The Roundup: The Xbox Series S Revealed, Esports’ China Dilemma, A New Games Crit Zine, And More!

By Matt Gerardi

Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. In this installment, our writers run down all the deets of Microsoft’s next-gen strategy and tell us why the Xbox Series S might be the real star of the new console slate. Plus, a look into why the esports world fought back against an event in Saudi Arabia but ignores China’s human-rights violations, an update on the Circle’s mentoring programs, and more!

The next-gen details people really care about are finally starting to emerge. After a series of leaks regarding the Xbox Series S, Microsoft’s second new console, the company came out and confirmed the existence of this much smaller, cheaper box. Later, the company also provided prices and release dates for both members of the new Xbox family. With all the pertinent details out in the open, Dan Ackerman put together a super-practical comparison of the two, ultimately arguing that, for a lot of folks, the Series S is the more logical choice on just about every level. Dan even looks beyond price and performance, going so far as to account for the environmental implications of the discless Series S.

And if you’re looking for a more technical breakdown of the Series S, Michelle Earhardt has you covered at Tom’s Hardware. Michelle runs through the impressive specs of the modest, new console and explains its big differences, and surprising parities, with the beefy Series X. “At $299, though, the Series S seems like a good option for playing all the same games as the Series X, assuming you don’t care about 4K,” Michelle wrote.

Earlier this summer, the League of Legends European Championships announced a partnership with the Saudi Arabian city-development NEOM. Given Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record, the news immediately drew fire from players, casters, and community figures, leading to LEC’s prompt withdrawal from the deal. Writing for Dot eSports, Imad Khan questioned why we haven’t seen a similar outcry over Riot’s announcement that the League World Championships would be taking place in China—not only in 2020 but also in 2021. For starters, Riot is owned by a massively influential Chinese company, which makes its connections to the Chinese government difficult to parse and dissent trickier to levy, Imad says. “So, is the League community projecting moral superiority when it’s convenient but bowing down as soon as pocketbooks are affected?” Imad writes. “While a cynical reduction, the answer is yes.”

Elizabeth Ballou—alongwith a crew of other talented writers, editors, and artists—recently launched a Kickstarter for a zine full of essays about death in games. Called Endgame Sequences, the team is aiming to put together a 40- to 50-page publication with “full-page, full-color illustrations” and 10 essays that “explore why death, grief, and loss are so important to games and play, and what happens when games get it right—or wrong.” Depending on their support level, Kickstarter backers can nab a digital version or secure their copy of the full printed edition, which the team hopes to deliver in January 2021.

In his latest mentoring update, Harold Goldberg took us through the struggle, and eventual success, of relaunching the Circle’s summer journalism program. With the city seemingly axing its Summer Youth Employment Program, which allowed us to run our daily summer class, Harold was ready to go ahead without a summer program this year. But with the Summer Youth Employment Program reinstated at the last minute, the Circle worked quickly to put together a new virtual summer class. Read all about it in Harold’s post!

And finally, the Critics Circle is proud to announce that we will be presenting our annual New York Game Awards on January 26, 2021. This is our tenth ceremony, and despite having to move to a virtual-only show, we’re definitely going to go all out to celebrate this special anniversary. The show will be hosted by Harold and Reggie Fils-Aimé, and we’re going to be taking full advantage of the digital format to do some special stuff with some special guests that we’ve never quite been able to pull off with our in-person shows. Get excited!

From Beyond The Circle

The death of actor Chadwick Boseman was an especially sad, shocking moment amid an emotionally draining year. In the days after his passing, Evan Narcisse, author of the Rise of the Black Panther comic series and NYVGCC alum, published a beautiful, personal essay about the actor, his career, and the connection the two had. Evan had met Boseman only once, interviewing him after the announcement of his casting as Black Panther and just a few months before Evan himself would be offered the chance to write a new Black Panther story. Boseman’s understanding of the importance of this role helped inspire the confidence Evan needed to throw himself into this dream opportunity. Through this personal lens, Evan goes on to talk about Boseman’s career, his inspiring life, and his ability to channel the truth of the Black mythological figures, both fictional and non-fictional, that he portrayed on screen. “It’s plain to see that his creative purpose was to illuminate Black humanity in as many ways he could,” Evan wrote.

Ubisoft followed up on its wave of harassment and abuse scandals from earlier this year with a new controversy around the bafflingly tone-deaf mobile game Elite Squad. The game features characters from the Tom Clancy universe of games coming together to do what they do best: extra-judicially killing criminals, in this case members of an illuminati-like cabal. Sounds like a pretty normal Tom Clancy game, right? Well, Elite Squad’s opening cinematic recently hit the internet and showed that the plot of the game actually has this villainous organization manipulating global protests and civil unrest from the shadows, using these progressive causes as a way to cover its tracks, sow violence, and advance its oppressive agenda. The game even went so far as to associate this group with a Black clenched-fist symbol, an icon that’s long been associated with real-world Black and anti-fascist protest movements. After a backlash to the video, Ubisoft decided to remove the Black fist imagery, but as Matthew Gault of Vice points out in a great summary of this story, removing that imagery doesn’t change the fact that this game is spinning very real, very dangerous far-right conspiracy theories about the nature of the Black Lives Matter movement into a violent fascist power-fantasy. Actual people are actually dead because this very idea—that some sort of evil, terroristic force looking to change the fabric of the United States is what’s driving the country’s protests against racial injustice—is being spouted by the conservative political machine, taking root in the minds of its followers, and pushing them to what they’re defending as justified vigilante killings. It is flat-out disgusting to design and market a game around this conceit at any time but especially right now.  

Tomorrow, September 12, the IGDA will broadcast the fourth annual Black in Gaming awards. The show is dedicated to honoring the achievements of Black members of the games industry and media. Twelve awards will be handed out including to such industry leaders as Shana Bryant (producer of The Outer Worlds and a long list of major games over her 14-year career), Mike Pondsmith (storied RPG designer and creator of the Cyberpunk universe), Christopher Judge (actor and the voice of Kratos in 2018’s God of War), and Reggie Fils-Aimé (former Nintendo of America President and Critics Circle board member). This year’s show is a digital presentation, and you can catch it Saturday night on the official Black in Gaming Twitch channel.

That’ll do it for this Roundup. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you again soon.

Matt Gerardi is a writer from New York, the former games editor at The A.V. Club, and a member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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