I’m a big fan of video games, but one game that I’d never been able to get into was League of Legends–not so much that game specifically as the entire genre it belongs to. If you’re not into video games, don’t worry: I’m going to talk about writing, but first I have to set this stage. All you really need to know is that League of Legends is part of the MOBA genre–Multiplayer Online Battle Arena–in which teams of players fight through a Warcraft-style map and try to destroy each others’ base. It’s based on real-time strategy games, like Warcraft and Starcraft, but you only control one unit and you don’t have to build anything–you just fight.
Part of the reason I’d never got into this genre was that it seemed so intense. Some people play games for the challenge, others for the thrill of player-vs-player combat, but I’m a very casual gamer, who plays to relax, and MOBAs don’t really lend themselves to that style. When I’d see people talk about fine-tuning their timing or their team strategy or their clicks per minute I’d lose all interest, not because that’s a bad way to play but because it’s not what I tend to look for in a game. But on the other hand, I live in Germany now, far away from my friends and my old game group, so I’m always looking for ways to play with them online. When I saw that several of them had gotten into League of Legends I groaned and whined and re-installed the game anyway, and forced myself to try to figure it out purely as a way of spending time with my friends.
By coincidence, at this same time I was preparing a pitch for a new series–it remains unsold, so don’t hold your breath–with a main character deeply embedded in Internet culture. It’s a near future crime story, kind of “hacker Buffy in an cyberpunk Justified,” and I’ve been having a blast putting together the world they live in and the way their advanced technology has changed things. I tried to extrapolate how pervasive the Internet will be in the future, how connected we’ll be, how automated our world will become. One of the little details I wrote for the main character was that she paid for her extravagant Internet and energy bill by freelancing as an online privacy consultant, helping people keep their private data private. It’s a neat detail, and it says a lot about the world, but it’s boring. I couldn’t imagine any exciting scenes about consulting; certainly no action-packed ones, and not even any tense or suspenseful ones. Not a great choice for my heroine.
The confluence of these two events–League of Legends and cyberpunk outlining–was that I stumbled onto the world of e-sports, a multi-million dollar industry of professional video gamers. In some parts of the world, e-sports are already more popular than real sports. Fifty years in the future, if our culture becomes as embedded in the Internet as I predict in my book, I figure they’ll be even bigger. So boom: I made my character a professional gamer.
This works so well for the books, I can’t even tell you, but it’s not a side of gaming that I know anything about. E-sports is also, as you can imagine, the polar opposite of my personal gaming philosophy: it’s like the difference between going jogging in the morning and joining a track tournament. And yet for some reason, the idea of writing about super competitive video games totally got me into playing them. Where I used to be annoyed by the specific strategies, now I’m completely fascinated by them; instead of finding the specialized roles restrictive, I find the limitations they put on the game to promote real creativity. E-sport games have positions that the players have to play, just like football or baseball or any other game–but in e-sports they do it with magic spells and giant swords and dragons and monsters. It’s awesome.
I still don’t PLAY the game with a pro-mindset, or anywhere near a pro-level, but I’m having all kinds of fun learning from the inside how e-sports work. And, more importantly, defining the fictional parameters of the game I want to put in my books. The game won’t show up often, but it will be there. If any of you are League of Legends players, look for me online and help me research–my username is, as you might expect, TheDanWells.