PC Gamer

The League of Legends LCS continues to dominate the headlines at the moment, but there are actually a fair few other events taking place this weekend. There’s plenty of action from the CS:GO: DreamHack Masters to the Heroes of the Storm: Global Championship. We even have the Hearthstone Winter Playoffs to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: 2017 EU LCS Spring Split

H2K Gaming bounced back from their tough loss against G2 by beating Team ROCCAT, while G2 Esports earned its sixth straight series win after sweeping Origen 2-0. The Giants and ROCCAT are still the underdogs of the tournament, but both teams are determined to improve their scores this weekend where they’ll face H2K and Splyce. The competition’s looking extremely fierce and we can expect to see some exciting games as we go into week five. This week’s schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

League of Legends: 2017 NA LCS Spring Split

Echo Fox had another fantastic week as jungler Akaadian snowballed his team with an early advantage that allowed him to apply pressure all other the map. Team Dignitas even managed to secure their second win when they defeated in EnVy 2-0. Meanwhile, Team Liquid narrowly lost their match against Cloud9, but Piglet and Reignover showed great potential with their jungle and AD carry plays. The full schedule and stream can be found over on LoL Esports.

CS:GO: DreamHack Masters Las Vegas 2017

Following the success of the first ever DreamHack Masters in Malmö, DreamHack has taken their explosive CS:GO tournament to Las Vegas. The World’s best CS:GO teams have been busy battling it out at the iconic MGM Grand and Garden Arena for their chance to win the $450,000 prize pool. The competition is set to be fierce and we will find out whether anyone has what it takes to beat the current titleholders Ninjas in Pyjamas. The full schedule can be found here, while the stream can be found by heading over to Twitch.

Hearthstone: 2017 HCT Americas Winter Playoffs

Last weekend the European branch of the Hearthstone Championship Tour kicked off and determined which four players (Pavel, Neirea, GreenSheep, and ShtanUdachi) would be competing at the Hearthstone Winter Championship in the Bahamas, as well as crowning Pavel the HCT EU Winter Champion. This weekend we’ll see which players have what it takes to represent the Americas and be crowned the HCT Americas Winter Champion. The matches kick off on Saturday at 08:00 PST / 17:00 CET, and continue Sunday at 09:00 PST / 18:00 CET. You can find the weekend’s schedule and official stream here.

Heroes of the Storm: Global ChampionshipSeven teams have booked their ticket to the Western Clash at IEM Katowice. Tempo Storm, Team 8, and Gale Force eSports from North America made the cut during week four of play. Misfits secured their spot after defeating Team expert 3-0, while fellow European teams Fnatic and Team Dignitas will also be joining them. Both NA and EU schedules can be found here, while the stream can be viewed by heading over to Twitch

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Philippa Warr)

Gounter-Strike: Global Offensive

It looks like Valve are experimenting with machine learning to deal with cheating in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [official site]. The snippet of insight comes from a Reddit thread about spinbots in Valve’s first-person shooter.

The gist is that Valve are investigating using an artificial intelligence system capable of constantly retraining itself to spot cheaters and try to stay ahead in the cheat creation/cheat detection arms race. … [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Anti-cheat software has a lot of weight to pull in the modern age, with few major games going to market without some form of online competitive mode. Detecting and smiting cheaters is a thankless task too, with most folk ignoring anti-cheat technology unless it stops working effectively. Typically enough, Valve has a new approach in mind.

During a discussion on the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Reddit page, one user asked why Valve doesn't implement auto-detection for spinbots – bots that literally spin on the spot, auto-killing every player in range. Other users posit quite reasonably that it wouldn't be hard to detect this supernaturally quick and effective player behavior. That may be true, but according to a Valve spokesperson writing in the thread, it wouldn't be the best approach.

"So some bad news: any hard-coded detection of spin-botting leads to an arms race with cheat developers – if they can find the edges of the heuristic you’re using to detect the cheat, the problem comes back," the spokesperson wrote. "Instead, you’d want to take a machine-learning approach, training (and continuously retraining) a classifier that can detect the differences between cheaters and normal/highly-skilled players."

That sounds simple enough if you don't know what's at stake, but actually, it's an approach to anti-cheat which ups the ante entirely: both in possible effectiveness and the sheer cost of operating it.

"The process of parsing, training, and classifying player data places serious demands on hardware, which means you want a machine other than the server doing the work. And because you don’t know ahead of time who might be using this kind of cheat, you’d have to monitor matches as they take place, from all ten players’ perspectives."

The spokesperson continued: "There are over a million CS:GO matches played every day, so to avoid falling behind you’d need a system capable of parsing and processing every demo of every match from every player’s perspective, which currently means you’d need a datacenter capable of powering thousands of CPU cores."

Apparently Valve has "started this work" and already has an early version of the system deployed to Overwatch – a self-regulated community dedicated to reviewing cheat reports in the game. The company will "continue this work and expand the system over time".

