During the 1960’s, some basketball officials started to worry about the effect that “dunk shots” were having on the game. Taller players like Lew Alcindor (you might know him as Kareem Abdul-Jabaar) were able to dominate the game–and the entire flow changed. Defenders had to watch for traditional shots, as well as try to hold back certain players from an almost guaranteed point. For a few years, the NCAA even banned slam dunks, but eventually they allowed them again.
So what does this have to do with video games? Let me explain!
Everyday the eSports scene grows bigger and bigger. League of Legends and Dota 2 championships regularly see hundreds of thousands of viewers, and even smaller games are seeing viewer growth on channels like Twitch and YouTube. Professionally played video games are getting big, and it’s an exciting time. But as the scene grows, and more people watch, the stakes get bigger… but there is still something missing. Actually, I take that back, it’s not missing. It keeps getting patched out.
Patching games is still a relatively new thing, and especially with more developers trying to stick to tighter release dates and bigger expectations, I think we can expect to see them for a long time to come. Patches are also instituted when there are exploits and problems that need to be fixed.
But when it comes to competitive games like League of Legends, DotA 2, or Starcraft 2, patches don’t always bring a sigh of relief. Games can change dramatically from patch to patch. League of Legends even instituted seasons where the entire “meta” of the game is altered.
These patches are usually meant to improve the gameplay and make the game more enjoyable, but sometimes they remove skills or change the game to remove “slam dunks”.
What developers seem to forget is that sometimes these are the most fun parts of a game. Removing them may seem better for competitive gaming, but at least for myself, it takes away some of the sparkle. Just like slam dunking in basketball, the move itself may not be the hardest to pull off, but it does take some skill, and just because the developer of the game didn’t think players would do something like that when they made the game doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be allowed. It also can end up being some of the most fun things to watch.
During the summer, Valve hosted “The International” for DotA 2. The winners were going to take home 1.4 million dollars, and there was another million up for the other teams in the competition to take home.
The games were electric, and with such high stakes the teams were all playing at their best. Natus Vincere, or NaVi for short, are no stranger to The International, they won the first Invitational, and placed second the year after that. So it was no surprise when they were in the upper bracket, competing for a place in the finals. I was watching NaVi getting pushed into their base, trying to come out of a 4 point deficit, and out of nowhere Dendi, a player on Navi, used a combo that resulted in the entire game turning around. I could explain what happened, but just watch!
For those of you who don’t play DotA 2, the character Pudge has a skill where he can hook another character and pull them to where he is standing. Another character, Chen, has a skill where he can teleport any teammate back into their base. The final part of the equation is that the base will attack any enemy who attempts to get into the spawn point.
The combo is incredibly difficult to pull off, relying on two players to time out their moves perfectly, but as you can see, it works quite well. NaVi went on to get second place in the tournament, and shortly after the tournament Valve patched the game so that any Pudge hooks would only bring the hooked character to where Pudge was standing when he threw it, not where he was standing.
Another great example of Slam dunks in video games is L canceling in Super Smash Brothers and in Super Smash Brothers Melee. Anyone who has played the games can tell you that sometimes, all it takes is a millisecond to win or lose a game, and that hitting your opponent first can come down to just a matter of frames. Using L canceling allows a player to recover from an aerial move faster, allowing the character to start moving again sooner than if they had just landed normally.
In tournament games, where the players are all moving at breakneck speeds, this can make a huge difference. Ultimately, the L cancel was removed from the game with Super Smash Brothers Brawl, and because of it and a few other changes, some players still prefer to play Melee in tournaments.
The last example is perhaps the one people are most familiar with. Heck, it even has its own Google game. Zerg Rushing is a term used to describe a tactic in Starcraft where a player will try to win the game quickly by building up an army of small, cheap “zerglings,” and then rush the enemy, hopefully catching them unprepared and winning the game.
It was extremely effective in the original Starcraft, and although it was nerfed in Starcraft 2, it can still be used with some success. It changed the way the game was played dramatically. Players had to play defensively if they were playing against Zerg players, but still needed to prepare an army of their own earlier than they would otherwise need to.
The Zerg players also needed to change the way they played, hedging all their bets on a rush would leave them nearly at zero if it failed, so they would need to choose between going all in, or risk loosing by holding too much back. It changed the way Starcraft was played, and is still used in memes regularly. But had it been patched early on, may never have taken off the way it did.
Ultimately, I’m not a developer, I’m not a professional gamer, but I do love games. Watching eSports is an enjoyable pastime for me, and I love watching “slam dunks”. Sure, sometimes they can change the game, and make it harder for less skilled players, but that’s what makes everyone better. I hope that more developers leave it up to their players to decide what should and should not be left in their games, because sometimes the cheapest points are the most fun to watch. Let me know what you think in the comments.