Strife: 2nd Gen MOBA Hands-On (Massively.com)

I’ve never been much of a MOBA enthusiast, but I did watch a few hours of the Dota 2 international championships last weekend. In an effort to lure in players like me who either find the entire genre a bit overwhelming, or don’t have a major competitive streak, Strife is offering fewer hero options, more streamlined and open (visually less cluttered) world, and things like pets and crafting. They’re also aggressively trying to combat poor or negative player behaviors (smack talking, last-hitting a mob to score the gold, etc.) via their karma system and some changes to core game mechanics in an effort to reward and encourage being a team player.

According to S2, Strife is “the first, second-generation MOBA” since they launched Heroes of Newerth (HoN) nearly three years ago.

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Massively’s hands-on with Strife, a new MOBA from S2 Games

Hands On with S2 Games' Strife

My team is struggling. We’ve managed to hold our own after a nasty fight in the bottom lane, but then a message appears on my screen: Krytos is coming. The team at S2 Games had warned me about this giant ape and his tower-neutralizing, minion-stomping abilities. But there he was with the enemy team following in his wake.

This is Strife, the new free-to-play MOBA from the company that created Heroes of Newerth. The three-lane-based gameplay might look familiar from the top down, but a giant ape is just one of many interesting mechanics Strife is utilizing to help create a more enjoyable and flexible MOBA experience.

Oh, and did I mention the pets and the crafting?

Map and art design

The first thing I noticed about Strife during my preview was the map and art design. The map itself is smaller than the traditional maps found in other MOBAs and is separated into four unique sections, each with its own theme. Jessie Hayes, Executive Director of Art at S2, says Strife is designed to encourage quick bonds and recognition through clean and memorable looks. The themes of jungle, swamp, caves, and graveyard help players, and potentially spectators, easily identify where the action is through zone recognition.

Among other differences are the map’s more open design and the addition of ward-like observatories. Hayes says the map design was intentional to help create a more arena feel that ties back to the game’s lore. During my match, I found that moving from one place to another did feel easier without sacrificing too much of the difficulty or strategy I’m used to in MOBAs. The new observatories, a temporary name, serve as points that light up the map and reveal enemies each time you claim them as your own. When I ran by one observatory, it gave my entire team visibility of the region until an enemy player clicked by moment later. The mechanic arguably makes warding easier but adds some additional depth as claiming observation towers from the enemy also reveals a player’s location.

Hands On with S2 Games' Strife

There is also Krytos, the giant ape. Krytos is similar to the Baron buff in that he is meant to help a powerful team push and end the game. In my case, the enemy team freed Krytos by killing the powerful NPC imprisoning him. The ape rewarded the team by randomly spawning in a lane, charging forth to soak up tower and minion aggro. Krytos was by no means invincible, but he did neutralize our tower, which allowed the enemy team to initiate sooner and destroy us. It was unfortunate and awesome.

Heroes and hero selection

In Strife, you choose your hero before you form a team. This simple mechanic shift is used to help facilitate the game’s matchmaking system, which looks at not only a player’s skill but his skill with specific heroes. As a master of one hero, you’ll be matched more appropriately when you decide to try a hero you’re unfamiliar with. And you will try new heroes because Strife will give you every hero ever released — for free.

Strife will have substantially fewer heroes at launch when compared to other MOBAs, but this falls into the game’s design philosophy to make each hero more flexible and allow players freedom to play their way rather than the way. Playing as a support hero, I found my skills helped me push lanes almost as effectively as they helped my teammates snag enemy players. I didn’t have enough time to truly test each hero’s role flexibility, but the dev team is confident players will be able to use the game’s other mechanics to help fill a variety of roles with their favorite heroes.

Hands On with S2 Games' Strife

Pets and crafting

By far the most surprising aspect of Strife is its pets. Each pet serves as an ally that grants the player with bonuses specific to the pet. As I played more with my cute support kitty — at least I think it was a kitty — I earned the pet more experience toward unlocking new passive bonuses and abilities. Earning enough experience will not only level up the pet but morph the pet into a more grown-up version of itself. Essentially, pets are Pokemon that help replace the talent trees found in other MOBAs.

The passive bonuses of talents are also made up within the crafting system. Players earn resources as well as experience at the end of each match by selecting one of a variety of chests to open. These resources are then used in conjunction with patterns to customize the items you can find in the store during a match. For instance, a basic blade item that grants 15 attack power could be given the bonus of more health, more mana, more run speed, and so on through crafting outside the match via materials earned. I put more mana on an item outside of game and the item suddenly had bonus mana each time I bought it during a match. These bonuses also have multiple tiers up to legendary that require rarer materials, all earned through playing the game.

