Di seguito ho pubblicato un mio contributo dedicato alla community del gioco Il Signore degli Anelli: La Battaglia per la Terra di Mezzo 2: L’ascesa del Re Stregone, noto anche come RotWK, abbreviazione dell’inglese Rise of the Witch-King.
Il contributo, pensato originariamente per un’altra destinazione, è rimasto per un po’ tra i miei file del computer. Avendo perso il suo scopo originario ho deciso di pubblicarlo qui, senza sostanziali modifiche.
Chi volesse leggere un testo più leggero e divulgativo (e in italiano) sullo stesso argomento può dare un occhio al mio articolo pubblicato su Everyeye. Più in generale ricordo che potete consultare la pagina delle mie pubblicazioni su questo sito.
I’ve published here an article about The Rise of the Witch-King (RotWK) and its community, originally written for another purpose. There are no changes from the original text. I publish it here, on my personal, website to make it accessible.
1. The complex history of RotWK
This article investigates the self-managed eSports practices in the marginal video game communities related to three licensed real-time strategy (RTS) video games: The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth (Electronic Arts, 2006), The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (Electronic Arts, 2006) and in particular The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-King (Electronic Arts, 2006).
Tolkien’s works have inspired – directly or indirectly – a large number of video games since the dawn of gaming. The names of numerous video games reveal such inspiration: Moria (Batton and Duncombe, 1975), Orthanc (Hagstrom, Resch and Kemp 1975), Akalabeth: World of Doom (Garriott, 1979), The Hobbit (Beam Software, 1982), another Moria (Koeneke, 1983), Angband (Astrand and Cutler, 1990) and many others.
Moreover, many video games with a fantasy setting are influenced by the Tolkien world through the mediation of Dungeons & Dragons. Over the years, the creator of this famous tabletop game, Gary Gygax, has expressed himself differently about the tolkienian influence on his work (1985; 2000); however, regardless of its actual extent, some sort of ascendancy is certainly traceable (Cover, 2010; Tresca, 2011; Lucas, 2014; Appelcline 2017; about Tolkien and video games specifically, see Makai, 2014; Dor, 2016; Young, 2016).
At the beginning of the century, Peter Jackson’s film trilogy The Lord of the Rings produced a further interest in Middle-earth, accompanied by the release of licensed video games. The licenses were distributed atypically, what produced some situations out of the ordinary (Young, 2016, p. 10). It’s important to remember the licensing issue because it is one of the factors underlying RotWK’s problems. The Electronic Arts company had originally obtained only the license related to the film trilogy, while the one related to Tolkien’s books was obtained by another video game publisher, Vivendi Games. Electronic Arts could thus, for example, create character models inspired by the film actors, but not insert a character like Tom Bombadil, who is present in the book The Fellowship of the Ring but not in the homonym movie. Each of the two publishers highlighted the authority of their license to guarantee the authenticity of their products (Wallin, 2007).
Some of the video games published by Electronic Arts were the two hack-and-slash The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Stormfront Studios, 2002) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (EA Redwood Shores / Hypnos Entertainment, 2003), the role-playing game The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (EA Redwood Shores, 2004) and the RTS BfME I. In 2006, the year of BfME II‘s release, the circumstances had changed, as the previous year Electronic Arts had acquired the literary license for Tolkien’s books. The contents of BfME II are much more differentiated than those of BfME I, which included only what was shown in the movies. Characters from novels appear, such as the aforementioned Tom Bombadil, alongside characters invented especially for this video game (such as Gorkil the goblin king or Drogoth the dragon lord) and others originally introduced in The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. Later that year, the expansion RotWK, which added Angmar’s army, increased the number of playable factions to seven (the other six were Men of the West, Elves, Dwarves, Mordor, Isengard and Goblins).
In 2009, the situation changed furtherly: Electronic Arts’ expired license was acquired by Warner Bros., who “now holds all the digital gaming rights to Middle-earth under its single franchise” (Young, 2016, p. 10). Following the loss of the license, the game servers for BfME I, BfME II and RotWK were shut down by Electronic Arts in2010. In addition, apart from some residual (and often overpriced) physical copies, these video games are no longer available for purchase.
