PC Gamer
Rain vs Flash - Tournament of Champions - Game 1.mp4_snapshot_11.47_[2013.01.25_14.52.12]

Got eSports? The competitive gaming scene has grown enormously in the last couple years, with PC titles like StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Dota 2 leading the charge. Many of you have probably already joined in the excitement and insanity, but if you haven't, I want to change your mind.

All I ask is that you take a few minutes to watch our latest video, in which I Zerg rush the main reasons I keep hearing for why people haven't gotten into eSports. Too boring? Too complicated? Can't take it seriously? Prepare to defend the worker lines of your brain against some three-pronged drop harass.
PC Gamer
Portal 2 WibiData mod

WibiData, a startup data applications developer, uses a rather interesting recruitment process: it tasks prospective hires with puzzling out a lost PIN code in a recreation of the company's offices in Portal 2. Yes, that includes hearing modulated insults from a GlaDOS soundalike as you gather reset keys and jump through walls.

Speaking to the New York Times (via VentureBeat), WibiData CEO Christophe Bisciglia said the mod's genesis arose from how Portal 2's layered puzzles "makes me feel like I exercise the same part of my brain that programming and problem-solving does."

Bisciglia commissioned modder Doug Hoogland to design and create WibiData's virtual workspace and the puzzles housed beneath it. Hoogland earned Bisciglia's attention after he fashioned a Portal-ized wedding proposal for an earlier customer, which is both romantically adorable and the best chance to see a murderous computer become a third wheel.

We presume WibiData's employee insurance policy now covers injuries sustained from teleportation ovals and scheming sentient AIs. You can check out the mod for yourself on the company's website.
PC Gamer
Left 4 Dead 2 Stay Puft Tank mod

As if slaying your way across a zombie-infested wasteland as a pack of gun-toting raptors wasn't awesome enough, modder Lurch of the L4DMaps community offers the Stay Puft mod which replaces Left 4 Dead 2's burly Tank with the soft and tasty juggernaut from Ghostbusters.

It's a pretty basic mod—a simple reskin of the Tank is all you'll get for less than a megabyte's download. Some default animations don't exactly translate well in those rolls of sugary goodness, as the model's arms stick out awkwardly and ragdoll effects are anything but smooth. Rock tosses are subsequently hilarious-looking. (You'll see what I mean in the short video I recorded above.) Still, making the conscious decision to shoot at and be chased by a grunting behemoth of marshmallow should count for something.

You can pick up Puft at L4DMaps' website. Be sure to also check out Left 4 Dead 2's freshly launched Steam Workshop listing for more mods.
PC Gamer
Turret thumb

If you hadn't previously heard of Zachariah Scott, then you've got a fun (and entirely unproductive) afternoon ahead of you. The Bioware cinematic designer has been doing some amazing things with Valve's Source Filmmaker in his spare time. But with this Portal 2 short, The Turret Anthem, he's possibly outdone himself.

The video features music by Lars Erik Fjøsne. Of the project, Scott says, "This video was shot on black void, using a rebuild version of glados' chamber that I put together by hand. Fun story about this video, I've been trying to make it for about 6 months, it's a super late Turret Week video. I kept overthinking it, and had much of the principal synchronization done but couldnt' figure out how I wanted to shoot it, well I sat down this weekend and knocked it out in two days, and I'm pretty sure nobody will have any problem with the results." Too right.

Thanks, Kotaku.
PC Gamer
Half-Life 2 Cinematic mod

The sky churns with deadly energy. Looming above, the stricken Citadel claws into the heavens, its tip crackling with transdimensional discharges. The stage is set. Lights, camera—wait, hold everything. I almost forgot to switch on the Cinematic Mod which adds a bevy of high-quality textures, shadows, and a film-style lighting filter to the works. There we go. Now I'm Director Freeman.

The Cinematic Mod has been around since 2005, but updates continue rolling out regularly, with the most recent 12.1 patch releasing last month. Installing the meaty 30GB(!) mod results in a slew of immediately visible differences: high-resolution skins for everything (yes, everything, including character models for Alyx Vance, Barney, and others), dynamic shadows, and flared lighting seemingly ripped straight from a Mass Effect nightclub. The potpourri of post-production punch "gives the HL2 trilogy a more stressed, darker, and uncomfortable look," according to the mod's website.

