Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Valve has just announced its Counter-Strike: Global Offensive 'Operation Hydra' event, which will take place on a weekly basis until September. These events will feature "twists on the classic game rules", and will play out on new maps across both casual and competitive.

These events will mostly involve the aforementioned "twists". For example, Wingman, is a 2v2 best-of-16 format, while Weapons Expert is a 5v5 best-of-30 match where the player can only purchase a weapon once. Other varieties come in the form of War Games, which includes Heavy Assault Suit – a bomb defusal round with the added twist that one player is wearing heavy armor. 

Meanwhile, Headshots Only is a War Game which does what it says on the tin; Hunters-Gatherers is a mode where each player drops a dogtag on death, which can be collected to win the game, and Stab Stab Zap involves only a knife, a recharging Zeus and grenades. There are more War Games, detailed over here.

Of course, you can buy an "all access" pass for $5.99 (US), which boosts the XP you earn, while also adding a new Guardian campaign where you and a friend play through a series of missions where, at a hunch, enemies will need to be shot. There are also the usual range of new weapon skins, cases and more. The full rundown can be read over here.

Dota 2

Photo credit: Riot Games

It’s been an action-packed month so far and various tournaments are nearing the finish line. The world of digital sports may be winding down a bit this weekend, but there’s still plenty of action from the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational and the Dota 2 StarLadder to enjoy. We even have the Hearthstone Global Games to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: Mid-Season Invitational

SK Telecom has dominated the competition so far and despite dropping a game to Flash Wolves and Team WE, they continue to rise above the competition. The South Korean team will need to stave off another defeat against the Flash Wolves in their match today, while Team WE will be looking to take the advantage in their semifinals game against G2 this Saturday. Every team will be looking to claim their spot at this year’s finals, so SKT will need to be at their best if they wish to add to their record wins. The full schedule and stream can be found on LoL Esports.

Dota 2: StarLadder i-League Invitational

The Dota 2 Starladder i-League Invitational kicked off yesterday in Shanghai and teams from around the world will battle it out for their chance to claim the $100,000 prize pool. The Group B matches began yesterday for US viewers, but those of you in Europe can catch all the action today 06:00 CEST. Liquid will face Team faceless in the first round, while Newbee and Vega will clash straight after at 09:00 CEST. The semifinals will take place the following day followed by the finals on Sunday. You can find the full schedule and stream by heading over to starladder.com.

Dota 2: Dream League Season 7

Week three of the Dota 2 Dream League wraps up this weekend and one week of regular play is all that remains before the qualifying teams head to the LAN event in Atlanta, on July 21st. EPG will face mouz today at 09:30 PDT / 18:30 CEST, while Empire will clash with mouz at 12:00 PDT / 21:00 CEST. Meanwhile, Na`Vi and VP will continue their journey the following day before Secret joins the fray on Sunday. The full schedule and stream can be found by heading over to the Dream League official site.

Hearthstone: Global Games

The Hearthstone Global Games tournament enters week six of play today and every team has been fighting hard to claim the top spot in the group stage. Group B’s round four matches concluded yesterday for US viewers, but those of you in Europe can catch all the action today at 03:00 CEST. The USA and Canada are off to the best start out of anyone in the Global Games so far, but they will need to remain focused if they wish to beat Thailand. The full schedule and stream for week four can be found here.

Hearthstone: StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 3

SL i-League StarSeries Season three is well underway and Hearthstone's best players have been busy climbing the rankings. Currently, Naiman remains on top of the Group A standings, while Rdu aims to fight off competition from both Zalae and StanCifka in the Group B bracket. The series uses the best of 5 "conquest" format and every player will be looking to secure the lion’s share of the $30,000 prize pool. Reddit has a nice viewing guide for the stream, which can be viewed over on Twitch.

Overwatch: Apex Season 3

Overwatch Apex Season three is well underway and Mighty AOD will need to take down Lunatic Hai to secure their first victory of the group stage. Mighty AOD lost 3-1 to Rogue in their previous match, but Lunatic Hai won’t be an easy adversary. The Group A match begins today at 04:30 PDT / 13:30 CEST, while the Group C match between MVP Space LW Blue start at 03:00 PDT / 12:00 CEST. Make sure to check out the full stream over on Twitch.

Heroes of the Storm: Global Championship

The Heroes of the Storm Global Championship playoff stage begins today and every team will need to be at their best if they wish to secure a place at the Mid-Season Brawl. Playoffs will see lower-seeded teams duke it out against higher-seeded teams for the chance to face North America’s Tempo storm or Europe’s Fnatic. Both these teams dominated their opponents and they will be aiming to take home the Global Championship title next month. You can check out the standings for each region and view the tournament schedule for your area over on the Heroes of the Storm’s official site.

Left 4 Dead 2

Here's how big a deal Doom's shotgun was: in a game with another weapon called the Big Fucking Gun, the shotgun is the one we remember best. It's reliable at practically any distance. One clean shot to the chest will eviscerate most enemies. Somehow that pump action reload animation and its cha-chick are satisfying every single time with only five frames of animation. How many other games are confident enough to give you a gun this good 10 seconds into the first level?

Before Doom, shotguns were for shooting clay pigeons. After Doom, they were for annihilating demons. And for annihilating practically anything else: as Doom birthed a new genre, you could rely on the trusty shotgun to be there almost anytime, more steadfast and reliable than a squirrely pistol or a ammo-hungry rifle. It's our pellet pal. Our blunderbuss buddy. In the wry words of John Romero, when we spent half an hour reflecting on the design and history of Doom's shotgun: "No other game has a BFG 9000 in it, but lots of games have shotguns."

Today we're celebrating that lineage by talking about some of our favorite shotguns and why we love them. Step one: make it kick, and make 'em bleed.

