It may actually be happening; the ever prophisied news that I can never pin my hopes on… North American teams might actually be coming to a European Insomnia Series event. I am always going to be skeptical regarding this sort of news, because of the dynamics of eSports. How many times before this June have we heard leaked news and “all but confirmed” information that a U.S. Team Fortress 2 team will be crossing the Atlantic to compete in England? I don’t think anyone has forgotten the escapades of Catman and Qun with their prodigious events – CatmanLAN and AmsterLAN.
This time however it looks as if Multiplay will help answer the EU vs. NA debate that has always fluttered above the heads of the TF2 6v6 community. At this point, I want to tip my hat to the community members behind this initiative – The eXtv boys ( Extine, Salamancer and Shadowpuppet in particular) and the support from Multiplay (mainly Tapley). I am not here to speculate of the likehood of seeing our American friends in Telford, I shall leave that to the community. I am here to discuss trials and tribulations the North Americans will have to overcome in the differences between the ESEA Playoff LAN, and the biggest Team Fortress 2 LAN in history.
There are a lot of major characteristic differences between the two LAN events, and the most crucial one is size, this directly affects a bunch of factors. The first and probably most crucial of all is the noise. The maximum capacity of Insomnia 46 is three thousand, which is the largest in i-Series history, all of whom will add to the atmosphere. Compare this to the size of the average ESEA event, which barely reaches 100, it is not hard to imagine how much of a difference this will make. At the best of times, during a tense crucial game some calls are hard to understand and the voice comms can get very congested. Add in the added emotions from lack of sleep and high ambient noise and its very easy to see why Team Infused didn’t always adhear to calls during i43. In comparison when I went to Summer Assembly, which hosted only eight TF2 teams, there was none of the added noise ambience due to far less players in the surround vacinity.
The size also directly impacts the playing time for the teams. At i43 Infused played from 10am on the Saturday through until 1am on Sunday, with enough respite to grab food and allow boomeh his pre-game toilet ritual. This also excluded the five hours of tedious group stage games the night before. That is a lot of Team Fortress in comparrison to the mediocre pace set at the ESEA Playoffs. You feel burnt, have highs and lows, need to hit a certain standard, and in most cases your best standard to continue competing in the tournament. I have seen pressures like this force teams to drop out of the tournament entirely: at i34 one of the Counter-Strike:Source teams tipped to upset dropped out in 9th-12th unable to handle playing more Counter-Strike… and because they wanted to drink!
Drinking! The main act of attending a European LAN event. The majority of players don’t spend hundreds, if not thousands in local currency with the intention of winning the tournament; for all but the anointed few the social event of seeing friends and having fun becomes the main attraction. There is no-one, except for maybe F2, that doesn’t get drawn into the regular drinking fun that marks the best TF2 events. If that hasn’t persuaded you American puritans, the drinking age is 18! Who knows you could be the star of the next Cadred NoobWatch! Consequently, this equates to players being hungover and sleep deprived before they have to battle through a full day of the competition.
Another key factor for the N. American teams, however, will be the adaptations they will probably have to deal with due to the European ruleset. There are numerous differences with the most crucial being the psychological transition from timelimit 60/ winlimit 5 over two halves to a timelimit 30/windifference 5 slugfest. In my eyes this is the main reason why European TF2 plays so much slower than its American counterpart: turtling holds so much more sway. The other obvious difference are the unlocks, however the majority of top American TF2 players played before unlocks were introduced. I personally don’t think it will take long for them to re-adapt to the vanilla + medlocks style, especially with the eXtv selection tournament running the rule set.
Most competitive gamers are so used to there home setup that when they get to LAN and find that they have a different height desk/chair and less space across the desk for there keyboard and ridiculous sized mousepad that they have a tough time getting used to the differences they have to deal with at the event. They will also be renting PCs at the event, however, the Americans will have more matches to get used to this than they are used to with the ESEA event, plus they will have already experienced this at the Season 11 Finals.
It all changes when you reach the Grand Final Stage, pretty much every point I have mentioned comes back in different ways. Your setup changes, you are forced to use the Multiplay Grand Final PCs and monitors, which don’t even run at 120Hz, thus meaning you need to get your setup right again. Probably the biggest difference is the crowd, there will probably be in excess of 300 players watching the final and the impact this has on players will very from person to person. Any good move either team makes will get a massive cheer and boost your teams momentum, meanwhile if that cheer is for the other team this can drop your own internal focus and momentum.
Obviously there are positives from attending a LAN event in comparison to online gaming, with the most obvious being the zero ping, which equates to better registration and pinpoint rockets courtesy of super low latency. You also get to play beside your teammates, which adds extra motivation and enables you to build team character between matches. Sometimes this can backfire and make the ingame atmosphere hectic during busy situations, however, it’s almost always easier being able to look at your comrade’s screen to see exactly what is going on, and position yourself to be as effective as possible.
From the North Americans’ point of view, they have much more experience of the competitive LAN environment; when the tournament gets down to those final 6 teams and becomes as competitive as an ESEA event, the true experience lies in the laps of the boys from across the Atlantic. How many times do the Europeans have that extremely close LAN match between the top tier? In these post-Assembly days it happens but once a year at the i-Series summer event, meanwhile the North Americans do it regularly at the end of each season. This means that while the pond-hoppers won’t have the specific i-Series experience, in relation to the topics I have discussed, they will definately have an edge when it comes to the critical end of the tournament.
All things considered, it is very important that the European teams don’t drift towards August with complacency, thinking that playing the yanks will be a walk in the park – if anything this tournament should be a breeze for them. Epsilon eSports, Team Infused and the rest of Europe need to do their homework and put in the hours if there is even a chance that Europe will snatch the crown.