May 24
Dota 2

We originally reviewed Dota 2 in 2013. It has changed significantly since then, so much so that we decided to review it again. Our original review can still be found here. For more about why we've chosen to re-review certain games, head here.

Given that it started life as a faithful recreation of the original Defence of the Ancients mod, you’d be forgiven for thinking of Dota 2 as the archetypical MOBA. Yet this isn’t the case: in practice, Dota 2’s purism sets it apart from the vast majority of games in this genre. What we think of as the MOBA really began with Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends—games that took that roughshod family of WarCraft custom maps and professionalised them, commercialised them, found them a form that would enshrine the MOBA at the top of the gaming world for the better part of a decade.

Dota 2 is different. Adopted by Valve, that original mod became a tool for boosting Steam’s popularity in places where the service hadn’t reached the ubiquity that it enjoyed in Europe and North America—such as Russia, Southeast Asia and China, traditional strongholds of the DotA scene. And the best way to do this proved to be to remain steadfastly idiosyncratic. What this resulted in was a free to play MOBA where all of the heroes are free, where there are no account levels to grind, where design compromises imposed by the limitations of a noughties map editor have been embraced as design law. Dota’s leap from mod-scene darling to million-dollar phenomenon was whiplash-inducingly quick, its uncommercial credibility ripped away like a bandaid—so fast that you might not notice it was gone.

What does this mean for you as a prospective player? Principally, it means that this is a dizzyingly deep competitive team strategy game whose core design benefits from fifteen years of unbroken refinement. It was in this strategic sandbox that the basic assumptions of the MOBA were established: two teams, three lanes, five heroes per team, towers, creeps, jungles, bases, and Ancients. On paper, your job is to lay siege to the enemy base and blow up the enemy ancient. In practice, your job is to manipulate the strategic, economic and psychological tempo of the match, a challenge whose variables change every time you play.

You’ve also got to pick the right wizard, cast the right spells, and make sure they buy the right shoes. Obviously. This is Dota we're talking about.

Dota 2’s learning curve is mountainous, but everybody has to start somewhere. You’ll start by picking a character you like and learning how to use their abilities effectively—lining up stuns, dishing out damage, turning foes into frogs, being the best helicopter or bear or fishman that you can be. Then you’ll learn something about how to play that hero as part of a team, which stat-boosting items to buy, and at what stage in the game you’re at your most powerful. You’ll learn some hard lessons about getting too close to enemy towers, about carrying a town portal scroll to get from place to place on time, about vision-granting wards and why everybody’s always yelling for someone else to buy them. Then you’ll improve, maybe learn a few more heroes, learn to look at your minimap, and then you’ll realise that you’re going to have to unlearn about 75% of the things you think you know in order to surmount the next step of Dota 2’s endless staircase. If you enjoy this process of learning, failing, and learning again, then thousands of hours will pass: and before you know it, you’ll be a below-average Dota 2 player like everybody else.

Dota 2 is a game you will never finish learning, one that cannot be perfected either by its developers or its players.

Although the community has always maintained certain customs about the best way to play, Dota itself has never enforced a particular methodology. This is the key thing that separates it from its peers: while other MOBAs have tended to fold the community metagame into the design of the games themselves—codifying player roles like tanks, supports and damage-dealers as fixed archetypes within their rosters—this doesn’t work quite the same way in Dota 2. This is a game with a simulationist heart, where a character isn’t a good tank because they were always intended to be so, but because of the specific way they interact with Dota 2’s underlying matrix of items, statistics, and map features. This is a game where the addition or subtraction of a tree in a single part of the map might change the viability of a hero—a game of endless interrelated butterfly effects.

What this means is that Dota 2 is a game you will never finish learning, one that cannot be perfected either by its developers or its players. It goes without saying that it’s hard to learn: I’ve been playing consistently for the last six years and I’m pretty bad at it. But that journey has been one of the most rewarding and remarkable experiences I’ve ever had with a videogame. The process of learning, sharing knowledge and adapting to continual change brings people together: I have made lifelong friends playing Dota 2, people with whom I now share an extensive vocabulary rooted in this expansive, strange, beautiful game.

That inherent flexibility is also the reason Dota 2 makes for such a compelling esport. Its complex sandbox allows for huge divergence in playstyles across teams, players, and regions. While restrictive metagames have emerged from time to time, they have never lasted: and in seven years of high-profile competition, the field has remained open to challengers from all parts of the world, with all sorts of different approaches to that core strategic challenge. Indeed, the creativity that Dota 2’s core simulation supports is something that the best players are ideally positioned to exploit, and watching the metagame get turned on its head by a brilliant bit of lateral thinking—something that happens at least once per International—is a pure thrill. If you’ve never felt a basketball stadium full of people explode with excitement because a teen millionaire has selected an unusual dragon, then, well, you’re missing out.

It’d be impractical to recount every way that Dota 2 has changed since I first reviewed the game for PC Gamer back in 2013. It has a better in-game UI and a much improved main menu, including faster load times and a more sophisticated interface for pregame strategising. Most recently, Valve introduced new quality-of-life features like context-sensitive indicators to let you know when a hero or item has been altered in a patch. Given that balance passes now take place fortnightly, allowing players ready access to this information is very welcome.

The Arcade was a flagship new feature when it launched, a freeform custom game lobby that recreates the conditions of the WarCraft III custom map scene from which the original DotA emerged. As in those days, a few game modes—chiefly tower defence mods and a couple of combat-heavy Dota variants—dominate.

In part, the flagging popularity of the Arcade is due to the introduction of Turbo mode last year. Turbo fulfills the same purpose that many of those popular Arcade mods do: it allows you to play Dota—or something like Dota—more quickly and in a more forgiving environment, and its inclusion shows the benefits of relaxing Dota 2’s purist tendencies. This mode features much faster leveling—and therefore much shorter games—and downplays some of Dota 2’s more complex systems, like the item courier. The result is a version of Dota 2 that is both more accessible for new players and offers experienced players the chance to blow off a little steam. It’s easier and sillier, and ultimately less rewarding than a full game, but it’s perfect when you want to check out a new hero or when you don’t have the time or energy to commit to a match that could last more than an hour.

Valve has spent years fiddling with ways to make money from Dota without compromising its core. This began with the Compendium—a sort of digital stickerbook released alongside each year’s International esports championship—and grew into Battle Passes, months-long event seasons where players race to complete challenges for points and prizes.

This year’s Dota Plus subscription system is as close as Valve has come to putting game features behind a paywall. Your fee grants you access to enhanced tutorial features, including in-game skill and item suggestions based on crowdsourced data. There are also challenges to complete and stat-tracking gems to collect—a further variation on the ‘collect all the hats’ theme that powers Battle Passes.