How to make a great shotgun

"Number one, the damage it does is the most important part," said John Romero. He was talking about weapon design in general. There's so much that goes into a good game gun, but those pain points have the biggest impact in making a weapon feel powerful. "If it does more damage than any other gun, it doesn't matter if it has no sound effects, you're going to be using it," he laughed.

OK, but all that other stuff is important too. Animation, sound effects, the works. When they all come together, you can just feel it. It's an almost animal hell yeah. Fullbright's Steve Gaynor practically got poetic describing this sensation:

"Shooter games can be about a lot of things—the complexity of tactics as you use the environment to your advantage, the cat & mouse drama of chasing and being chased, sneaking up on your prey or falling into your enemy's trap—but it's also always about that aesthetic moment where the trigger's pulled and the audiovisual effects deliver that moment of utterly blowing a videogame creature away. And that's what the shotgun's all about. It's loud. It's sudden. And above all, it's effective."

So how do design all that stuff to feel just right? Bill Munk, animator and creative director at Tripwire, had this to say about developing Killing Floor 2: 

Shooters are always about that aesthetic moment where the trigger's pulled and the audiovisual effects deliver that moment of utterly blowing a video game creature away.

Steve Gaynor

"We start with the gore system, which is a very important ingredient that makes shotguns feel devastating. Second is the impulse force applied to the creatures when they get hit, this is really important to not only make the shotgun feel powerful but also adds to the enjoyment of taking down a target. Third is the damage each pellet does, it's a hard balancing act because depending on what you shot, if it doesn't die or react the way you picture it, everything falls apart and the weapon feels unsatisfying. To balance shotguns in KF2 we first start with the price for the ammo, the weight of the gun and the time it takes to reload. Shotguns generally have massive damage but become less effective at range due to the spread of the pellets which also is a nice tool to balance these high damage weapons.

"Last but not least are the shoot animations. This is an area we've put a lot of time and research in. We animate the shots at high framerate so that we can animate the violent force when you fire a shotgun. This is a detail you barely notice in realtime but can feel the difference."

And when Killing Floor 2 slows down into Zed time, you can really see that animation at work.

You can see even more detail in KF2's shotguns firing and reloading here. They're ahead of the curve in animations, but the fact that Doom's shotgun still feels good with only five frames of reload animation shows how much the damage, muzzle flare, sound effects, and other elements of a shotgun can make it feel satisfying without much real detail.

Take Resident Evil 4's starting shotgun, a standard pump action. It's much simpler than Killing Floor 2's weapons, but blasting zombies with it feels a bit like smiting them with the fist of God. Part of that comes from RE4's once-novel over-the-shoulder weapon aiming. It's incredibly physical. You hold a button down to aim and Leon plants his feet. The camera zooms up to his shoulder, and it feels like you're aiming the shotgun with the whole of his body. The muzzle jerks sharply upward when you fire, and a single blast can send a whole crowd flying backwards. Leon pumps out the spent shell before recentering his aim. It's not fancy, but it feels sublime.

Sound off

No game gun sounds more pleasing to the ear than a shotgun except for, maybe, a bolt-action rifle. And those two weapons have something in common: both are about a single moment of release, followed by a peerless sound saying fire again, baby.

Most game weapons are about a constant stream of sound. The blam, blam, blam of a pistol, the ratatatat of an SMG, the heavy thugthugthugthug of an LMG. With a shotgun, it's all about that one shot. It's a crack of thunder, not a boom. "You need a good, sharp, aggressive sound to drive the shotgun's presence home, not some underplayed thud but a good, bracing crack," said Gaynor.

But the reload can be even better. Only a heavy bolt can match the click of a double barrel popping open and closed or the cha-chick of the pump action. That sound effect really hasn't changed much since Doom 1, and it's easy to see why.

I'd say sound is 70% of the feel of a great shotgun mostly because I've played games while they are muted and they lost the feel.

Kynan Pearson

Sound is a big part of why we love shotguns, but it's also crucial to the "feel" of hower powerful they are. "I'd say sound is 70% of the feel of a great shotgun mostly because I've played games while they are muted and they lost the feel," said Kynan Pearson, who's worked on the Halo and Metroid Prime series. "The reload noise, the boom and the pain noises create a fantastic symphony of death."

Producer Matt Powers, who worked as a producer on the Medal of Honor and Call of Duty series, wrote about this on Gamasutra:

"I kept getting feedback that our shotgun was underpowered…people really kind of hated the shotgun. When I looked at the balance numbers, the shotgun was actually a little overpowered if anything. So…after much consternation I decided to attack the balance issue from the side of perception rather than through the actual numbers themselves. I went to our audio director to talk about changing the sound. He added a bit more low end to the fire sound, pulled out some midrange and bumped up the high end to give it a sharper punch. I did not tell the team that the only thing I changed was the sound, I just asked them to give it another try to see if the changes I made addressed the balance issues they were seeing. The feedback came back unanimously positive."

Animation, sound, weight. Those are some of the ingredients of a great shotgun. So how did id make the first FPS shotgun, with no history to draw on, back in 1993? 

History lesson: the original boomstick

Our love affair with the shotgun started with Doom, but for Romero, it started with two other sources: Rednecks, and Evil Dead. In one of id's earliest games, a 2D sidescroller called Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion, you blast ghouls with a shotgun (and can even shoot at diagonals!). In Dave's first game, you had a pistol, but changing that to a shotgun in the sequel was an obvious move. "You're a redneck in Louisiana, of course you'd have a shotgun," Romero laughed. "We mentioned it when we were talking about Doom, we're like 'Hell yeah man, we had a shotgun in Dave and it was awesome. Why not?'"