It's essentially Half-Life 2's version of the popular ENBSeries add-ons, and the Cinematic Mod needs some hefty hardware. You'll want at least a quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM for the suite of color adjustments and shader smoothing. The upside? You'll get to find out what really lurks within the GMan's pockmarks. Head over to the mod's website for more info.
PC Gamer

Are hard-as-hell indie games enough to satiate our hunger for a challenge, or should mainstream developers quit trying to appease everyone and start really testing us? In this Face Off from our archives (originally published October 2012), Executive Editor Evan Lahti gives former Senior Editor Josh Augustine a hard time for his willingness to take it easy.

Make your own arguments in the comments—debate team captains: it’s your time to shine.

Evan: Focus testing is the enemy of experimentation and innovation. It widens the audience of a game by watering down the experience. Portal was harder, and better, than Portal 2, which forewent feats like mid-air maneuvering almost completely. Skyrim gave us a detailed wilderness where falling into a freezing lake meant nothing and dragons weren't much more than giant mosquitoes. Remember what dying was like in Diablo and Diablo II? You had to bravely fight back to your corpse to recover your gear with whatever rented junk you could pull together. I miss that brutality, and the feeling of, y’know, actually losing something.

Josh: And Diablo III offers that: in Inferno and Hell difficulty. Either of which can be played with permadeath on. Knock yourself out.

Evan: I’d love to, but Blizzard insists that I can only earn the right to play on a difficulty that can actually kill me by spending hours churning through Children’s Mode, erm, Normal. For every new character.

Josh: So you’re asking to die more? Dying isn't inherently fun or interesting. It’s not the secret sauce of game design. Even if games are a little less hard, it’s only because we’ve grown out of the binary win/lose states of the ’80s and ’90s. Those were motivated by a desire either to get people to put in more coins or to artificially lengthen 8- and 16-bit games that were otherwise short and simple. We’re in an age of gaming diversity and accessibility. More people are playing games; that’s great.

Evan: It’s not about dying more. It’s about wanting game design that uses difficulty creatively. Look at DayZ: you spawn in a 225km2 world with no weapon, no map, and no compass. You have to eat and drink. Everything is trying to kill you, and death is permanent. Almost every weapon has discrete ammo. If I’m good enough, I can read the stars to find my way.

It’s completely brutal, but more than 400,000 people flocked to it in just a couple months. It’s led Arma 2 to the top of the Steam sales charts for almost as long. Why? Because it does something so few modern games do: it respects your ability to figure it out yourself.

Josh: Difficulty’s out there if you want it. Super Meat Boy, Dustforce, Dungeons of Dredmor, Legend of Grimrock, Amnesia, Mount & Blade... all of these games are variously unforgiving. Dark Souls’ PC release is called the “Prepare To Die Edition.” Dota 2 and League of Legends are making judgmental, complex multiplayer games mainstream again. In Tribes: Ascend, I have to make mid-air skillshots at 225km an hour. What more do you want?

Evan: All the games you mentioned are from independent studios. They’re from the fringes. No one in the mainstream is embracing consequence-driven gaming, and as long as that’s the case, I think game design will continue to stagnate. I’m bored of regenerating health and checkpoints. And MMOs, honestly, they’re some of the greatest offenders of this because they were born from a model where players were paying an additional fee. Almost all of their design is based around appeasement. There’s no concept of failure or loss or struggle built into them. Every victory is just an eventuality: if you grind or pay enough, you’ll get what you want.

Josh: Even if what you were saying wasn’t a complete generalization (have you played TERA or Rift or DC Universe Online? They’re all totally tough)—a lot of people relish the social freedom and friendly atmosphere that MMOs provide by not punishing you dramatically just because you aggroed one too many cave goblins, or whatever. Difficulty isn't some one-setting-suits-all concept.

Evan: Challenge counts, and modern games are missing it. Without it, we’re just passively consuming content, going through the motions, acting out a puppet show of animations, particle effects, and sound. Even with immediate access to YouTube walkthroughs the moment a game is released, most developers are still desperately afraid of upsetting players or scaring them away. When I play something like DayZ, I feel feelings. My pulse changes. I regret decisions. I get mad. That’s valuable.

Josh: Well, while you’re getting mad that games don’t make you mad enough, I’ll be having fun.
PC Gamer
Blizzard Allstars

With League of Legends dominating the MOBA scene (in terms of total players), Dota 2 trying to close the gap, and Heroes of Newerth... still existing, it's been a while since we heard anything about Blizzard's competitor. Renamed Blizzard All-Stars after Valve won the commercial rights to "Dota," things have been quieter on the subject than team chat in solo cue. Last week, however, Eurogamer put down some wards and was able to get some interesting info from StarCraft II production director Chris Sigaty. It seems Blizzard may be planning to release All-Stars stand-alone, with a free-to-play model.