Dota Plus caused controversy when it was announced—this is a community highly sensitive to anything with a whiff of pay-to-win about it. But that hasn’t been my experience with the system. In fact, Dota Plus’ data-driven guides are frequently less useful than the player-made alternatives available in-game for free, and often make skill and item suggestions that aren’t helpful. A bit of extra guidance for new players is always welcome, but there’s nothing here to challenge or replace the value of having a friend show you the ropes.

Between Plus and Battle Passes, then, the bulk of Dota 2’s microtransactions take the form of premium systems that let you complete challenges and win hats. There are greater and lesser expressions of this idea—from co-op dungeon minigames to Crystal Maiden’s gambling wheel—but it basically comes down to paying a fee to get better rewards from the matches you’d be playing anyway.

Dota 2 s extraordinary generosity in terms of raw game-stuff, which sets it aside from every other game in this genre, means that Valve don t have much left that they could meaningfully lock behind a paywall.

This is a mixed blessing. On one hand, taken on their own merits, Dota 2’s premium options aren’t very compelling. There’s not much that you feel you’ll have to own unless not participating in the latest Battle Pass makes you feel like you're missing out. On the other hand: there’s not much that you feel you’ll have to own. Dota 2’s extraordinary generosity in terms of raw game-stuff, which sets it aside from every other game in this genre, means that Valve don’t have much left that they could meaningfully lock behind a paywall. In that scenario, it’s tempting to forgive them the odd underwhelming hat collection minigame.

Every now and then, however, a feature creeps into one of these premium packages that feels like it belongs in the core game. That's happening right now—at the time of writing, owners of the 2018 International Battle Pass gain the ability to queue to play specific roles in their next ranked game. This is a learning from League of Legends—a further relaxation of that signature purism, acknowledging that while Dota 2 allows players to occasionally transcend or redefine team roles, the majority of players naturally sort themselves into positions anyway. And you know what: it's a really good idea to borrow, allowing you to bypass one of the most socially fraught moments in any ranked game—the bit where half your team argues about who has to play support. It's a shame that this feature is, at present, restricted to the International's latest money-spinner.

Particularly because player conduct remains an issue for Dota 2. Valve have introduced, extended and tinkered with player reporting systems, matchmaking, and so on. They have taken steps to reduce the anxiety that surrounds ranked play by replacing granular numerical skill ratings with much broader, seasonal rank badges. They've implemented pop-up reports that tell you whether you're doing well or badly in the eyes of your fellow players, and added messages to the start of games telling you to be nice. The success or failure of these methods is, inevitably, invisible: you never know how many internet assholes the game is successfully keeping out of your games.

Even so, Dota 2 remains a place where strangers scream at one another for making mistakes, where hostility has been entrenched by parts of the community as the norm and even desirable. It is certainly not the only game that has this problem, but it can feel unusually intense: perhaps because Dota 2 forces strangers together for so long, or makes them depend on one another so much. The same pressures that make this such a remarkable experience with friends can make it hellish, too, and after six years I couldn't assure you that this is going change. Dota 2 is one of my favourite games of all time, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend playing it solo until you know what you're getting yourself into.

And yet for me, and for millions of other people, this strange, unlikely, unrepeatable game has become part of the daily fabric of playing games on the PC. It's a shortcut to a particular kind of competitive experience that I click on almost every day, and that has retained its ability to excite, fascinate and frustrate many years and many thousands of hours after other games have run their course. Its present custodian, Valve, has succeeded in improving it—in making it more accessible and adding new ways to play. But most importantly Valve has succeeded in preserving Dota—in protecting the spirit of a phenomenal game that predates this specific iteration and will hopefully outlive it, too.

Half-Life 2

Earlier this week, we asked you to tell us the last physical copy of a PC game you bought, while sharing our own choices. Today, as a kind of sequel to that question, we ask, what was the first downloadable game you bought on PC

In the PC Gamer Q&A, we ask the global PC Gamer team for their thoughts on a particular subject, then invite you to add your thoughts in the comments below. We'll also feature a few answers from the PC Gamer Club Discord, accessible to anyone who's a part of our membership program.

You'll find our answers below, and we'd love to hear what your first paid downloadable game was too. 

Jarred Walton: Half-Life 2

I'll take the easy route on this one, because it's also true: Half-Life 2 was the first downloadable game I bought. I also played Counter-Strike 1.6 on the platform (including using the Steam beta), but that was a mod for Half-Life so I didn't pay for it. Anyway, HL2 required Steam, so what else was I going to do? I'm old enough that having a credit card and high-speed internet back in 2004 wasn't a problem, and I was luckier than some, in that Steam worked basically without a hitch for me. Sure, there were a few outages, but I don't recall them ever really affecting me. 

I played (and benchmarked) Half-Life 2 all the way to the end in the first week or so after its release, and I thought the convenience of downloading a game was pretty awesome. Others hated the idea, but I don't think any of us could have guessed how huge Steam would become over the next decade. It went from a place where you bought Valve games and maybe a few others, to eventually becoming the virtual storefront for 95 percent of all the games I own. No wonder EA, Ubisoft, and Activision want a piece of that pie.

Jody Macgregor: Uplink

I kept buying boxed copies of games for ages because slow Australian internet made downloading them a hassle, until I got into small indie games that wouldn't bust my data limit. The first was Uplink, which let me live out the fantasy of being an elite computer hacker and also the fantasy of having really fast internet.

It's designed to make you feel like you're in the movie Sneakers, and for a while it did. Like every other hacking game I've tried—games like Hack 'n' Slash, and else.Heart.Break()—it eventually started to feel like work instead of fun. Now when I want to pretend I'm a hacker I just go to hackertyper.net. What it did get me into was playing more small, personal projects and I found plenty of those to love. The next two were Atom Zombie Smasher and Audiosurf, both of which became favorites.

Samuel Roberts: Audiosurf

Right when rhythm action games were blowing up on console, but tended to focus on guitar music that I didn't really like and plastic controllers that took up way too much space in a single person's bedroom, a friend explained how there was a rhythm action game where you could play your own songs. The novelty of this was huge to me. I was 20 at the time, working on a PlayStation magazine, and I didn't really have the cash for a good PC, having wasted hundreds of pounds on a PS3 I needed for work—which broke a year later. Sigh. At least I got to play Uncharted, I suppose. Eventually, my parents bought me an okayish laptop, and one of the first things I did was download Audiosurf on Steam. 

