If the crowning glory of EVE Online's game design is the elegant yet visceral player-versus-player spaceship combat mechanics, then the yearly Alliance Tournament is surely the brightest jewel set within it. It is the ultimate showcase of multiplayer spaceship combat.
AT:IX in a Nutshell
In a few hours, teams representing thirty-two of New Eden's huge player organisations will begin the group stages of Alliance Tournament IX, vying to be one of the final sixteen in next weekend's knockout stage.
The matches themselves will involve teams of up to ten ships and will be fought over fifteen minutes, with the winners decided by a points system. Each team in the groups of four will play each other once, with the top two progressing to the knockout stage.
The competing teams vary from relative unknowns and newcomers to tournament regulars and hot favourites. Many eyes may well be on Group 'D'; truly a group of death with Pandemic Legion (legendary strategists and winners of the last three tournaments) and last year's losing finalists Hydra Reloaded (who famously 'played the system' last year by decimating all but one of their opponent's ships then self-destructing all of their own ships to deliberately avoid facing a top-seeded team in the following round).
Every match will be broadcast live on EVE TV with commentary from PvP experts hand-picked from the player community. In addition there will be post-match analysis and discussion from a studio team.
This really could be EVE's e-sport equivalent of the World Cup or the Superbowl and CCP have a dedicated team of volunteers working hard to make it a memorable event.
A Spectator's View
EVE TV gives viewers the opportunity to see live the heart-pounding combat that thousands of capsuleers go roaming the star-systems in search of every day in New Eden.
However, unlike the traditional combat scenarios in the EVE universe which have a tendency to be 'asymmetrical' (read: won by the side with the most money/players) this competition provides a level playing field, allowing the spectator to see the result of balanced and fair fights whose outcomes will be determined by pilot skill, ship choice and loadouts, tactics and strategy.
I just hope that that excitement is successfully conveyed in the viewing experience. Having watched much of last year's tournament and more recent competitive matches at Fanfest, I found the viewing experience to be a tad underwhelming, with the action generally comprising a screen full of unrecognisable squares and crosses punctuated by the occasional bright light.
This means that there is an awful lot of pressure on the commentary team to describe what is being shown and how events are playing out. I hope they understand that their role is to flesh out a picture of the engagements as they occur and they resist the temptation to discuss rules and loadout possibilities in the middle of the action. This was something that happened frequently last year despite analysis being the job of the post-match studio team. In defence of the commentators, I suspect that they fell back on reflective discussion because even they had trouble deciphering what was going on.
However, I have high hopes that this will have improved this time around. After my FanFest experience, I wrote an article (Fanfest Flashback: The Spectacle of Combat) discussing EVE PvP tournaments' failings as a spectator event and some aspirations on how it could be improved.
Encouragingly, in an interview earlier this week on the NotalotofNews NewsHour podcast, tournament organiser CCP Loxy said that they now have a team of three 'camera operators' tasked with getting the most exciting shots, in addition to some other "new tricks". I hope this will include some more informative visual overlays to aid in clarification of ships and allegiance.
Given all the resources arrayed for our viewing pleasure, it is just possible that we are about to witness a real highlight of e-sports entertainment involving our favourite internet spaceships.
I really hope that CCP can put the 'show' into the showdown and succeed in giving us more Battle of Endor and less Tic-Tac-Toe.
Official Alliance Tournament IX Site
ISD-IC Portal Site (stats and analysis)
EVE TV Feed