"StarCraft 2 is a box. We intend to do something different with the business model in Blizzard All-Stars," Sigaty told Eurogamer. "Something more closely resembling the other types of games in that genre, the MOBA-style games that are out there today, and being able to sell smaller amounts of things to players, the things they want."

Previously, what was then called Blizzard Dota was announced to release as an in-house mod using the StarCraft II Arcade. Early builds showed a disappointingly small number of heroes compared to the genre leaders. And then it just seemed to vanish. It is, according to Sigaty, being "actively worked on," however.

"We'll go into more details about that in the future but I suspect you will not have to have StarCraft 2 to play ," he said. "We're definitely emphasizing it as its own product in the future."

We'll be watching warily for more Blizzard All-Stars info to spring out of the jungle for a genre gank, so sit tight in your lanes and wait for our signal.
PC Gamer
sonic tf2

We don't get too many kart racers on PC, and for that I'm entirely thankful. However, the word on the streets of Green Hill Zone is that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a good 'un - and it's power-sliding its way to PC on January 31st. Not only that, but this new version of the game features three additional characters, based on iconic PC series Total War, Team Fortress 2 and, um, Football Manager.

From Total War: Shogun comes a Samurai Guy, riding a samurai-themed vehicle that transforms into a plane, a boat, or a kart depending on the track's current surface. (It's not so special - all the vehicles do that.) He's joined by Football Manager's The Tactician, a genero-guy in a suit in a car/boat/plane that does a footbally effect when it transforms. So far, so terrible - BUT. They're saved by the appearance of not one but (sort of) three characters from Team Fortress 2: The Pyro, the Spy and the Heavy, who are swapped out depending on whether you're in the water, in the sky, or on terra firma. If you've always wanted to pit the cast of TF2 against a quite-fast hedgehog with an attitude problem, then your insane wish has come true at long last.

Here is a video of the entire gang in action. I have my fingers crossed for TF2 Tennis next:

(Thanks to PCGamesN.)

PC Gamer
NeoTokyo Fuchikoma

Query your cortical data node and you'll recall NeoTokyo was chosen along with 20 other titles for Steam Greenlight's second round of approvals back in October. The mod itself has been around for much longer, originally appearing in simple deathmatch form for Unreal Tournament 2004. Four years later it transitioned to the Source engine, where it languished without updates--until today, when developer Studio Radi-8 released a fresh version out of nowhere (which is apparently becoming a thing now), adding eight new maps and higher-quality weapon models.

The modes: deathmatch and Capture the Ghost (the latter, in a tip of the hat to NeoTokyo's inspiration from dystopian sci-fi anime classics such as Ghost in the Shell and Akira, replaces the flag with an android torso). The classes: Recon, Assault, and Support. Each brings special vision modes such as motion-tracking and infrared, and with the exception of the Support role, everyone can cloak for a short duration. Before each round, you select your primary weapon from an armory that grows as you gain rank from kills and victories. Think cyberpunk Counter-Strike.

It's quite the fun setup. The maps stick to the cyberpunk theme of dense city blocks, military installations, and industrial decay, with plenty of near-future gadgetry and set pieces of glowing computer interfaces and multi-legged tanks with scary-sounding Japanese names. Server selection is rather sparse at the moment, but it should hopefully jump up as word of the update spreads. You and your fellow operatives can get in the action by downloading NeoTokyo from its official website.
PC Gamer

Heya fellow nerd-ballers. Get your hotkeys ready, because you're about to drop into the first edition of What to Watch: The Week in eSports, a new column bringing you the latest news on tournaments, players, personalities, and apocalyptic balance patches for the world's premiere competitive PC games. This week, we highlight the big events to look for in 2013, where to start in building your own game knowledge to gosu levels, and what happens when the worlds of eSports and journalism collide. gl hf.

StarCraft II

2013 is about to kick into high gear for Blizzard's star-faring RTS, and the current undisputed king of real-time strategy eSports. With the Heart of the Swarm expansion (which you'll hear some more of my impressions on soon) less than two months away, the competitive scene is set to change in ways that only happen... well, once an expansion. At the same time, the community has been shaken up a bit by an dispute between journalist Rod "Slasher" Breslau and leading North American team Evil Geniuses that begs the question: Does eSports understand journalism?

Upcoming Events:
The GSL (Global StarCraft II league) is in the middle of its first season of 2012. For the newcomers, eSports seasons typically aren't a once-a-calendar-year thing: the GSL alone has previously hosted as many as seven full seasons in one year. Organized by South Korea's GOMTV, it is widely considered the very apex of competition in StarCraft II. They have a somewhat Byzantine system of qualifications, but as a rule of thumb, someone who has qualified for a coveted "Code S" slot is an eSports god among men, and the Code S champion (who will be decided on March 28) is usually regarded as one of (if not the) best StarCraft II player in the world.

