One year ago today, The Washington Post flipped a switch and set Launcher live before the world, introducing a dedicated space for the coverage, analysis and discussion of video games and esports. One day later, I broke the home page. Like, totally crippled it, disappearing not one but two of the three featured stories from the top of the page. It was the first of many wrinkles we’d face in our first year. Like the rest, we smoothed it out and pressed on.

Even as 2020 sped off the rails and corkscrewed into a blazing dumpster, requiring our team to decamp from our cluster of desks next to the Editorial department in The Post’s newsroom and hunker down at home, we remained grounded in our mission. When we first conceived of Launcher — as far back as 2016 — the goal was to create a site that could apply a critical perspective to the world of gaming. We wanted to show the uninitiated why the video game industry warranted more of their attention. We also wanted to shed new light to help video game veterans further explore their passion. One year in, I believe pursuit of that goal remains on target.

Over Launcher’s first 12 months, we published articles that examined how major news events resonated within the world of gaming and others that scrutinized some of the industry’s practices. We interviewed celebrities and told the stories of those whose voices we seldom hear. And of course, we examined the profound impact the covid-19 pandemic had on gamers and game developers alike.

The pandemic also meant the majority of our work in 2020 was performed under never-before-seen conditions. That Launcher continued to break ground, to find its voice, and amplify it at such a time is a great source of pride. One that is worthy of celebration.

Even as we survey the road ahead, it’s worth reflecting on what’s come before. To that end, I submit to you a collection of the Launcher team’s favorite stories published in the site’s first year. It’s a catalogue highlighted by news-making interviews and considered essays. It features perspectives and critical analyses that illustrate the significance of real-world events through a gaming lens, as well as the significance of gaming’s impact on the world at large. It includes stories that mine the industry’s past and peer into its future.

Collectively, it features bylines from freelancers around the world, former interns we miss dearly and entries from frequent contributors like Teddy Amenabar and Noah Smith. Contributing to and shaping it all — be it an inciting idea, an in-depth report, a thoughtful and searching review, a behind-the-scenes video or a captivating design — is the core Launcher team: Gene Park, Elise Favis, Mikhail Klimentov, Joe Moore, Jhaan Elker and Christopher Byrd. They have been the ones keeping Launcher, and me, on the rails and steaming ahead amid everything 2020 has hurled our way.

The work showcased below is proof not of Launcher’s success, but its potential. We hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen so far. We hope you’ll enjoy what comes next even more.

Making a good game is one thing. Making a game that changes the industry is another. From the introduction of groundbreaking in-game elements to refining how games make money, these are the titles that made the biggest impact on both players and the industry since 2010. — By Launcher Staff

In a world that had yet to create MySpace — let alone Facebook and Twitter — the fears of information warfare Kojima described in “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” were dismissed as “Matrix”-inspired gibberish. Fast forward to today: Kojima’s dystopian future has become our current reality. — By Gene Park

For those that remember Ellie as a girl in “The Last of Us,” understanding her evolution over the course of “The Last of Us Part II” can be difficult. It’s a journey even those that created the game struggled to stomach at times. But that dissonance was precisely the chord the game’s co-director and writer, Neil Druckmann, wanted to strike. — By Elise Favis

As a younger generation favors the Internet over cable, it’s given rise to a class of celebrity unknown and undefinable to many over a certain age. How do you best describe people like Turner Tenney? “Gamer, esports athlete, social media influencer … I’m just me, dude,” Tfue says. — Story by Noah Smith, Video by Jhaan Elker

Even as the covid-19 pandemic provided a windfall for the games industry and executives touted the virtues of esports as an alternative to TV networks while traditional sports arenas fell silent, two organizations sought out federal assistance to help stay afloat. — By Mikhail Klimentov

In attempting to create the most realistic war game on the market, game developers at Infinity Ward started by surveying the world around them. — Story by Mike Hume, Video by Jhaan Elker

Celebrity investors in esports organizations are nothing new. But there hasn’t quite been a story like that of the Migos rapper and, Eric Pedro Cruz, a kid from Florida who dreamed of one day becoming a pro competitive gamer. Just two days after Offset signed with FaZe on Cruz’s advice, he was mourning his friend’s death. — By Noah Smith

In January, tensions between Iran and the United States escalated dramatically, beginning with the killing of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani. For Mahdi Bahrami and other Iranian game developers, the prior conditions were already problematic enough. — By Aron Garst

To some players, the changes brought by the character of Lev are undoubtedly welcome. But as one of the only trans characters in AAA games, his presence, for trans audiences especially, is complex; not necessarily unwelcome, but a reminder of just how messy and contested our place in mainstream fiction really is. — By Julie Muncy

“World of Warcraft” was a game truly ahead of its time. So much so, that its players already witnessed the effects of a pandemic more than a decade ago. Now, that pandemic may prove useful to scientists studying covid-19. — By Jhaan Elker

In the days following an apology to fans by Blizzard President J. Allen Brack over the handling of the suspension of Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung for his support of the Hong Kong protests, there were many who felt Blizzard had not done enough to correct its actions. One of those people was Blizzard vice president and “Overwatch” game director Jeff Kaplan, who provided his thinking to Launcher. — By Elise Favis

The next version of the Internet is often described as the Metaverse, a term borne from science fiction, describing a shared, virtual space that’s persistently online and active, even without people logging in. It will have its own economy, complete with jobs, shopping areas and media to consume. The Metaverse is inevitable, many believe, and the Silicon Valley C-suite has been obsessed with the idea — as has a video game company in Cary, N.C. — By Gene Park

The Overwatch League planned for an ambitious 2020 season. But then, on the cusp of its launch, an already daunting logistical challenge was made worse by a pandemic and complications stemming from the relative isolation of its two Europe-based teams. — By Teddy Amenabar

When Jackson Reece lost his arms and legs to sepsis after already being paralyzed, he thought his life was over. It was video games that brought him back. — By Hawken Miller

During a pandemic that has confined a large number of people to their homes and a public reckoning centered on racial injustice, latent tensions in the tabletop gaming world appear to be bubbling over. Now, D&D and its administrators find themselves at an inflection point. — By Sebastian Modak

The use of Adderall, Vyvanse and Ritalin by esports pros has introduced significant questions. What exactly constitutes a performance enhancing drug? Could their use potentially disturb a league’s competitive balance? Should prescribed substances be regulated by a league at all? — By Coleman Hamstead

Read more: