The MOBA Scramble: Surviving Decline

If you saw Startale’s podcast which I frequent, you’ll have heard me talk about the “MOBA Decline” and how the genre has plateau’d. I feel this could use some background and why I feel this way, albeit some of this will be less raw and heavy facts and more so looking about to infer meaning.

King of the Ring

For just under a decade, MOBAs have been the most enormous and possibly profitable genre bubble to hit video games. League’s explosive success in 2009 followed by the arrival of DOTA2 and more caused a scramble to get into the MOBA industry. It harkens back to the days of World of Warcraft where the MMO caused the entire genre to explode, albeit nobody expected it to last forever. Just as the MMO slowly phased away, so too would MOBAs eventually die out.

Now, to their credit, MOBAs are a part of the free-to-play explosion that has rocked gaming harder than any scandal could. League of Legends still makes money hand-over-first despite being almost a decade old. In fact, the only game that comes close to it is…WoW. A game released in 2004. Granted, WoW has a subscription fee but the sheer money coming in still speaks volumes. Along with that, DOTA2 is still the most played Steam game of the year and regularly smashes the prize pool record from each previous international.

You’d assume that there is nowhere but up, right?

The Scramble

Well, not quite.

If I had to put it to a single thing, I’d say the advent of the “hero shooter” (A FPS game with MOBA-esque mechanics like abilities and ultimates) has caused the biggest alarm for this genre. A genre that erases some of the biggest complaints people have about MOBAs such as long match times, steep learning curves and painfully annoying “It’s everyones fault but my own” mentalities. Sure, some of these still exist in hero shooters, but not to any degree they do in MOBA-style games.

It’s difficult to gain actual data but compare Google Trends for how often League and DOTA have been searched for. Since their peak around 2013, the games have slowly been looked for less and less. Sure, there are major tournament spikes, but people have either found their game or avoided the genre. New blood isn’t really coming into these games and they hold a static playerbase save for the occasional investigative “taste test” of the genre. Interesting enough, when I looked at DOTA2’s Playercount, the number spiked to nearly 14 million unique players. Yet according to Steam Charts (While they don’t tell the whole story), the average player count has dropped since December’s big announcement. What was December’s big announcement?

A Triage Situation

I’ll be blunt: Both games are attempting to triage the situation in their own unique way. While you could argue they’re just trying to keep both games “fresh”, reading between the lines shows more factual information that neither company would truly care to admit.

On League’s side, they’ve basically been making good on promises they made years ago: Replays and Practice Tools have come out alongside a new client, as well as increased bans for pro play.

For DOTA2, the 7.0 update includes a far-cleaner HUD, visual updates for heroes who have desperately needed it, and new gameplay updates that speak more of more casual games than of DOTA2.

When you step back, the intentions are quite clear. League is pushing updates to entice their more hardcore fanbase while DOTA is making a push for the more casual fanbase. Both games are attempting to draw in fresh faces as well as re-incentivize those who may not have wanted to play the game.

But most of all, these updates come off the back of one major thing: Overwatch. Blizzard’s hero shooter has blasted all expectations and has become a worldwide phenomenon. For how long, nobody can say, but it’s more than a coincidence that this game explodes onto the scene and suddenly two industry titans suddenly make sweeping changes to appease the other side of the fence.

Death Knell?

For those who fear for the game you love: Relax. These aren’t going anywhere. MOBAs are far too large to up and die. It’s arguable that they won’t even truly die, just not be number one anymore. Building on this, it’s possible League/DOTA will forever exist as esports. Games we watch rather than play. They still pull in enormous numbers and both games are still considered the pinnacle of esport play along with Counter Strike.

But Overwatch was a wake-up call. They won’t be number one forever. You can’t get by with just what you have as your game gets older. There will be challengers to your playerbase and throne…and that has sparked a massive change-of-pace in both games. MOBAs still have plenty of life in them and we’re not going to see them rot away too fast…but the question is how long they’ll be at the top as time goes on.

And that? I have no idea of.

How Roleplay Helps You Write

When it comes to learning to write, I find there’s no better place than the roleplay community in MMOs. Be it World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 or any sort of massive congregation of people all playing a single video game, you can bet that there will be a large group of people hanging out at the tavern. How exactly does roleplay make you a better writer though? Well, there’s a little more to it than simply saying it gives you experience writing.

Roleplay and Language

This is likely the most no-brainer of the group but roleplay will quickly and surely hone your grammar and spelling skills when it comes to writing things. When I first started at the young age of twelve or so, my spelling and grammar were a mess. It’s to be expected however. I had never touched anything even remotely like roleplay and my previous writings were done on pen-and-paper with only the look over of my parents.

Not only will you learn through osmosis and interacting with others but you’ll quickly get critique about your writing be it verbal or non-verbal. Maybe your edgy demon hunter with the most tragic backstory filled with death, murder and spelling errors doesn’t get any play? Conversely, maybe your earnest-yet-bumbling dwarven shaman sees all manner of interaction and is routinely praised by others.

