Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR took its first step into competitive gaming and fell on its face

    
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Just when you think that Star Wars: The Old Republic will change things around and actually do something that will appeal to the Killer-type of MMO player, it shoots itself in the foot time and time again.

I was caught completely off guard last week when I read that SWTOR had partnered with the Electronic Sports League. Competitive gaming was one of the last things that I thought SWTOR would get into. I thought that perhaps this was finally BioWare‘s appeal to that kind of player. But then, in typical BioWare fashion, it fumbled at the one-yard line.

In the past, I have been hypercritical of the way BioWare treats the competitive player. It has always seemed that the developer hasn’t paid anying attention to what’s worked and not worked in the past. It appeared that it copied what games like World of Warcraft would do not because it was highly successful but because WoW had done it.

This time, however, things seemed to be different. Although the proposed jump into competitive gaming isn’t completely original, it was a step outside the box.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic is notorious for not being successful with its PvP. Its 8-man, objective-based PvP is decent, but any time TOR has stepped into open-world PvP or any other kind of competitive gameplay, it’s fallen short.

From launch, Star Wars: The Old Republic injected 8v8 PvP into its progression system. Especially at the beginning when players were still discovering their classes, this type of PvP was really enjoyable and balanced. It really appeared that every class had something to do in PvP. Of course, TOR also scored player points for Huttball, a capture-the-flag game where you could throw the flag to another player. The progression system itself was a bit messed up because it involved a bit of lottery, but it didn’t take too long to change that.

SWTOR‘s first attempt at open-world PvP failed spectacularly. BioWare literally had to shut down that area of the planet until the introduction of the Gree event about a year later. Originally, the area was overloaded with particle effects. Add to that the hundreds of players, and we ended up with an unplayable lagfest. Of course, the gameplay mechanics didn’t help the situation. There weren’t really PvP objectives, just PvE objectives in a PvP zone. It ended up just being easier to let the enemy do his thing while you did yours. Then when the zone was reinstated with the Gree event, it ended up being the same PvE objectives in a PvP Zone, and there were literally lines forming at the PvE node in a zone where everyone could attack each other.

The latest big mistake wasn’t the introduction of arenas themselves but the fact that when these PvP instances were created, they became the only zones for ranked PvP. Arenas were not on the list of items that PvPers wanted. These 4v4 deathmatches really highlight where the class imbalances are and end up being boring in the long run with many matches being decided before the match even begins. Then BioWare tossed out what ended up being the ultimate insult to the Killer player: removing 8-man from ranked PvP and replacing it with arenas, a gameplay type no one wanted in the first place.

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After three years of messing things up, BioWare seemed to finally realize what it does well: PvE. Making the most of that, it decided to channel that talent into a competitive outlet for players, the eight-man operation speedrun.

Last week, community manager Eric Musco introduced BioWare’s partnership with ESL in a contest called “Operation Victory.” The competition was to allow groups of eight to run through the story-modes of the Shadow of Revan operations (Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice) as fast as they could and then submit their times to ESL for approval into the final competition.

ESL and BioWare had mentioned some amazing prizes which included in-game items, cash prizes, and even a trip to be BioWare’s guest at Star Wars Celebration.

So what happened? “We spent a lot of time this week testing bug fixes to see how viable the fixed version would be in a speed running environment,” Community Manager Musco explained on the forum yesterday. “We have applied improvements to the Coratanni encounter as of tomorrow’s [March 3rd] patch but there are still situations that could impact players focused on a timed run.”

Anyone who has run the Ravagers instance knows that the last boss can be bugged. It doesn’t happen all the time, but there is a chance that Coratanni will not despawn as she’s supposed to, though I thought that bug was fixed in a previous patch. The biggest issue was probably Coratanni’s door, which you can see in the patch notes from today as an item the developers attempted to fix. At times, the door doesn’t even appear, but during other runthroughs, it’s there. The interesting thing about Coratanni’s door issue is that it’s not game-breaking and would likely never get fixed because it doesn’t stop players from completing the instance.

The only reason that it’s a big deal this time around is because this is a speedrun. If Coratanni’s door is closed, the participants would have to jump through a cutscene before fighting the boss. If there is no door, then the whole team can just walk up to the boss. But they can spacebar through the cutscene, and it would make no difference, right? Wrong. There is a finite amount of time in which this operation can be completed. When you get to the competitive level, we are talking about shaving off tenths of seconds in order to win. A cutscene even if skipped can add three to five seconds of time and possibly cost a team a win.

Ultimately, I’m not disappointed that BioWare pulled the contest. I’m disappointed that it was forced pull the contest. It’s just a long list of items that failed miserably when attempting to cater to the Killer-type MMO player. And I honestly feel that this might have been the last chance BioWare had.

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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