These video games, apparently destined for oblivion, have been preserved thanks to the attention of a small but active community. Among the problems that required a solution, there were the closure of the official servers and imbalances in the game’s difficulty. In fact, the latest official RotWK patch (the number 2.01) still had numerous bugs – for example the attack speed of Black Numenoreans and Half-Troll Swordsmen were so defective that these units were almost completely useless – and balance issues (like the overpowering of Mirkwood Archers of the Elven faction).
Therefore, a group of players decided to work on the unofficial patch 2.02, the first version of which was released on 11 January 2008, before the servers’ shutdown. After they were closed, work on patch 2.02 intensified and the community found a new way to play RotWK and the other two video games online, using the third party software GameRanger, a free online-gaming service.
The community has always shown interest in communicating the existence of GameRanger and patch 2.02 as much as possible, to attract the attention of nostalgic gamers. Two useful tools for this goal are YouTube and Twitch.tv. On YouTube, in addition to numerous gameplays, some players have uploaded video tutorials about the installation of the unofficial patch (e.g. PhaeronXII, 2018; Elrohir, 2019) and presentation trailers of the 2.02 (like tg – sacred, 2012). Currently, the latest version of patch 2.02 is 8.4.0, released on 2 August 2020 (Excelsior, 2020).
There are at least three guidelines, with different priorities, at the base of this patch: balancing and bug fixing, adherence to the original game and loyalty to Tolkien. The latter case concerns only some small details, to which, however, a ‘philological’ attention has been paid. For example, the correct name of the mûmakil (the giant elephants of Middle-earth) has been recovered. The singular of mumakil is mûmak, but in RotWK the plural form was also used in reference to a single creature; now, in 2.02, this is partially corrected, with the adoption of the term ‘mumak’ (which is missing, however, the circumflex accent).
About the adherence to the original game, the creators of patch 2.02 have followed a different path compared to numerous modding projects, such as The Age of the Ring (Age of the Ring Development Team, 2017), in which many new factions and units are inserted. In 2.02 patch the additions are minimal and limited to units already present in the game files (like the Galadhrim Warriors). So, rather than adding new contents, they tried to give usefulness to all the units and powers already present in RotWK. “Useless Turned Useful”, says the introduction to patch 2.02 on Gamereplays.org (2015). For example, in patch 2.01, heroes like Haldir and Sharku were extremely weak, while they are now among the most frequently recruited heroes for the Elves and Isengard factions respectively.
The 2.02 patch has the goal to preserve and even increase the competitive playability of RotWK. Thus, this unofficial patch is radically different from other modding operations, which follow a more “just for fun” approach or are guided by a certain completism (insert as many factions and characters from Middle-earth as possible).
Two considerations emerge from what has been said so far. First of all, this small community is composed not only of proplayers (professional players) and enthusiasts, but also of people with high skills in the creation and reworking of content, which can be defined as petty producers (Abercrombie and Longhurst, 1998) or prosumers (Toffler, 1990).
Furthermore, the constant search for an optimal balance of the video game, with a continuous improvement of the 2.02 patch over the years, underlies a general interest in organised competition and, therefore, tournaments.
2. The RotWK community on YouTube, Twitch and GameReplays
Before proceeding with the analysis of specific contents, a more general observation was carried out, aimed at identifying the dimensions of the phenomenon on YouTube and Twitch.tv. For the purposes of the analysis, a group of 19 Twitch channels and 14 YouTube channels was identified. This number may seem small for an analysis, but it should be noted that the RotWK streamers are a niche on these platforms.
The identification of the sample base has begun with a search by keywords (“rise of the witch king”, “rotwk” “2.02 8.4”) on YouTube – taking into account the channels that published videos related to RotWK during the analysis’s period – and with the exploration of the videos in the Twitch.tv directory “The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II”, which contained contents about BfME II (‘vanilla’ and 1.09 patch) and RotWK (‘vanilla’, 2.02 patch and mods like The Age of the Ring). On Twitch.tv, recommended channels within the main streamers’ were checked as well.
In light of this fact, the Twitch channels that do not deal with patch 2.02 have been listed anyway. Some of the results returned by this double search were excluded, instead, because only tangentially linked to BfME games. A channel like VeneficusTV, for example, was find in the search but excluded because its streamer seems to play these video games rarely. Some channels almost exclusively dedicated to BfME I were also excluded, like BFMEOrange.