It was pretty amazing, to upload my favourite tracks into the game and to have so many cool and challenging ways to play them, along with leaderboards. This was one of the first PC games of the modern era that really showed me why playing on PC was better—both in terms of the variety of games available, and the experiences that only PC could give you. If I wanted to play the theme tune from Max Payne 2 in a rhythm action game, I could do it, damn it! 

Now I own close to 1000 games across Steam, GOG, uPlay, Battle.net and Origin, and I don't know why I've done that to myself. 

James Davenport: SiN Episodes

Remember the short-lived SiN Episodes reboot? I can't remember why I chose to make that my first digital purchase rather than, say, Half-Life 2, but it was. It was this whole ordeal. I didn't have a credit card and Steam bucks weren't really a thing back then, so I went to a friend's house (hey, Anton, I'll find that copy of Kingdom Hearts and return it as soon as I can) just to ask their older sister to let me use hers. Digital game marketplaces were a new concept back then, and she didn't play many games anyway, so it 100-percent came off as a con. 

Your little brother's good friend rolls in with wearing the edgiest Linkin Park t-shirt he could find at Goodwill, then asks, under his breath, to borrow your credit card to purchase something from "Steam" called "Sin". My ma had just started preaching at the local Presbyterian church and everyone knew it, so the look Anton's sister threw my way had me worried her eyes might pop out. Not sure why she agreed in the end, but thanks, Roxie. Only had dial-up internet at the time, so my parents paid for it next with a phone line that wouldn't put a call through for a day or two. And when I finally played Episode 1, the only episode ever released, I remember feeling like all the trouble was worth it. The novelty of a game floating somewhere in the ether that I could call mine and play from any computer was incredibly empowering. Bit of a shit game, but SiN Episode 1 got me hooked on Steam, and set me right in the path of innumerable indie games I would have missed otherwise. 

Phil Savage: Prey, the original one

I spent most of my 2000s dealing with a laptop that became too hot to handle after just 20 minutes of Command & Conquer: Generals. As such, the advent of Steam passed me by—if it wasn't a sedate isometric strategy game or RPG, I wasn't prepared to suffer the third-degree burns required to play it. In 2008, though, I got a real job and saved enough money to buy a desktop PC. I downloaded Steam, fully intending to finally play Half-Life 2. Instead, I ran face first into a Steam sale. Prey was on offer for about £3. I didn't know what it was, or if it was any good, but at that price how could I not immediately buy it?

It was good. Prey is far from amazing, but if you don't know any better—for instance if you hadn't played an FPS since Quake because your last decade had been spent ordering many sprites to gib many orcs in the various Infinity Engine RPGs—it looked spectacular. I also bought Audiosurf on the same day, because everyone bought Audiosurf in 2008.

Chris Livingston: Half-Life 2, probably

My Steam purchase history only goes back to 2007 for some reason, but I have to assume it was Half-Life 2. I remember staying up late to unlock it. It launched fine, and I remember seeing those Combine metrocops walking around on the menu screen. Instead of playing, though, I decided to change a couple graphics options, and then had to restart. And that's when Steam completely tanked. I couldn't get back in. I missed my window to play a game I'd been waiting years for, and after about three hours of not being able to connect, I just had to give up and go to sleep because I had work in the morning. I'm sure glad that 15 years later games no longer have launch day issues, huh? Huh?

The PC Gamer Club

We got a few answers from the Club Discord, so thanks all who responded. "I'm pretty sure my first digital game was Mass Effect 1 &2 in 2010 because I'm old and until that point I always got games from a store," says user IronGnomee. "A podcast I listened to at the time was always saying how amazing Commander Shepard was so I finally tried it out." 

"As far as I can remember, it would be The Orange Box," says user Buttface Jones in Discord. "I had played PC games before TOB, like Quake, Command and Conquer, and WoW but always from a disc. I bought TOB on Xbox and fell in love with TF2, despite how bad and limited the Xbox version was. I eventually got fed up and downloaded Steam specifically to play 'the real TF2'."

User Buttz says Garry's Mod on Steam. Imbaer adds, "Orange box in 2008 for me." Fellow user erdelf adds "Stargate Resistance honestly, before that I bought games in the store or played f2p online games." 

Let us know the first downloadable game you bought below!

Dota 2

Stephanie "Missharvey" Harvey

When Ninja streams Fortnite, hundreds of thousands of people tune into watch. DrDisRespect and Lirik command audiences that will follow them to whatever game they play. But for every big name streamer, there are hundreds of lesser-known personalities who are worth watching, whether you want to learn the ins-and-outs of a game, marvel at inhuman pro play, or just put on some background entertainment. 

We've pulled together a collection of streamers we like to watch, with recommendations across some of the PC's biggest games and genres. They're not the biggest names, but they're all streamers we think you should be watching. Fortnite, Overwatch, League of Legends, and many more are here, along with a few of our favorite variety streamers, too.

Fortnite

Dakotaz

Watch for: Grown up Fortnite

It is difficult to find a non-abrasive Fortnite stream on Twitch right now. Most streamers specifically target that uber-important preteen demographic with vintage PewDiePie shrieks, stale memes, and delinquent 'tude. You can't really blame them for going after what works, but I've always appreciated Dakotaz for his relative chillness. If you often feel like an alien or a predator as an adult Fortnite fan, Dakotaz will keep you grounded.

KatGunn

Watch for: Pro skills

Former pro gamer KatGunn has still got it, as evidenced by her regular Fortnite streams where she calmly, almost casually tears it up. Gunn formerly played Dead or Alive, Halo, and other shooters, but these days mostly streams Fortnite. Her cat makes frequent guest appearances on stream.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Missharvey

Watch for: Veteran Counter-Strike

Missharvey started playing Counter-Strike in 2003 and has long been a feature of the pro scene. She currently plays for CLG and regularly streams CS:GO on her own Twitch channel. Also, if mad Counter-Strike skills aren't enough for you, she competed in and won a season of the show Canada's Smartest Person, and previously worked as a game designer on Far Cry Primal at Ubisoft.

Destiny 2

Datto

Despite his occasionally grumpy demeanor, particularly when a day one raid is proving tricky to down, Datto is the go-to guy for explaining the secrets and strategies of Bungie's shared-world shooter. His clan, Maths Class, regularly finish among the top groups for each new raid, and over on his YouTube channel his Exotic tier list and weapon DPS comparison videos also provide super-helpful advice for grinders.

Ms5000Watts

Watch for: Chill times in Trials

Watts is a consummate Trials players, going flawless multiple times most weekends, and also a great watch thanks to her laid back enthusiasm and the positive relationship she's built up with her chat community. Watching how her teams communicate and the strategies they employ on each map is a great way to get better at D2's PvP end game.