Doom's shotgun wasn't originally in the plans for the game at all. The small team at id had the pistol, and plans for a rocket launcher, but they needed something in between. So they designed a rifle with a bayonet. The only problem: it wasn't cool enough. "We didn't like the fact that when you jabbed, it just didn't look good. It looked lame," Romero said. "We'd already had lameness issues with Catacomb 3D earlier, when you're using your hand to throw fireballs and stuff. That didn't look or feel cool. With Doom, we did have the bayonet in there, and I believe we even had it working, and it was just like, you know what? No amount of frames will make this look good."

As they started brainstorming sci-fi weapons like the BFG, their thoughts turned to Evil Dead 2. And voila: a shotgun and a chainsaw appeared. "We basically went, 'a shotgun would totally blow away that stupid rifle.' We made the shotgun, we made the chainsaw. It totally felt right in the game. We put it in, and it was just perfect. The gun cocking animation, the sound, it was perfect. The shotgun blast was great and did a good amount of damage. So that's what happened."

The Doom faithful may know that the shotgun was a Tootsietoy Dakota cap gun model bought at Toys R Us and scanned into the game using a video camera, then edited and animated in a Carmack piece of software called Fuzzy Pumper Palette Shop. It was named after a Play Doh toy. What's surprising about Romero's story is how little tuning it took to get Doom's shotgun just right. They added a spread and randomness to the firing, but treated the shotgun pellets as if they were bullets, making the gun easy to implement. And because they "wanted every gun to be effective at super far distances," handicapping the shotgun's range wasn't an issue.

"It was important that whenever we added any gun to the game, it never nullified a previous weapon. There had to be a reason for keeping the pistol around and everything else," Romero said. "The shotgun, I believe used the pistol randomness, and also added some to the spread, but not too much. So you could kill stuff at a distance. It was not like a sawed-off shotgun that would have a massive spread."

It was important that whenever we added any gun to the game, it never nullified a previous weapon.

John Romero

That would come later, of course, with Doom 2's double barrel super shotgun. First person shooters have since skewed towards treating shotguns more like the sawed off: close combat killers with a very particular purpose, a more compartmentalized approach to "balance" that gives every weapon its role.

"I feel shotguns live and die by where they sit in the balance," said Pearson. "It's easy to make a shotgun too effective or nerf it so it's not dominant in the weapon selection. I feel like shotguns need drawbacks, but part of the satisfaction is the exaggerated quality of wrecking opponents at close range. I prefer tight spread with damage dampening at distance. Everyone has different preferences so it depends on the game."

We can still delight in a good kill with a well-balanced modern military tactical 12-gauge, but our favorite shotguns are the ones that defy those restrictions. Look at the shotgun in Halo: Combat Evolved, which was overshadowed by the pistol but still had tremendous range and a vast ammo reserve.

Other shotguns do something unique to stand out, either in how they affect enemies and the world, or in how they let lead fly. 

Blaster master

When I get a headshot with a pistol I expect, at best, a backflip or an exploding skull. But much of the joy of a shotgun comes from its physicality. I want my enemies blown backwards by raw force. This is where other elements of the game come into play to make the shotgun itself better. A perfect example, Gaynor explained, is Bioshock's shotty:

"It reinforces what makes a great shotgun on its own—an awesome muzzle flash, great pump action animation, amazing sound design, and high destructive power—but also how important its effect on enemies can be. Not just the blood effects or how much damage it does, but how they flip, spin, and pirouette through the environment when blasted. BioShock used tech that allowed the enemies to do a crafted death animation—ie spinning through the air in response to catching a handful of buckshot in the side—and transition that smoothly into a dynamic ragdoll that leaves them convincingly sprawled on the environment in the aftermath. Blasting Splicers with the shotgun was great because the shotgun was great, yes, but also because the Splicers were such wonderful fodder, their reaction to your blasting being an integral part of the whole exchange."

This is one area where Valve's typically soft weapons really shine: Left4Dead 2's shotguns can lift a group of zombies off their feet and send them flying. They also absolutely shred enemies. Valve's Alex Vlachos gave a great talk about Left 4 Dead 2's wounds at the 2010 Game Developer's Conference, and you can see how the system works in this presentation. This applies to all weapons, but shotguns are your best bet for blowing off limbs or big chunks of torso.

Gaynor similarly praised the F.E.A.R shotgun's "effect on a highly dynamic gameworld, where firing this thing off causes dust, concrete chunks, and broken glass to fly everywhere. But of course it would be nothing if not for F.E.A.R.'s slow-mo bullet time mechanic, allowing you to enjoy the shotgun's effects at half speed, every frame of its destructive power lovingly rendered for the player's satisfaction. Jumping over a barricade, going into slow-mo, and hearing an enemy soldier shout "OOoooohhhhhh shiiiiiiittttttt" as you pull the trigger, causing him to backflip over a railing with balletic grace, is maybe one of the most satisfying interactions in any FPS game. Oh, and if you play your cards right and get up into point-blank range, this thing can straight-up mist an enemy in one shot. That's how badass it is."

Romero and Bill Munk both called out Soldier of Fortune's shotgun for similar destructive power. "Soldier of Fortune, especially for the time, really showed the brutality of a shotgun and made the player feel extremely powerful based on the gore system," Munk said. "But for overall feel I'd have to give it to F.E.A.R. The first time you experience a shotgun in slow-mo seeing every pellet fly and the ragdoll react to it is a thing of beauty!"

Soldier of Fortune sure wins for nastiness, though.

Gettin' weird with it

God I love the flak cannon. In my imagination, the flak cannon is what would happen if the god of death metal looked at a normal shotgun and turned it into an industrial tool that could conveniently be used to shred men into paste. It's not simply firing a shell when you pull the trigger: a metal piston slams forward to propel a disc the size of a hockey puck out of the muzzle, where it separates into a spreading pattern of glowing superheated scrap. You can watch every piece make bloody contact with your enemy, but it also has a utility unlike any other shotgun: bouncing those metal meteors around corners to shred bad dudes from afar. Is there any wonder it's our favorite gun ever?