The research on Twitch.tv has identified the following channels, divided according to the content they offer most frequently:
- RoTWK: BeyondStandards (3393 followers); TheDestroyer001 (4830 followers); Elrohir_Bfme (3305 followers); MasterExcelsior (666 followers); Solas1994 (457 followers); Velenorion (730 followers); MAYSHADOWFAX12 (163 followers); leslotje (13 followers); The_Eternal (364 followers); kingthran (87 followers, seems inactive); Elite_Banner (66 followers); MrSmoKkkk (351 followers); hoplite300 (42 followers); Amarrow (35 followers); GLoRf1nDeLL07 (27 followers); Olumba (73 followers); MiraakThuri (33 followers); OrtaDunyaCom (26.690 followers); Muadddd (56 followers).
- Edain mod or The Age of the Ring mod: luke_xfr (91 followers); Bilban_bfme (270 followers); ogizza (153 followers); Gasolt (102 followers); foxybrosgaming (198 followers); Toinoua (105 followers); AgeoftheRing (1213 followers); andysangr (863 followers).
- BfME II: BFME2yoda (1253 followers); Ruudw (3309 followers, seems inactive); GranThorino (41 followers, seems inactive); LATINO19 (853 followers); Ryke676 (2442 followers); ohtakeover (256 followers); JoelogyTv (651 followers); KepregenyfejtoJanos (29 followers); Lookmanohandzz (108 followers); KitsuneNakigitsune (81 followers); MrMocki (7 followers); Ferhaz (94 followers).
The research on YouTube has identified the following channels, some of which are versions of the Twitch channels listed above:
- TheDestroyer001, 20.800 followers, 9.391.353 total views, RotWK 2.02, gameplay.
- BeyondStandards, 7180 followers, 920.478 total views, RotWK 2.02, commentary.
- BOYZ TALK ROTWK, 50 followers, 2.291 total views, RotWK 2.02, replays commentary.
- Joelogy Tv, 439 followers, 54.366 total views, RotWK 2.02 and BfME II 1.09, replays commentary.
- Radu Urdea, 3 followers, 116 total views, RotWK 2.02, gameplay.
- Velenorion BFME, 10 followers, 118 total views, RotWK 2.02, tutorial/how to.
- Orta Dünya Oyunları, 1360 followers, 51.031 total views, RotWK 2.02, various contents.
- Ghost the Grumpy Aussie, 297 followers, 38.280 total views, RotWK 2.02 and Blue Wizard mod, gameplay.
- LeoSmaug, 62 followers, 1474 total views, RotWK 2.02, gameplay.
- Mr. SmoKkkk, 147 followers, 13.178 total views, RotWK 2.02, gameplay.
- Talos, 133 followers, 21.816 total views, RotWK 2.02, gameplay.
- Дмитрий DeimaN, 276 followers, 66.006 total views, RotWK 2.02, commentary.
- TheGuyofTheEast, 942 followers, 190.451 total views, RotWK 2.02 and The Age of the Ring Mod, gameplay.
- E.W.A., 601 followers, 68.972 total views, RotWK 2.02 and BfME II 1.09, gameplay.
Two other channels deserve a mention. The first one is RuudDevil, a channel quite followed for the standards of this group (42.600 followers, 27.112.004 total views), but almost exclusively dedicated to mods, like The Age of the Ring. The other one is PhaeronXII (202 followers, 30.948 total views), no longer active, which for a certain period of time has been an interesting example of replay commentaries and live casting.
There were two periods of in-depth observation. The first was December, chosen for the presence of the XMAS Tournament. The addition of a second period, from 1 to 15 March, was determined by the occurrence of the Good vs Evil Tournament (in which each participant signed up by selecting a faction from the good side and one from the evil side, and had to play all the games just with these two). The attention focused on three of the content creators listed above, selected by different criteria (not only based on their numbers – although they are some of the most followed – but also based on their relevance to the research focus). All of their videos published during the analysis periods have been viewed and analysed (N=54). Several of their other videos, published outside the analysis period, were also viewed, although the same systematicity was not maintained. Likewise, an attempt was made to view as much content as possible from other channels as well. Due to temporal restrictions, in many cases Twitch live shows have been recovered afterwards, either from the platform itself or once uploaded to YouTube (if, in the meantime, they were removed from Twitch). During the same time period, the RotWK forum on GameReplays.org was monitored.