Roleplayers are a community and, like any community, you learn as you go. Sure nobody is going to start as a roleplayer in their prime but it’s something that everyone will pick up as they continue to roleplay. Don’t be intimidated! Even that verbose engineer started as someone putting emotes in their text.

Roleplay and Storytelling

On a less obvious note, roleplay will teach you basic storytelling. Sure, it’s not to the caliber of something like the Odyssey or the Iliad but you’ll learn to pace yourself. Storytelling requires all manner of parts, from softer and quiet moments to character developing moments to tragic events and somber realizations. If you spend all your time roleplaying with your girlfriend about how much you love each other, nothing gets accomplished now does it?

You might argue that this is obvious even in storytelling but it becomes exacerbated when it comes to roleplaying with another person. You notice patterns, you notice repeats and you’ll notice when things don’t seem to move. Static characters are something most-often avoided and these small things will add up over time.

Roleplay is great at teaching you the basics of character building and making coherent stories, as well as showing you faults and errors in your own writing that others can help you fix or correct. Speaking of others in roleplay…

Roleplay and Community

Unlike writing your own work or writing in a completely unique world, roleplay will teach you how to work with others and the finer points of creating writing in an existing world. This is especially useful if you want to write for video games, as nine-out-of-ten times you’ll be working with a setting you yourself didn’t create and characters that you either didn’t create or had worked with others to create.

Other roleplayers aren’t readers. They’re not passive critics who will read what you wrote. They, for all purposes, will be part of your story for the majority of it. This means that you’ve got to pay finer care to your audience and those around you. Sure, every writer writes for themselves on some level, but that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from criticism. If you suddenly start railroading (forcing others on a track) another person’s character? You WILL get a slap on the wrist from that person!

On the same note, writing in a world you didn’t make is far different than making your own work. You have to adhere to rules, you have to be careful about new inclusions and most of all? You have to be wary about the things and creations you put out there. Does that mean you shouldn’t make new things? Of course not. But it’ll be easier for someone to believe you’re another foot soldier than Logan Thackery’s son who is even stronger than he is.

Roleplay Overall

These are just some small, general things that roleplay will help without being big enough for a whole point:

  • Aesthetic design of your character.
  • Creating storyhooks from things you have. (Such as a hunter’s pet!)
  • Matching character tone with other roleplayers.
  • How to approach and interact with others.
  • Dealing with “dead end” stories.
  • Correct drama vs. Incorrect drama.

I wouldn’t say roleplay is for everyone. After all, roleplay servers can often come off as elitist and annoying. Yet it’s important to give it a try at least once. Being able to play as your character and discovering the story behind what you assumed to be a simple one-off nobody can be far more enlightening to yourself than you’d initially give it credit for.

Just be sure to use the right name. Nobody is going to take Hunters4Jesus78 of Stormwind as a serious person.

Do I Play Roguelikes Wrong?

Enter The Gungeon was one of the games I picked up during the Steam winter sale. And I enjoy it! The problem, however, comes from how I play the game. Roguelikes or Roguelites, however you classify them, are all about throwing your head at a brick wall so many times that you eventually get past. In recent times, things seem to have shifted to be less about progression, more about…er, progression.

Building An Arsenal

isaac
Me realizing I didn’t get the new upgrade to make my run easier.

With new roguelike games, one of the biggest hooks is the idea of progression outside of each run. While you won’t get far in every single run, perhaps you finally earn enough currency to buy a new item for the gungeon? Perhaps you’ve dumped enough coins to get that new class in Rogue Legacy? Maybe you finally killed that one tough boss and died right after, getting you the new weapon that’ll make some Isaac runs easier?

Roguelikes were always about minuscule progression. Getting good to the point where you can finally get past one brick wall and start throwing yourself at another. Yet to me it feels like the progression outside of each run isn’t specifically about honing my skills. Rather it feels like I’m trying hard to get a secondary goal done to make my next run easier by design, not by skill.

I realized this during my Gungeon run when I couldn’t buy more items from the in-game shop with the secondary currency. I was worried I had hit a point where I couldn’t improve the gungeon by proxy, NOT by my own talents and skills.

Throwing Spaghetti at a Wall

ftl
“Good luck with this run.”

That said, this seems to be where roguelike games have evolved. Take for example one of the early ones, FTL. FTL didn’t have much in the way of outside progression. You could unlock more ships and designs, sure, but these never completely buffed your gameplay. They just offered a new way to play. It was ok but it wasn’t the hit game that Binding of Isaac would be.

Comparatively Binding of Isaac was still a roguelike. Yet achievements and more could unlock stronger weapons, buffing the variance but overall being a net-positive gain. Nobody is going to argue that “+1 Heart” is anywhere near as good as “All your tears are targeted bombs”. It was a hit because there was ALWAYS a sense of progression, even if you instantly died the moment you stepped down the cellar door.

