In the world of Bluescreen, Overworld is one of the most popular sports: a virtual reality video game that combines elements of several different esports and MMOs. I like to describe it as a combination of League of Legends, Counterstrike, and City of Heroes, but unless you’ve played those games you have no idea what that means. Today I’m going to tell you, but first I let us feast our eyes upon this glorious image:
The art, as always, is by the inimitable Santo Ibarra.
I remember very clearly what got me interested in esports in the first place: I was reading an article about world travel, where it said that professional video game players were now officially eligible for athletic visas. This felt to me like a profound milestone–if virtual athletes are legally considered equal to physical athletes, that’s a strong sign that the electronic world is truly melding with the real world. I started looking into esports, and what they entailed and what their culture was like, and it fascinated me. I was living in Germany at the time, so as I learned more about League of Legends (one of the biggest esports in the world) I started to follow the European leagues and championships. (My favorite teams, if you’re curious, are Fnatic and the Lemondogs; I think the Lemondogs have broken up by now, but I named my book’s team the Cherry Dogs as an homage to my first esports fandom). I admit that my initial opinion of esports was low–it looked like video games with all the fun sucked out of it–but that’s because I didn’t understand it. I tend to play video games in a very loose, slipshod way, running around and doing whatever; kind of like a kid on a playground just kicking a ball all over the place. And that’s plenty fun if that’s what you want, but a whole bunch of kids all kicking a ball on a playground at the same time isn’t the same thing as a sport; if you organize them, designate which ones are goalies and forwards and defenders, and define the rules and a way to win, suddenly those random kids become a soccer team, and the unstructured play becomes a sport. Once I realized that esports were the same way, and that the restrictions were actually there to provide structure and focus, it got a lot more exciting, and I was hooked.
As I started to assemble my own fictional esport, I drew from the ones I liked the most. League of Legends (and other games like it, called MOBAs) have two teams of players making progress back and forth across a map, gaining and losing territory, with defensive turrets as both a hindrance and a marker of progress; it had combat, exploration, and teamwork, so I threw that in the blender. I also wanted something far more visceral, though, since virtual reality lets you get right down in the action, more like a first-person shooter game such as Halo. I used to play a ton of Counterstrike back in the day, so I borrowed some elements of that–teamwork, gear loadouts, variable maps, and some of the terminology all went in the blender as well. I was building a fun game, but it wasn’t there yet, and I realized that I was missing a key element: my own characters. What would Marisa love about a video game? I thought long and hard about it, and decided that a key feature for her would be customizability–there had to be a way to personalize your game, or your character, in order to really grab Marisa’s attention. That’s when I pulled in City of Heroes, my favorite (now defunct) MMO, in large part because of the options to customize your character and–more importantly–your costume. It was a superhero game, and the costume creator was amazing, and I would spend hours and days just building new characters, or building alternate costumes for existing characters, and have as much or more fun than I did actually playing the game. Now that I was designing my own game, with an unlimited imaginary budget, I made the costume creator INSANELY customizable, able to generate almost any look, shape, and design you want. Want to play a lithe forest warrior with magic arrows? Done. A giant rhino-warrior who can turn invisible and summon parrots? Done. A psychic chipmunk with seven hands and the ability to swallow enemies whole? Weird, but done. Maybe I went a little overboard, but I gave my imaginary game six classes, 72 powersets, more than 20,000 possible character builds, and an essentially infinite variety of costume options.
Most of the time the Cherry Dogs use game avatars that look nothing like themselves (well, except Sahara, who’s always in character as the online brand she’s created for herself), but every now and then they put on their “team uniforms” and play like you see them in the image above. You can also see their call signs, which are like the usernames or gamertags they use to identify themselves.
We’re so close to the book launch now, folks. SO CLOSE. What amazing new preview will I give you next week? Tune in and see….