The World Cyber Games has updated its list of games and rules for those specific games for the 2008 competitive gaming season. As fanboys obsess over the minute details of what is allowed in competition, and broader spectators watch to see who will dominate, U.S. General Manager of World Cyber Games, Michael Arzt, answered our questions about this professional gaming league.
Crave Online: How do you choose the new games for the World Cyber Games competition?
Michael Arzt: We always have some stalwarts, what we think of them as legacy games, games that are sort of intrinsic to the esport movement that sort of have to be there. Then we also do our best to keep it current and mix in some of the blockbusters or the more mainstream type titles, whatever it’s going to take to keep us both on the one hand sort of core, but on the other hand leading edge and relevant.
Crave Online: Some of the new rules are just different maps for each game. How does that change or update the competition?
Michael Arzt: A lot of that comes from simply just keeping up with what the trends are, the people playing these games are. We’re very tied into the communities and obviously each game in a lot of cases has its own community, so being kind of aware what the community is doing and what the community is finding relevant in an individual game is a big part of what goes into those decisions and how we modify things from year to year.
Crave Online: Most of the Half Life rules involve ducking. Was that a real problem before?
Michael Arzt: Forgive me on the one hand because when it comes to some of the really technical stuff, I’m not the right guy to dive in deep. What I know about the ducking and some of the things that are going on, basically when you’re talking about Counterstrike, there are what are best described as exploitable anomalies in the game, or glitches in the code. However you want to talk about it. Basically, what that means is to level the playing field, because we are talking about a competition here, you sometimes have to make choices on what is legal and what is not legal. If we make a choice like that and it’s about something like ducking, there’s a very specific reason for it, because the competitive community has determined that that particular move, if it’s allowed, kind of creates a snowball effect that allows other things to happen that are not desirable and obviously can skew the competition in a way that is not the way you want it to go. I hope that answers the question in the best kind of non technical way that I can describe it. I can only take it so hard when it comes to the really hardcore answer but when it comes to making choices on rules, we go back to the community. We do a lot of polling, whether it’s about specific rules, we seek suggestions from the community, even on the broader sense when it comes to choosing the games each year. We want to know which games are really resonating in the communities as relevant and viable and competitive platforms and things like that.
Crave Online: For Halo 3, why did you choose a four person format?
Michael Arzt: Yeah, Halo, we’ll go out there and say that there is a very established competitive community in Halo that spends a lot of time and has spent a lot of time over the years, whether it was the first Halo or Halo 2 or now Halo 3, establishing a very, very viable and workable set of rules, so honestly, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes if the bugs have been gotten out by someone else or by the community over time, who are we to question what works? We’re adopting rules that are widely accepted. Obviously, the last thing we want is for a player or a team of players to go into a competition and have a rule that they hadn’t anticipated suddenly pop up in their face and work against them. Then you’re just making people angry. That’s obviously not in the community spirit that our brand is all about. That’s for sure.
Crave Online: Guitar Hero III is random song selection, so players have to practice all of them?
Michael Arzt: Yeah, pretty much. That is how that one’s going to work.
Crave Online: Do players have to be good at all games or do they specialize?
Michael Arzt: No, it is pretty specialized. Obviously, comparing ourselves to the Olympics, when you build your Team USA, you’ve got your decathlete and you’ve got your soccer player and you’ve got your swimmer. We’ve got our Halo guys and we’ve got our Counterstrike guys and we’ve got our Starcraft guy and we’ve got our Guitar Hero guy. Yeah, generally speaking there is very much specialization. However, every once in a while you do get a crossover player and you tend to see it a little bit more on the console side than you do on the PC side. I remember last year, a guy who ended up being on the gold medal winning Gears of War team was also a heck of a Tony Hawk player. He played as an individual in the Tony Hawk competition. He didn’t go as far in Tony Hawk, but he did pretty darn well and went pretty far.