The first content creator selected is Shanks of the BeyondStandards channel (YouTube and Twitch.tv), as he is currently the commentator and in some cases the host and organiser of said tournaments. The second is TheDestroyer001 (YouTube and Twitch.tv), since in the past, for a time, he has been playing a role similar to the one that Shanks plays currently, in tournament commentary (“After doing some casting videos I was asked to join the GameReplays.org staff as a caster for RotWK unofficial patch 2.02” – Interview with TheDestroyer001). Now he deals with another kind of game-related content, but he is always very active in the RotWK community. The third is Elrohir (YouTube and Twitch.tv), which in recent years has been carrying out a sort of parallel project, linked to the La Terre du Milieu (2017) website. He provides French-speaking fans of The Lord of the Rings with a meeting place, with a particular focus on video games, RotWK specifically. Elrohir, among other things, comments on tournament matches. Unlike Shanks and TheDestroyer001, who produce English content, Elrohir’s videos are in French.
These three content creators were interviewed, with a base of common questions tailored to the individual case. The interview request was sent by e-mail (Shanks) and social network (Instagram for Elrohir and Discord for TheDestroyer001).
3. Tournament practices and community development
The case of RotWK is an example of virtuous interaction between a streamer and a community of gamers in a niche context. The effect produced by their practices is the maintenance over time of a community that one might expect to have exhausted its strength following the closure of RotWK official servers and the disappearance of the video game from the market.
This case is not a planned operation of product revitalisation rooted in retrogaming nostalgia (Jenkins, Ford, Green, 2013), representing instead the ‘posthumous’ continuation of a video game whose online service was discontinued.
Several factors must be considered in order to fully understand this practice. Some of them concern the work of the community involved, while others are external.
First of all, RotWK is an RTS. This genre of video game has generated some highly competitive niches, due to some of its characteristics. In fact, it is mainly played on PC, the only device providing effective controls by the combination of mouse and keyboard. There are strategic video games on other platforms, but they either have less effective controls (thus being unfit for high-level competitions) or are slow if not turn-based or implementing other hybrid forms of gameplay. These video games tend to be competitive and difficult to master, with a relevant ability gap between casual gamers and proplayers compared to other genres. Their difficulty is mainly linked to two aspects: knowledge of the game and speed of reaction and execution.
RotWK appears to be an RTS with a considerable potential for spectacularity, for a number of reasons. The first and most immediate is the presence of characters and settings from Tolkien’s world, and in particular from the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. The second one is the nature of RTS games, which – more than games of other genres – optimally suits live commentary, useful to identify the principal points on the map and explain the technicalities of some moves to the viewers. Finally, in RotWK there is an abundance of special powers with a great impact on the game and a high level of spectacularity, like the Balrog summon or the Army of the Dead. Powers like these can destroy an entire army or an enemy base in seconds. Their visual impact adds to their effects on the current game.
These powers are engaging not only because visually pleasant, but also for their impact on the progress of the match. All strategies are based on the management of resources, and if the system is not correctly set up an “avalanche” effect can occur, by which the player who gained an initial advantage will become stronger and stronger until the opponent cannot defeat her or him. Wayward Strategy (Wayward, 2018) gives the example of Tooth and Tail (Pocketwatchgames, 2017) to explain this. This video game is focussed on a single resource, and it is very difficult to recover even from a marginal disadvantage, because the gap tends to become wider and wider as the game progresses. In fact, the player who manages to obtain an advantageous position continues to generate more resources than the opponents (and therefore to produce more troops, expand faster etc.). In video games like RotWK, on the other hand, it is possible to come back from a situation of disadvantage, at least in some cases, which makes the games more interesting to watch.
Apparently, this video game, like Tooth and Tail, is based on a single resource, but in reality there are at least two others (three, if the experience obtained by soldiers and heroes is counted): command points and power points. The first ones are linked to the quality of the troops in relation to the population limit: the most powerful troops require more command points than the others. The second ones are used to obtain special powers that can overturn a situation that would be disadvantageous according to the parameters of the other two resources.