Dota 2

PurgeGaming

Watch for: Learning what the hell is Dota

Slightly bending our rule to not recommend the most obvious streamers, but former pro Purge offers an invaluable wealth of advice for those learning the vast complexity of Dota. After playing professionally, Kevin Godec moved over to commentary, analysis, and teaching. Lately he's streamed regularly with Day9 and makes instructional videos on Youtube.

Hearthstone

Firebat

Watch for: Dad jokes and meticulous explanations

These days the 2014 World Champion is more focused on streaming and casting than competing in HCT events, but he still regularly finishes in high legend ranks, and his stream is arguably the best if you're looking to improve your own play. Firebat breaks down his thought processes on every turn, attempting to read what might be in his opponent's hand and planning his own moves multiple turns ahead. Aside from the meticulous play, he delivers the smarts with a deliciously dry sense of humour.

Hafu

Watch for: The lack of salt

There are moments where Hafu joins up in collaborative streams with other Hearthstone luminaries like Eloise, but for the most part you can catch her in her bedroom, playing through endless arena runs. In that sense she's comparable to megastreamer Kripparrian, except she holds back on any salt or sanctimony. Three cheers for seeing Hearthstone as a glass half full.

ADWCTA (Grinninggoat)

Watch for: The technical ability

It's difficult to think of anyone in Hearthstone more studiously dedicated to the craft of arena than ADWCTA. Yes, there are other arena streamers on Twitch, but none who regard every choice, and every draft, with the same agony. Blizzard doesn't hand out any trophies or monetary rewards for Hearthstone's secondary game mode, and that makes ADWCTA's craft reverberate with the sort of passion that makes Twitch a compelling place.

League of Legends

Aphromoo

Watch for: Relaxed vibes and support skills

A lot of popular League streamers get their notoriety for their ballsy plays in all-or-nothing roles like midlane and AD Carry, but Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black demonstrates the game-winning influence of a consistently strong support player. A pro who's been dropping wards and protecting his team's carry since 2011, Aphromoo is currently on the 100 Thieves roster and streams regularly (as a variety of roles and champions) when he's not playing in tournaments. His calm demeanor, hearty laugh, and anime appreciation all make him an endearing Twitch entertainer.

KayPeaLoL

Watch for: Jokes and serious skills

Come for the personality, stay for the absolute shop-wrecking. KayPeaLoL is a blast  to watch (and one of the most popular streamers on this list) as she dominates the mid lane in League, usually as Ahri or Lux, displaying skills that make me nostalgic for my League of Legend heyday. But I was never even close to this good, and certainly never this funny. KayPea is always goofy and uploads weekly edited montages on Youtube that pack even more jokes into her already funny streams. She'll keep you entertained through even the dullest laning phase.

Overwatch

Emongg

Watch for: Salt-free tank play, big slams

A good-natured streamer who maintains an extremely positive outlook while playing in the Overwatch ladder Top 500. He mostly plays offtanks like D.Va and Zarya but will often flex to other heroes as well. In a game that has become notorious for toxic behavior, Emongg is a breath of un-salty air.

Fareeha

Watch for: Thoughtful play analysis, great team coordination, and justice raining from above

As her name suggests, Fareeha almost exclusively plays Pharah, but her stream is great for rocketeers and groundlings alike. She often talks through her decisions in game, giving great insight into what it's like playing in the high-Masters/Grandmaster competitive tier.

Path of Exile

Mathil1

Watch for: The chill skills

Mathil1 is easily Path of Exile's most popular streamer, but that's for good reason. He's very relaxed but plays at a top tier competitive level that average players are likely to never experience. If you want to see what Path of Exile's true endgame looks like, Mathil1 is a good place to start.

DCLara

Watch for: Her hilarious antics

By and large, Path of Exile's streamers are a quieter, laid back bunch. That's what makes DCLara so fun to watch. She's goofy as hell and doesn't take the game all that seriously, which is a nice contrast to Path of Exile's hyper competitive community.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

Break

Watch for: Sharp eyes and cool crowd

Pro player for TeamSoloMid, Break's PUBG streams demonstrate both his extreme skill and contagious enthusiasm. While he can certainly get keyed up at times, Break never feels like a performer trying to entertain his audience: he's got a naturally fun and casual vibe that doesn't feel forced, and it's easy to see why he's attracted an enjoyable and supportive community of viewers. 

Rainbow Six Siege

Macie Jay 

Watch for: Tips, tricks, and skills

If you want to learn more about the many operators in Siege--deciding which to play, or brushing up on their skills--Macie Jay's channel is a great place to go. Regular R6 streams and a wealth of videos on Youtube are useful teaching aids, and if you'd rather learn nothing but watch some clutch aces, those are also readily available.

Warframe

Jaemz

Watch for: Newbie help

Warframe is an intimidating and complex game, but Jaemz has built a large part of his channel around helping new players. Each and every stream is an invitation to join his party and play alongside him, where he'll help players overcome certain challenges or just offer advice.

Wgrates

Watch for: The shiba

Wgrates is a top tier player who's fun to watch just to see Warframe's endgame, but the real appeal of his channel is the shiba-ness of it. He uses a 3D animated shiba avatar instead of a face cam and points a second camera at his puppy's bed so you can watch him do sick ninja stuff and then aww at his puppy as it chews on a toy. It's a weirdly compelling combination.

Fighting games

Maximilian_DOOD

Watch for: The variety

Maximilian_dood is one of the true omnivores in fighting games. On his stream, you can catch him indulging in everything from Pokken Tournament to Injustice 2, always served up with a distinct, gleefully obsessive adoration for the scene and the metagame. Max's late-night couch streams are legendary (especially when he invites his friends along), but I'm also a fan of the work he does on his YouTube channel, from documenting fighting game history, to recapping Evo.

Strategy games

Quill18

Watch for: The positivity

It feels like wherever I go in strategy games, Quill18 isn't far behind. The man has streamed pretty much every turned-based grid under the sun, and he's my personal go-to whenever I want to decipher the arcane systems of the latest Paradox game or whatever. He's also relentlessly positive, even when Genghis is at his borders.

Beaglerush

Watch for: Bending RNG into submission

John "Beagle" Teasdale is the go-to guy for XCOM expertise, and we've turned to him more than once ourselves. As well as XCOM, the laconic commander streams D&D with his partner Jamball, the occasional game of PUBG or Into the Breach, and is getting into Battletech.

LegendofTotalWar

Watch for: Counter-Strike. (Just kidding; Total War)

Like the name suggests, LegendofTotalWar specializes in the Total War 4X strategy games, and plays them on legendary difficulty. He's great at cheesing the AI, which can be educational though if you're not into seeing someone win with exploits—or swear like a trooper—stick with Heir of Carthage or Lionheartx10 instead.

