I finally got a chance to watch some high-level DOTA2 tonight. It was part of that invitational that’s going on right now. Can’t say I understood everything that was going on, or even MOST things, but I’ll say this: the commentary was amazing.
Why? Because it conveyed the drama of the game. The problem with a lot of game commentary I’ve run across is that there just isn’t really that much drama, or at least there isn’t much that corresponded to what was going on on-screen. Sure, World of Warcraft arena matches and Starcraft matches have some drama and excitement to them, but the whole thing moves so quickly and is so baffling to watch that you just don’t get what’s going on. Even a skilled player isn’t necessarily going to be able to figure out what’s happening, much less a newbie. The commentary I’ve heard goes up and down, but it’s too fast and frantic to really get a sense of it, and the matches are over too quickly
With this DOTA commentary, though, I had a pretty good idea what was going on even when I didn’t understand the specific terms. Even if I couldn’t figure out what abilities and skills were being used, or which heroes were better at what, I could see the fights going on, and the health bars going down, and the squads of guys running around the map taking others down. I’d hear the announcer’s excitement and tension when a lone hero was trying to get away from the other side and towards the safety of his tower, and I could correlate that with the little guy on the screen clearly hauling ass away from the bad guys.
Plus, I knew that each of those little heroes were being controlled by a player, and that helped humanize them. Seeing a bunch of random Starcraft units get taken down just doesn’t matter. Seeing players getting taken down does. There were TONS of little dramatic moments, reflected by the excited, tension-filled commentary, where players were charging each other or running from each other or desperately trying to defend some piece of territory or another. Even if I didn’t know what the hell a DOTA barracks was for, I could tell it was a big deal to lose it just by the desperate attempt to protect it.
World of Warcraft’s Arena matches kinda have that sort of thing, but there it’s a one-and-done situation: any of those little dramatic moments only happens once per player, and then it’s over. Sure, there can be health bar reductions and big saves, but the actual victories only happen once a match. It’s a bit like a boxing match against Tyson back in his heyday: the fight’s over so quickly that you can’t get a sense of it. There’s no broader goal, either; it’s just straight elimination, without all those little gamey objectives that add so much to the fight. The DOTA commentators were able to use those objectives to frame the conflict and determine who had the upper hand. Arena commentators wouldn’t.
I still don’t understand DOTA, mind. I’ll probably pick it up one day, but I know it’s still a hideously complex game that’s extremely punishing towards new players. But the combination of the game’s clever design and the smart commentary let me appreciate it. It made it a pleasure to watch, and that’s what I look for in an e-sport.