Such elements are optimal for commentary on official tournaments and competitions, as they increase the uncertainty of matches. It does not happen often, but even in tournaments there have been comebacks where a player at a strong disadvantage was able to win thanks to a special power, for example by destroying the opposing fortress with the Giants or Ents summon.
Additional game mechanics need to be considered. In fact, the general complexity of RTS games derives from the overlapping of different components, which must be kept in mind at the same time. The resource factor, for example, is often combined with a “rock, paper, scissors” structure that governs the balance of power between different units (Molina, 2003 pp. 27–30). Cavalry overwhelms archers and swordsmen, but is annihilated by pikemen, who are in turn weak against swords and arrows. This factor stratifies the mere cost and command point ratio between different units, but it is not an absolute factor per se: a group of high-level pikemen (such as the Tower Guards) can win against cheap swordsmen like an Orc battalion, despite the general balance of power in favour of the swordsmen.
All of these elements are suitable to be discussed in the videos. The ‘readability’ of the game mechanics of an RTS is lower than that of other genres’ games, thus it is possible to frequently bring this topic up in match commentaries. Obviously, this is not necessarily the only focus nor does it suit everyone’s tastes. RuudDevil, for example, has focused above all on modding, with numerous videos presenting the different contents that certain mods add to the game. Similar videos have also been made by TheDestroyer001 in the past, while his channel is now focussed on patch 2.02 almost exclusively, and he has repeatedly denied an interest in certain modding operations, curious to view but not easily replayable. His channel was, for a certain period of time, the ‘official’ voice of the community that revolves around Gamereplays.org. In the first place, he was the one who records and shares the official competitions. He also recovered some files containing the games that the experts upload to the Gamereplays website, making them available in a more accessible and understandable form. Finally, he was entrusted with the first public presentation of the new versions of the 2.02 patch.
In the last three years, however, its contents have changed, and currently they are focussing on a series of autonomous live streaming on his Twitch channel, uploaded to YouTube in the following days.
The commentary provided by Shanks clarifies some choices made by the experts, explaining why a certain move can be a winning strategy (or, conversely, why constitutes a mistake). In this way, his work proves to be potentially attractive to some types of spectators, that Cheung and Huang (2011) identified by observing the public of a much more popular RTS: Starcraft 2 (Blizzard Entertainment, 2010). Numerous points of their discourse would be applicable, on a different scale, also to viewers of RotWK replays.
The videos made by Shanks can be for many viewers a first point of contact with the 2.02 patch and the possibility to play on GameRanger, generating a new interest in the game. This first point of contact is sometimes accompanied by more targeted initiatives, from the community, aimed at those who already know at least a little about the video game, such as, for example, the mentoring program, in which some “veterans” play with newbies to provide advices and feedback, to make them more competitive. But watching a video is more immediate than reading a written guide (Gibson, Petrova, 2017) by Gamereplays or the mentoring program, which makes it easier to intercept a strong interest in YouTube and Twitch users by explaining how to master certain factions of RotWK.
His videos, for example, reveal numerous comments on “build orders”, an essential component of RotWK, and many other strategic elements, which is also one of the focal lessons of the mentoring program. A build order is a sequence of actions that the player performs immediately after the start of a game, to create some structures and units in a specific order. Especially in strategic games with the aforementioned “avalanche effect”, a single mistake in this phase can compromise the entire game. This is the reason why, in top-level competitions, there is basically only one possible opening for each situation, which must be performed with speed and perfect timing. We are then in the presence of a “dominant strategy” (Bertolo and Mariani, 2014, p. 205) which substantially nullifies the possible choices, as one of them is better than the others. This also applies in part to RotWK but, also due to the absence of official competitions at the level of the most successful strategists, some variations are possible on the basis of a “range of choices” (ibid., p. 207) in which greater risks generate greater benefits. To give a concrete example: a “standard” opening foresees the construction of two resource production buildings before creating one for the production of troops, while a “risky” opening anticipates the building for the troops. This allows to launch an attack on the opponent’s base more quickly and destroy some buildings before a reaction (high gain), but in case of failure puts the player in disadvantage, because generates a less developed economy than that of the opponent (high risk). The knowledge of building orders, like in other RTS games, is also an element frequently mentioned in commentaries to live tournament streamings.