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

‘Til all are one, it’s only the weekly Steam charts! These are the ten games which sold best on Steam last week.

It’s one of those ‘just copied and pasted all the HTML from last week’ kind of weeks. This is GOOD because I am lazy but BAD because there is little new to say. Fortunately, I’ve brought a friend along with me this time. … [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Photo credit: Heather 'sapphiRe' Garozzo

As the bombastic opening to last month’s ELEAGUE Major demonstrated, esports have come a long way since the LAN parties of the ‘90s. Within this developing environment, more and more unique careers are emerging. While CS:GO’s casters and analysts rival even the players in popularity, a further selection of vital backstage roles are only just starting to gain attention. Chief among these unsung heroes are CS:GO’s observers.

What is an observer?

By controlling the in-game camera, the observer decides which player perspectives or camera angles are broadcast during the match. When you’re watching an online stream, every viewpoint is chosen by them. With the onus on ensuring that the big plays are captured each round, the difference between a good and bad observer is not to be understated. Experienced observers are few and far between, and as tournaments continue to expand, it’s a position increasingly in demand. I had the chance to speak with Heather ‘sapphiRe’ Garozzo, one of CS:GO’s most accomplished observers, on what the role entails.

“An observer is essentially an in-game director for a match,” Heather says. “There’s a main director who’s telling people when to go in game, when to look at the team, the analyst's desk or the host. Then there’s the in-game director which is the observer. My job is to direct the action in the game. Essentially I’m a storyteller. I’m telling the story of a round or the match.”

A former professional competitor, Heather has been playing CS since its initial release in 1999. Alongside her gaming career, Heather began covering CS:Source as a freelance writer, travelling at her own expense to cover various events. Eventually noticed by companies such as ESEA and ESL, Heather moved onto CS:GO coverage until, out of the blue, she was asked to observe a match.

“One weekend, former competitive player impulsivE said he needed an observer,” recalls Heather. “I said you need a what? An observer? I guess I’ll give that a shot. I was kind of nervous as I’d never done that before and hadn’t really thought of an observer as a thing. I used to watch hundreds of demos, thousands of demos of teams for analytical articles. It turns out I was pretty comfortable with it.”

As it happened, this match was part of the 2015 ESL One Cologne Major Qualifier and opened the door to a career that few playing the game were even aware of. Since then, Heather has worked at a great number of notable events including the MLG Columbus Major and ESL Pro League Season 2 Finals.

Know the players, know the game

Anticipating the key moments in each round is no easy task, with players often spread across all corners of the map. A good knowledge of the scene is therefore a great boon. Getting a grasp of which players are the main entry fraggers, AWPers and lurkers is just the beginning. Getting to know the players themselves is the real goal.

“I’d say what really sets me apart from the average observer is that, because I get to observe these guys so often, I know their style,” says Heather. “Like [EnVyUs’ AWPer] KennyS. He likes to play these very aggressive angles on Dust2. We’re watching the map most of the time, so we’re watching little dots on the radar. We’re not just clicking round through players trying to find something. When I see KennyS’s dot on that particular spot and I know he has an AWP? I’m probably gonna switch to him if I see a T approaching.”

“Another example is Stewie2K,” Heather adds. “He’s typically known for pushing through smokes. A lot of players see smokes as a wall. Not Stewie—don’t switch off him because he’s probably going to do something crazy. I think it really makes a difference for me, it allows me to be more reactive when I can anticipate the players.”

Photo credit: Helena Kristiansson/ESL

Caster relationships

This knowledge extends beyond those competing to the external talent. Another key part of an observer’s work is to compliment the casters. During a match, casters are often in direct communication with the observation team, making requests for specific viewpoints or statistics. Working in tandem over a number of tournaments, Heather has built up a rapport with CS:GO’s top casting talent, and is able to adapt her style to suit them.

“I have to work very closely with [them]” says Heather. “If you don’t have a good observer, the talented casters are going to be unable to do their job. They’re the narrators and I’m directing for them. I’m fortunate enough that I get to travel to a lot of different events. I’m seeing these guys every other weekend so I get to know them and build up a chemistry.”

“Sadokist likes to call things out that he wants to talk about, so I have to queue those up for him on the main screen,” Heather gives as an example. “Semmler likes to cover how many players lived or died on previous rounds so I need to dig into the scoreboard and damage done on players. It really helps to get to know their style. To the audience we want it to look like one complete package, not a bunch of different people.”

Photo credit: Heather 'sapphiRe' Garozzo

Rules of thumb

The level of involvement and prior knowledge required to reach the top might seem daunting, but Heather is quick to offer some basic tips to improve your observing significantly.

