Melbourne Esports Open 2019

Judging by Public Transport Victoria calculations, my trip to the Melbourne Esports Open this weekend was to take about 1 hour and 40 minutes. As part of ‘Victoria’s Big Build’, the city of Melbourne is currently undergoing quite a few disruptions at the moment, up-to-and-including train replacements and complete line shut-downs, meaning that in order to take the public transport option into the city for the Open, I would have to take a bus into the city, then navigate to Flinders Street where I could then get a tram, or – worse – walk to Rod Laver Arena in time to be able to catch an event.

If it sounds like I’m whinging, imagine what doing the above with two kids under six would be like.

So, with that in mind – we did what any sensible human being would do: we drove to the MEO this weekend, and thanks to some well-planned pre-paid parking, scored a park right near the entrance.

Last year’s MEO was very much a social experiment, and while it seemed, at face value, to be relatively successful, I was keen to see how the event had grown or adapted based on this success. After all, there was a notable difference in PAX Australia 2013 to 2014, so if MEO was to gain traction, then this would be the event where we would be able to see some success.

The first thing I noticed was the layout had changed – considerably. Originally MEO 2018 was structured in a way that the main competition and the ‘JB Hi-Fi Game Zone’ were fairly evenly contained between and within the Rod Laver and Margaret Court Arenas. Most of the ‘outside’ activity was concentrated on the entrance to Rod Laver, whereas this year much of that content – and I feel like there was considerably less – had shifted into the open space between the two main arenas, and Melbourne Arena off Olympic Boulevard. As it turns out, this was supposed to be the ‘Main Entrance’ I later found out, and the rear entry where I had come in was actually designated the ‘Secondary Entry’, but the net result was that we got-in.

Last year, I made the assessment that I don’t think the Rod Laver Arena is the best sort of venue for the MEO. While I think the organisers have ‘made do’ with the layout, there is undoubtedly a sense that the whole event is spread too thin – something that was exacerbated this year considering it went across multiple venues. It reminded me a touch of the ESL Masters I attended in Sydney, where the Qudos Arena was simply unsuitable for a major gaming event – in the middle of nowhere and laid out in an erratic fashion. In some regards, I think these smaller stadiums are great for what they were built for: sporting matches, and by all accounts, the stadiums were perfect for the main events on the weekend, but considering that esport now has to offer competition between travelling to the venue or – like I did for the non-kid-friendly events – simply opening up a Twitch stream, then I’d expect a little more polish on my venue design.

While I didn’t get in to the main events themselves, I think it’s fair to say that MEO has matured in a good way. OPL has generally gone from strength-to-strength in the last 12-24 months, and so seeing its high production values land in Melbourne to put on a great show is certainly something to write-home about. I watched as eager fans went trawling through the venue to find ‘skin codes’ for their League of Legends accounts, and the images by brilliant esport photographer Sarah Cooper (@aquahaze) showed just how far esport has come in Australia. I only saw the highlights of the Overwatch Contenders match-up, which is surprising considering I was rapidly getting into Overwatch as an esport, but when matched up against a game like Rainbow Six, it’s hard not to have your attention slightly diverted towards that more ‘meaty’ competitive scene.

Still, it’s no fix for the otherwise toxic R6 community.

In terms of games on offer, both Xbox and PlayStation put in an appearance in the Game Zone, which is wonderful to see. PlayStation, per usual, had large ‘no photography’ signs up everywhere – which is a bit strange considering that they weren’t really showing anything ‘new’ or ‘secret’. Last year, there was Spider-Man on offer a few days or weeks before launch, and so keeping things under wraps made sense, but most of the time my kids played Crash Team Racing … something that was released in June.

The Xbox team were far better-equipped for a public-facing show like MEO, offering up Minecraft for the kids, I was able to take a photo of them playing together, and the marketing team there even had little basketballs (stress balls) with ‘Windows 10’ on the side. Dad may or may not have borrowed one of them for his own collection. There was also a behind-closed-doors demo of Gears 5 which I only have a loose interest in, but considering it is coming to Xbox Game Pass, I’m not too concerned about milking every last drop of content out of it before it drops. I mean … if I need a fix, I have four preceding titles to get through first.

Other big players on the day were Nintendo, who had a great variety of consoles setup, and my kids played Mario Maker 2 for quite some time before etiquette dictated that they get off and let someone else play. Likewise, the kids managed to score themselves some lanyards and a tote bag off the show floor, but nothing quite as cool as the Activision-offered Call of Duty 4 gift bag that my eldest managed to grab last year. I still have my COD4 hat in the cupboard, ready to be broken out again come PAX time.

