't bad. Same thing with starting on a Thursday. Some events have been better about this than others, but having multiple BO5s in the same day, for example, can be grueling.
Secondly, it's challenging for a team to play early and then again later in the same day UNLESS there's enough time to get some rest. Most gamers keep really late sleep schedules, and getting them up early can be a challenge in and of itself-- getting them up early and then keeping them fresh/rested without time to sneak a possible nap in or some decompression before an important match later in the same day is very difficult. And this shouldn't be an hour or two, because when you factor in time to the hotel or some food, there's not much time left. Sleep pods could be helpful though if kept onsite (Kappa/NoKappa).
It's not THAT big of a deal, but if it can be something accounted for on the schedules in advance, it's something I know the players would be appreciative of without question.
Next, consideration for the time the last matches end the night prior and the first matches the next morning start is a must. This is pretty straight forward-- don't have a team play late into the night and then have the first match at 0800 the next morning.
Last but definitely not least, when it comes to group play or an elimination bracket, I'd love to see the WINNERS BRACKET matches played on day one instead of LOWER BRACKET matches. It's such a downer to travel to an event, domestic or international, and to be eliminated in a single day. Dreamhack did this with the winners matches at night and it worked out much better than CEVO's format of doing a lower bracket match the same night as the first match of the group.
I could probably write thirty paragraphs in this section because of how highly I value good communication. I won't, because you wouldn't read that. But know that I could if I wanted to.
Almost every event I've been a part of so far has done a very good job of being in regular communication with us leading up to the event itself. Only one event from that point on has done a good job of continuing that quality of communication once the event gets under way-- likely because that "point person" is then involved in the operation of the event itself and isn't actively checking for inbound communication..
It would be great if each of the larger events had a dedicated person to be in contact with the teams in case there were any "during event" questions. This person could also remind the teams of the various rules, make sure no one had any issues or questions, ensure all the teams knew the schedule for their matches, where they had to be and when, review any requirements or key things the teams agreed to in advance (like signings), and so on.
What I've found in most instances is that emailing the person who I've been coordinating with leading up to the event once I'm actually AT the event ends up in a void of silence-- but that jumping over to Twitter to tweet to them or ask the Twitter-verse at large typically gets me a response faster. It's really silly. Simply assign someone who will be manning the communications desk and AT the event to handle it.
Player/Coach Area & Setup
The setups for players/coaches changes pretty drastically from event to event, and I don't think there will be too much that can be done about that. Everything from desk space to the use of sound-proof booths changes.
When booths are in use, it's really important that they're properly climate controlled and ventilated. With at least 5 computers and up to 8 people (counting admins) in the booth, things get pretty warm fast. Hot temperatures + gamers = sweater gamers = not fun to be in that booth. All of this (like everything else, really) should be tested with some kind backup plan in place in case the portable AC unit isn't keeping the booth properly cooled.
Some venues have started using a dedicated coach computer for the coaches of the teams, and I think this will mostly be a preference thing. Personally, I prefer to be able to walk behind each of my players so I can see more than one screen at a time instead of having to flip from a single player POV in game. This brings my next point -- keeping the "row" behind the players clear is valuable for safety and coach mobility.
Sometimes the little row behind the players is extremely tight, sometimes an admin is blocking the coach's access to some players, there have been instances where the headset cable is too short (and gets unplugged if you walk too far, or worse, makes an extremely loud ear-piercing screeching noise as it did this weekend at Dreamhack )... all things that should be fairly easy fixes. Leave space, keep the row empty, have an admin sit on the corner or behind the coach with a view of all 5 players, and have a plan with a long cable in place for the coach's headset. Oh, and keep the computer being used for the coach's headset behind the scenes. Don't connect it to a laptop on the floor between two players' chairs, please!
Physical desk space is always an item of importance-- a good desk keeps the players comfortable, let's them play the way they're used to, and is overall good for their long term health (posture, RSI, and such). Failing to provide sufficient desk space has a negative impact on the game, and it's one of the more trivial things to ensure gets handled appropriately. This should be table stakes for any event organizer in my opinion.
This is a scary one on several fronts, and I don't want to go into too much detail for the potential few who have malice in their hearts, but I'll try to touch on the key points.
The presence of appropriate levels of security for some of these events is frighteningly weak. Not checking bags, not funneling entrants, fans, competitors into set entrances, not having key areas of the venue guarded in one way or another-- all things that must be addressed, and ASAP.
