Last Saturday, October 7th, Nintendo of America presented their third “Nintendo World Championships (NWC). The first NWC was held in 1990 as a means of promoting some of the NES’ most popular games, including Super Mario Bros. and Tetris, in addition to promoting more competitive gaming. The tournament itself was set up in cities around the United States, with each location having three winners categorized by age, those being “11 and under”, “12 to 17”, and “18 or over”. The tournament saw players competing in both single-player and multiplayer games, having to complete particular tasks, some of which were tangential to the main goal of a game (such as collecting 100 coins in Super Mario Bros. in as little time as possible – something that isn’t an inherent goal of the main game). The winners of each category would receive $10,000, among other rewards.
The idea of promoting video games through competition was certainly ahead of its time, especially with competitive gaming still being in its infancy in the early 90s. However, Nintendo of America never gave a proper follow-up to the 1990 NWC for another quarter of a century. In that interim, the 1990 NWC ultimately left its legacy through its incredibly rare and highly-priced cartridges and little else.
That was, of course, until the E3 of 2015 when Nintendo brought the Nintendo World Championships back in a big way. In the weeks prior to E3, Nintendo of America announced that there would be qualifying tournaments for the 2015 NWC in certain Best Buy stores around the U.S. The winners from each of the eight locations of the qualifying rounds in addition to eight players chosen by Nintendo, the final round was streamed live via YouTube and Twitch.tv from Los Angeles as part of Nintendo’s presence at E3 that year.
The live stream garnered hundreds of thousands of viewers, with many surprise announcements made throughout the event. Some of these announcements included games that would be played for the competition, such as Metroid Prime: Federation Force, the localization of Earthbound Beginnings, and the re-branding of Super Mario Maker, which sold this writer on the game just through it being played live at the finals of the 2015 NWC.
Both old and new games were represented at the event, allowing Nintendo of America to show off the legacy of Nintendo’s games in addition to promoting the new games that were still to come that year. It brought both younger and older gamers together and showed off both new games and old games being played in new, competitive ways.
And last Saturday, while not having any of the hype-inducing announcements that 2015’s NWC did, was a reminder of why I think this event and others like it are a lot more important than many people realize.
The 2017 NWC saw a re-introduction of the age categories that were used in the 1990 event, albeit tweaked a bit. You can watch the entire 2017 event here. This year’s event used 12 and younger and 13 and older as the categories. While many of the games played at the event certainly aren’t considered esports (with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U being the only identifiable esport played at the event, and it wasn’t even played in its traditionally competitive format), I would argue that this event was still, in many ways, a representation of esports culture for the masses.
Why it’s important
I want to go into detail on how a big company such as Nintendo holding an event like this is relevant and important to esports. First off, I feel that it is important to note exactly who is watching these kinds of events. Due to the relative newness of esports, I’ve always found it understandable that most people that watch esports streams and events are in their 20s and 30s. The players of esports reflect this as well – the overwhelming majority of esports players, regardless of what game they play, are in that same age demographic. In fact, I would say that one of the most common critiques of esports, at least as far as this writer has seen, is its exclusivity.
This exclusivity of age representation in esports is somewhat concerning. For esports to develop and become more popular across cultures, I think a necessary thing to do is increase esports’ age demographic. This needs to be done for both viewers and players. If we don’t find ways to represent esports to reach demographics outside of the 20s-30s age range, then the popularity of esports will only stagnate and possibly die out in the long-term. I don’t think any of us want that to happen. This means that introducing esports to different age demographics is monumentally important. Since older generations are not as used to esports, I think the most effective way of expanding the demographic of viewership of esports is to introduce them and competitive gaming events such as the NWC to younger audiences, specifically to children and teenagers.
We recently saw this with EVO 2017 this year. Disney XD, a channel with a 10-15 age demographic, steamed the EVO 2017 finals for both Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Street Fighter V. Simply choosing to stream an esports finals on a channel that can reach younger demographics can significantly help more people gain interest in competitive gaming and esports.
Disney XD also simulcasted the 2017 NWC, in addition to the event also being streamed on Nintendo of America’s YouTube and Twitch channels. Since Nintendo is known for being family-friendly, their hardware and games appeal to demographics of any age, and specifically kids. This allows more kids to be familiar with Nintendo’s online presence – specifically their YouTube channel. So with the 2017 NWC being streamed on both Disney XD and Nintendo’s Twitch and YouTube (especially with YouTube being so common amongst younger viewers), the event was definitely seen by many youngsters in addition to many gamers in their 20, 30s and beyond.
“So What?” You may be asking.
Sure, attaining younger viewers is great and all, but what does that matter if those viewers don’t eventually become dedicated viewers and/or esports players themselves? This is where the age categories of the 2017 NWC come into play. The 12 and younger and the 13 and older categories of the event allow the NWC to have both young and older players in addition to having players that younger audiences can root for, further engaging them in the event.
Having younger players and viewers of esports is far more important than many people realize. Another thing that is perhaps equally as important is the fact of a company as big as Nintendo holding an event like this in the first place. While I’m aware that this wasn’t a traditional esports event in how games were played, seeing a large gaming publisher hold an event like this can only be a positive sign for the future. Capcom has been doing this since 2014 with the annual Capcom Pro Tour events. Having more companies throw their hat into the ring of embracing high-level play, whether they’re proper esports or simply playing their games competitively, can only make more and more people become aware of and interested in esports.
Can we expect to see another NWC in the years to come? While there’s no concrete yes or no at this point, I certainly hope that there will be. Having more events like this from a large company that invites a wider age inclusiveness will only broaden the scope of the competitive gaming and esports communities. If we want esports to grow and continue to thrive, then we need to embrace methods that can increase the number of people that are exposed to esports. And because of that, I feel that events such as the Nintendo World Championships certainly can’t be ignored by the esports’ community.
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