SOE's Smedley and Higby on PlanetSide 2's e-sports evolution

PlanetSide 2 - Vanu attack
Yesterday we told you about SOE's new PlanetSide 2-focused partnership with Major League Gaming. Following the announcement, Joystiq scribe Mike Schramm managed to corner principals from both companies at Friday's PlanetSide 2 Ultimate Showdown event in LA to ask what, exactly, is in store for fans of Auraxian e-sports.

Join us after the break as CEO John Smedley, creative director Matt Higby, and MLG's Sundance DiGiovanni give us an early look at PS2's competitive evolution.

PlanetSide 2 - Terran Republic charge
Joystiq: Tell us about how this came together. PlanetSide 2 is a huge open world shooter, and maybe not something people think about when they think of e-sports, so how did the partnership come about?

John Smedley: On the team, Matt Higby and myself are big e-sports fans, specifically MLG fans, and we're big believers that the world of e-sports is exploding. We think PS2 can help evolve what it is. It's something that people participate in, but it's also something people watch, so we think PS2 has the potential to bring a new dimension to what MLG offers.

Matt Higby: I'm a gigantic e-sports fan. To me the most important aspects are an enjoyable viewership experience and a competitive game, and we have both of those in PS2.

Do you guys have it all figured it out in terms of the maps? Will it featured standardized gear?

Smedley: One of the best parts about the partnership is we get to work with MLG's experts. The likely story here is going to be designing a smaller environment, maybe platoon vs. platoon. The most important thing is that we're not going to rush into it. We're going to analyze what we've got in there now and make something that will be unique and uniqule awesome. Like massive gladiator games and huge spectacle.

Higby: We'll have outfits of different sizes competing, and it'll be a bracketed tournament for different sized groups. And there will be instanced maps for the purposes of the tournament. But we also want to make sure it ties into the meta game of PlanetSide. Right now the way we're approaching it is that you're eligible to compete in these tournaments based on your outfit's accomplishments in PS2 itself.

The idea is we don't want to drain the most highly skilled players out of the game because they're off queuing for tournaments. Their ability to rise on the ladder will correlate with their accomplishments, and then we'll look at top outfits and slot them in with MLG.

PlanetSide 2 - New Conglomerate Reaver
So you're still sort of putting it together. What can players who don't care about e-sports expect to see come out of this? New modes or tools?

Smedley: Absolutely. Today we put out our six-month roadmap where players can upvote or downvote stuff they want or don't want. And e-sports is in there. Any functionality we offer for e-sports will be available for all players. So outfits will be able to go head-to-head and things like that.

Higby: We'll be changing our scoring system a bit which will affect everyone. You'll still be getting rank and score to compare yourself against other outfits. We're going to have better observation tools, that's one of the key things we have to do. With hundreds of players flying around, you really need to have an overhead view to show the massive scale and make it approachable for people to view.

From an MLG perspective, how does PS2 fit in your current lineup?

Sundance Giovanni: It's an opportunity to do something that's fresh, and something on that scale is unique. To be able to layer in more competitive players and rewards, tournament capabilities, we're going to be doing things that nobody's ever done around a shooter before.

Can you talk a bit about a timeline? It sounds like there are a lot of things on your plate.

Higby: So many of these things are in progress. We announced it today of course, but it's not a surprise to us. We do have a lot of work to do, which won't happen overnight. Also, what PS2 e-sports looks like is going to be very different from Halo, StarCraft, etc. look like. When people say, "I'm not sure what PlanetSide 2 e-sports would look like," well, they're right. It's going to be a completely different viewership experience. And it's going to be different strokes. Some people will really enjoy watching it.

When you see player on Twitch and they're calling in airstrikes and players are running inside to avoid being killed by falling bombs, that kind of tactical strategic gameplay just doesn't happen anywhere else. It happens when you're watching an RTS because one player is controlling all those guys, but it's unique in an FPS. And you can certainly tell the difference between a highly skilled and well-coordinated group and a bunch of guys running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Did you guys have to convince MLG to fit this into their portfolio?

Higby: No, not from my perspective. It came together really quick because both parties are excited about doing something that is truly new and different. At SOE we're always releasing things that we're not sure are going to work or not. But that's part of our day-to-day; we're always looking to do new stuff.

Does SOE plan to turn other games (like those MMOs with nested PvP) into e-sports that are watchable through MLG and Twitch? What about future sandbox games with PvP like EQNext?

Smedley: It's too early for us to announce anything with EQNext, but I will say this: We're big fans of e-sports.

PS2 has had a bot/cheater problem almost since launch -- does SOE anticipate that causing a problem as the game migrates to the e-sports arena? How is it tackling the problem in general?

Smedley: We have a group of guys on the dev team and the customer service team who are dealing with that 24/7. We're banning them left and right, and we're actually really enjoying it. Just yesterday we crashed all of the aimbots in the game and banned a bunch of people, one guy who had been "playing" for 300 hours.

We take a very strong chance against cheaters, and I hope that our constant effort at it will cause them to just give up, whether they're sick and tired of being banned or crashing. We will win this.

Higby: I don't know that we could be any more serious about stopping it than we already are. We have people working around the clock on it. It's an uphill battle, but we knew that from the beginning, and we knew we'd have to deal with that for the lifetime of the game. We're building more and more tools to help us address it. Now, the cheater who may have been able to cheat his way through a weekend will last an hour and then get banned.

Do you think working with MLG will help that at all?

Smedley: Sure, they're pros.

Giovanni: That's something that's very important to us, the level playing field. You're going to have moments when people find an unfair advantage, but working very quickly and addressing it is going to make the partnership that much easier and better.

Higby: I'm sure MLG does have ideas, but also every single game that MLG does has cheating too. People use map hacks in StarCraft and League of Legends. Once you have prize money on the line, people get found out very quickly and it becomes scandalous very quickly. It's also very easy to tell in an FPS game. Cheaters aren't going to get very far.

Sounds good -- we look forward to seeing how it all comes together.

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!

This article was originally published on Massively.