When Doom gave us a shotgun to blast demons, it was novel. Now that every shooter has its own take on the shotgun—and it's usually pretty straightforward—we love the flak cannon and other alternative shotguns for stepping out of that mold.

The flak cannon's secondary fire is a perfect example: it concentrates the heavy damage of the shotgun into a single arcing grenade that's harder to land, but offers concentrated damage you won't get at range with a spreading flak cloud. Romero himself designed a shotgun that was meant to diverge from the straightforward utility of Doom's shotgun: Daikatana's Shotcycler-6.

Daikatana had rocket jumping, but because its rocket launcher fired two shots, it would really hurt. "I thought, can I make a safer rocket jump type weapon?" Romero remembered. "With the Shotcycler-6 I can do six shots, and if you jump it'll take you up to another place. I thought that would be kinda cool for people who are good, and know the secret of the shotgun jump. So it's basically six shots, who doesn't love that, with kickback enough that you can actually get propelled up in the air, almost like a rocket launcher."

Gears of War 4's Overkill is a madman's fusion of double-barrel and auto shotty: it fires a shell from one of four barrels on mouse click and on mouse release, giving you the flexibility for tactical timing or a panicked barrage of eight shots in the span of a second.

Bulletstorm's ridiculous four barreled shotgun has a charge shot that simply vaporizes enemies, burning them away to nothing but bones. It's a fitting middle finger to the concept of balance. 

And though it was a short-lived glitch, not an intentional design, I have to sing the praises of the most overpowered shotgun of all time: Battlefield 3's briefly broken underslung M26 DART. A patch made every 12 gauge flechette pellet deal the full damage of the assault rifle's primary bullets, making the spread an ungodly cloud of death. And yet it's so politely soft-spoken.

In conclusion

 Videogame shotguns are rad. When you use a good one, appreciate it: marvel at its kick, its cocking action, its thundercrack, and the knockback like no other.

"There's something inherently satisfying about video game guns that are built to be 'one shot, one kill' like, say, a hefty magnum revolver, or a bolt-action sniper rifle," said Gaynor. "And that's also the shotgun's job... with the added benefit of not really having to aim. Who could ask for more?"

Long live the gib.

Half-Life 2

Brace yourselves, but we may never see Half-Life 3. We will, however, always have Half-Life 2—and, thanks to the efforts of a group of modders, it may soon be playable on current Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets. The Half-Life 2: VR mod that first saw the light of day back in 2013 has been resurrected on Steam Greenlight, with updates that will allow it to run on current VR hardware.

As explained by Road to VR, the original mod fell into disuse because Valve didn't update the Source engine to keep pace with changes in Rift and Vive headset software. Now, however, members of the original mod team, along with some new additions, have figured out how to make it work with current headsets, and also to support motion controllers, a feature that wasn't previously available. 

The mod will also offer "updated effects, textures, models & maps," a 3D interface designed specifically for VR, "realistic weapon interactions," and "multiple VR locomotion methods," which I assume means ways of moving around in the game world.  It'll be free too, but will require ownership of Half-Life 2, and HL2: Episode 1 and 2, in order to run. If you like what you see—and it's Half-Life 2 in virtual reality, so by all rights that should be a big ol' "Yes please, and thank you."

Dota 2

Photo credit: Riot Games

It’s another busy weekend in the world of digital sports and lots of tournaments are heating up as they reach the final stages. There’s plenty of action from the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational to the Street Fighter V ELEAGUE. We even have plenty of Hearthstone tournaments to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: Mid-Season Invitational

The best teams from around the world have been busy battling it out at this year’s MSI in Brazil, but this week we saw the return of the defending champions. SK Telecom has dominated the competition so far and they continue to be on top form. The South Korean team has only lost six best-of-one matches at international tournaments over the last four years, but three of those losses were inflicted by Flash Wolves. Day three of the MSI Group Stage begins today and Flash Wolves will need to be at their best if they wish to add to their record wins. The full schedule and stream can be found on LoL Esports.

Dota 2: Dream League Season 7

The StarLadder i-League Invitational and Manila Masters are just around the corner, but this weekend we have the Dream League to look forward to. Mouz will face Vega today at 09:30 PDT / 18:30 CEST, while Liquid will clash with Secret 12:00 PDT / 21:00 CEST. Meanwhile, EPG and Empire will continue their journey the following day. The LAN event will take place in Atlanta, on July 21st and 22nd where teams will be competing for a slice of the $175,000 prize pool. The full schedule and stream can be found by heading over to the Dream League official site.

Overwatch: Apex Season 3

Overwatch Apex Season 3 is well underway and Rogue will need to take down KongDoo Panthera if they wish to increase their chances of making it out of the group stage. They beat Mighty AOD 3-1 last week but KongDoo Panthera is out for revenge. The Group A match begins today at 04:30 PDT / 13:30 CEST, while the Group B match between X6 Gaming and Afreeca Freecs Blue start at 03:00 PDT / 12:00 CEST. Meanwhile, EnVyUs will start their journey on May 16th where they will battle it out against Meta Athena and BK Stars. Make sure to check out the full stream over on Twitch.

Hearthstone: Global Games

The Hearthstone Global Games tournament enters week five of play today and every team has been fighting hard to claim the top spot in the group stage. Group A’s round three match concluded yesterday for US viewers, but those of you in Europe can catch all the action today at 03:00 CEST. Both the USA and Canada are off to the best start out of anyone in the Global Games so far, but it’s a long road ahead for the pros and every team will be fighting hard to secure the $300,000 prize pool. The full schedule and stream for week four can be found here.

