Why is this even on @ESPN3? Apparently they also restrict viewership based on location. They're clearly not ready to broadcast eSports.
— Adam (@Parkzer) April 12, 2015
I was pretty excited today to watch Heroes of the Dorm, a Heroes of the Storm tournament hosted by Blizzard. I was a little bit confused when, part-way through the day, I saw a tweet that said Heroes of the Storm was now live … on ESPN3. I figured they were trying something new, and were moving on to a broadcast station instead of just streaming it on Twitch and YouTube like normal eSports. I heard that ESPN had streamed DotA2, so I assumed that it wouldn’t be that bad. When I expanded the tweet, the first thing I noticed was that there were a bunch of people tweeting at Blizzard about how they weren’t able to access ESPN from their country. I was a little disappointed that Blizzard had selected a streaming platform that wasn’t open to everyone in the world. Regardless, I opened up the stream and waited a little bit for it to load up. I tuned in during the middle of the game, and noticed that the stream felt incomplete. Upon further scrutiny, I realized that ESPN had essentially removed a lot of the user interface from the broadcast. More specifically, there was no mini-map, no detailed information about heroes and their health, and no map-specific mechanic counters. Some of this information was somewhat present, but it was oversimplified and unintuitive. At this time, I tweeted:
I kept watching and it felt as if the casters weren’t allowed to get excited. They were spending a lot of time trying to make the gameplay as easy to understand as possible, and ended up going down as low as to say things that would’ve been obvious, even to someone who had never played Heroes of the Storm before.
To expand on why it’s so bad not to include the mini-map in the broadcast, ESPN basically treated Heroes of the Storm like a physical sport. Physical sports are fine to broadcast like that because there is only one ball, and the camera just follows the ball around.
Using the ball analogy, there are basically four balls in Heroes of the Storm at the same time. Of course, you can’t follow all four balls around at the same time, and doing a split-screen type of broadcast wouldn’t be the best because the individual quarters would be too small and unpleasant to observe.
Instead, the mini-map needs to be broadcasted so viewers can get a feel as to where the other “balls” are on the map, and how the “balls” are being played. If this information isn’t provided, the game feels suffocating and the viewer feels as if they can’t see the big picture of the game.
As for the lack of detailed information, I understand that someone who has never watched eSports before tuning into ESPN would get overwhelmed by all the information on the screen. But, eSports relies heavily on small calculations that aren’t present in physical sports (for example, it’s very likely and common for eSports fights to go down to the last several hit points, and for that to change the outcome of the game, but in physical sports, taking a step two inches too far will pretty much never make any difference).
Overall, I’m pretty upset that Blizzard passed on the Heroes of the Dorm broadcast to ESPN, rather than running it themselves (or with a professional eSports broadcasting company) who actually know how to cater to an eSports audience.
The bright side to this is that this is the first day of the first ever “official” Heroes of the Storm tournament. I trust Blizzard enough that they have quality assurance analysts who are able to identify these problems, and hopefully they’ll be quick enough to make enough improvements before the next broadcast.