Watch it: GomTV.net

The seventh season of the Intel Extreme Masters league, sponsored by (you guessed it!) Intel, will be holding its championship in Katowice, Poland starting tonight, and running through the weekend. Some of the major players in attendance will be SK Telecom T1's PartinG of South Korea, who recently left team StarTale. LucifroN and VortiX of Spain, the real-life brothers who wound up facing off at last year's Blizzard World Championship might end up in a rematch. Australian champion mOOnGLaDe, former WarCraft III master Grubby from the Netherlands, Germany's Socke, and Norwegian Team Liquid newcomer, Snute, will also be fighting for the top spot

Watch it: ESL-World.net

Other Stuff:
Caster (and fellow Johson County, Kansas escapee) Sean "Day" Plott continues to produce quality StarCraft content every week in his long-running Day Daily series. This week marked the return of the fan favorite Funday Monday segment, in which he imposes a restriction on viewers (such as only being able to build certain units) and commentates replays they send in working under these constraints. Outright madness has been known to ensue.

MLG's new programming schedule includes nightly Monday-Friday content for the SC2 addicts among us. Rules of Engagement with caster/pro Nick "Axslav" Ranish is a fine place to start if you're looking to tighten up your ladder play. Each day of the week has a different theme, from specific tactics to fundamentals. My personal favorite is Wednesdays, which breaks down pro-level "cheesing"- using risky, unorthodox strategies that diverge wildly from the current metagame. This week's developing fundamentals show has some good tips for economy management, and deciding what your units should be doing at any given time.

If you're looking for more Heart of the Swarm action but your favorite streamers are asleep, eating, or have otherwise vanished from public view, MLG has also been running nightly show matches in the expansion beta. Tonight at 2 p.m. PST, Axslav and Total Biscuit will be hosting a King of the Hill event.

League of Legends

League of Legends had an exciting and somewhat controversy-heavy 2012, shattering records for eSports viewership and shifting the balance of power from European and North American dominance to Asian primacy. 2013 is set to get rolling, and it's poised to be a very influential year for Riot's MOBA.

Upcoming Events:
League will also have a presence at IEM Katowice this weekend, with eight teams competing for a $15,500 top prize. South Korean all-stars Azubu are sending both their teams—Frost and Blaze—to compete with the likes of Europe's SK Gaming and North American staple, Curse. The winning team will also automatically qualify for the IEM World Championship later this year.

Watch it: ESL-World.net

The Riot-sponsored Season 3 Championship Series is also set to kick off on the 25th, with the North American Offline Qualifiers. Curse Gaming EU, Fnatic, and some up-and-comers including Team Acer will compete for a spot in the European championship series. Sixteen teams will enter, but only five will move on.

Read More: The Path to Pro

Other Stuff:

The latest patch notes include some more changes to jungling, which has seen a major overhaul since Season 2. Also of note is a change to the way turrets prioritize targets.

MLG's new programming is also showing LoL newbies (or just those looking to learn new champs) some love. Thursdays and Fridays starting next week, League of Legends Champion Training will offer analysis of pro-level gameplay with different champs, with analysts and the players themselves pointing out useful tips and tactics.

Dota 2

As 2013 dawns, we're still all asking the question, "So, is the game, like... out yet?" Thankfully, we don't have to ask whether or not there are exciting competitions to watch. While Dota hasn't really reached the volume or publicity of live tournaments of its main competitors, the red-headed step-child of premiere eSports continues to bring us high-stakes online action like The Defense. They also keep sending me beta keys in batches of around a bajillion. So chances are, you know someone who can get you in at this point if you're at all interested.

Upcoming Events:
The Defense 3 online tournament is ongoing, with only two teams—Germay's Mousesports and Fnatic EU—remaining undefeated. They lead their respective groups, along with Sweden's No Tidehunter in Group C and a tie between Russian Team Empire and North American Team Dignitas in Group B.

Watch it: The-Defense.com

Other Stuff:
Are you bad at Dota 2? Do you want someone to validate your hatred of the totally overpowered, BS heroes your enemies crush you with in solo cue? Using MSPaint? YouTuber Pyrion Flax has you covered. He's put out a general guide to Dota 2 as well as videos for specific heroes (most recently Magnus and Faceless Void.)

That's it for this week, eSports faithful. Let us know in the comments where you go to get your weekly eSports fix, and we might throw you a shout-out in a future installment.