A prototype of a team sport

Sport Presentation

A sport as a construct holds a high value in our society, but at the same time its definition appears to be implicit rather than explicit. By observing what society currently considers as sports we are able to draw some conclusions about the common elements, therefore use those elements in our design. A common characteristic that sports share is the element of Agon. Since sports are designed with competition in mind, they tend to maximize the element of Agon in their design while at the same time minimizing the element of Alea. Although the element of Alea does exist into various sports, it tends to appear as a design mechanism to give variance to the game state and not to resolve the outcome of conflicts between the players or teams. The outcome of the conflict itself is resolved mostly by the use of skill(the element of Agon) – physical and/or mental. Another common characteristic of sports is that they afford and encourage spectatorship. Spectators participate indirectly by observing the sport events inside the space the sport is performed. In addition, specatorship keeps existing outside of those events through fan related activities, which on many cases they are ritualistic in nature – e.g. 100 hour war, hooliganism – and affect the interpersonal relationship between people even outside of the play field. Another common aspect among various sports is that although they allow advanced strategic and tactical play, they don’t require it, thus allowing play to occur both professionally and amateurly. This occurs due to sports having a simple core ruleset that is intuitive and easy to learn, while the most advanced rules are utilized only by the professional scene. Focusing on the element of Agon, minimizing the element of Alea, allowing spectatorship, and attempting to maintain a simple core ruleset was the key points that we focused our design upon.

Capture the Stick consists of two 3-player teams, with each of them attempting to steal the other teams stick and bring it back to their base. The playing field(fig. 1) is square, which is divided diagonally into two zones, each one belonging to one of the teams. Those 2 zones then are subdivided into 4 common zones and a home zone – in the center of that home zone the stick is placed. Those zones allow the development of strategy and tactics for the 2 teams, since they divide the space and thus creating different roles for the players and different attacking and defending positioning and strategy. This is achieved by dividing the space into 2 center zones and 2 side zones. Since the zones are 4 while the players are 3, one would expect the side zones to be
utilized in order to outmaneuver the opposing team. Of course, this is one of the possible strategies, and it is used to demonstrate that the division
of the space allows different roles to arise and different tactics – as  mentioned before. In addition, it creates a border on which the conflict occurs, thus the audience is able to have a clear focus on the action, without having to divide its attention into multiple locations in the field. That ensures that interesting dramatic moments will not be missed by the spectators, thus maintaining their attention during the course of the match.

Another important concept that we wanted to include was the elimination of players. The inclusion of elimination as a mechanic forces the players to
utilize tactics in order to capture the stick rather than sheer speed and strength. Eliminating a player provides a huge advantage to the other team, therefore a player should protect themselves and their team members. However, one of our goals was to forbid the use of excessive force in the game, in order to avoid injuries and violent gameplay. To solve this and include the elimination mechanic, each player wears a ribbon around their waist, which can be removed – only while carrying the stick or being at the opposing team’s zone. In case that ribbon is removed then that player is eliminated. The end of the ribbon is behind the player’s back, thus making it difficult to eliminate a player that faces you, while easier to eliminate a player that runs away. This provides an advantage to the team that attempts to stop an attack. That advantage
is utilized to balance the difficulty of successfully performing an attack. Our first attempt on designing that concept included a tail instead of a ribbon. We observed though that the participants where unaware of their elimination when it happened. As a result, we included the ribbon instead of the tail. The ribbon acts as an alert to the player that they have been removed from the game, since the player will be able to feel their ribbon being removed from them, and they will be able to see it. However, one must ensure that the ribbon is tied properly and fairly, and that is difficult to enforce without having an impartial third party performing the tying. This extends also during the gameplay, since the players may try to modify their ribbon in order to gain an advantage. This would be considered cheating for this sport, and a third party is needed as a referee to enforce the non-cheating policy.

Finally, the scoring system is undetermined for this prototype since more playtesting was required to determine the optimal system. However, a time limit seems to be a prime candidate, since it gives a attacker and defender dynamic to the game. By starting with a score 0 to 0, the first team that attacks – which is considered a risk – and succeeds on doing so, is indirectly rewarded, since if the opposing team fails to score, then when the time reaches the limit the first team will be the winner. Due to the pressure the defending team has, intense situations and rounds will arise, since the losing team has to perform risky strategies in order to gain points. That dramatic factor makes the sport engaging and thrilling to spectate. On the other hand, that scoring system favors the winner, which may lead to the snowball effect.

In conclusion, at the current state of the prototype is, there amount of strategic gameplay and variation in roles is limited. Due to the small number of players on each team, there is no space for individual specialization, since players have to fill all roles required. Increasing the number of team members could allow the team to experiment with strategies that allow players to leave a zone. This is not feasible right now since if a player leaves a zone there are not enough team members to guard it, therefore players tend to behave passively.  In addition, an effective scoring system must be determined. During the design of this prototype our aim for the player experience was to make them strategize, protect and coordinate on their attacks. That player experience is created by the prototype, although the strategy lack depth at the current state, which is the main reason that Capture the Stick requires some modifications before it is able to be considered a sport that is able to be played professionally.