Of Spectator Sports and Trinities

My television watching habits are supremely irregular.

That is, I don’t watch much TV at all.

All those crucial 45 minute blocks of time are spent gaming, rather than passively experiencing a story that goes absolutely nowhere except into yet-another-episodic-arc-designed-to-keep-you-glued-to-the-screen.

Nor am I a big sports fan.

Competition and me are not pals, having been bitten once too many times by an obsessive personality that would fixate too much on winning at all costs, if I gave it free reign. I’m mellower when I tell myself winning is not the goal, but having moment-to-moment fun is.

Still, there was a time when I was enraptured by the NFL and American football. It just seemed so much more complex and intricate than the football the rest of the world plays – lots more clear cut roles, different strategies every pass designed to get the ball the next 10 yards and beyond.

Until I took note of how many hours a night I was spending watching one game (3-4 easily) and how much gaming time I was losing out on as a result. Fell out of the habit shortly after.

It’s funny then that even I can get caught up in the zeitgeist of the moment. I just spent the last couple of midnights staying up till 3am to watch the semi-finals and finals of the FIFA World Cup.

Not as a rabid soccer or football fan, staunchly loyal to one team, but out of a pigheaded determination to discover an appreciation of a game that I mostly always viewed as “kicking a ball around a grass patch for 90 minutes and falling down with an agonized look on one’s face the moment the faintest contact is made, hoping for a favorable referee call.”

The internet helped.

Googled up “soccer strategies” and “why do people like football so much” and devoted some time to reading other people’s thoughts.

Apparently, it’s the continuous flow of action rather than the typical start and stop of American football that some find compelling, a constant adrenaline high for one and a half hours punctuated with more extreme buzzes whenever the ball gets close to the goal posts.

I’m somehow not wired that way. I don’t get adrenaline deliveries on cue, which may suggest a reason why competition isn’t that exciting for me. Instead, I enjoy watching the interlocked intricacies of each team member in American football performing their specialized role well, with the result that the football either gets passed or gets stopped, depending on which team outsmarted or outplayed the other.

Still…

…Surely, soccer has -some- strategies of this ilk? Just less obvious, perhaps?

More reading. More eye-glazing over various “formations” with hypenated player numbers. More beginner tips on how to appreciate soccer via watching how one player may outsmart another by looking in one direction while kicking in another, or using their body to block an opponent’s view of the ball, or players that criss-cross and cut in at various locations to become open for the ball and so on.

I guess there were -some- things that I could find vaguely interesting, after all.

So I watched the World Cup and admired Germany’s efficient teamwork and appreciated on a distant theoretical level why defensive football is so important by observing Brazil’s total defensive meltdown.

Still didn’t like the extreme boring nature of a super-defensive football game with zero goals scored in two hours (with extra time) – effective, I’ll grant you, but boring as heck to watch – and repeatedly rolled one’s eyes at the more unspoken sides of football – ie. sneakily damage your opponent as much as you can get away with, dramatically telegraph all contact in the hopes of a free kick or yellow/red cards, and apparently biased referees.

Seriously, if things are going to get that physical, then put on some padding and go to town like the Americans do.

It’s with some irony though that I find a parallel with MMOs and that I’m on the opposite side when it comes to computer gaming.

American football reminds me of the holy trinity.

Everyone has a specialized role, everyone works in unison and it’s beautiful when everything synchronizes.

Rest-of-the-world football is a non-holy trinity game. Perhaps, dare I say it,  even like GW2.

There’s one primary role everyone performs, do damage or get the ball as close you can to the goal/stop ball getting close to yours, while still paying attention to the team and working in sync with them and supporting them as needed. There may be different “classes” or “soccer positions” with some variants in playstyle. There’s probably more going on under the hood than is obvious to the casual observer.

Soccer is said to be one of the most unpredictable sports. A weaker team has a good chance of upsetting a stronger team because the scores are so low. If opportunities fall their way, and are capitalized on, that may be it for the more unlucky team.

Some find this a reason why soccer is so exciting to watch.

Me, I personally find it about as thrilling as trying to predict heads or tails on a coin toss, and just as pointless. I guess I prefer to watch a good team demonstrate -why- they’re a good team.

Strangely enough, I find unpredictability a bonus if you’re the one actually participating in the moment.

Because it’s suddenly you that can become the hero with a well-placed rez, or good dodging or even indulge in a star solo moment, by catching the right opportunities.

To me, soccer or GW2 is a tide more individualistic, whereas American football or a holy trinity game seems a bit more skewed towards subsuming the self to make a team work like clockwork.

Not really sure where I’m going with this, but I guess the moral of the story is that people like different things, which may differ again if they’re spectating or doing.

And that we can all learn to appreciate (if only at a theoretical distance) stuff we thought we didn’t like before, if we try to look for its redeeming features.

After the World Cup, I’ll be going on one more spectator sports binge.

The International is slated from July 18-21.

DOTA 2 and I have a curious relationship.

I was super-thrilled to win a beta key in one of Steam’s sales contests when it was in development. I installed it gleefully, remembering my very amateur DOTA games-with-real-life-friends, and tinkered around with a few bot games.

Then never quite got back to it again.

Every now and then, I log in, admiring its whole elaborate free-to-play structure of level unlocks, vanity costume skins that cost money, numerous beginner tutorials/build guidance/encyclopedias that are linked to community knowledgebases, on and on through an intricate ladder of intermediate to expert commitment.

Then I back out without having gained a single experience point.

Sorta like LOL, except LOL did seem a little simpler and I did get to around level 4 or so.

I want desperately to play them and learn how deep both rabbit holes go, but the truth is, I just can’t envision investing all that time into MOBAs.

