It's the closing seconds of the match point when you get your chance. The other team are dominating the field. Your team? Underdogs, held together by a star player. Who isn't you. You? You're nobody. And now it's your time to step up to the plate. All eyes on you, kid. Packed tight with tension, you take aim and take the shot.
Your Healing Word goes whistling across the field and bursts on your side's Ranid Assassin the moment before the Fireball hits him, healing him for 14 damage as he receives 17 damage and keeping him alive. The crowd, the one in your head, goes wild. The crowd in your head wants to buy you things and have your babies. In a final, suicidal play, the Ranid Assassin takes his cue and goes skidding into the enemies' line with a Venom Dash, with you flinging more Healing Words in his wake. You'll win this game yet.
Online action title Bloodline Champions doesn't just feel like an eSport, a label which only really means that a game's been developed with a slightly crazed eye for balance and smoothness of play. No, Bloodlines Champions feels like a sport. Every round tells its own little story, every round is an opportunity for glory and every round breeds enmity and bonds between players. And, you know - it's also been developed with a slightly crazed eye for balance and smoothness of play.
"It's important for us to mention that we are not developing Bloodline Champions as a pure eSports game," says Tau Petersson, CEO of Swedish developer Stunlock Studios. "It's meant to be suitable - even great - for eSports, but it's just as important for us to make the game accessible to the average gamer - perhaps even the casual gamer - who have little interest in organised competitive gaming. It's meant to be action-driven fun for everyone."
The action itself is a hybrid of Defense of the Ancients and World of Warcraft's Arena battles. From the former, Bloodline Champions takes the top-down perspective and wide range of slick hero characters to choose from (here called 'Bloodlines'), and from the latter it takes the idea of cooldown-centric powers and no-frills battles.
A match starts, two teams (called Warm and Cold) go surging up to meet one another, and after about a minute of frenzied action one team will have micromanaged their way to being the last bastards standing, often through rapid teamwork involving the MMO stalwarts: tank, healer, damage dealer.
But playing the latest beta build, it's clear you won't get far judging Bloodline Champions on its influences. This game is very much its own beast. The way the characters move, the fact that each Bloodline is given abilities centring around defending and countering, the presence of cooldown times instead of mana, the small size of the arenas: all of it exists to magnify the quality and the variety of the duelling in the game.
All of Defense of the Ancients' slower-paced moments have been stripped out, producing a chopped, lightweight game of striking, blocking, trapping and fleeing, a game which isn't about where or who you fight, but how you do it. Lots of attacks have delays or firing arcs that make them difficult to land, and even healing powers need to be aimed like projectiles.
As it stands, the chief achievement of the combat is how much room it offers for awesome displays of talent in a genre which is traditionally supervised by cold statistics. But in Bloodline Champions, let's say you're a weedy Igniter (a ranged damage Bloodline) caught by an ability that catapults you away from your team and into the middle of enemy ranks. You're basically doomed, but there's always a chance to narrow your eyes at death, grit your teeth, and use all your powers at just the right moments to come limping out of the situation alive.
Thinking fast, you might double back into the path of the melee guy chasing you and use your knockback power to shunt him away, immediately followed by a shot of Crippling Fire to slow him down and then your short-range teleport to put even more distance between you two. Then, as you're making good your escape, you could start flinging projectile attacks at the healer to get him healing instead of spamming attacks at you, and then cast your area of effect Volcano power right where you're standing so it goes off just as the melee guy is sprinting across it.
Or maybe your thinking fast will only extend to a panicked curse and pressing the F key (which doesn't even do anything) before you're torn apart in seconds. The game is just great theatre. You might only have one life, but when you do fall, watching the rest of the match play out is a thrill, and according to Tau that was always a goal.
"To suit e-sport we also believe a game should be fun to watch... We've worked a lot with the camera angle and team-coloured spell effects. As an observer it's important to understand the game and to be able to see everything that goes on. When watching a football game or any other sport on TV, you always see the game from above, you always know where to look and it's easy to follow."
It's worth noting that everything Bloodline Champions is doing is the polar opposite of last year's excellent League of Legends, which took Defense of the Ancients' core and added such a wealth of persistent elements that the game became something closer to an MMO. Between matches players gained levels, acquired runes, worked their way along skill trees, spent real-life money on unlocking new champions and generally did their best to make life distinctly rough for newbies.
In Bloodline Champions, you do have a level and a rank, but all they affect is how pleased other players are to see you when you arrive in the lobby of their game. A low rank can and will cause a sense of being the fat kid in a P.E. lesson that nobody wants on their team, albeit a fat kid with the potential to surprise everyone with shrewd use of magical powers and a subsequent killing spree.
"In the beginning of the project a lot of ideas were discussed and tried," says Tau, "but after the concept of the game had gotten quite clear to us we had decided we didn't want any persistent character development in the game. This is to make sure every match is played on equal terms... in the game, a beginner has the same chance to win as players who've played a lot."
Madness, clearly. But if Bloodline Champions and this "equal terms" concept does sound like your kind of thing, you might be in for a long wait. Despite its evident polish, 16 existing Bloodlines and range of maps, the game still has no announced release date, and the latest beta, the game's third, only puts the build at v0.8.6.5. Interested folk can apply for the next beta on the game's site, but really interested folk might be best off waiting for the full (probably download) release with all its inevitable spit and polish. When this game does come out, it should be absolutely gleaming.