Enter the Gungeon and Rogue Legacy both seem to have taken cues from the former but not entirely. Gungeon guns are strict upgrades, some are just…ok. Different but not directly better. There are some things that’ll give you direct upgrades such as fixing the elevator but not to the degree that some upgrades in Isaac will. Rogue Legacy also gives you flat stat bonuses but not so much in the idea that you’re getting a raw buff. It’s minuscule and probably hard to notice.

I’m not sure if this kills the spirit of the roguelike. If this persistent system of upgrades is making me play the game wrong, worrying less about my skill and worrying more about the side buff to fill out my arsenal. While I’m by no means awful, I still can’t help but wonder if this system of the sidegrade and the empty armory is making me care more about what happens after the run, not during.

Viability vs. Optimal

A common error I see when people talk about video games is mixing up viability and optimal picks. This extends to both League and Overwatch but it’s an important distinction that needs to be made, especially when one is arguing about the state of the game.

“Viability” Being Misused

Often, when people talk about viability, they look at it from the perspective of “Is this character in the best spot they could be right now?” which isn’t the case at all. When it comes to viability, it simply means “Can I play this character to an effective level?”. In nine-out-of-ten circumstances? Yes! You can use almost any character in these games. League’s massive one hundred and thirty-plus roster is filled with playable, workable champions. I’d argue about ninety percent.

“Optimal” Being Understood

Optimal, however, speaks strictly about the power behind a single character. There are only a handful of optimal picks in Overwatch right now, the common combination (If I am remembering correctly) being Lucio, Ana, Reinhardt, D.Va, Roadhog and Zarya. This DOES NOT MEAN that all the other heroes are bad, per say. This simply means that in your best state, you’d want to play these heroes.

Blurred Line

The best question to ask is how did this get so mixed up. The answer? Esports. Simply put, since the advent of esports, people look to the pro leagues and the highest echelon of play to determine the state of balance. But balance for the common masses and balance for the top tier is a vastly different ball game. As an example, DOTA 2 balances strictly around the pro scene and results in an incredibly diverse game for them. However, for the common players, some heroes shine far brighter than others. During The International 6 (The biggest DOTA tournament), Omniknight was picked once and lost in all games. However, in normal queues, he was boasting an incredibly high win rate.

In this regard, people will look at the LCS or the upcoming Overwatch Pro League as a metric of what is “viable”. The truth is that in your silver games, anything can be played effectively. Offensive Torbjorn? Sure. Bot lane Yasuo? Go for it. You’re playing at a level where comfort picks are far more useful than any sort of meta strategy.

Balance is a different story but just remember: Just because something isn’t optimal doesn’t mean it isn’t viable.

On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Vi stands for…Bi?” (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my last musing article so if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. Don’t worry, it’ll open in a new tab.

Following up from last week, I wanted to talk about sexuality in another game I play (being League of Legends) and how sexuality gets assigned when it comes to a void. I actually wrote a paper on this back in college when it came to a class so some of this might be recycled.

In the Void

When it comes to a game like League with hundreds of characters and not enough time to write a novel for all of them, you cut corners. For most characters, a single short story and background page is all we have outside of the core game’s VO and how they play. As such, sexuality gets left on the cutting room floor. It is, after all, one of the lesser aspects of a character.

When you think about it, only a handful of characters have actual sexuality when it comes to the game; Illaoi was dating Gangplank and flirts with Braum. Taliyah has small flirtations with Ekko. Garen and Katarina are in some sort of lovers feud. Lucian had a wife. Tryndamere and Ashe are married. In these cases, even the revealed facts are pretty bland. Which does make sense. After all, a majority of the populous is heterosexual.

When it comes to characters, we have two prevailing schools of thought: The “Everyone’s Bi” argument and the stereotype argument.

The “Everyone’s Bi” Argument

Most of this comes from the fact that giant IPs have so many artists, writers and more who all draw characters in different pairings and different ways. What’s the point of saying “Well canonically Miss Fortune is gay!” when you have a hundred aspiring artists and writers who are going to tell stories about her psuedo-boyfriend anyways?

In this argument, there’s no point in discussing sexuality because people will assign it on their own save for story hooks. Even in story hooks, such as last week’s “Tracer and Emily” information, will be disregarded to fit what fan writers and artists do. Everyone’s bi so who cares! I wouldn’t say this is a particularly diverse way of looking at things but it also gives players the most freedom to think however they wish.

This is also a feeling you generally have when it comes to make-your-own protagonists. Commander Shepard is Schrodinger’s sexuality: He’s simultaneously gay, straight and bi all at the same time. In this regard, League and games like it don’t need to talk about sexuality because everyone will make their own…and it cuts through the rough things that can happen in countries that don’t approve of such things like Russia.

The Stereotype Argument

Conversely, there are those who NEED the writers or story people telling them who is what. If you don’t, people instead default to what they know about a character. In a game like League, where most characters have very little writing to them, you end up playing heavily on stereotype and fan theory.

Take for example Taric. A soft-spoken, handsome man with a fondness for beauty and shiny things. All we know about him is his backstory (Demacian Soldier who is now Avatar of Protection) and a handful of voice lines. In trying to figure out who Taric would love to date, people asked Riot. They gave the non-committal “He loves everyone”. Thus, people default to stereotypes…which means Taric is about as gay as a triple rainbow over a pride parade.