Speedruns

SayviTV

Watch for: Dark Souls 3

Sayvi, real name Erika, is better at Dark Souls than you, unless you also happen to be a hell of a speedrunner. Watch her stream for regular all bosses speedruns, with the nice added touch of a controller cam so you can see the precise movements of her boss-killing hands. When she's not streaming Dark Souls, Sayvi is likely streaming Fortnite instead. Low stress, compared to Lothric.

Halfcoordinated

Watch for: Impressive one-handed play

Halfcoordinated is an amazing speedrunner who tackles challenging games using just one hand. His right hand is less coordinated thanks to a physical disability, so Halfcoordinated uses his left to do everything on a controller, in challenging platformers like Momodora and action games like Nier: Automata and Vanquish. And he does it all with a calm, genial vibe that's impossible not to like. He sometimes plays console exclusives, but we won't hold that against them.

Variety streamers

Fremily

Watch for: Couple co-op play

Fred and Emily used to play a lot of DayZ, but these days they bounce from PUBG to whatever's hot, whether that's Sea of Thieves or co-op stuff like Far Cry 5 or A Way Out. No matter what they play it's fun to watch a chill married couple whether they're backing each other up in a firefight or throwing buckets of vomit on pirate island.

League of Geeks

Watch for: Indies!

The developers of digital board game Armello play their own game against its community on the regular, but they also stream other indie games of interest. It's a good way to check out the kind of games that don't get streamed often, like Minit, Ghost of a Tale, or PC Building Simulator. 

TeftyTeft

Watch for: The soothing voice and lustrous beard

Tefty began as a Destiny 2 streamer, but has increasingly made his mark playing a variety of PC games including The Witcher 3, Sea of Thieves and Rollercoaster Tycoon. The latter in particular took his chill style to almost ASMR levels of relaxation. A visit to his 'Church of Unlimited Frames' is recommended if you want to just kick back and watch someone likeable playing good games without too much shouting.

Portal 2

Whether it’s an Easter egg, a joke character, or just a little nudge at a competitor, developers love slipping the odd reference to other games into their own. Sometimes though, they go beyond just slapping a Dopefish on a wall or quipping about a ‘doomed space marine’, and we get to see our heroes stride into entirely new, often completely inappropriate new worlds.

Here are a few of our favourites, along the ones that caused the most ‘wait, what?’ blinking on discovery. 

Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Jedi

Yes, he can hold his breath underwater for ten minutes and quip his way through any sword-fight… but only The Force Unleashed II let him try his luck with a lightsaber. Turns out that you don’t need a sharp wit if you’re waving around two of the universe’s deadliest glowsticks and aren’t afraid to use them. Guybrush Threepkiller is so famous in-universe, he even has his own statues. We’re almost positive that’ll be brought up at some point in the next movie. After all, Rey does need a new teacher. Just as long as Elaine never finds out about it. 

Final Fantasy makes history in Assasin's Creed

Obviously, everything in the Assassin’s Creed series is meticulously researched and true to life, especially the alien gods and the time Ezio punched the Pope. Write it all down in your history homework! Which means that, while aliens might not have built the pyramids, they definitely got up to a bit of chocobo racing on the side. That’s according to this crossover, where Assassins ended up in Final Fantasy XV, while its villain ended up pounding sand for a bit before being dragged back to his own game by a hastily summoned Bahamut. There’s even a stuffed Moogle lying around in case you feel lonely after they’ve gone, and some fancy weapons to keep and confuse archaeologists for a few thousand years. Along with that Stargate, obviously. 

Commander Keen hangs about in Doom II

There’s a few odd appearances in Doom 2, including the severed head of John Romero as the end-boss, and a trip back to Wolfenstein 3D in the secret levels. By far the strangest thing though is what lies behind those: former id star Commander Keen… murdered and hanging from meathooks. The story goes that Adrian Carmack was the childkiller in question, having chafed at making cutesy games instead of enjoying himself with blood and guts. However, that was not enough to get rid of the boy-genius forever, for both John Romero and Tom Hall have confirmed that Commander Keen, real name Billy Blaze, is in fact Wolfenstein hero BJ Blazkowicz’s grandson… and father to the Doomguy. What a strange family tree. 

Earthworm Jim digs into Battle Arena Toshinden

He’s the world’s mightiest worm! He fights aliens! He travels galaxies! He gets flattened by a lot of cows! And he’s one of the few 90s mascots to actually be awesome, starring in two excellent platformers, one surprisingly good cartoon series, and… well, let’s not mention the sequels. Like Bubsy, 3D was not kind to Earthworm Jim, though unlike Bubsy, people actually cared. His most successful jump into the third dimension turned out to be this Easter Egg in the PC version of Toshinden, where with the help of his super-suit and a really big club, he was finally able to make the future of gaming eat dirt. Pound them into the ground. Bury himself in glory. Be cut in half and yet… no, wait. Not that one. But it was still as good as fans were going to get.

Everyone plays Poker Night at the Inventory 

Easily the most ambitious gaming crossover in recent memory… and it’s all about hanging out between games. Telltale’s Poker Night series combined, amongst a few others (deep breath) The Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Max from Sam and Max, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade Adventures and also some webcomic whose name we forget off-hand, GLaDOS from Portal, Brock Samson from the Venture Bros (not a game, but never mind), Claptrap from Borderlands, Sam from Sam and Max replacing Max from Sam and Max, and Ash from The Evil Dead. Phew.

They weren’t great poker games, but that wasn’t really the point. It was about the banter between the different competitors as they sat back and shot the shit without the customary heavy artillery. We could also have had members of the cast from The Walking Dead and Back to the Future, but they were deemed unsuitable for the atmosphere. They didn’t want anyone crying, or any kids seeing Doc and Marty in a sweary environment. A pity. When the game revved up, they could have seen some serious shit.

Portal 2’s Space Core invades Skyrim 

When Bethesda showed off DLC for Oblivion, it was horse armour. And everybody laughed. Come Skyrim, the laugh was far more positive. One of the earliest additions saw the exiled Space Core (spoilers for a decade old game there) crash-land in Tamriel, still just as eager to explore SPAAAAAAAACE. Going bizarrely unnoticed by the locals, all probably fretting about that whole dragon invasion thing, it came crashing down in a plume of smoke. Pick it up and it still kept blinking and talking in your inventory, delivering… well, not very varied dialogue. In summary:  “Space. Space. Space!” And yet, still it was less annoying than all those guards and their epic tales of glory curtailed by the sudden impact of a ballistic stick to the lower-leg.

