UbE-Sports (I’m Going to Milan!)

I’ve never been that fond of e-Sports. I do have a number of issues with the way they’re generally run and some ethical concerns about leading kids to believe that rather than focusing on school they should be playing Fortnite because maybe they can win $3M, but those aren’t the actual reasons I tend to dislike the concept/industry as a whole. Really my biggest complaint is that it’s the most repetitive, bland assortment of games, most of which I never had an interest in even before the term e-Sports existed. 9/10 times an e-Sports event/competition will feature an FPS, usually COD, CSGO, or Overwatch, a Battle Royale, usually Fortnite or PUBG, a 2D fighter, usually Steet Fighter, Smash Bros, or some junk title like BlazBlue (yeah I said it), some MOBA like LoL, or sports games, specifically Madden or FIFA. Of the literal thousands of games in existence and the countless types of multiplayer scenarios, 90% of e-Sports can be summed up with a handful of games in four genres. I find this appalling and disappointing.

E-Sports could and should be much more diverse and creative. There are lots of PVP scenarios that would be great in professional competitive spaces but the industry is chained to a lackluster list of mostly mediocre games in a few overplayed genres. I have very little experience in e-Sports for the simple fact that they rarely feature a game I even want to play enough to get good at. The last legitimate live gaming competition I participated in was a Smash Bros. Melee tournament in college. Not because there haven’t been other events since then. Just that there haven’t been any I was interested in. But it’s not that there are no competitive games I enjoy playing. I consider myself a single player gamer at heart, but there are lots of PVP games from over the years that I very much enjoyed and would have attempted to compete in at professional level. And I am not alone. The fact that events like Tetris 99 online cups and Splatoon 2 Splatfests are so popular prove this statement.

Tetris 99 cup

There’s also this modern conception that e-Sports means PVP. I don’t know why that is. When I was a kid we competed for high score. The Nintendo World Championships used to focus on single player games like Tetris and Super Mario Bros. That’s the entire premise of the movie The Wizard (1989). This was always my preferred form of gaming competition. Be the best at the game. Not the luckiest in a given randomized PVP scenario. In my opinion, there is a huge void in the big budget e-Sports industry as far as games included and types of competition.

One company that I respect immensely for their constant innovation in the PVP space is Ubisoft. More than any other large publisher, Ubisoft creates PVP and potential e-Sports scenarios that stray so far from the beaten path that they usually don’t even get the proper chances they deserve in the e-Sports industry. The best example of this is Assassin’s Creed multiplayer PVP. To this day I still would say that the PVP in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood through III is the most innovative, original, and creative PVP gameplay I have ever experienced in more than 20 years of gaming. And it was so fun. Brotherhood was my favorite iteration of this system, and I took it seriously. I was so good at it by the time I stopped playing because I devoted so many hours to mastering it. Not because I wanted to get famous playing competitive video games, but because I actually enjoyed playing the game.

AC MP

While I would say Nintendo built the foundation of off the beaten path competitive multiplayer gaming, in the modern era Ubisoft is at the forefront of innovation on this matter. All the most creative and original PVP scenarios seem to be coming from Ubisoft these days. The recently announced Roller Champions is a great example of this. It should have been obvious to make a roller derby game in the style of Rocket League and yet no one developed a properly working one until 2019? And it’s really good too. I only played like 10 hours of it during the E3 demo but I was sold fairly quickly. It’s free to play and has great e-Sports potential. But honestly I don’t see it taking off and that’s because it’s not the standard aforementioned overdone crap so common to the e-Sports industry. Which is a real shame. It’s pretty depressing that the only way a new type of e-Sports concept can make any headway is if the company funds such events themselves. Rocket League is the exception not the rule. That makes it really difficult for indie projects that aren’t copy and paste FPS games to take off in e-Sports. Which not surprisingly is why you see so many clones.

Thankfully though, Ubisoft is quite flush with cash and they do fund many of their own e-Sports endeavors, big and small. This includes games like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (MRKB). I have written in the past about MRKB and how much I enjoy the game. One of the things I really respect about Ubisoft and the way they’ve handled this game is their dedication to community focused events. Recently they completed the third and sadly final season of community challenges.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Summer Games 2019 Cover

The community challenges were online events where the community was given specific tasks to complete by following defined in game parameters within a time limit. This was actually really fun and added a lot to my enjoyment of the game after I completed the campaign. The most impressive part was that at the end of each season winners were selected from those who completed the online challenges to fly to Ubisoft’s studio to compete in a tournament and meet the developers.

There are a few aspects of this that are really important and that the rest of the gaming and e-Sports industry really should take note of. First, MRKB is not a super popular game. It’s highly acclaimed but it’s ultimately a niche Nintendo Switch exclusive. The fact that Ubisoft continued to support this game and invest into the community with competitive events and impressive prizes for the winners is spectacular. Second, the community events were for the single player mode. Ubisoft took a single player game and used it to create competition between players in an e-Sports like manner. That needs to happen more often like in the days of the high score. Single player games should not be ignored by the e-Sports industry and community simply because they don’t include direct conflict between players. Bowling, golf, and darts are just a few of many examples of actual sports that have professional levels of competition, are televised, and don’t include direct PVP style competition. Single player games can and should have a place in e-Sports. Finally MRKB is not fast paced. It’s a turn based tactical RPG. Because of years of programming, people who watch e-Sports have been misled into believing that only fast paced games have a place in e-Sports. This is sad and shouldn’t be true. People watch chess and poker. Neither of those are fast paced games.

ark pvpThe current e-Sports landscape is for the most part built on a foundation of lies instituted by companies like Activision and EA because they needed to convince people that there was inherent value in copy and paste annual releases. By tying them to e-Sports they were able to solidify this type of thinking into the very core of the industry. Ubisoft is one the few influential companies actually working towards some form of change, with the money and power to really accomplish something.