And speaking of merchandise – we need to have a chat to the organisers about buying in some better hoodies, or at least some more variety in terms of clothing options. One $70 hoodie that was in plain white as the only clothing memento from the weekend? No thanks. At least I managed to walk away with a metallic keep-cup, but for $20, I’m not sure if that was entirely worth it, or I was just clinging to the hope that I’d leave with ‘some’ keepsake.

MEO is not flawless. Nor is it flawed. It is an event in its infancy, that has already shown how much it can improve on in a twelve-month period. Being able to arrange for major teams like Washington to travel to Melbourne for the Open, as well as seeing some great talent in OPL, Overwatch and Rainbow Six means that I’ll be back again next year, if only to keep an eye on what else is new and emerging on the esport scene.

I can hardly wait.

Cross Save for Destiny 2

It’s here. It’s finally here.

It might sound silly, but I’ve been waiting for the industry to catch-up to this point for so long. I have looked at the Mike Ybarra Tweet many times over the past few years in which he prophesied a world where you would be able to play your same Destiny characters across any platform and take your progress with you, and now – that day has arrived.

While much of the narrative in the industry has been around cross-play for the past few years, I’ve always had my heart set more on the ability to cross-save. I knew that Microsoft had made incredible in-roads in this capability, part of the sales pitch that they use for using Azure, but regardless of any anticipated marketing kick – it was the functionality that most appealed to me.

The reason is simple: I don’t want to play with other people, I just want a choice about where I play.

Sure, Destiny is a game which thrives on social interaction – but other than one time when I managed to get a friend online, and through the good grace of an Xbox LFG – not to mention a few drop ins and drop outs – I managed to finish a raid – OTHER than that … I like to play it solo. If I play in a fireteam, it’s because it’s been randomly assigned to me, not because I have two or three good mates that I like to regularly catch up with each week and play. No, it’s the simple fact that I’m a busy man, and sometimes I only have twenty minutes to play, other times I can settle in for a long afternoon and smash out six missions in a row. There are a lot of variables at work there – whether the kids are in bed, whether my wife wants to watch something on the TV, whether there’s housework to do, whether my in-laws are staying, etc. And when that’s the case, I want to be able to pivot to a different platform, and try and play there – in my case, the PC.

Do you know what I don’t want to have to do? Start things all over again.

So, yes, I am red-hot-keen for cross-save, and I can’t wait to get into Destiny 2 Shadowkeep a little more on PC. It is, undoubtedly, a superior way to play the game, but I have built a healthy little legacy with my Guardians on my Xbox, and so I want to be able to maintain that going forward.

If they can sustain the cross-save capability for Destiny 3, I’ll be a happy man.

Thanks, Bungie.

Robocraft Infinity

This title from the Xbox Game Pass library is an interesting blend between a mech combat game and some sort of Minecraft-lite crafting mashup. The premise surrounds simply building, or modifying, a mech made up of small blocks and weapons and then taking them into battle.

For the few games that I played, I elected to go with a T-Rex variant of the mech, which seemed to be a fairly solid all-rounder, though I was able to see how handy, for instance, a wheeled mech would be able to capture points quicker, or an aerial mech was able to navigate to enemies easier.

The load times on this title are terrible for something with low fidelity visuals and otherwise basic concept, but it’s not a bad title, and otherwise ‘safe’ for younger gamers to play – with some supervision (it does, after all, have lasers and other weaponry in it).

Training Day

I don’t think there’s a gamer on the planet who hasn’t played, or at least heard, of Worms. It has a timeless formula that, essentially, just lets you experiment with a whole heap of different weapons times and ‘go at it’ with either the computer of a human opponent.

There are varying degrees of expertise in the Worms community. You have people who are so brilliant at lobbing their grenades across the map with the right level of force, the correct angle, and against the wind that they can blow an opponent off the board in a single stroke. There are others that (over)rely on just getting line of sight, lining up a bazooka shot and firing it with an extreme level of force (that doesn’t actually make a difference).

I like to consider myself somewhere in between.

What I didn’t expect with this particular outing for Worms was the introduction of some new toys. I thought the introduction of a tank was pretty cool – a bit unnecessary in terms of what some of the Worms joy is – but cool nonetheless.

And then, they introduced a Mech!

One of my favourite gaming memories is stomping around a desert world playing MechWarrior. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I couldn’t play it very well, but I absolutely loved it. So, now, picture Worms WMD introducing Mechs, and letting me stomp around the level with the same level of joy that was sparked well over twenty years ago. Absolutely priceless.

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this particular Worms, but at the same time, it has such familial comfort that I don’t need to dive too deep without giving my quick-and-dirty assessment on the game: it’s good. It’s the same ol’ Worms, with a WMD lick-of-paint.

To be honest, I wish more games took their winning formula, made them look pretty, and stopped stuffing around with the mechanics.

(The same could be said for the recently release Toy Story 4)