Crave Online: Who are the players to watch in ’08?
Michael Arzt: In a lot of ways, it’s too early to say. Obviously, I always am going to go to the defending carryover guys from Team USA from last year. Obviously, we won the world championship as a team last year, brought home more gold medals and more medals than any other nation, so when it comes to some of those guys, I’m going to go back to guys like Geoff Robinson who is our Starcraft player and hopefully he can end up being our Starcraft player again. I go back to our Counterstrike guys and I hope that they’re going to be the guys to beat again. Obviously, you go to the known commodities but the great thing about the World Cyber Games is because of the way it’s open to everybody, it’s not a closed circuit like some of the other esports organizations, anyone can come from anywhere. We had a gold medalist in Project Gotham Racing in 2006 came out of nowhere. No one had ever heard from him. He powered his way through the U.S. tournament, got to the national championship, won every race, steamrolled everybody, got to Italy to our grand finals, steamrolled everybody and just came from nowhere. Now he’s one of the top paid pros out there. We’re where guys like Fatality got their start or guys like Team Final Boss who were playing Halo in one of the other leagues. They were gold medalists at World Cyber Games.
Crave Online: Have you also paved the way for other competitions, like the Consumer Gaming Series?
Michael Arzt: I think certainly these other leagues which are leagues and we are much more of a festival and a tournament, we coexist with them very well. We have great relationships with the other tournaments and the other leagues. A lot of them allow their players or even want their players to come to the World Cyber Games because we give them global exposure and we give them credibility. The Championship Gaming Series, they’re doing their thing. They do it a little bit differently than us, but the fact of the matter is the games that they’re playing and a lot of the guys who are stars in their league now all got their start with the World Cyber Games and did it the old fashioned way. They signed up for an online tournament, played their way through and went to the national championship, maybe won there and then went onto a global championship or a global competition. Now they’re playing in the pro league and getting paid for it. We think it’s great. We think there’s room for all of us and we coexist very well with these other organizations, just as NBA Basketball coexists with Olympic basketball.
Crave Online: What factors took gaming from an activity to a legitimate competition?
Michael Arzt: I think it just comes down to anything else: competition. It’s like what factors took poker and made it a legitimate vocation? I think once you put people in a competitive environment and then you put money on the line, whether it’s money or a gold metal or just straight up pride, anything in human nature obviously there’s competition as a major drive. Also the other major factor is that video gaming as an entertainment medium has just risen to such prominence. As you know, you’re Crave. You’ve got channels dedicated to comic books and to movies and to video games and you know A, how all these things are interconnected but B, how video games have just kind of transcended all of them. Whether you’re into comic books or you’re into sports or you’re into whatever, the cool thing about video games is that there’s always a video game about it. So it was just a matter of time that people figure out how you create a competition around certain aspects of it. Obviously, we have a long, long way to grow until we reach sort of the level we see in places like Korea where the World Cyber Games got its start. You’ve got professional sports leagues and three 24 hour networks on cable that are the top rated cable networks for 12-34-year-olds. You’ve got Starcraft players who are bigger stars than the basketball and soccer players and they date all the fashion models and make six figures and on and on and on. I don’t know if it will ever get to that level here, for a number of reasons, but will we have guys making a living playing esport? Absolutely. We already do. Will we have such a large percentage of it and be so mainstream ever? I don’t know but I know we’re certainly trying and we’re getting closer every day.
Crave Online: You don’t think American players will get endorsements and groupies?
Michael Arzt: No, I think we will. We have a little of that. Do I think it’s going to get to the level and to the number of players that have it that way in Korea? That’s what I’m saying. I don’t know as a culture if we’re ever going to embrace it to that level. I mean, we’ll get to the level where it’s sustainable. It already is. Now how do we break through that mainstream consciousness and that goes back to our positioning in this whole world. The Olympics is a concept that everybody understands. Everybody from the U.S. to small third world countries knows what the Olympics is. Kids aspire to be the best in their group and then maybe in their town and then maybe in their country and then maybe in the world. That’s kind of a universal thing. That’s why our positioning as the "Olympics" of esports or competitive video gaming lends itself very well to that aspirational kid. Obviously, our game selection and our positioning allows to appeal to both the core player as well as the more mainstream player and the peripheral interested party who’s just going to get excited by watching the people who are engaged in some pretty tense competition.