Hearthstone: Japan Major

The very first Hearthstone Major event is coming to Tokyo this weekend where eight players will square off against each other in the live playoffs. Competition is expected to be fierce as every player will be vying for coveted Hearthstone Competitive Points and a share of the 1,000,000 Japanese Yen prize pool. The playoffs begin Saturday at 21:00 PDT / 06:00 CEST and can be watched by heading over to battle.net.

Hearthstone: China vs. Europe

The quarterfinals for the Hearthstone vs. China tournament begin today and every player will be looking to claim a spot in Sunday’s final. OmegaZero will face XHope in the first semifinal match at 03:00 PDT / 12:00 CEST, while StanCifika will clash with Orange an hour later. Europe was undefeated for three years straight before China retorted with a championship win last year, but every player will need to be at their best if they wish to claim the Ferrari, or $200,000 prize pool. Make sure you check out the stream over on Twitch.

Hearthstone: StarLadder i-League StarSeries Season 3

SL i-League StarSeries Season 3 is currently underway, with matchups between some of Hearthstone's best going through the weekend, including DrHippi, BunnyHoppor, Fr0zen, and Neirea. Series use the best of 5 "conquest" format, with games cast by Firebat, Lothar, DTwo, and Noxious. Reddit has a nice viewing guide for the stream, which is happening over on Twitch.

Heroes of the Storm: Global Championship

The Heroes of the Storm Global Championship continues this weekend and the lower seeded teams from EU and NA aim to climb the ladder ahead of next week’s playoffs. Team 8 will need to secure a decisive win over No Tomorrow this weekend if they want to make a claim for top spot. Meanwhile, Dignitas will be looking to snag a win over Tricked after they were knocked down to second place. You can check out the standings for each region and view the tournament schedule for your area over on the Heroes of the Storm’s official site.

Street Fighter V: ELEAGUE

Group D of the Street Fighter V ELEAGUE is kicking off tonight’s actions and with three major groups already completed, there’s a lot on the line. The group is filled with talent from all over the world, including the 2016 Capcom Cup champion, Nuckledu. However, it has been over a month since all the competitors fought for the top spots, so anything could happen in this final bracket. Phenom has been the only player to beat Nuckledu and his consistent performance make him a serious threat to the players in this group. The full schedule and stream can be found by heading over to www.eleague.com.

Gwent: Challenger Finals

The Gwent Challenger tournament finals take place this Saturday at 06:00 PDT / 15:00 CEST, where the winners of the community qualifiers will compete alongside Jeffrey “Trump” Shih, Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy, Peter “ppd” Dager, and Kacem “Noxious” Khilaji for a chance to win the $100,000 prize pool. The event will be hosted by Maude Garret and ESL’s Joshua Gray with match commentary from community favorites, MegaMogwai and McBeard. Make sure to check out the live finals over on CD PROJEKT RED’s Twitch channel

Team Fortress 2

I tried.

Without bagels, I’d probably live to be 100 years old. But I have regular access to bagels and sourdough loaves and this sandwich bread always in my house called Birdman that’s covered in seeds and I don’t know why. I eat the stuff so fast I’ll be surprised if I make it to 50. 

In videogames, bread often gives you health instead of slowly seeping it away, a beacon of hearth and health. It’s been this way since the earliest games, and as technology became more capable of producing detailed environments and uncanny human likenesses, so too advanced the fidelity of the loaf. But the evolution of bread didn’t happen in a straight line. Diverse genres, art styles, and game engines shifted the purpose and priority of bread throughout the ages.

To get a clearer picture of how game bread has or hasn’t evolved, we’ve taken a look back at its implementation in some best games ever made to some of the most obscure.

BurgerTime (1982) 

As one of the earliest depictions of a hamburger bun, BurgerTime did a decent job. And it should have, given the name. Notice the inference of sesame seeds on the top bun and how the light diffuses on the bottom bunk. Early pixel art set a high bar for bunwork. 

Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1992)

A decade later, the burger genre fell out of vogue and fantasy roleplaying games stepped into the limelight. Ultima IV didn’t feature bread in a major way, but was an early example of inventory art, proof that you didn’t need the latest in computer graphics to make a great loaf. 

Jesus Matchup (1993) 

As a preteen, I went to a Catholic church camp even though I’m not and have never been Catholic. I ate the body of Christ even though I wasn’t supposed to and my friend Brian chastised me after the fact. He said I needed to get confirmed first and that I broke some kind of holy rule. The bread was just a thin wafer, like a sugar cone without the sugar, and maybe the aftertaste of it was a taste of hell itself. Jesus Matchup’s brown lump captures my disappointment exactly.

Ultima Online (1997) 

Pixel loaves hadn’t evolved much between Ultima IV and Ultima Online, but for one minor detail that changed the bread game forever for a few months. Ultima Online’s bread features a small blemish, giving the impression of a bite or piece ripped away for light post-adventure munching. The loaf went from inanimate prop to inanimate prop with history

Thief: The Dark Project (1998) 

Whether Thief should commended or condemned for its early attempt at modeling a 3D loaf is beyond me. All I know for sure is this: that’s a log. 

Someone’s in the Kitchen! (1999) 

You may know Steven Spielberg for his hit films like E.T. and Jurassic Park, but did you know his name was once mentioned in a trailer for a game he probably had nothing to do with? Someone’s in the Kitchen! isn’t just good reason to call the police, it’s a bad point-and-click edutainment game with one hell of an opening theme song. Also, you make a sandwich in it while a demon toaster—who is going to kill me, I saw it in a dream—judges your creation. The bread looks like my little brother sat on it, and is a shade of yellow I’ve only ever seen in bathrooms built in the 70s. Clearly, the late 90s weren’t great for game bread. 