XCOM defends Civ V: Brave New World

What does XCOM do when there are no aliens to fight? Apparently, they learn to ****ing shoot straight. The XCOM Squad in Civ V is an elite tactical unit that gets the job done, air-dropping into friendly territory and laying down the law. Specifically, Thou Shalt Not Screw With XCOM. In the absence of aliens, they have their eyes set on "Giant Death Robots," and are happy to act as shock troopers or defensive units while they watch the skies and await their destiny. But since there are apparently no aliens interested in Earth during the Civ games, they’re probably going to be waiting a while. Should have taken the flight to Alpha Centauri.

Princess Rosella favours Leisure Suit Larry 3

Sierra On-Line loved its in-jokes. Not one but two sequels (this one and Space Quest III) ended with the characters somehow finding their way to the developers’ own offices for a chat with studio leads Ken and Roberta Williams, with Larry also taking trips to a Westworld style factory where adventure heroes are rebuilt after every stupid death, complete with King’s Quest’s King Graham being readied for duty, and finally showing up in the Old West for a cameo in Freddy Pharkas Frontier Pharmacist. By far the strangest cameos came at the end of Leisure Suit Larry 3, where the trip to Sierraland involved trekking through scenes from games like Police Quest and Space Quest 2, before meeting Roberta Williams directing a particularly annoying scene from King’s Quest IV, in which Princess Rosella is trapped in the slobbery mouth of a giant whale. Strange.

Frank West covers Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

He’s covered wars, you know. But oddly, Dead Rising’s original and best hero doesn’t seem to know how to cover himself in this odd outing. Despite Lost Planet being set on a frozen world, everyone’s favourite photographer show up not only without his camera, but also without his trousers. Somehow avoiding hypothermia, he runs around in nothing but underpants, while still managing to rain destruction on the armies of insects happy to not have to peel their food for once. What a trooper. 

Scorpion goes mental in Psi-Ops

Fighting game characters are probably the most cameo-friendly of all, whether it’s a full game like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, or bonus combatants-without-a-k-because-that’s-how-it’s-spelled in the likes of Injustice. But they show up in other games with curious regularity too. Lightning god Raiden for instance showed up in Unreal Championship, while invisible fighter Reptile could have popped into basically any game. Ever seen a flicker on your screen playing, say, Fortnite? As far as you know, it might be him.

But still, this was an odd one. Even though Midway was the publisher of both MK and Psi-Ops, it’s a bit of a leap from fighting game to third-person action game. Sadly, just wearing his palette-swapped ninja outfit didn’t actually make you the world’s clingiest fighter. He still had to swap out his “get over here!” attack for regular guns. On the plus side, having to beat every character in the game two out of three times would have gotten pretty darn tiring.

Dota 2

The 2018 International Battle Pass offers some very interesting new things for Dota 2 players, foremost among them The Underhollow, a new game mode that has three-player teams setting off on a competitive quest for cheese that sounds an awful lot like an underground battle royale.

"Battle through a labyrinth filled with monsters, marvels, and many other three-player enemy squads as you search for Roshan's rarest cheese and work to be the last team standing. You'll need to navigate carefully to earn the XP and Gold needed to destroy your opponents," the Battle Pass site say. "But don't take too long—Roshan's cheese frenzy is causing cave-ins as he moves towards the center of the Underhollow. Soon enough there will be nowhere left to run." 

It's not a dead-on description of a battle royale, but the combination of competitive play, "last team standing," and what sounds like a contracting battlefield certainly bears some basic similarities. And of course there's the fact that battle royale is the big thing these days, so a Dota 2 take on the mode would come as no surprise at all. 

Battle Pass owners will also have access to the Cavern Crawl mode, with a "cosmically rare Jade Baby Roshan at stake," a new Mutation mode, sprays, in-game tipping, and—this is another big one—the Emerald Abyss, a reward terrain that will never be unlockable or purchasable on the marketplace. You either unlock it before The International is over, or you say goodbye to it forever. 

We'll no doubt be hearing more about The Underhollow very soon, and we'll keep you posted when we have more details. For now, you can take a look at all the many many unlockables and rewards the pass has to offer, and buy it if you like, at dota2.com

Half-Life 2

Former Valve writer Marc Laidlaw outlined his ideas for the story of Half-Life 2: Episode 3 last August, a bizarre, bare-bones tale of a research vessel in the Antarctic that's phasing in and out of time and space. That led a team of die-hard fans to launch an effort to bring Laidlaw's vision to life in the form of Project Borealis, named after the ship at the center of Laidlaw's story. 

The team announced today that its first-draft take on Laidlaw's tale, which was at roughly the half-way point at the end of 2017, is now complete—and work has come along far enough that it has also released a short "in-engine" video showcasing weapons, movement, and flashlight animations. 

"The writing team has taken the plot points outlined in Marc Laidlaw’s Epistle 3 and fleshed out the details and gameplay elements into a full and engaging script," the Project Borelias team wrote. "Since finishing this first draft, the rest of the team have had the opportunity to give constructive feedback, and the writing team is now working on incorporating some of those suggestions into a second draft."

Gordon Freeman's animations are working well, on the same timing as in the original games but with "some subtle flair of our own." Early levels are on the process of being blocked out for preliminary testing, and "huge strides" are being made in the creation of new environmental assets. Work on rendering techniques, physics updates, a graphics settings menu, and a new sound system are also underway.

There's a bit of new concept art to look at too, including a few images of an updated Combine Elite helmet and Alyx in some winter duds.

It's still a very long way from complete (and you should probably temper any "play it soon" hopes you may be holding onto: If there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's that large scale fan projects are slow going) but with the project picking up speed, the mod team is also looking to fill some spots. If you have relevant experience and want to get involved, you can sign up for some action on the Project Borealis recruitment page

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The long story of Counter-Strike is a series of minor but meaningful changes. Track the last few years of patches, and between hundreds of weapon skins, you see subtle but serious modifications to map layouts, recoil behavior, and anti-cheat. If you time-traveled a CS player from 1999 two decades into the future to play CS:GO today, they'd find it familiar enough: the AK-47 is still the workhorse of the T-side arsenal, the Nordic countries are still better at the game than everyone else, and de_nuke is still in the active map pool. 

If things continue along their current trajectory, however, that last staple of Counter-Strike’s identity may be the next casualty of its ongoing evolution.

Of the seven maps in the current “active duty” map pool—that is, the maps available for players to choose from at big tournaments—Nuke is by far the least popular. So far in 2018, 214 matches of CS:GO have been played at high-level tournaments, and of all those matches, only nine have been played on Nuke. The next-least-played map sees over double the usage, with 20 appearances in high-level games over the same time period.