In a vacuum with little/no writer input, people just default to stereotypes. It’s easier that way, after all. Of course the counter-argument means that Riot was implying Taric is bi or even something more like polyamorous. We don’t know their true intentions, however, and it’d be pretty bold to include such an underrepresented thing in fiction. (Sadly some people, myself included, need a cheat sheet for all the sexuality there are today.)

The Part Where I Talk About Vi

And now we come to Vi. Part of why I devote an entire section to this is because this is where all of this writing comes into play. When Vi came out I was smitten. She encapsulated everything I love in a female character and looked damn good doing it. Of course when I talked to everyone about it, I got the same feelings: “Oh yeah the lesbian.”

My personal belief was that I always saw Vi as bi. Which is also why I defend the idea so heavily. On one hand, I don’t feel like her story or upbringing makes her out to be someone who sticks with one person or someone who doesn’t flirt with others every chance she gets. On the other hand, I also hate the idea of putting her entire character in a lesbian box because she’s a stereotype many people see: Short, pink hair. Rough tomboy. Snarky and rude.

In this case, Riot eventually came out and somewhat “subtly” said Vi likes guys and girls. About as subtle as a taco and hotdog metaphor can be anyways. Yet this is again a non-committal answer. They can easily twist or change this however they want. Personally, I like the idea of Vi being bi. It gives us an underrepresented sexuality, keeping true to the character (at least in my mind) and adding one more layer to a character without going too deep into it.

Conclusions

Much of this probably reads like rambling. Like someone who has too much time on their hands to worry about what fictional people do in their love lives. To me, it’s an important issue. It’s not a damning one, sure, but I think it’s necessary to talk about this sort of thing. In games, we often have the saying of “Show, don’t tell”. People don’t respond well to just saying “Oh yeah whatever he’s gay”. We need to see it with our own eyes.

It’s also why the Tracer comic was such a big deal. We got pretty damning visual evidence and it was quite a bold move. That is unless you’re a denier, in which case Tracer is kissing a very good friend on her open mouth. Either way, League could take some steps in my mind to further push these boundaries. We can have more beyond stereotypes or just wondering if everyone is bi until we get a clear answer.

Hopefully one day I can see a comic of Vi hanging out with her lovers in an open relationship.

Those Progress Leaves Behind

Special thanks to Tom Randby (@faeriefountain) for letting me use his art for this week’s story!

As Piltover moves further ahead, Caitlyn cannot shake the feel that she’s slowly becoming obsolete.


For weeks, she had been tracking a stolen shipment of augmented limbs. Supposedly they were powerful enough that one could blast a hole in a steel beam, among other things. If that actually fell into the hands of those who could use them with some degree of intelligence? Robbery would skyrocket. Mostly of more augmentation of this degree. That just would not suffice.

Perched carefully on the roof, Caitlyn watched with calm, focused eyes. In her most rookie of days, she might have had an elevated heart rate or overwhelming panic at the thought of being in a firefight. After all these years? Little more than boredom as she waited for the shipment to pass by. According to her investigation, it would be three men. Likely one or two chemically enhanced but nothing so dangerous that she couldn’t handle it.

Hidden in the alleyway that she was perched over were several traps, covered by thin layers of garbage. It was quite disgusting but they’d serve perfectly to snare anyone who tried to run. At this point they had to be on-foot, unable to get around with carriages. Not with the dangerous things they were carrying.

As the sun was covered by a small cloud, a trio of men appeared in the alleyway. All of them wearing long coats. All of them carrying massive boxes. The untrained citizen would likely assume they were just hired help, doing manual labor for coins. Caitlyn’s far more sophisticated gaze picked apart their awkward gait, the nervous looks and the boxes being shoddily handled for those who were supposed to be lugging around valuables.

Quietly unfurling her rifle, Caitlyn took aim with one of her lesser rounds. It wouldn’t be enough to kill, so long as she hit a leg or an arm, but it was surely enough to force them to bend the knee. A small smile crept across her face, the joy of finally trapping her enemies in a no-win situation. Days of watching, waiting and analyzing patterns were sure to pay off. In a way, she almost felt sorry for these poor goons.

A heavy footfall gave way to the loud snap of Caitlyn’s trap being set off. “Unlucky,” Caitlyn quietly said, taking aim and firing a round at the trapped target. The one of the trio who had set off the trap looked down, staring at where the trap had gone off. Considering the situation, even if the other two escaped Caitlyn would have an easy time tracking them down. Especially with a bargaining chip like one of their comrades.

Instead of a shriek of pain or the agonizing groan of a man stumbling to his knees, the ear-ringing plink of metal-striking-metal rang throughout the alleyway. Caitlyn’s face contorted into an expression of disapproval. The boxes were summarily dropped in the alleyway, Caitlyn ducking slightly behind the ledge of the roof to avoid being seen.