“There’re definitely a few rules of thumb. For example, in a 1v2 I’m almost always going to put the camera on the one person, because he’s always more likely to do something more impressive or pull off a clutch,” Heather advises. “When 5 Ts are pushing one CT, I could keep trying to guess which one is going to get the kill, but the better guess is to go on [the lone player].”An observer’s goal is to consistently find the most exciting part of the match. This can involve swapping between both sides based on the pace of a team or which segment of the round is occurring.

 “At the beginning of the round, you usually want to show the terrorists as they’re the ones that need to advance on the map,” says Heather. “What they’re doing is the most important thing on the map, unless the CTs do something special. Let that part unfold and then, when they’re about to execute onto a site, you often want to switch to the CTs.”

How to start observing

If observing sounds like your thing, the tools included in CS:GO make starting out easier than ever—but you’ll need to earn some experience before you hit the big leagues. Fortunately, Heather suggests, there is plenty of demand.

“I think of it as similar as the route to casting,” says Heather. “ESL is not going to hire you without some sort of experience, as you’re working with the directors and producers. Even after I got my start at ESL, I tried to do a lot of things on my own. For example on ESEA, or ESL and FACEIT there are literally hundreds of matches every night which go unstreamed, and people want to watch those. That’s a great opportunity to practice and build content on your Twitch stream. It’s as easy as firing up your stream [and posting the link] on a match page.”

An additional route is to work with those keen to get involved in other areas. The popularity of match commentators like Anders Blume and Henry “HenryG” Greer has led to many new faces keen to practice their casting talent. Most will be more than keen to work with an observer and ease their workload.

“I think that would be a great way to do it,” Heather says. “You have caster duos but I think it would be cool to have caster-observer duos. It’s really hard to cast and observe at the same time, so observe for them and you can both get experience.”

Photo credit: Heather 'sapphiRe' Garozzo

Deserving attention

By virtue of being an off-camera role, observing has been slow to gain recognition by the community—but times are changing. Last year’s ESL Pro League Season 2 Finals included observers among their talent announcement, and casters have even been making an effort to commend their good work.

“It’s such a nice feeling when they do that and it’s great to know we’re getting more attention,” says Heather. “I definitely notice that. Things as simple as that when the crew are picked up in the morning, we go with the talent. Casters are going to have preference for who they want to work with. Even on reddit too a lot of people get excited when a particular observer is announced.”

With most observers starting out as fans and players of the series, it’s fantastic to see their work gain appreciation in the audience. As esports evolve, here’s hoping these hidden stars continue to be acknowledged.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

our EIC Graham performs his noble duty

By the power of Grayskull, it’s only the weekly Steam charts! These are the games which sold best on Steam last week.

It’s all gone a bit 2015-2016 in here again, I’m afraid, but fortunately cavalry of a sort arrives in the pendulous form of some big ol’ swingin’ dicks. … [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Last year, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's Inferno map was given a fresh lick of paint before being offered to players to test out and file feedback. Check out our 'before and after' Inferno slider gallery over here to this end, and know that said makeover has now led Inferno to replace the game's renowned Dust2 arena—with the latter being removed from Active Duty. Dust2 is still playable, however retires from the competitive esports scene as it stands.  

Now "front and centre" on the Competitive Matchmaking map selection screen, Dust2 can still be enjoyed in deathmatch and casual mode, however the changes brought by Inferno's new look have seen it poke its nose in front.   

"In the wake of the ELEAGUE Major (congratulations Astralis), we’re making a change to the map pool: Inferno has returned to Active Duty, replacing Dust II, and will be featured at the next CS:GO Major," so reads an update post on the official CS:GO blog. "As in the past, the updated Active Duty pool is automatically selected when you enter Matchmaking." 

The post continues: "And in Casual and Deathmatch game modes, it’s now a bit easier to play your favorite maps. Map groups have been separated into additional categories: Active Duty, Hostage, Reserves, and Dust II." 

Let me now turn this over to our competitive Counter-Strikers: is the ascension of the reborn Inferno a good move, or a cartographic nightmare?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Philippa Warr)

Inferno

Valve has announced that the iconic Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [official site] map, Dust2 will be removed from active duty and replaced with the Inferno map. Dust2 will still be playable, but it exists as a separate map group for the casual and deathmatch game modes. As a result of this swap, you’ll no longer see Dust2 in professional esports tournaments. … [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Great Odin’s beard, it’s only the weekly Steam charts! That is to say, the ten games which sold best on Steam last week.

This week: new entries, old favourites, and a very dirty house indeed. … [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

Valve have started cracking down more on sites using Team Fortress 2 [official site] items as chips in virtual gaming. Last year they focused on skin gambling with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive items, amidst scandals, more scandals, and lawsuits. Even the Washington State Gambling Commission got involved, ordering Valve to shut it all down. While Valve don’t run any of these gambling sites, see, the sites do rely on Steam. Now, Valve are shutting down accounts associated with TF2 sites. … [visit site to read more]

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