The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind (2002) 

Even the modern masters of 3D bread had to start somewhere. In Morrowind, Bethesda drew inspiration from something other than felled trees and instead turned their eye to the sky, probably. I’m guessing here. They managed to suggest bread by texturing a footballish shape with what look like photos from the visible surface of Jupiter, a perpetually storming gas giant. 

World of Warcraft (2004) 

Just two years later an MMO, known for prioritizing multiplayer features over looking good, managed to bake bread that an Orc could tolerate. While the left loaf looks like a water chestnut, the precise angles and light divots up top are a convincing enough illusion. The right loaf, except for it’s undercooked coloring, nails the shape. And the inner texture marks a defined border between crust and light, fluffy inside. I’m tempted to throw some mayo, lettuce, tomato, and a bit of thinly sliced night elf meat on there just looking at it.

The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion (2006) 

Maybe Bethesda should’ve prioritized bread resolution DLC over horse armor. At a glance, one out of ten times I’m going to say that’s bread. The other nine times I’m going to say that’s a large misshapen potato. I lived in Idaho for a while. Got invited to a ‘Baked Potato Party' and yeah, they get that big.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (2007) 

While 3D game bread moved into potato territory, Recettear reaffirmed that pixels were still the way to go. Its depiction of Walnut Bread takes a good squint to make out, but when you get up close, the shades of gold and brown and white light diffusing on the outer crust nearly flash the entire baking process on the back of your eyelids. “Walnuts, soft dough and a bit of sugar…” do more than an extra dimension ever could.

Dinner Date (2011) 

I’d flake on a guy who thought it’d be a good idea to dip that twisted loaf in some red shit too. And look at that distribution! I’m not sure what’s being distributed, but half of that isn’t even bread, it’s Dark Brown Stuff. Jesus, man. We should never be able to see inside the bread if the tech isn't ready and can’t simulate a good bake. 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) 

Star Baker goes to Todd Howard this decade. Look at the fidelity of this loaf. A nice rise, detailed textures, and I can nearly hear the muffled tip-tap from the even bake. Forget adventure and the snowcapped mountaintops and vampires and dragons—like a toilet in a Tarantino movie, a good loaf is the keystone of any open world. 

Minecraft (2011)

Well regarded for its wild redstone contraptions and horrifying monuments to pop culture, Minecraft’s bread has been largely ignored, and for good reason. You’re one of the most successful games of all time, and a brown lump is the best you can muster? I’ve felt more love radiating from an old hotdog bun.

Scribblenauts Unlimited (2012) 

You can tell this was made in a bread pan, small specks imply the bread is airy and light, you can summon it whenever you like, and nearly every humanoid creature will eat it. It’s a crude child’s drawing, sure, but Scribblenauts built put time into simulating natural, albeit simple, bread world behaviors. Consider it this immersive sim, the System Shock, of bread. Place it in the world, and the world reacts to its presence.

Bioshock Infinite (2013) 

Source: David Miles on YouTube

If one game knows how good its bread is, it’s Bioshock Infinite. If you were to press pause and inspect the 3D baguette, it’d be possible to nitpick small design decisions, like texture resolution, flour distribution, and grain density, but because the bread is sandwiched with context—the dancing bread boy and his believable reaction to owning a baguette inside a big patriotic amusement park city held up by balloons that Ken Levine imagined using his brain, his very own personal brain—it doesn’t feel out of place. Realism is helpful, certainly, but the game world needs to feel alive, like a natural home for bread above all else.  

Team Fortress 2: Love and War update (2014) 

Bread is only monstrous when left to mold, and Team Fortress 2’s Love and War update bottles the essence of in a cute, tragic short film. There’s little purpose to the bread in-game aside from a few dough-themed items. Personally, I interpret it as a commentary on the state of game bread as nothing more than a simple prop and HP potion skin, new ideas and advances left in the pantry to rot. I see you Valve.

I Am Bread (2014) 

As a goofy physics playground, I Am Bread is fine. I do take issue with how controlling a slice feels like maneuvering a heavy sponge. Bread isn’t heavy and sandwich bread isn’t durable. One fall off the table and it’s over, usually. I Am Bread forgoes natural bread behaviors for the sake of a joke, but I’m not sure we’ll be laughing when our kids start to think they can wash the dishes with a sandwich.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) 

Everything about The Witcher 3’s world feels hand-placed. Small villages, big cities, and even monster-infested caves are brimming with life and purpose, but in order to maintain such a sprawling illusion, nearly all props and people are static. NPCs sit in the same place spouting the same lines and props like bread just sit there, looking delicious, but forever out of reach. What an awful game.

Fallout 4 (2015) 

After setting a new standard for 3D loaf work in Skyrim, Bethesda dropped the atom ball in Fallout 4, spending more time on the bread box than any bread at all. Modders came to the rescue again, modeling slices, sandwiches, and adding recipes any old ghoul could follow.

Dishonored 2 (2016) 

Karnacan bakers know how to bake bread. Lovely rise, nice crust, but a bit low res I’m being honest. Eating it gives you a small dose of HP, but the animation is a simple swipe-and-swallow maneuver. It’s pan for the course, and not much else. In 2016, it’s a good bake, but it’s not a great bake. 

The future of videogame bread

How far have we come, really? From BurgerTime’s advanced bun art to Dishonored 2’s simple dark loaf, videogame bread feels without a sure destination—a lumpy mass that needs more time to prove. Perhaps the future holds loaves we never could have imagined, or abominations, such as virtual reality pumpernickel that virtually tastes like sourdough. 