“Who the hell put this here!? Percy, you said we weren’t being followed!” the man growled, the sound of shaking metal as Caitlyn’s trap was being kicked off. It was more akin to stepping in gum for the man than a debilitating snare.

There was the hiss of someone silencing the other. “Boris, look around. See if you can get a vision on whose here.”

Caitlyn was completely safe, in this regard. At the angle they were looking, there was no visible way to see her. She’d have to loop around and-

“Upper left! Someone’s skulking around up there! Ain’t no other heat signatures around here except that one!”

Her teeth grit so hard Caitlyn might have cracked one of her teeth. She had expected them to start selling the wares. She hadn’t predicted they’d be so brash that they’d attempt to augment themselves. Much less that these augments would be workable to bumbling idiots and even less so that these untested prototypes would work with minimal error.

As she stood to move, the floor gave out from beneath her. A chunk of the roof seemingly vanished beneath her feet as Caitlyn slid. One hand clutching her gun, the other desperately grabbing at rubble. She found a handle to hang from, the sheriff silently cursing herself as she precariously hung over an alleyway with three crude criminals.

The trio looked up, whistling loudly. “You should wear the skirt again, sheriff. The view down here ain’t nearly as nice as it would be.”

Biting her tongue, Caitlyn held back some crude remarks of her own. The men waited for a retort that wouldn’t come, sighing to themselves. “Gave us quite a scare there,” another said. “We were worried for a second that it’d be your butch Zaunie girlfriend…or that side-piece you brought onto your payroll.”

Now she was getting frustrated. Yet with the position she was in, she had to take into account that these men could easily kill her. She’d have to buy her time and wait for them to make a mistake. They were underestimating her, which meant that when they did slip up she’d be able to do something drastic. What that something was, at the moment, wasn’t in place yet. Especially against those sporting top-of-the-line augments.

Looking down, Caitlyn surveyed what she was dealing with: Three thugs. One with an augmented eye and some manner of plasma gun for an arm. Another sporting two heavy legs and equally heavy arms, likely the muscle. Finally, the one in the center who had kept himself hidden. “Eh, she ain’t speaking. Don’t shoot her though, we can use her. Demitri, you wanna cut the good sheriff down from that dangerous place? We certainly don’t want to hurt Piltover’s finest.”

The one called Demitri, sporting his huge and lumbering augments, grabbed the wall. Scenarios ran through Caitlyn’s head. Hitting him with the electrostatic net would slow him down. He’d fall, maybe land on one of the other ones. Good, good, that would buy time. She could reaffirm her position from there. She was alone in this so-

Just as those thoughts ran through her head, Demitri’s arms separated from his body. Electricity flowed from his arms in arcing sparks as he stumbled from the wall. “W-what the hell happened!?” he cried in shock.

It was then that the one with the eye, likely “Boris”, had his own augmented limb sliced clean off. He clutched his arm, howling in terror as he hit the wall. The limb may be fake but the pain was indeed real. The remaining one in the center (Percy) looked back and forth, increasingly aggravated. “Little bastard! Think you’re so cleaver with your cloaking that you can just get by us!?”

Percy suddenly raised his arm, steel clashing with steel as a massive hextech arm caught the bladed edge of a spear on it. “I’m not invisible. You just can’t keep track of me when I move this fast. If you surrender now, you’ll only be charged with endangering an officer and trafficking stolen goods,” responded a metallic voice.

Sporting a flowing blue scarf, white sash around his waist and an equally blue coat, Mach stared down the thug. His one augmented eye whirled, a faint blue color with circuitry beneath his skin shimmering blue. The metal plates around his mouth parted, revealing a disappointed frown. “I don’t want to severely hurt anyone so please; Stop.” Without the faceplates, his voice sounded human.

Apparently the thug had other ideas. Knocking away Mach’s spear, his massive arm (Even larger than Vi’s gauntlets!) slammed into the building side, cracking stone. Caitlyn’s grip crumbled away as she began to fall with her back facing the ground. She looked with one eye, witnessing the criminal sprinting with one remaining box of augments. Sloppy work, sloppiest she’d ever done. Maybe if she adjusted her net to fire just before she hit the ground, she could minimize the impact.

Just as she thought this, a metal cable with a hand attached to the end fired past her head. Instead of hitting the ground she felt an arm grasp her waist, pulling her upwards instead of downwards. Soon, she was back on the roof, looking down at her shorter companion. Peering down the alley, he too cursed before turning back to Caitlyn. “Sorry, I had to help you before chasing him down. Vi’s on her way as well so maybe she can cut him off,” Mach said, looking upwards at Caitlyn. “You’re alright though, right?”


Caitlyn slammed a hand on her desk, glaring at Mach as he sat before her. “What were you THINKING!?”

Confused and terrified, Mach stammered where he sat. “I just- You didn’t tell us where you went even though you said you were doing something alone. So we got worried that-“

“That what!?” Caitlyn’s expression hardened, pulling back from her desk. “That you didn’t think I was capable of handling an assignment on my own?”