These numbers didn’t used to be quite so grim. The map saw more play back in 2014, when 15 of the 111 games played at major tournaments were played on Nuke, placing it firmly in the middle of the pack compared to the other active duty maps. Since then, its popularity has waned sharply, despite a graphical overhaul and substantial redesign in early 2016.

What happened to Nuke?

Radioactive

When I pose that question some of the game’s top-tier professionals, I learn that there’s not much of a consensus on why the map has fallen out of favour. Opinions range from believing that it’s a great map and that people just aren’t bothering to learn the unique tactics required to be successful on it, to believing it’s a fundamentally flawed map that can’t be fixed without completely reinventing it.

French pro Nathan "NBK-" Schmitt, currently of G2 Esports, finds himself close to the first position. “In general I think Nuke is a very underrated map,” he says. “I think it’s a very interesting map [due to] its layout, and that it's very different and unique compared to other maps.”

Questioned further, NBK- offered a hypothesis. “The main thing, I think, is that teams are either very good at it, or average-to-bad on it,” he explains. “So those teams that are average or bad on it are going to be 70-80% of the teams … and the teams that can play very well on it will get the map banned because it’s gonna be a 100% win against teams that are a bit lower.”

There are serious issues besetting Nuke from all sides.

In other words, it boils down to how large the skill disparity is between the teams that actively practice Nuke, and those that don’t bother to focus on the map because it doesn’t see much play at major tournaments. The nature of the CS:GO tournament format is that each team gets to ban at least one map from being played during any given match, so for the teams that don’t practice Nuke, it’s a no-brainer to ban it when playing against a team that’s known for their Nuke play.

Nuke's uniqueness exacerbates this problem, too. The more ways in which the map differs from the rest of the active pool, the more bespoke strategies and map-specific knowledge are required to do well on it, and the more time a team would need to dedicate to practicing it if they wanted to catch up to the teams who already know what they’re doing on it. Nuke, with it’s unconventional bombsite placement and total lack of a traditional mid configuration, finds itself on the extreme end of the spectrum as far as divergence from the status quo.

The end result is that no one ever gets to play it except in the event that two of the few teams who do bother to practice Nuke happen to run into each other in a tournament bracket. Of course, this means that the map is stuck in a bit of a negative feedback loop. Because no one plays it, teams aren’t incentivized to practice on it, and because no one practices on it, no one wants to play on it when it comes time to pick maps during major tournament matches.

Vent

There are also criticisms to be made about the design of the map itself, from those with a less enthusiastic view than that of NBK-. Jimmy "Jumpy" Berndtsson, the current coach of Fnatic, finds himself in this camp.

“When they made a change, when they added the outer catwalk and everything,” Jumpy says in reference to the changes made in the early 2016 update, “I felt it was a bit messy in a way, because as CT you can hide in so many spots, and as T you can [attack] in so many spots.” This abundance of choices, he says, led to a higher degree of randomness in high-level play, because it became harder for players to know where they should be looking.

He’s more enthusiastic about the latest version of the map that was released in February, saying “With the new changes now, I really like the update … I think it’s more balanced in a way, you can push yard now and the CT can’t hide everywhere, and Ts can’t exploit going outer catwalk really fast.” It’s unclear whether these tweaks will be enough to break the aforementioned feedback loop.

There s room for more communication between Valve and the pro scene.

Another issue raised—one that will be far more difficult to fix with minor balance updates—relates to the overall layout of the map. On a normal Counter-Strike map, the two bomb sites that the T side must attempt to reach are generally on opposite sides of the map from each other, with enough distance between them that it will take a player a bit of time to run from one to the other. Nuke, however, is unique in the regard; its bombsites are stacked one on top of each other, occupying more or less the same footprint, but on two different storeys of the same buildings.

“Because of the levels, you can go down under and you hear them from up top, sometimes you’re just really confused, like ‘Am I hearing him down under, or is he above me, or is he to the right or the left?’ I think that’s the most confusing part,” says Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, current captain of Astralis.

There are serious issues besetting Nuke from all sides. Some have to do with the nature of the map itself, and some to do with the nature of competitive Counter-Strike and how the map pools and tournament formats work. None seem to have an easy solution.

Fission

The good news is, in contrast to the widely varying views from the pro scene on what’s wrong with Nuke, their answer of what to do about it is surprisingly unified.

“I guess three or four times a year we should just sit down with Valve and talk about what we could do better at the different maps, and especially Nuke, because there’s a lot of people not liking to play that map,” says gla1ve.“If they’re planning on introducing a new map, [I’d like it if they] released it a bit before the major, let people try it out, then just have a meeting with all the final teams at the major and talk about the new map and what their plans for it are,” Jumpy echoes. “I know they approach some people, but they don’t have like a big meeting, just to talk through, to let teams open their opinions. I think they can learn a lot from the players, and I think the players can learn a lot from the developers.”

Even NBK-, who has few grievances with the current design of Nuke, feels like there’s room for more communication between Valve and the pro scene. “I think [it’s] important for the players to talk with Valve and tell them what is not possible on a map,” he says. “For instance if they take something out of a map, or they add something, or they change something, if most of the pro players see it as a problem, I think that should be where Valve decides to change things and listen to the players.”

The consensus is clear: Valve still needs to do more to gather feedback from the highest-level players of their game, and use that feedback to make improvements that will increase the calibre of play at the top level. Whether that will be enough to save Nuke remains to be seen, but the pro scene believes that it will be a net good for Counter-Strike in general, and has at least some chance of being able to revitalize one of the game’s most iconic locales.

Team Fortress 2

It's a question that has troubled many a videogame scholar: Who would win in a fight, Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch? While the former gets points for being the original posse, the latter brings a undeniable sense of flair. It's a tough call, but we finally have a clear answer thanks to talented Source Filmmaker animator The Winglet, who made the video above to settle it once and for all.

Clocking in at just over eight minutes, it's a surprisingly lengthy (and hilarious) video that shows each cast of characters duking it out on one of TF2's Payload maps. I love that each character archetype, like Widowmaker and TF2's Sniper square off against each other as the larger battle rages around them. There's also a particularly hilarious scene involving Mei and Spy that I won't spoil. But damn, I couldn't stop laughing.

You can check out The Winglet's other videos here.

Thanks, Kotaku.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Bully Hunters was unveiled last week as a program aimed at combating the harassment and abuse of women in online games, a worthwhile idea that raised eyebrows with its methods. It was billed as a "vigilante in-game hit squad" made up of elite women gamers who would "beat bullies at their own game." Basically, players encountering abuse in CS:GO were encouraged to contact the Bully Hunters, who would then send one of their players to "infiltrate" the game and deliver righteous justice through a righteous ass-kicking.   