Will Call of Duty: WWII pay proper homage to the history and show families turning their nose up at National Loaf? Maybe someday we’ll spend as much money on naan as we do on spaceships in Star Citizen. All we know for certain is that bread will be there, a short roll for every dodge roll and an abundance of biscuits to crowd every RPG inventory.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Photo credit: ESL

The Dota 2 Kiev Major wrapped up last weekend with OG defeating Virtus.pro 3-2 to take home their fourth Major crown and the $1 million prize pool. However, there’s still plenty of action to come from the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational to the CS:GO Intel Extreme Masters. We even have the Hearthstone China vs. Europe tournament to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: Mid-Season Invitational

The Mid-Season Invitational kicked off with eight teams battling for the chance to advance to the main event in Rio de Janeiro. GIGABYTE Marines will play this Saturday against the loser of the round two series between Flash Wolves and Supermassive. Meanwhile, the winner of Saturday’s match will advance to the MSI Group Stage, so both teams will need to be at their best. GIGABYTE surprised many fans this week when they managed to take two wins away from TSM, but they failed to take the series. Jungler Levi will be aiming to use his creative pathing once again this weekend, so expect plenty of jungle antics in round three of the Play-In stage. The full schedule and stream can be found on LoL Esports.

Rocket League: RLCS Regional Championships

The Rocket League RLCS Championships return this weekend and players will be fighting for their share of $25,000 prize pool and a spot in the Season 3 World Championship. The top two teams from NA and EU will also get guaranteed spots next season, which puts even more pressure on the teams this weekend. The action kicks off in North America this Saturday at 12:00 PDT / 21:00 CEST, while Europe closes out the weekend this Sunday at 09:00 PDT / 18:00 CEST. Tune into all the latest action over on Twitch to find out which team will punch their ticket to Los Angeles.

CS:GO: Intel Extreme Masters XII—Sydney

Day one of Intel Extreme Masters Sydney 2017 concluded with SK Gaming and Astralis taking the lead. SK Gaming lived up to expectations as they quickly dismantled ViCi by consistently outgunning them. ViCi struggled to produce a positive result against the competition favourites and SK closed out the series 16:6. Meanwhile, Astralis notched a victory over IEM’s local representatives, Chiefs Esports. Chiefs did find some success in securing bomb plants, but this was fairly short-lived, as Astralis started winning consecutive rounds. Astralis were on top form and they crushed the Chiefs in a dominant 16:5 victory. This weekend’s full schedule and stream can be found by heading over to IEM’s official site.

Overwatch: Apex Season 3

The Overwatch Apex Season 3 kicked off in Korea last week and Lunatic Hai are currently in the lead in the Group A bracket after they beat Team KongDoo Panthera 3-2. Rogue will need to land a critical blow to Mighty AOD if they wish to rival Lunatic Hai for first place. Team KongDoo Uncia will face X-6 Gaming at 03:00 PDT / 12:00 CEST, while Rogue will clash with Mighty AOD at 04:30 PDT / 13:30 CEST. Meanwhile, EnVyUs will start their journey on May 16th where they will battle it out against the likes of Meta Athena and BK Stars. Make sure to check out the full stream over on Twitch.

Hearthstone: Global Games

The Hearthstone Global Games tournament is well underway, and a few teams have begun to establish themselves in the early stages of the tournament. Group C’s round three matches concluded yesterday for US viewers,  but those of you in Europe can catch all the action today at 03:00 CEST. The USA are off to the best start out of anyone in the Global Games so far—securing seven wins in total and only dropping one game. It’s a long road ahead for the pros and every team will be fighting hard to secure the $300,000 prize pool. The full schedule and stream for week four can be found here.

Hearthstone: China vs. Europe

The fourth Hearthstone vs. China tournament began its group stage yesterday and will continue until May 10th. Europe was undefeated for three years straight before China retorted with a championship win last year. Bohan “Lovelychook” Zhang dethroned former champion Aleksandr “Kolento” Malsh and drove home his Ferrari sports car prize. This year’s CN vs. EU has made the Ferrari winnable by all, so every player will need to be at their best if they wish to drive home in style. A mix of invites and tournament winners will represent the host nation, most notably Blizzcon semi-finalist Jason “JazonZhou” Zhou and reigning champion Lovelychook. Group play resumes today at 03:00 PDT / 15:00 CEST, so make sure you check out the stream over on Twitch.

Heroes of the Storm: Global Championship

The Heroes of the Storm Global Championship begins week ten of play this weekend and the top teams from EU and NA aim to continue their dominance. Gale Force will need to secure a decisive win over Tempo Storm and B-Step this weekend if they want to make a claim for top spot. Meanwhile, Dignitas will be looking to snag a win over Fnatic after being knocked down to second place. You can check out the standings for each region and view the tournament schedule for your area over on the Heroes of the Storm’s official site

Dota 2

Valve has just launched the Battle Pass for Dota 2's The International 2017, and if you've got the game installed it should be available right now or after an update. As usual, those who buy into it will get a bunch of goodies or access to goodies, chief among them this year being the Siltbreaker multiplayer campaign.

Dubbed "a cooperative adventure into the blackest depths of Dark Reef", Siltbreaker won't be available until later this month, but it's a campaign which will task players with battling through "a diverse landscape of loathsome monsters, cunning traps and other lethal terrors". As the general theme over on the Battle Pass page suggests, it'll have a subaquatic theme. Siltbreaker will boast two acts, with the first due "later this month" and the second in July.

There's tonnes more, naturally. This year's Team Quests will usher in a new type of mission, where players complete single- and multi-game goals together. Meanwhile, you'll now be able to play a trivia mini-game will waiting in the queue, and there are Prestige Towers, which combine the Battle Level totals of any given team and replace the game's normal defensive pillars. I'm not sure whether this is just cosmetic, but either way, the more points your team has the better it will look.

There's a huge amount of stuff to wade through over on the website, so you'd be well advised to pore through it if you're hoping to partake. As usual, 25 percent of all Battle Pass sales go into the prize pool for The International 2017, and the pool is currently sitting on $1,977,396 (and rising, naturally).