Design for community

Anyone who has ever played a MOBA has most likely seen some of the poor behavior stereotypical of the genre. If Strife has a foundation, it’s in designing a MOBA that discourages the behavior from the ground up. Marc Deforest, Chief Executive Officer at S2, put it best saying that poor design choices lead to toxic behavior.

Hands On with S2 Games' Strife

With this goal in mind, S2 has changed many small elements common to MOBA design that breed negativity within the game. Some of these changes include removing the ability to talk with the enemy team and allowing players to choose which stats they share with the community at the end of a match. My personal favorite was the removal of last-hitting enemy minions for gold. If two players are pushing a lane together, then they share the gold equally; if one player is pushing the lane, every other teammate gets a small kickback for that effort. The change didn’t affect the overall game, but it did seem to foster a greater sense of teamwork between players rather than competition for resources. [Clarification: Turns out that last-hitting hasn’t been entirely removed, but fighting over last-hitting will be nullified because it’s now team proximity based rather than based on individual players.]

Strife will also have a karma system that will help players rate their teammates as good, bad, or neutral in terms of contribution to the game and community. Players who are abusive will suddenly find they can no longer communicate in any game via typing or voice chat. Continued bad behavior will result in temporary or even permanent account bans. To players who are rated positively, perks will be awarded in the form of greater experience gain and resource drops. The system is simple on the surface, but the team says its complex algorithm watches for abuse and compensates by reducing the influence of players who attempt to abuse the system.

Strife is admittedly another MOBA in an increasingly crowded MOBA market. However, the basics in design choice really stand out as choices that help foster better community and gameplay without diluting the complexities of the MOBA. In short, I imagine Strife as that player who looks squarely at the competition and utters politely, “Good game.”

Dota 2’s “The International” Tournament Awards $1.43 Million to Alliance (GameSpot.com)

The era of professional gamers is in full swing as Valve’s Dota 2 tournament, the International, came to an end this past weekend. The gaming took place on the main stage at Benaroya Hall (Seattle’s Symphony Hall) and the audience was packed with thousands of expectant fans and teams there to do virtual battle. With the biggest first price cash payout in the International’s history, team Alliance walked away with a cool $1.43 million for top honors beating 2011’s champs, Na’Vi.

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Alliance wins $1.43m at Valve’s Dota 2 tournament The International 3

Alliance places first in Valve’s annual Dota 2 tournament, The International 3, winning $1.43 million.

Competitive gaming team Alliance from Sweden has picked up $1.43 million after finishing first place in Valve’s annual Dota 2 tournament, The International 3.

Alliance won the grand final after facing off against team Na’Vi from the Ukraine in a best-of-five format, winning 3-2.

The International 3 event kicked off on August 3, with 16 of the best Dota 2 teams flown in from around the world to compete. The event was hosted at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington.

Alliance, who finished in first place, will be taking home $1,437,204. Na’Vi will be awarded $632,370 for second place. Malaysian team Neolution Orange placed third, and will be awarded $287,441 in prize money. The event marks the first time that no Chinese teams have placed in the top 3.

The prize pool for The International 3 totals at $2.87 million, establishing its record as the largest prize pool for a single competitive gaming event. Nearly 400,000 people tuned in live for the first day of the event, and 600,000 on the second and third days, surpassing last year’s peak numbers.

At the 2012 International event, team Invictus Gaming from China won $1 million for finishing in first place. In 2011, Team Na’Vi took first place with a prize of $1 million.

For more about the event, check out GameSpot’s coverage of The International 2013.

The Rise of eSports in America (IGN.com)

Leah Jackson over at IGN has written an excellent article discussing the past 15 years of eSports history, the influential companies and tournaments over the past decade-and-a-half, and what the current landscape for the professional game looks like. If you have no clue what an eSport is (or why the US Government approved an online game as a “professional sport”), or you’re a rabid enthusiast who can’t wait for the Guild Wars 2 and LOL tournaments this year, the article is definitely worth the read.

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A look at how strategy games, MOBAs, and fighters have become a legitimate sport in America.

Anyone with their fingers even remotely close to the pulse of gaming knows that eSports have blown up in popularity in the United States over the past few years. With thousands of gamers competing and millions watching, the phenomenon has come a long way in a very short period of time. Now more than ever, players are considering pro-gaming as a valid career, especially in the U.S.

Professional gaming isn’t exactly new. Gamers have been making a living off their skills since the late ’90s. But it was when developer Blizzard Entertainment released StarCraft II in 2010 that eSports in America really seemed to blossom in to the wildly successful spectator sport it has become today.

