Fans of fighting games need no introduction to the importance of the EVO Championship Series. For years, this event has provided countless hours of intense top-level play for various fighting games. While the event often takes place in the U.S., this year saw the emergence of EVO Japan, which took place from January 26 – 28. The event saw tournaments for some of esports’ most popular fighting games – Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, to name a few. But among the games played at EVO Japan, there was one that stood out. There was a game that had something to prove. And that game was ARMS.
Last year, this author discussed if ARMS, the unique and inventive fighter from Nintendo, deserved its slot at EVO Japan. With EVO Japan having come and gone, now is as good a time as any to discuss ARMS’ future as an esport. How did EVO Japan affect ARMS’ chances at becoming a widely recognized esport, if at all? Let’s talk about it.
What EVO Japan meant to Arms
Going into the event, it was easy to look at EVO Japan as a “make or break” point for ARMS as an esport. On one hand, the event served as a possibility to show off the game’s competitive community to the world. However, at the same time, if ARMS underperformed in regards to viewer engagement and impact, then ARMS may not get another opportunity to be played on a world stage. With EVO Japan’s ARMS tournament having come and gone, it seems that the latter of these two may have been the fate for ARMS.
In terms of numbers, ARMS had over 320 entrants, which was the smallest amount of entrants in any game played at the event. However, this is understandable given that ARMS is a new intellectual property that is mechanically unlike any other fighting game and has a competitive community that isn’t even a year old yet.
Mirroring the game’s player count in the tournament, ARMS didn’t get a significant amount of buzz during the tournament. Moreover, the videos-on-demand for ARMS’ tournament at EVO Japan have received significantly less views than other games featured at EVO Japan.
Despite what the game’s dedicated fans hoped, ARMS failed to make a significant splash among the more recognizable, reputable games at EVO Japan. Another blow to the ARMS’ competitive community was the recent confirmation that the game would not be featured at EVO 2018 later this year. However, ARMS’ poor performance at EVO Japan and the game’s absence at EVO 2018 aren’t enough to effectively kill the game’s future as an esport. Does ARMS have enough in itself to warrant a healthy future in esports?
A Skill Ceiling that may be too low…
One of the most important things about any esport is its watchability and viewership. ARMS’ watchability has been a question for many. As with almost any other fighting game, it’s clear to see that top-level ARMS players have a great level of skill. However, ARMS lacks two things that many fighting games benefit from: immense depth and spectacle.
Let’s take Super Smash Bros. Melee as an example. When you watch top-level play, it looks significantly different from watching beginner-level play. Melee has advanced techniques, wavedashing, and many character-specific toolkits that make each individual player’s playstyle feel different from one another. This has helped keep Melee in the esport spotlight for so long – despite the game being over fifteen years old.
At least as of the time of writing, ARMS lacks this level of depth, which hurts both the number of players and viewers of the game. Watching the ARMS tournament at EVO Japan, one can certainly see that the players in the event were using advanced techniques and movement. However, when watching, one may ask: how much can top-level play develop beyond this tournament?
It’s unclear if ARMS’ competitive metagame can develop much further than it already has. While ARMS was enjoyable to watch at EVO Japan, the technique displayed in the tournament didn’t seem much greater than technique displayed at the ARMS Invitational at E3 in June of 2017. Part of what makes esports entertaining to watch is seeing the development of top-level play. It’s exciting to see how players for our favorite esports can get better, and push what’s possible in the game.
The Issue of Characters
One final critique is with the game’s characters. Characters are the bread and butter of fighting games – especially for fighting games that are esports. Games like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Tekken 7, and Street Fighter V have a vast variety of characters with different playstyles and toolkits. Tournaments for these games can be exciting to watch just from seeing different characters being represented. Also by seeing the different playstyle and techniques that accompany those different characters. Watching a Smash 4 tournament and suddenly seeing more obscure characters like Wii Fit Trainer, Shulk, or Mr. Game and Watch can suddenly make that tournament more interesting.
ARMS lacks this. Unlike most fighting games, the most significant thing that changes a player’s techniques and playstyle are the “ARMS”, or weapons, that they choose for each round. The character you pick when playing ARMS only affects certain character-specific moves, that can allow them to charge their attacks. Some characters, like Master Mummy, have stronger grabs, but for the most part, characters are defined by unique gimmicks.
These gimmicks include Spring Man’s rage factor when he gets below 25% health, Ribbon Girl’s multiple jumps, Mechanica’s hover, Master Mummy’s regeneration when he blocks, among others. But are these enough to make each character feel significantly different to watch from any other? No, probably not. ARMS’ characters only impact complementary techniques. The main techniques and depth of ARMS’ combat comes from which “ARMS” the player chooses.
Unfortunately, the variety of “ARMS”, while fairly sizable, doesn’t feel vast. Many “ARMS” are the same or recolors that have different elemental properties. There are only a few types of “ARMS”, such as umbrellas, whips, boomerangs, and so on. If there were a greater variety of different types of “ARMS”, then ‘ARMS’ combat could begin to feel more vast and different. As is, though, there are not enough that significantly change up players’ techniques and playstyles, making competitive play not feel as interesting as it could be.
Can ARMS be Saved?
As much as one may critique ARMS as an esport, many people would still love to see ARMS become an esport in some capacity. However, the odds of that happening are certainly not in the game’s favor at this point. With Nintendo recently confirming that there will be no more significant updates, nor anymore DLC characters and stages, the game itself will likely remain as it is now.
One of the most restrictive things from ARMS becoming an esport is actually in consideration of the fact that players are constantly locked on to one another. If players could freely roam around 3D arenas, somewhat like the Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm games, then ARMS could become more interesting.
The story of ARMS is an admirable one. It fought hard to become an esport, and it continues to have a vibrant and dedicated community. However, the game simply didn’t have enough in it to grab much attention on the esports stage. Can ARMS be saved and become an esport? It’s unlikely, but ARMS builds a great framework for sequels that could become esports. It has great competitive potential as a franchise, but there needs to be some tweaks to the core design of the game. Getting rid of the constant lock-on, and having characters feel significantly different from each other is already enough to make a sequel that has more competitive capabilities.
So does ARMS have a future as an esport? One would argue that it does through a potential sequel that fixes and improves upon the framework of the 2017 game. As is, ARMS seems like it doesn’t have enough to pull in viewers and become an esport. But the franchise is still young, and becoming an esport is a possibility if future installments take good steps forward.
But what do you think? Do you think ARMS can be an esport, or do you feel that a sequel to the game has better chances? As always, join the conversation and let us know!
Featured image courtesy of Nintendo Versus via Twitter.
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