Here it emerges, in fact, what Cheung and Huang defined as “information asymmetry” (2011, p. 769) between players and spectators. The players know details unknown to the spectators (the strategies they want to adopt), and the spectators in turn can see things (the opponent’s map) that are covered by the fog of war. The two authors link this asymmetry closely to video games like Starcraft II, but it is actually present – albeit in different forms – in numerous other competitive genres. Furthermore, the fixity of some strategies tempers this cognitive distance: even with little information, an experienced player can guess with good precision what strategies will be put in place by the opponent.
As it has been observed, the search for information is not one of the main values for which the streamings on Twitch.tv are followed (Sjöblom and Hamari, 2017), but in RotWK’s case this interest is stronger. This situation probably derives from the fact that many people discover this video game – or rediscover it years later in a very different form from the original – right through these videos, and there is little or no discourse about them outside the community; therefore, streaming is for many a first access to the practical knowledge on how to download and install patch 2.02, how to play etc.
The Shanks videos, anyway, are not only a possible source of attraction for newbies: they maintain over time a great usefulness for the members of the community themselves. It is not only a question of strengthening the sense of community, but also – for example – of being able to better verify how the metagame changes from version to version of the patch. The metagame, which defines the user interactions with the game, assumes a central value in eSports (Scholz, 2019, pp. 105-109), because even small variations in a patch are enough to radically modify it, creating new strategies and benefiting certain players. RotWK is no exception. For example, a small buff to the Orcs, the cheap and weak infantry of Mordor, was enough to make this faction much stronger and played in version 8.4 of patch 2.02. In other cases, the impact of changes has not been perceived initially, instead emerging a posteriori, also thanks to live performances. The Good vs Evil tournament, in particular, was dominated by the Angmar faction, one of the most used, and the performance of the Dire Wolves unit emerged, which with the Spike Collars upgrade – very little used in the past – turned out to be an extremely cost-efficient troop.
As Shanks said in the interview, one of the most exciting aspects of organizing and following a tournament is the reaction of the participating players, who try to give their best and exceed their limits, often giving exciting performances, much more than when they play just for fun: “When there is something to fight for, either a title (champion) or even a cash price, players tend to go beyond standards, I like to see the ambition and the motivation of the players being hyped about the upcoming events and trying to train for them, which increases the activity of BfME games. Win-win” (Interview with Shanks). Moreover, the presence of a ‘professional’ gaming context or even just the very factor of playing in the presence of an audience affects the performance of a player (Taylor, 2016, p. 124).
Figures like Shanks, who is at the same time organizer, streamer and caster, unite different roles that are normally separated in the world of eSports. Similarly, the economic front sees a certain overlap compared to the norm (Jacobson, 2021, pp. 20-30). It is the community itself, made up of players and spectators, in fact, that finances the small monetary prizes available for the tournaments. Both Shanks and TheDestroyer001 said in the interview that one of the things they love about their streaming activity is the ability to interface with people from all over the world. Being a rather small community, at least the core group of the most passionate players ends up getting to know each other quite well. In more than one tournament, however, the nationality of the players is highlighted, based on the model of official eSports competitions. The nations represented in the tournaments are numerous, from Canada to Lebanon, from Turkey to Ukraine. English is used as lingua franca, but it happens to witness the emergence of phrases or single words from other languages. Shanks himself, in many live shows, underlines the fact that he is a Turk who lives in Germany and that, therefore, in his daily life he often finds himself alternating between three different languages, of which English is used for his live commentaries. ESports practices pose an intercultural challenge (Stein and Scholz, 2016) for those involved and above all for those who manage them. This, especially in a relatively small community, can work as an enrichment factor.
The community is fond of streamers, but it seems to participate above all for the loyalty to the video game. Attempts to bring other video games – especially if they are not related to Tolkien – to these channels have not produced optimal results. As TheDestroyer001 pointed out in the interview, in addition to loyalty, a recognition factor also has come into play after a certain period from the opening of his channel: “I have attempted to branch out to other games but it never does as well. Once you are known for doing something in particular, that’s what people expect from you so I’ve decided to embrace that route and go all in on BfME, more specifically RotWK patch 2.02” (Interview with TheDestroyer001).
From all three interviews, it also emerges that this community, despite its small size, produces continuously new contents that improve the gaming experience: “This community shares a lot. We have a lot of events, mods that improve the game, mappers that create original maps. It’s an evolving group and we’re always trying to improve the game experience “(Interview with Elrohir). Even those who do not organize tournaments directly contribute to enriching the experience. Not only – of course – the people who work on patch 2.02 to improve its balance more and more, but also, for example, those who create new maps. Some of their creations are often included in the pool of maps used in the tournament, and this is certainly a significant token of esteem for the work of these creators, considering that their creations are found alongside historical maps of RotWK competitions such as the very famous “Fords of Isen”.
All these people dedicate, in different ways, a considerable part of their free time (“I do this for fun, it’s not my job […] I try to find time to manage everything”: Interview with Elrohir) to RotWK, guided by their passion for this video game, but also by a desire to make it known, to spread it as much as possible and to continuously improve the gaming experience, not only for themselves, but for the whole community: “the reason was my passion of the games I wanted to share with others and also get to know other fans of these awesome BfME games” (Interview with Shanks); “in 2016 I wanted to play this game again but there was no French community. so I decided to create one and I always liked this game because it is great” (Interview with Elrohir). Their work, therefore, is much more layered than the mere presence of that affective labour (Woodcock and Johnson, 2019) which also characterizes them as streamers. The fact that all these activities are confined to free time, despite the professionalization they bring to the field, can have positive connotations, of greater decision-making freedom but also of purpose and gratification, compared to the overlapping of play and work that occurs in official eSports (Brock, 2017).
Furthermore, all three interviewees, talking about the future of their channels and their activities, mentioned another fanmade project under development: The Battle for Middle-earth: Reforged (BFME Reforged Team, TBA), on which dozens of people are working, with the intent to recreate BfME II with a new engine, and new models much more detailed than those of the original video game.
Sometimes eSports competitions seem to be the vanguard of obsolescence for which many video games, especially those based on online gaming, seem destined. The servers are shut down, the developers no longer support the product and the video game ends up in limbo, forgotten and difficult to recover. The work carried out by the RotWK community takes on a significant value, in this context, because it shows how bottom up practices can counteract this oblivion. This is not an operation of retrogaming for collectors, but a living practice, which they try to spread daily to attract new active users. The results seem to confirm their commitment: over time, participation in tournaments grows more and more.
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 Hereinafter abbreviated to BfME I, BfME II and RotWK respectively.
 Moria, Orthanc and Angband are places in the Middle-earth. “Akalabeth” recalls the word Akallabêth (in the fictional language of Númenor), which means “the fall”.
 see also Wasko and Shanadi (2006, pp. 32-34) for a source contemporary to the release of these video games.
 Similarly, they have made patches for BfME I and BfME II, respectively numbered 1.06 and 1.09, but for convenience we will take the case of RotWK as an example.
 The numerous mods of RotWK would deserve an ad-hocstudy, focused on their similarities and differences compared to the general phenomenon of video-game modding (Postigo, 2007, 2008; Behr, 2008; Banks, 2013).
 All the following numerical data are updated to the last check on March 15, 2021.
 The choice also took into account the topic on GameReplays.org dedicated to RotWK streamers (Motoma, 2019).
 A recent BeyondStandards video (2021) shows an example of a comeback. For most of the time the Men of the West army is struggling against Mordor, they can only defend themselves and seem on the verge of defeat. The powers of the heroes, and in particular the use of Gandalf, however, turn the situation around.
 but even in the early stages of the game, the correct use of much less impacting powers can be decisive. A correct use of Rallying Call / War Chant buff (a temporary boost for damage and armour of the troops) can be game changing.
 The practices of archiving and sharing the files containing the replays of certain matches has also been a focal point within the evolution of the RTS genre, and has accompanied the progressive affirmation of online challenges (Dor, 2014). these replay files can only be viewed by those who have the game installed and the corresponding patch available and active, while the videos on YouTube are freely accessible from any device.