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Why games shouldn’t intend to become esports

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Video games are things of beauty. They are capable of being anything that developers wish. The last few years have shown that developers continue to show interest in creating games that allow for competitive play. New games feature competitive play, such as games like Rocket League and Overwatch. However, they approach competitive play so that it is an option for players, rather than a necessity. From the perspective of a game developer, it makes perfect sense as to why games should be able to be enjoyed either casually or competitively. The mixture of a community of casual players and a community of competitive players ultimately means that more people can enjoy the game they create. However, there is a trend that concerns me. This trend is when games are developed in a way that specifically caters to competitive play. This often correlates with these games being intended to become esports.

I feel that it is important to talk about this issue. As esports become more popular, we see more and more developers trying to capitalize on the culture and communities of competitive gaming. I think this is particularly worrisome. Let’s talk about why.

Why casual players matter

As popular as esports are becoming, I think a lot of people forget that most people that play games do so casually. This includes game developers. The launch of Street Fighter V on PS4 and PC in early 2016 is a great example of this. Upon the game’s release, Street Fighter V’s launch was critically critiqued for lacking features such as a story mode or arcade mode. These were features that were present in previous entries, but were absent in the main series’ fifth installment. The only available modes in the game at launch were intended to be more for competitive players. This only alienated the casual fan-base of Street Fighter V.

esports
Pokken Tournament outsold Street Fighter V for physical copies. Pokken appealed to both casual and competitive players, while SF V did not. Image: GameSpot

A month later, Pokken Tournament released exclusively on the Wii U, a platform that was far less popular than the PS4 or PC. Yet, the game actually sold more physical copies in the United States than Street Fighter V did. I think a big reason why Pokken Tournament had a more successful launch in the U.S was its accessibility. Unlike Street Fighter V, Pokken Tournament features a story mode, and alternate modes that allow stat-boosting items to appear in battle. The addition of more casual modes and features makes Pokken Tournament feel more welcoming to the casual player.

Street Fighter V was intended to capitalize on the prevalence of competitive players and esports to popularize the game. But this focus on making the game an esport created a lack of features that casual players enjoy. Thus, the intention of making the game an esport backfired by alienating casual players, lowering overall sales (and reviews) of the game. Meanwhile, Pokken Tournament naturally became an esport, if a smaller one than Street Fighter V, thanks to the community the game created.

Developers’ Intentions and the “forcing” of esports

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Jethro Tull did an over-the-top esports commentary when The Darwin Project was unveiled at E3 2017. Image: IGN

These two games serve as an example of why I think developers should not create their games for only competitive players in mind. It is best for developers to make games accessible to both casual and competitive players. This makes the community created from that game become both greater and more diverse. Additionally, games that are esports that offer more casual styles of play allow for more people to get into the game.

Something that perhaps sparked this concern of mine was this year’s Microsoft E3 Press Conference. This event featured the announcement of a game called The Darwin Project. After the game’s initial trailer, a speaker came on stage and commentated gameplay. This commentary was clearly replicating that of esports commentary. Was it cringey? Absolutely. But it was also quite concerning.

We’ve reached a point where game announcements are trying to tell audiences that developers want the announced game to become an esport. Is this really fair to games that have become esports through naturally creating communities? Should game developers immediately target fans of other esports to promote their own games?

I think it’s a truly dangerous path to take. The bests esports communities are the ones that were created from many people sharing a passion for competitively playing a game. Marketing competitive games in a way that assumes that it will become an esport is a disservice to the many games that earned their ability to become an esport. I think it is somewhat irresponsible for developers to assume that games will become esports if they’re marketed in a certain way.

continuing the conversation

The importance of having a casual community of any game is enough reason to not want games to be intended to become esports. The growing trend of games being marketed as “esport material” is harmful to the many games that have earned their reputation as esports.

But I realize that there are many sides of this conversation, which is why I think it’s important to get other voices in on the discussion. We’d love to hear what you have to say about this topic.

 

Featured I\image from Scavenger Studios.

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