“That’s not what I meant at all! I was-“

Caitlyn angrily stamped over to him, getting in the young man’s face. “So you disobeyed my order and followed me even though I said I could handle this!? You, as fast as you were, let him ESCAPE?!?”

This time he didn’t respond, the color draining from his face. It only made the circuitry beneath his skin shine brighter. That hint of tech beneath his skin only served to infuriate Caitlyn more.

“Get out of my office. Don’t you EVER disobey direct orders I give you, are we clear!?” She yelled. It wasn’t like her to yell. Much less to yell at him. “Stay away from this case or so help me…” For a brief moment, Caitlyn almost said something unforgivable. Something that would have severed any relationship they had. He noticed it too, eyes going wide as Caitlyn held back the best she could. “Just get out of my office.”

He was far too quick to do so, almost sprinting from her sight. Taking off her hat, Caitlyn brushed a hand through her hair. A good cup of tea would do wonders but she didn’t want to interact with anyone, not yet. Sitting in her office and bottling up the anger she felt would likely be a good start.

The door to her office flung open, Caitlyn casting an eye to the door as it was shut behind the intruder. A pissed, pink-haired woman stared Caitlyn down. “Hey, real quick; The HELL is wrong with you?”

Taking this as a challenge, Caitlyn’s glare centered upon Vi. “What’s wrong with ME!? I specifically told you both-“

“No. Nu-uh. Not this time. You don’t get to threaten him like that. You KNOW he’s sensitive. You KNOW he’s trying his best for everyone. And so you go and drive him to tears!? Because he HELPED you!?” Vi yelled, jabbing a finger accusingly at Caitlyn.

“I didn’t ASK for his help. Nor did I ask you, Enforcer, for your opinions on how I discipline members of my group. Need I remind you of that!?” Caitlyn’s anger was simmering now, Vi not doing much for her nerves.

Vi’s glare shifted to something of pure rage. “And now you’re playing the goddamn rank card on me? What’s gotten into you, huh? Why the hell are you acting like a class-A jackass!?” Vi got right in her face, the height difference palpable as she looked down at Caitlyn. “So what is it? What’s got your panties in a twist? Did someone piss in your tea or are you just on your period?”

In a single, swift motion, Vi’s head was turned to the side from the force of Caitlyn’s slap. Her cheek turned red, the black-etched “Vi” on her face now resting in a sea of pink. She turned to Caitlyn, staring in shock as Caitlyn stepped away. Caitlyn, realizing how she’d briefly let her emotions get the best of her, turned away.

“…Seriously. What’s wrong?” Vi said, moving to stand beside her. “You’ve been acting weird for weeks now.”

A deep, shaky breath from Caitlyn as she cleared her mind. “Every day, it feels like there are more and more augmented individuals on the street. They can run faster, jump higher, see further. You name it.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair, pushing it back. “You have your gauntlets and you’re damn strong, sure, but neither of us…” She looked to the door.

Vi nodded a bit. She pushed Caitlyn, lazily, into her chair. Vi grabbed her own chair, sitting across from Caitlyn. “So you think we’re-“

“Not yet. We’re not…but there will come a point where we can’t do our job anymore. Either we’ll have to improve ourselves, our equipment or go into retirement.” Caitlyn ran a hand through her hair. “I thought I could handle this. It was a simple job. Three smarmy thugs. Instead I almost died and had to be rescued like-“

“Like a Demacian princess from the evil dragon?”

Caitlyn’s gaze could have crushed diamonds with how hard she was looking at Vi. “Yes. That. I’m not a damned damsel in need of rescuing from anyone.”

Sighing a bit, Vi crossed her arms. “So you felt obsolete today. So you got saved by Sparky. Big friggin’ deal.” Vi smirked a bit, leaning in close. “Haven’t I saved you before?”

Caitlyn begrudgingly nodded. “Those times don’t count. It wasn’t the same.”

“And haven’t both of us saved Sparky once or twice? I distinctly recall you kneeling in the rain, giving him CPR despite the fact that we were both sure he was dead,” Vi added.

This memory made Caitlyn bristle. Nobody ever died under her watch. Especially not someone as new to the job as he was. It didn’t help to remember that familiar feeling of uselessness when she sat there, slamming her hands on his chest even as his eyes went dark.

Vi placed her ungauntleted finger under Caitlyn’s chin, pushing her head up to look at her. “You and I aren’t going anywhere, no matter how many hopped-up morons they send at us. They get better gear? We’ll get better gear. If I remember right, your first few years were using a shoddy repeater rifle of some sort?”

Caitlyn murmured, smirking faintly. “And you used chem-tech gauntlets.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Point is, you need to quit this crap about fearing the future and acting like you’re replaceable. Last I checked, nobody catches criminals with the whole predatory queen-of-Piltover vibe you have going on,” Vi added.

Sighing a bit, Caitlyn rubbed her face. While the feelings weren’t completely gone, there was truth to what Vi said. Piltover was progress and progress was all about moving forward. She would get better tech, better weaponry. Even if it wasn’t enough, progress be damned she wouldn’t fade away. “I’m sorry. For hitting you.”

