“So far my video game career has been a series of serendipitous opportunities,” explained Morgan Romine, Red 5’s eSports Director, as we sat down for a quick interview about Firefall’s future in eSports and competitive play.
Those serendipitous opportunities included such diverse stints as Community Manager at Ubisoft and as “Rhoulette”,of the all-female professional, not to mention her ongoing pursuit of a PhD in cultural anthropology which she stated she hopes to tie into her work with gaming communities.
Morgan's unique intersection of talents made her the ideal pick for heading up the pioneering new concentration of eSports for Red 5, though going deeper into development hasn't spoiled her on her first loves. “I haven’t been able to predict those opportunities so far, and I’ve given up on trying to predict them in the futureÂ I love eSports, and I love my academic pursuits, so I’d like to keep a foot in both worlds for however long people will let me.”
How do you fit into the Firefall team? Are you considered marketing, community, or something in-between?
That’s a very good question. Our marketing department is growing, but we have one marketing guru and his assistant. We have one community guru and his assistant. I wear both hats of ESports Director and I’m also helping with PR, so we’re all in the same group.
So Red 5 considers eSports to be a part of marketing? That makes sense Â what better way to build credibility for a game than to show it performs well in the hardcore arena.
Everything we do tends to be community-minded Â we tend to think that’s the best “marketing” because you’re directing a game’s development by genuine interest.
What makes Firefall a good fit for eSports?
First of all, it’s a good game. There’s really nothing you can do to a sub-par game to make it an eSports candidate. You can pay a tour to put a game on the ticket for a season, but I think people sour on that strategy nowadays.
The amount of emphasis Red 5 put on eSports pre-release is surprisingly unusual. Few games are designed with eSports in mind. That’s especially true in the console game industryhere the single player is top priority, given the high percentage of players who never log in to Xbox Live or Playstation Network.
Another reason Red 5 developers really want to make a good competitive game because it adds great longevity. If people are willing to play your game for hours and hours to get good at it, your game is going to last a lot longer. That’s especially true for a free-to-play game.
Also, it sounds clichÃ© but it’s true: Firefall is easy to learn but hard to master. You need to have lots of people diving in and playing the game, not feeling frustrated, to feel like they’re making progress and getting better. On the other hand, if the game is too easy, it’s not going to attract superstar, elite players. You need those superstars to lock in a game as an awesome eSports title.
At G-Star in Korea late last year you allowed everyone the same amount of practice time and the match kicked off from there. Is that your tournament match format going forward?
I’m pushing for a tournament mode that will start everyone off on a level playing field. We’re not sure what that means quite yet but, just to give you an example, it might mean that everyone has level 10 battleframes to pick from plus a standardized array of modules and weapons. Starting everyone off evenly is really important for high-level competition.
Any plans to offer a MOBA-like form of mid-match item progression?
I don’t think so. That hasn’t been determined, but my preference would probably be not to allow players to buy [better gear during tournaments] because you’re not really playing that many games in a tournament situation. Plus, in a tournament where money is involved, you want to make sure that it’s an absolutely level playing field. It’s kind of an interesting idea though, especially if everyone has the same amount of think time and same amount of choices.
To engage players who may not consider themselves PvP or competitive players, what kind of importance is Red 5 placing on balanced matchmaking?
I have some ideas that I’m pushing for that involve different types of game modes that will cater to different types of players. In WoW, you see Arenas and Battlegrounds, which cater to two very different types of players. We would like to do something similar, so that if you’re a hardcore player you’ll have the opportunity to show that off. If you’re not, you’ll have the opportunity to play against people in your own skillset.
How are you directly involved in Firefall’s development at this point?
The spectator mode is one of my pet projects. I’m putting a lot of time and energy into working with the developers to produce an awesome, revolutionary spectator mode. I’m a big fan of making the game watchable.
The kill cam is an integral part of what I have in mind, because the best kind of spectator mode would allow you to see everything from all angles afterward. We already have a spectator mode and a replay system in place as a first step in that direction, because when something awesome happens in a match, ideally you want to be able to show that as a highlight. You see that constantly in pro sports, we want to be able to do that in eSports as well.
With spectator mode, do you anticipate resistance from players who want to keep their tactics secret? What about cheating via spectator mode?
I think that everything’s going to be on the table during events. If we get feedback from players to obscure their ability selections, etc. then we can certainly honor that, but honestly I think that transparency is better. Our game is primarily about skill, and knowing what a player’s strategy is just isn’t as important as knowing that that player is a deadly sniper.
Regarding cheating, if we’re livestreaming matches Â which is something I want to make sure we’re doing and doing a lot of Â it can’t be exactly “live.” You have to build in a bit of delay so that spectators can’t tell participants where their enemies are located.
Do you have any plans for 2012 events with Major League Gaming or another eSports circuits?
What I will say right now is that we will definitely have some eSports presence in 2012. Because we’re doing a soft launch, most of the leagues and circuits will start while we’re still in our beta phase. We’re not in a super rush to get the game into an official circuit by the end of 2012; this is the year we build our eSports foundation.
I would like to make sure we have an eSports presence. Invitationals and tournaments are something that we can easily do, and I look forward to providing more information about that in the next couple of months. But I think it’s really important to build that playerbase and enthusiasm before jumping the gun and getting the game out on the circuit.
Ten Ton Hammer thanks Morgan Romaine and the Red 5 team for their time. We look forward to getting facerolled in Firefall by our readers later in 2012.