Major League Gaming, or MLG, has become one of the most prestigious eSports organizations in the world, and is one of the true pioneers of eSports in the United States. “When we started MLG in 2002 our goal was to provide those with an appetite for video game competition the ability to both participate and spectate,” explained Sundance DiGiovanni, Co-Founder and CEO of Major League Gaming. “I think we have laid the groundwork for a consistent and stable competitive platform and truly helped eSports in the U.S. become what it is today.”

Over 10 years later, MLG is still thriving, offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes to professional gamers via online and live events. According to MLG, more than 11.7 million unique viewers tuned in to watch the four 2012 MLG Pro Circuit Championship events online, compared to 3.5 million viewers in 2011. An impressive 334% increase.

The rapid rise in viewers is pretty astonishing, but MLG isn’t the only organization getting in on the action. Other large leagues and tournaments have begun popping up stateside as well.

The Evolution Championship Series, or EVO, is the most prominent fighting game tournament in the world. This year the event was put on by Shoryuken.com and was held in the U.S. in Las Vegas, drawing a record-breaking 1.7 million unique online viewers. Professional players from around the world competed at the event, which was attended by thousands.

Not only are large organizations like MLG and EVO putting on these events in America, but the developers of these eSports titles have begun hosting their own massive tournaments and leagues in the states as well.

Blizzard hosts the StarCraft II World Championship Series, or WCS, a $1.6 million series of events spread throughout 13 events. While the tournament does include players from all around the world, this year the Championships are being held in California during BlizzCon.

Riot Games, developer of the massively popular free-to-play MOBA League of Legends, also hosts their own tournament league, The League Championship Series, or LCS. Riot takes particularly good care of the gamers good enough to qualify for the LCS, offering a salary to each team. The salary helps them cover travel and housing, and is meant to help the players alleviate any financial stress so that they can focus on gaming.

Riot Games recently made huge strides for eSports as a whole in the U.S., going through a lengthy process to prove that League of Legends is a legitimate sport to the U.S. government. Thanks to the developer, the United States government now recognizes pro LoL players as professional athletes, and will award them visas to work in the U.S. under that title.

This year, the LCS Championship is also being held in the United States. Players from around the world will travel to the Staples Center in Los Angeles to compete for millions in prizes.

Valve, the developer of the hugely successful free-to-play MOBA, Dota 2, is also hosting a tournament in the states this year, The International 3. The International 3 already touts the largest prize pool in eSports history, coming in at around $2.6 million. The event will take place in Seattle, Washington and will host players from all around the world.

While these developer tournaments are generally held near the developer’s headquarters, it’s still important that they’re in the United States at all. Other countries have been hosting these large events for years, and it’s nice to see that instead of all the action being held overseas, more people get to see what the states have to offer too.

Aside from tournaments, there are a few other factors that have played important roles in the growth of eSports in the United States as well. Probably the most important being the rise of Twitch.TV. Twitch.TV, which is based in the U.S., is a free live streaming platform that launched in 2011. Nowadays, over 35 million viewers watch gaming-related content broadcasted over Twitch.TV every month. And most, if not all, of the large tournaments mentioned in this article are broadcasted on Twitch.

There’s also been a rise of eSports commentators, or casters, in the U.S. thanks to Twitch.TV. These people, much like professional sports broadcasters, are filled with deep knowledge about particular eSports titles, and they guide viewers through games and offer in-depth analysis. Some of the more popular broadcasters can bring in thousands of people to their Twitch.TV stream every time they turn it on. Since Twitch is free and easy to use, professional players, casters, and anyone else who wants to give streaming a try can do so. Twitch even offers broadcasters who bring in enough viewers the chance to earn some money by signing up for their Partner Program.

Another big factor that’s helping eSports grow in the U.S. is the recent Team House trend. Team Houses, which are already very popular in South Korea, have started sprouting up in the U.S., offering professional teams a place to use as their own personal training facilities.

According to Cody “Evoli” Conners, General Manager of Team Evil Geniuses, his players benefit from their Team House by having other talented players around to bounce ideas off of and practice with. Not only is the practice environment great, but it’s really beneficial to have all of his players in one place. “If a sponsor reaches out to us and wants something filmed or some content created, we have the benefit of having ten of our star players in the same house.”

He also explains why Team Houses are important for the growing popularity of eSports in the United States. “I think it would be difficult to argue that any organization that has had a house is worse off for their efforts,” he said. “It shows that they’re taking eSports seriously and I think it helps the fans realize that.”