Vi reached over, flicking Caitlyn’s nose. The woman moved backward, rubbing the front of her face as Vi shook her head. “I’m not the one you need to say sorry to, Cupcake.”

The low, long groan from Caitlyn was more than enough to bring back Vi’s good mood. “Please STOP calling me that. For God’s sake, we’re in the office.”

The Cheshire grin of Vi only grew wider. “Last I recall, you have a pet name for Sparky AND me. What was it again?”

Rather than be subject to this abuse, Caitlyn shoved Vi and stood out of her seat. “Where did he run off to? If I am going to apologize.”

Vi’s grin suddenly turned into a blank expression. “Oh. Shit. We better get moving.”


Prove Caitlyn wrong. Make things right. He had wiped his face, clenched his spear and ran off to track down the last remaining thug. Case be damned, he’d do it and make right what he’d screwed up. He didn’t think he was better than Caitlyn but he just couldn’t bear to see her upset. Now here he was.

Metal hands were pressed to the floor, electricity arcing over his entire form. Organic-and-augment alike were shocked, the short man hunched on the ground. Percy whistled softly, watching as Mach writhed on the floor. “I’ll admit, I didn’t expect an anti-augmentation tesla gun to be so…effective. Can you move?”

In response, a metal hand was fired from his wrist, cable crackling with energy as Percy stepped out of the way. “Oh, well damn. Guess so. But you made a good attempt.” To reward such an effort, Percy slowly raised the dial. Cries of agony echoed throughout the warehouse as he lay there, eyes wide in pure pain. “So general word-on-the-street is that your augmentation is the best in Piltover, aye? I’m sure you’ll fetch a nice price. Well, parts of you anyways.”

Looking up, Mach’s teeth were clenched as he glared at Percy. Even with warning signs blaring in his head and over his vision, it didn’t take an enhanced eye to see the small red dot moving up Percy’s form. It danced over his body, moving past the metal prosthetic and over his eye. Half of his head seemed to be metal, which made the red dot lingering on his false-eye invisible. “Eh? What are you staring at boy? If you’re hoping to beg, it’s a bit late.”

A soft, loud whistle rang through the air as the round fired directly into the warehouse, shattering a window. Percy, with his enhanced reflexes, flung an arm up to block the incoming bullet. Mid-air, microjets emerged from the bullets sides, angling around the raised arm. “Impossible…” was the last word Percy uttered as the bullet dove its way into his false eye. The giant, with all his numerous augments, toppled over as he breathed heavily. Half of his mechanical brain was likely destroyed.

With the tesla gun rolling to the ground, Mach lay there clenching the ground. Ragged breathing resounded as the door to the warehouse was literally torn off the hinges. Vi nudged her neck to the side, letting Caitlyn walk in first. She knelt beside him, rolling him over to cradle him. “Relax. You’re going to be alright. Do you need a medic?”

Sputtering, he looked up at Caitlyn. “How…the bullet…”

A sly smirk from the sheriff. “Automatic Criminal Eradication technology. Able to readjust mid-flight and always hit the mark, no matter what. I believe I called it the A.C.E. in the hole.” As she said this, her expression turned somber. “I’m sorry. For yelling. I should have let you-“ Caitlyn paused, looking up at Vi. “-both of you help me.”

With twitching limbs, Mach laughed softly. He stammered, body still processing the excess energy. “We’re…a team….I shouldn’t have….run off….thanks…for saving…me.” He reached up, a cold metal hand running over Caitlyn’s face. At first, she flinched. But she leaned into it, softly smiling down at her companion.

Squatting beside them, Vi smirked at both of them. “We’re all made up then? Don’t need to beat the piss out of either of you for doing dumb stuff?”

Mach looked over to Caitlyn. “Can’t…move much yet…please…hit her…”

“Oh c’mon Sparky. You look especially good when you twitch like that. Don’t even need batteries for this vi-“

With a single, swift motion, Caitlyn smacked Vi over the head. Sure, things would require change. None of them could be the best at their jobs forever. Piltover, however, was a city of progress. Be it with new weapons, stronger technology or even more powerful limbs to ensure that nobody would be above the law, they were going to move forward.

Their future, and Piltover’s, was sure to be bright.

On Sexual Diversity in Video Games: “Cheers Love, The Cavalrey’s Queer!” (Part 1)

I’ve always been fascinated about the topic of sexuality. Ever since my father told me he was gay, I’ve really made an effort to understand the intricacies, deeper meanings of sexuality. Doubly so in the emerging medium of video games. Games, as they are, have had a history of sort of shooing LGBTQ stuff to the side. It’s not something for everyone, after all. Not that being gay is bad but some people would rather not engage in that content. And that’s ok!

Specifically I want to talk about Tracer coming out as a lesbian, because I’m quite fascinated in this turn.

“The Typical Lesbian” vs. Lena “Tracer” Oxton

Often in media, especially video games, the lesbian character is always the one you most expect. The tough girl, the tomboy, the sexually promiscuous woman, all stereotypes people associate with gay/bi women. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had to defend my point-of-view on why I think Vi (League of Legends) is more bi than lesbian, but that’s for another day.