There have already been instances of fans getting up on stages, going up to analyst/caster desks, being able to directly and physically contact/connect with players, and these situations need to be taken very seriously. It only takes one bad apple to ruin the bunch. As esports continues to grow in size, filling bigger and bigger venues and approaching the number of attendees seen in traditional sports, we need to have the same kind of security that goes into those events applied to these.
Now unfortunately whenever you talk security, it historically comes at the expense of convenience. If you have no security it's very convenient for the good-spirited people (of which, the vast majority of people are when you actually look at the numbers) to get into an event, find a place to sit, interact with their favorite players/teams, and have a good time. But zero security is obviously not acceptable.
On the flip-side, having a TSA-style body scanner at every entrance with the staff to handle pat downs, bag searches, only a single open entrance, ushers/security to handle assigned seating, regular second and third checks from roaming security officers... well, you get the picture.
Security vs. Convenience is not an easy one to solve-- though the use of technology can certainly help make this easier. Regardless, this is a balance that MUST be struck and soon. The good news is that most of the arenas/stadiums that are starting to get booked for events already have security staffs and security protocols in place. The bad news is that not all events are in these types of venues yet.
Whether you phrase it this way or not, these are professional athletes competing for large sums of money, and as history has shown us, this will attract plenty of nutjobs. If you are an event organizer please make sure you include a healthy budget for the safety and security of your team, the teams competing, and all those involved in the operational success of the event itself.
There hasn't been an event I've attended so far that has been in any way "impressive" on this front. Most of the events leverage swappable solid-state drives or dedicated "per player" computers that allow a competitor to set up their software drivers, game configurations, etc. and save them to their drive or computer for the rest of the event. That setup is then carried from the warm up areas to the appropriate stage areas for the matches themselves.
This is fantastic for keeping things running smoothly and drastically reducing setup/teardown time between matches. The problem is that during setup the players are mostly left unattended, and in a lot of cases, with full blown Internet access on not-very-locked-down computers. Disabled USB Storage Devices via computer policies isn't difficult to bypass, and that combined the occasional firewall / Internet content filter are what seems to be the standard for "cheat prevention" in these instances.
On top of this, most events outside of the Valve Majors do not perform equipment checks. Some of the events didn't even make a point of taking our phones or making us put our phones in our bags stored elsewhere-- I actually had to volunteer that to the admin in one case ("Can you take our phones, or what should we be doing with these?").
The bigger the dollar value of these prize pots, the more encouraged the cheaters will be to cheat offline, and taking the extra couple of steps to make that as difficult as possible should be a no-brainer. Now, I don't know what the "right" answer or procedure is for this. If I had to pull something together, which I'm sure wouldn't be an exhaustive list or prevent EVERY method cheaters are using to cheat on LAN, I'd suggest the following:
- Require all player configurations in advance, and have them preloaded on the computer
- Require all player software/driver files in advance, and have them preloaded and preconfigured on the computer
- Require screenshots of the settings they use for each device that requires drivers
- Require all player NVIDIA/AMD settings in advance, with screenshots, and have them preconfigured on the computer
- Require all player preferred warm up maps and have them loaded on the computer manually
- Disable all external storage mediums, and not just USB Mass Storage Devices, but also CD/DVD ROMs
- Disable the installation of ANY NEW DRIVERS/SOFTWARE upon completion of the pre-configuration by dedicated anti-cheat staff
- Disable browser access and restrict processes allowed to run to include only those that are required for the computer to run CS:GO (Example: Chrome.exe is not a required process)
- Do not provide Internet access unless required to access Steam / Valve Authentication servers, in which case, firewall / filter all other traffic.
- I did this at my LAN event in 2006 with a cheap Linksys router. Spend some money, get a decent firewall, talk to Valve in advance, filter based on a set of destination IP addresses and ports
I'm sure there are a handful of other things I'm missing, but once that kind of list is in place, you test, test, test, and make sure everything is working-- and if it's not, have some allowances for what you can do. Don't do what I've seen done at some events where they just say "Okay screw it, just go online and download it, let me bypass all this security for you real fast."
The events I've been fortunate enough to attend have, overall, been excellent. Part of this is because of the staff that normally gets no credit but is paramount to the success and smooth operation behind the scenes. Part of it are the fans/crowds, and part of it is because someone usually buys me a beer afterwards.
So don't take the items above to be hateful or "event-bashing" in any way. They're simply a collection of things I've thought about and taken some notes on from event to event, and things that could help make the events better and safer for all those involved.