Crave Online: What makes watching other people play games exciting?
Michael Arzt: The one thing that I believe is that watching the other guy play the game is only a part of the experience. Participating in it yourself and realizing that you have a connection to kids all around the world who have the same interest, that’s really what the World Cyber Games is about. Yes, it’s about the concept and the conceit of watching kids play in competition, but even when we go into our programming, when we go into what we’re about, we’re very much about people and about relationships. So yes, watching the people play the game is a big part of what we do, but we create a spectacle and a festival and a global event that kind of transcends just the game play itself. If you compare us to other big events, if you think about the Olympics, you can travel to China this summer and go to the Olympics and go to all the peripheral events and all the things that are built around it without ever actually going to one of the competitions and still have an incredible experience. That’s one of the things that we try to build with our grand final. We’re creating an opportunity where here in the United States, let’s say you’re the Guitar Hero player. There’s only one kid who can be the best Guitar Hero player in the country and there’s only one Team USA, so there’s only one kid who can make that Team USA and represent their country and go wear their country’s colors and represent their country and potentially get that gold medal hung around their neck.
Crave Online: Do you face any danger from parents or educators? Is it harder for them to say, "Don’t spend all your time playing video games" when you can have big success?
Michael Arzt: That’s a great question to ask of the players. My impression of it and from hearing it come out of the players’ mouths is like some of these guys, like a lot of kids, they spend their youth growing up and they’re playing games. They’ve had their share of their mom saying, "Hey, stop playing the dang Xbox and go outside." Then suddenly, they enter a competition and they bring home a check and then it’s like, "Hey, well, that’s kind of cool. Look, as a parent, I don’t think there’s any parent out there who raise their kid and think about, "Oh man, my kid’s going to grow up and be a pro video game star." As a dad myself, you still want your kids to grow up and be doctors, lawyers or any of these more traditional vocations, but like I said earlier, there are kids who are making five figure and even six figure incomes doing this stuff. A couple of them are getting endorsements or sponsorships. They’re making it happen. Will it last an entire lifetime? Nobody knows yet but will it help pay for college? Yeah. There’s plenty of guys who are accomplishing that. Will it let them buy a new car? Yeah, that kind of stuff is happening. Parents and resistance, it’s like rock n’ roll. Or rap now. My parents, your parents, they grew up with their parents resisting rock n’ roll. Now us as parents, we look at rap and what’s that all about but that’s what kids are getting into now when it comes to music. So I think anything new is always going to be questioned by the older generations. But as it proves itself and as it becomes more mainstream, it becomes more palatable.
Crave Online: Do you have an age restriction?
Michael Arzt: You generally need to be over 16 but beyond that we more or less follow the ESRB game ratings. You can be younger and compete but you need all kinds of releases signed by your parents and things like that.
Crave Online: But there could be a 12-year-old prodigy?
Michael Arzt: Yeah, there are a couple of kids like that who are out there and competing, but they have to travel around with parents. They can’t be put in a hotel room with anyone under the age of 18. So we are very cognizant of all that kind of stuff. Even when it comes to game choices, we’re never going to choose an ultra-violent game like Grand Theft Auto, not that I would even make the leap and say that it could be a competitive game. I’m just saying we’re not getting into those types of games. We choose games according to stuff that has proven itself to be viable as a competitive game, to have a community and to be an accepted esport game. Obviously, you’re always cognizant of that stuff but we haven’t really had those kinds of issues because we try not to go there.