Blizzard had many outs and many choices when it comes to making a lesbian character. The one that would have made me roll my eyes in disappointment would have been Zarya. A tough girl with short, pink hair that is a weight lifter. It screams stereotype. Instead, it turns out Tracer is the one chrono-shifting out of the closet.

Now, roll with me here; to the general public, Tracer isn’t a typical lesbian character. She’s not overtly sexy, she’s not a tough girl,  she’s a peppy, cheery lady. Sure the community likes to ship her with Widowmaker but if we’re bringing that into play, almost everyone is bisexual. Yes, even the omnics.

More importantly, your stereotypical character will be a brazen, unabashed flirt. Not so with Lena. She’s all business and quite sweet as well. Never once does she flirt or tease other characters in a sexual manner. Tracer isn’t a lesbian character. She’s a character who happens to be a lesbian. Weird distinction, I know, but so many characters are just lesbian or gay and THAT is their character.

“Hidden in a Sidequest” vs. On-the-box

As I said earlier in this writing, often times the LGBTQ stuff is hidden in a metaphorical dark corner of the game. Even player made characters like Commander Shepard have to go looking for that specific content. I believe the most egregious example of this was Star Wars: The Old Republic which locked a same-sex romance behind paid content. “Pay 2 Gay” if you will.

With Tracer…you can’t really ignore it. She’s front and center. She’s the titular character and the poster girl of Overwatch. You could argue that nobody would know unless they go lore-delving. To counter this, who would likely be the first character for people to look for and learn about? Yep. Lena Oxton herself.

Most protagonists and cover-feature characters in video games tend to be men. Especially in the FPS genre. Gruff, military badasses in power armor. Instead, for Overwatch, we have a bubbly lesbian with time powers. It’s a far-cry from the norm and not something we’d expect to see at all. Tracer is breaking the mold and normality by checking the opposite of every other main. She’s not a man. She’s not straight. She’s not a (conventional) badass. She’s just who she is.

Thus, Lena becomes front-and-center when it comes to Overwatch. Not in-your-face about it but she does have this aspect while also being a main, lead character in one of the hottest games of 2016.

Loud and Proud vs. Character Trait

Remember earlier how I said Lena is a character who happens to be a lesbian and not a lesbian character?

Time and time again, even the most well-meaning person writes a character where their sexuality is the hook. Where the entire character is defined by being gay/lesbian or it’s the main motivation behind all the things they do. Now, there’s nothing wrong about being proud of yourself but often these things read as stilted. They read as someone jamming sexuality into every nook and cranny of a character to the point where you go “Is there ever a moment where the character ISN’T gushing about other men/women?”

Tracer, however, could very well not be a lesbian and I mean that in the best of ways. In my own life, being around gay and lesbian people, the tired motto of “they’re just like you and me” rings true. They don’t act weird or differently, they just like the same sex. Tracer, if you removed the panels of her with her girlfriend, would still be the same character. You wouldn’t lose much and she’d still be good ol’ Lena Oxton. Just like a straight person and all that.

However, in adding those panels, you add a bit of depth to her. You add a little tweak to her character that changes things up. Lena is still Lena, she just has something important to note about her character. Perhaps it makes her friendship with Overwatch different. Perhaps there’s a story about her realizing herself. There’s so much more that you CAN add but nothing that takes away or messes with the core character.

Criticism and Conclusion (For now)

Not really excited for the incoming hate from both sides, gotta be honest. LGBTQ community saying I don’t get those relationships because I’m not them and the gamer community accusing me of being a pandering bastard. Well, that’s gonna be fun.Still, to me, the overall change to Tracer is…well, good.

While I do approve and think this was a good change, I will say one thing: It’s one of the safest paths you can take. Tracer’s conventionally attractive. She’s had some of the most developed Overwatch lore there is and she’s easily the person who will represent the franchise. Her girlfriend, Emily, is also quite attractive. Now, before you think I’m just gushing and that I’m crushed Tracer x Me isn’t going to happen, hear me out.

You can easily fetishize people in such a way and Tracer is no exception. She’s a character who people know, love and (barring some crushed people who take sexuality too seriously) is a character people could love regardless of what she did. She was the “safe” pick to make an LGBTQ woman. Perhaps if Tracer’s girlfriend wasn’t exactly hot. Perhaps if Tracer herself had this fact stated or revealed from the get-go…but, I’ll be honest, I’m nitpicking.

Tracer’s coming-out marks something semi-important and major. It makes one of the first non-player-created characters of LGBTQ origin who is the titular character of the game. I’d also say this is likely the biggest game in a LONG time when it comes to IP and sheer cultural permeation, making it something of a sign of the times when the star of 2016’s game-of-the-year (in many circles) likes the same sex. Still, all this has got me thinking…what about games that play coy with other character’s sexuality?

Next week, I’ll take a look at another game (League of Legends) and talk about the vacuum of sexuality in it.