Noble goal, dubious process, and unsurprisingly it all went about as wrong as it possibly could have. Following allegations of toxic behavior by Bully Hunters members themselves and the resurfacing of tweets by representative streamer Natalie "ZombiUnicorn" Casanova containing homophobic and abusive language, sponsors and supporters quickly pulled out, the Bully Hunters website and social media pages went dark, and today the company behind it pulled the plug on the whole thing. 

"BullyHunters pitched us with a simple idea - let’s work together to fight online harassment. And because we believe that’s a noble cause, we supported it," Steelseries said in a statement announcing the end of its partnership with the group the day after it debuted. "It’s now clear that we didn’t do a good job in understanding exactly what we were supporting. And we’re sorry for that." 

Vertagear issued a similar statement, also on April 14, saying that anti-cyberbullying efforts are a worthy cause, and that it had hoped to draw attention to the problem and encourage the growth of a less toxic gaming environment for everyone.   

"However, the information that we received before the start of the campaign not only contradicted the execution of it, but we discovered after the fact that it was sorely lacking," Vertagear wrote. "Our biggest mistake was not thoroughly vetting the details of the campaign to ensure that the execution would be up to the proper standards expected, and we apologize for that and the horrendous results of this event." 

The Diverse Gaming Coalition weighed in as well, citing Casanova's Twitter history as specifically problematic. She has previously used what could charitably be called "combative" language in tweets, and a clip of her using a homophobic slur during a livestream was also shared to Twitter.     

"Various tweets show wrongdoing by host, Zombi Unicorn, which are actions that Diverse Gaming Coalition does not condone, although she was not solely to blame for the Bully Hunters initiative as a whole," The Diverse Gaming Coalition wrote. And while it was under the impression that the Bully Hunters would continue, it "does not align with our mission and vision statement as a non-profit. Because of this, we are deciding as of now, we are dropping as a partner from the Bully Hunters initiative." 

Casanova addressed her use of toxic language in a statement in which she said that, "due to the overwhelming amount of harassment, toxicity, hate & threats," she would be stepping away from the project.   

She also suggested that she too was misled by the campaign, specifically with regard to the statistics about abuse that it quoted. "Projections based on market size estimate of 32.7 million female console gamers in the US by YouGov, and 9.6 percent reported that they quit playing a certain game permanently because of harassment as reported by International Business Times," she wrote.

"Those statistics were extrapolated by Bully Hunters to express a point that sexual harassment has negatively effected more women this way. I used those stats from their posts and was told the sources would be listed on the site. I also didn't feel qualified enough to discuss them in depth, so I noted to watch the event to hear the licensed psychologist and guests discuss it better."

The cumulative effect of the damage was simply too much to overcome, and marketing agency FCB Chicago, which launched the program, told Polygon that it is over. 

"As this effort did not live up to our high standards, we decided to end this program, but hope the conversation it has raised around ending harassment in gaming continues," global chief communications officer Brandon Cooke said. He added that other involved organizations provided no financial support or sponsorship.

"In most cases they were just supporting the cause. SteelSeries helped connect us with a few gamers and provided some headsets for the live event. That’s all," he said. "One [host was paid], but the other was not."

Despite the outcome and the deluge of personal harassment she's experienced as a result, Casanova defended the goals of the project, if not the way it went about achieving them. "Love it or hate it, it did its job," she said. "It’s brought a lot of attention to this. It’s opened up the discussion to more people. Yeah, it’s brought a lot of trolls, but it’s opened the discussion."

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The Time's Up movement that caught fire in the wake of #MeToo and allegations of sexual misconduct against notorious Hollywood scumbag Harvey Weinstein has now made its way to videogames, in a distinctly gamer-esque fashion. Beginning on April 12, a self-styled A-Team of "elite female gamers" calling themselves the Bully Hunters will offer their services to victims of harassment and bullying in CS:GO by infiltrating games and beating down offenders "through the sheer force of their unmatched skill." 

"The time for harassment in CS:GO is finally up," the group said in an announcement. "A collective of gamers, brands and organizations have teamed up to create a first-of-its-kind global tool that connects victims of in-game harassment with gamers who want to help, called the Bully Hunters. The Bully Hunters are a vigilante hit squad of elite female gamers who have banded together to end sexual harassment and abuse in the popular game CS:GO."

The campaign is backed by some high-profile supporters, including Twitch streamer ZombiUnicorn, a spokesperson for the campaign, as well as SteelSeries, Vertagear, CyberPowerPC, the Diverse Gaming Coalition, and the National Organization for Women. The members themselves have chosen to remain anonymous, however, in order to avoid the ironic but entirely-too-predictable likelihood of harassment and abuse, although a rep said—optimistically, I think—that team members will do their best to keep the heat on the field. 

"The Bully Hunters are prepared for the possibility of retaliation and are putting measures in place to combat that. They will not purposely incite or encourage additional harassment or abuse, and will only engage with harassers through gameplay, eliminating them from the game using their skills and talent," a rep explained. "Additionally, there will be a ratings system within the global tool which will allow both hunters and victims to rate their experiences, therefore reducing the chances of trolls infiltrating the system." 

Dunking on online jerks is great, but the real point of the exercise is drawing attention to the problem of sexism and abuse online. The Bully Hunters claim that more than 21 million female gamers have reported in-game sexual harassment, "including extreme threats of sexual violence and death," and while that number is an estimate, the prevalence of abuse obviously is not. Yet all too often it's brushed off as mere trash-talk: Inevitable, but harmless.   

"[The Bully Hunters] hope that through more conversation, fewer online gamers will tolerate this behavior and work to put an end to it. They are also calling on software companies to take action to no longer tolerate sexual harassment and discrimination in their games," the rep said. 

The Bully Hunters is meant to be a "long-term initiative," and they're looking to expand their presence beyond CS:GO, although which games they may move into next is still being decided. Naturally, they're also looking to grow their numbers. Signups will be taken at the Bully Hunters website, but they were clear that they won't take just anyone. 

"To become a Bully Hunter, a gamer’s statistics will be evaluated to ensure they can compete at a high level to eliminate harassers," the rep said, without delving into exactly what "statistics" will be examined, or how. "Additionally, their history of play will be reviewed to ensure they haven’t been reported for any type of in-game harassment with other players." 

The goal of the campaign is laudable, but since abusive behavior is Bully Hunters' Bat-signal, you can see the group itself being a magnet for abusers—especially since at least some of the action will be livestreamed to the world on Twitch. But maybe that's part of the point—to draw negative attention away from average gamers and let them know they're supported.

...

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