A single match takes like 30-45 minutes or more. You have to play a lot of them to get familiar with the game. You have to play a number of heroes to get familiar with the heroes and gain some flexibility in what you can play. Getting skillful takes even longer.

It’s easier to just watch a couple hours’ worth of professional teams go at it, for a couple of days, and get the entertainment experience without having to personally grind your way up.

Maybe some day, I’ll give them another go, but not today.

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6 thoughts on “Of Spectator Sports and Trinities

  1. bhagpuss says:

    You’re sparking off so many philosophical, psychological and sociological issues in that piece it would serve as a starting point for half a dozen Master’s theses. Why do people watch this sport rather than that? Why do people watch sport at all? Or play it? How much is cultural, how much tribal, how much emotional, how much intellectual? I sport a surrogate and if so for what?

    What is culturally valid? What is culture anyway? If watching tv is “passively experiencing a story that goes absolutely nowhere” then what is live theater? Movies? The novel?

    Is gaming really active rather than passive when most of we do is conform to a prepared script ? More so than doing a crossword or painting by numbers?

    I could go on. You really packed a lot in there.

    My personal take on spectator sports is that the sport itself is supremely irrelevant. An analytical observer can develop a frighteningly deep interest in pretty much *anything*, regardless of how objectively complex it may or may not be, while an emotionally-invested observer can exhibit a terrifying level of commitment to the outcome of any competition no matter how objectively trivial.

    “Soccer” is almost certainly massively more popular worldwide than, say, American Football largely because it requires almost literally no equipment and no financial investment before a game can take place. A few rocks to mark the goal and some old newspapers tied up in a discarded plastic carrier bag and there’s your game right there. The simplicity of the gameplay and the rules feed right in.

    The GW2 analogy is spot on. I used often to describe my favorite part of MMOs as being the recreation of that feeling I had as a ten-year old child on a summer’s day. A gang of kids, an open field and we could be anyone, do anything and we did. I’ve always played MMOs with that attitude. Everquest I found especially conducive to it and almost all of them can be bent to that shape but GW2 does indeed appear to have been made with that playstyle directly in mind.

  2. Ursan says:

    Heh! I think both you guys are spot on. Futbal is immensely popular, I think, because of its structure-less nature and its low barrier of entry. GW2 is similar, I agree, We can debate about what the game does right and wrong, but its casual nature is one of the bigger reasons why it’s done a pretty solid job at retaining players (at least according to xfire.)

    -Ursan

  3. Izlain says:

    I used to feel the same way about TV. Wasted time that could be spent gaming. Then a few shows started to interest me, and then a few more and next thing I knew I loved TV. The advent of Netflix (streaming) and DVR helped to feed this interest, because I can watch when I want to watch.

    I am religious about the NFL. I keep up on news in the offseason, and watch every game I can. I too have never really understood the appeal in other sports, but I end watching them, sometimes (usually only big games). To me, the NFL is much like that trinity, a well oiled unit that creates beautiful plays. I am a fan of one of the better teams though, so perhaps that has colored my view. Browns or Jacksonville fans are likely not so passionate about the sport.

    I haven’t played DOTA 2 really. That’s probably surprising given the sheer amount of time I’ve spent with other MOBAs. They really do have a depth that isn’t visible on the surface. There is a MMO level of commitment to get to that depth though.

    It’s unfortunate that there’s so much to be interested in, but not enough time to fully devote to all of it.

  4. C. T. Murphy says:

    I haven’t gotten into soccer seriously, but I do appreciate it for similar reasons to baseball. Like you, I recognize the strong individual aspects, though soccer’s teamplay is decidedly more pronounced than that of baseball’s. I like that a lot, as it usually translates into more games that on their own exciting. I want to see the back and forth; the triumph of heroes and the despair of losers.

    I really get into it, even if for most others, it is an exercise in pointless tedium.

  5. Dahakha says:

    I think you’re pretty close to the core of the issue when you bring MOBAs into your post. I played soccer at a high level for my age when I was a kid and young adult, and being immersed in it, being drilled in the strategies and roles that players had in the team, is what gives me a greater appreciation of the intricacies of the game when I watch it now (old injury forced me to stop playing) than what other people such as yourself have. I think a big attraction of the game is that ebb and flow, those times where a team can pile on so much pressure only for the defence to hold and then push back with a lightning-quick counterattack. But where I think you nailed it is in the time investment, I think basketball has that same ebb and flow characteristic, and probably the same intricate strategies and roles that soccer does, but I’ve never grokked it. I find it boring to watch. I am pretty damn sure, though, that I would feel differently if I’d spent a large part of my life playing it even socially.

    The time factor comes in for pure spectators too, my mum knows way more about soccer than she otherwise would simply from coming to watch me play throughout my childhood, and because of that she’s way more open to watching it on tv even though she’s not a huge fan.

    I am in total agreement with you about MOBAs requiring obscene amounts of time investment to be fully enjoyed. I can watch LoL games and not have a damn clue what is going on or whether one team is performing well or not (I’ve dabbled so I know the basic-basics). The big team brawls look to me like cartoon fights where it’s just a big cloud of abilities going off with arms or legs occasionally sticking out, and then suddenly it clears and there’s a winner. I’ve had to avoid the lure because I know that it’d take dozens of games or hundreds of hours of watching streams to even begin to appreciate the beauty of the genre, and I’m not prepared to commit to that.

    Going back to the football analogy, I think if NFL is to raiding or other strict trinity content, then soccer would be like rated battlegrounds in WoW. Except with people dramatically throwing themselves to the ground every time an opposing player got into melee range…

  6. Ettesiun says:

    If you want more or less the equivalent of American Football, you shall more look at Rugby. The rules are complex, and the flow is more the stop and go thant continuous movement.
    I would put Soccer nearer to Basket Ball.

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