Dota 2

China recently passed a law requiring games which offer randomized loot for money—like Hearthstone's card packs—to publish drop rates so that players know exactly how likely (or unlikely) they are to get rare items or cards.

Yesterday, Dota 2's publisher in China, Perfect World, published the drop rates for the rare items available in the Treasure of the Dota 2 Asia Championships 2017. That's the only Treasure currently available to purchase in China as Valve and Perfect World have taken the others off sale for now.

Regarding the Dota 2 Asia Championships Treasure, Eyes of the King has a 6 percent drop rate, and the Armor of the Shattered Vanguard has a 2 percent drop rate, if Google Translate can be trusted to get numbers right. (I especially love how Armor of the Shattered Vanguard becomes "disillusioned pioneer armor" by Google's estimation.)

These rates for rare items may only apply to this particular Treasure, and may not be the same everywhere outside of China—for all we know Perfect World has its own rates that differ from Valve's. But as more Treasures are added to the Chinese Dota 2 store and have their drop rates published, we may be able to make some deductions about how these items are handled outside of China.

Earlier this week, Riot published drop rates for League of Legends.

Dota 2

With a $1 million grand prize on the line, Dota 2’s Kiev Major was an event for the history books. It was the fourth Valve event won by European power squad OG, who swept the last games away from CIS team Virtus Pro in an intense back-and-forth series.

The event couldn’t have ended more explosively than a hometown CIS-region team taking on the defending champion of the Majors series. In fact, the event went into a full five matches for the first time since TI3. Each team demonstrated its strength and tact in draft and play every single game, and some drafts even seemed impossible to pull off, especially the tournament’s final game. In the end, OG managed to outplay their opponents through both strategy and skill.

Each team had a clean and strong run. While OG didn’t have quite as neat of a group stage, with a 6-5 record, they fought through their bracket well. Namely, they took out top American team Evil Geniuses in the semi-finals, plus Team Faceless and former TI6 squad Team Random along the way.

VP’s bracket run was much trickier. They started off by winning over iG.Vitality, but they eventually met VG.J, likely one of the top four squads in China right now. If defeating VG.J wasn’t enough to prove their worth, they eventually met tournament favorites Invictus Gaming in the semis, who took the grand prize against OG at the Dota 2 Asian Championships. This match was a surprising 2-0 sweep into the grand finals.

Aside from the finals, there was match-driven drama that kept fans, casters and even players on the edges of their seats. The continued use of single-elimination format meant that every match was life-or-death for every team. It was especially dire for teams that placed lower in group stages, as they were met with the team of the inverse seed (1-16, 2-15, etc.). In the past, group stage performances were often good predictors of how teams would do on the main stages. Many predictions were turned on their heads in Kiev.

For these reasons and others, the format was was met with some controversy at all stages. Still, given this was the second Valve tournament to use this format, teams needed to adapt. It also made for an excellent main event with unexpected storylines. After all, every team has their good and bad days.

The biggest surprise upset was when Brazilian team SG E-sports upset the top seed of the group stage, European favorites Team Secret. The latter had blasted their way through the qualifiers and the group stage, hitting an intimidating 19-0 win streak up to the main event. However, both Secret and Dota 2 fans were shocked when SG took the series and knocked the European squad out of the event. Prior, the community had generally negative outlook on South American teams, but this will likely give the region a breath of new life. Unfortunately, SG did fall in a hard-fought quarterfinal match to continental rivals Evil Geniuses, but not before taking a game off the TI5 champions.

Also predicted by many was event domination by Invictus Gaming, the Chinese favorites going into the tournament. However, Virtus Pro met them in the semifinals, overcoming the expected champions 2-0 and moving onto the finals. While TNC Pro Gaming had solid performance in the group stages, placing in the top three, the team was also overtaken by regional rivals Team Faceless in a tough match.

Team Liquid, which looked strong going into DAC and Kiev, met some unfortunate circumstances in each tournament. At Kiev, their group stage was fairly decent, and they had a main bracket run to match, beating the Chinese squad Newbee. However, they unfortunately met iG in the quarter-finals, who managed to defeat them.

The Jeremy Lin-endorsed squad VG.J, considered one of the top four in China, started off their run reasonably well, taking down American fan favorites Digital Chaos (formerly the Team Onyx squad). In the next round, though, they met VP and were taken down in the quarter finals.

Other fan favorites also met unfortunate doom in the round of sixteen. Mousesports, the former Ad Finem squad acquired before Kiev, was taken down by iG. Thunderbirds, the ex-Digital Chaos squad, was also knocked out in a regional rivalry match against Evil Geniuses. In a nutshell, it was a difficult tournament for many teams, which means tough times ahead for a number of players.

What happens next? 

The dilemma comes from Valve’s roster lock system, if the rules from last year apply. Valve prioritizes squad composition over team banner or organization. For that reason, they heavily consider player swaps leading into their official tournaments, especially if there’s a major swap and very few third-party events the team attended to show for it. Fortunately, there are five tournaments between now and The International, with many regions (especially China) using in-house leagues to fill the spaces.

Teams that didn’t place in the top four (and even some that did) have difficult questions to ask. Is it worth risking a new squad to create an optimal team that can fight to the top from square one? Is it worth investing in the current team—does it have potential?

It’s easier to answer this question for many of the bottom eight teams. While they may be able to grab regional invites, other teams are always sharpening their blades, and regionals may become more cutthroat than expected. Therefore, it may be worth it for many teams to swap out certain players and go for a shot at regionals. Valve may even give them a direct invite if they can pull off a smooth circuit between their main events.

If Kiev demonstrated one thing, it’s that anything goes in Dota 2. The same will likely apply into the shuffle period, whether through surprise disbands or surprise team coherence. There hasn’t been a more exciting time for the competitive Dota 2 scene in a while. 

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