The eSports community in general has also played an extremely significant role in the growth of professional gaming in the U.S. In addition to the countless websites dedicated to all sorts of eSports, a few devoted fans have even started an organization that could potentially become the most important factor in growing eSports in the U.S. in the future.

The eSports Association, or TeSPA, (formerly the Texas eSports Association) is a network of gaming-community organizers at college campuses. They work together to promote competitive gaming by building communities, hosting events, and developing themselves into the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders. Their goal is to see the continual growth of eSports, and what better way to do so than by establishing a baseline of different freshmen every year? It wasn’t too long ago that American football made its debut on college campuses, so it’s not that far-fetched that we could be seeing an emergence of pro-gamers at various U.S. colleges in the future.

Yet even though professional gaming in the U.S. has come a long way and has the potential to be a valid profession for some Americans, other countries, like Sweden and South Korea, are already broadcasting eSports events on national television. The 2012 Dreamhack Winter tournament was even televised on Sveriges Television (SVT), the Swedish public service station. Luckily for those in the U.S., MLG’s Sundance DiGiovanni has been in touch with CBS Interactive and is now making a case to get live eSports games on television here in the U.S.

At the end of the day, eSports has taken off so rapidly in America because of the growing popularity of competitive games and the desire that gamers have to watch competition at its highest level. While it may sound like a dream profession to some, professional gaming is a fiercely competitive business to get into. Players must spend countless hours perfecting strategies, communication, and teamwork to merely have a chance at competing with the best.

Whether you’re a player or caster (or even a journalist covering eSports), you have to work very hard and stay on top of everything. You have to live and breathe your game, and only the very best will ever make a name for themselves, in America or anywhere else. It takes drive, determination, and some very thick skin to make it as a pro gamer or caster, but if you can work your way into the club, it’s a fun ride that isn’t stopping anytime soon.

Soldier Front 2: Closed Beta Keys (MMOBomb.com)

MMOBomb and Aeria Games are at it again. This time, no replies necessary! Click the Key button below or go to the website links below.

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MMOBomb and Aeria Games have teamed up to give our users free in-game items for Soldier Front 2. To get your code key you just need to click on the button below.

Soldier Front 2, a new free to play 3D MMOFPS with a large amount of team combat modes, including a unique MOBA-style scenario.

If button doesn’t work, just click here: http://www.mmobomb.com/giveaway/soldier-front-2-free-items.

How to get and use your Key:

1. Log in to your MMOBomb account to get your key. If you don’t have one, register for free HERE.
2. Copy and paste your key to a safe place as you may not be able to retrieve it once closing your browser.
3. Download Soldier Front 2 HERE.
4. Login to Soldier Front 2 and create a character
5. Go HERE and enter your Gift Code in the box
6. Go to the Armory in game and check the gift tab for your items!
7. Make sure you never miss a giveaway, follow our updates via Facebook and Twitter!
8. Have Fun!

The beta Key Includes:

– SP and EXP Doubler
– Color Code Name Change
– Hot 3 Pack
– Icejam Pack
– Hunter Pack
– Delta Scout

Soldier Front 2 Gameplay Video:

Giveaway: Arena of Heroes Founders Pack Worth $120 (Raptr.com)

I mentioned a few days ago about Raptr (http://www.raptr.com) and how often they’d give away games, discounts, etc. Today’s one of those days.

Right now, they are giving away 1,000 Arena of Heroes Founders Packs if you meet the criteria. To see everything else on their Raptr Rewards program, go here.

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Download Arena of Heroes here.

You’ll be getting:

-8 Heroes
-4 Skins
-A custom Raptr badge
-Boosts

Requirements:
•Must have recently ran the Raptr Desktop App
•Must have a Verified Email Account
•Hardcore or above in a selected title:

Selected titles:
Civilization V (PC)
Diablo III (PC)
DOTA 2 (PC)
Hero Academy (PC)
Magic The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (PC)
Path of Exile (PC)
Realm of the Titans (PC)
Skulls of the Shogun (PC)
SmashMuck Champions (PC)
Smite (PC)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC)

 

How To Claim Your Reward

Step 1: Meet all the requirements of the reward, be sure and check your reward by clicking this button if you think you should get it. DON’T WAIT for an email.

Step 2: Claim the reward. Earning it isn’t enough!

Step 3: Click on the link we provided: http://arenaofheroes.com/redeem-game-code/ and enter the code to redeem. Success should appear like this:

To view your unlocked goods, launch the game. Then click profile.

For Heroes, click Heroes and sort by owned, For Skins, click Skins!

Step 4: Enjoy!

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