The thing that led to me writing this post is that I was actually chosen as one of the winners for the final season of the MRKB community challenge event. I’ve been invited to Milan to meet the developers of the game and participate in a VS Mode tournament. I can’t believe I was chosen for this. It’s truly a privilege to be able to participate in a competitive e-Sports event organized/hosted by a legitimate company. This may not be a $3M Fortnite tournament but it is an honor just to be able to participate in an exclusive gaming related event that almost no people in the world will ever get to based on my in game performance. Obviously I hope I win the tournament but just being able to participate is something I didn’t think would ever happen to me. I will definitely write a post about the experience once the event has concluded and I’ve returned home.

 

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Finally Tried a Battle Royale Game . . . And I Still Don’t Get It

I’ve been very critical of games like PUBG and Fortnite: Battle Royale, not to be confused with regular old Fortnite, which everyone seems to have forgotten. Not as much here on my blog but definitely on Twitter. The concept has always looked and sounded terrible to me from the very beginning. It’s the reason I have never loaded up Fortnite: Battle Royale, even though it’s free on multiple platforms I own, and though I’ve been asked several times, I’ve never even considered buying PUBG. But I will admit that no matter how much you watch or read about a game, you can’t say you’ve truly experienced it until you’ve actually tried it. So with that thinking in mind, I finally tried a battle royale game.

As a part of my real job, I often have to try certain games to assess their potential marketing value. This weekend, for the first time in my career, a battle royale game came up. And as a professional, even though I had/have no interest in this genre, I still agreed to download and play one of these games through the lens of marketing.

Fortnite-Battle-Royale-Fortnite

I was tasked with trying an early access game called Fear the Wolves. This is a standard PUBG style battle royale game set in the same world as “The Zone” from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games. I played it. Took it seriously and genuinely tried to get into it. Even managed to get a kill and find several different types of gear. But I still don’t get it. I don’t understand why people enjoy these games.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying there was anything wrong with this particular game. It worked fine for what it is. The graphics weren’t anything to write home about, but the PUBG graphics were trash when it was first made available in early access as well, so that’s not the issue. The controls worked fine. I experienced a few small glitches, but that’s true for so many betas I’ve played at both indie and AAA level, so again that’s not the issue. I just don’t understand the appeal of these types of games.

Fear The Wolves

This was my experience. Wait for more than I would normally wait for any game, but admittedly not the most I have waited for a multiplayer match in some past games. Then wait through a two to three minute countdown after I’ve already waited for matchmaking to end. This was unacceptable. But I understood why it was necessary. No one sits and waits for that matchmaking because it takes too long. So you tab out and screw around on Twitter while you’re waiting. But then because everyone is tabbed out they have to make a long countdown to give everyone time to tab back in. Then go through this really long helicopter sequence and pretend like where I choose to deploy is actually going to matter in the grand scheme of  things. I will note that the controls menu said you can direct your parachute descent but this didn’t really work for me in the game so that was one glitch that actually did irritate me a lot. Hit the ground and then sprint to the nearest building only to find the same crappy pistols over and over again. Not once did I find a gun better than pistol. Found multiple types of pistols, but never any firearms better than pistol. Found an axe as well, which I of course never got to use because I never got close enough to anyone with it, since they had guns. Spend a bunch of time stressed out waiting in buildings hoping to ambush someone, only to have that stupid enclosing death fog (it’s actually called an “adrenaline infection” in this particular game) show up, forcing me to give up my post and run inward. But now that I’m running inward I’ve lost my element of surprise. Then I see someone and try to run up and kill them, again with my pistol, and even though I shoot them a bunch of times first they don’t die and eventually they kill me, often with a better gun. That was the whole experience over and over again.

Fear The Wolves

Why is this fun for people? Even when I did get a kill, it was still not that gratifying in the grand scheme of things because I never got close to actually winning the matches. I spent more of my time in loading screens and then waiting around or looking for more crappy pistols than I did engaged in combat. It’s one thing when it’s a real stealth game like Metal Gear Solid 3 and you’re going out of your way to sneak up on people. But being in a huge map devoid of people only to then get killed in fairly boring encounters isn’t nearly as entertaining or gratifying as a real stealth game.

This is where the “git gud” crowd will chime in, but I honestly don’t think that applies here. Even if I was surviving longer, it would still be pretty boring, because victory is much easier to achieve by avoiding combat altogether rather than actually trying to engage people. So even if I was amazing, playing logically with the goal of winning would still be mostly waiting around and then eventually dying and having nothing to show for my better placement. It’s really a zero sum scenario where it’s fun to win and otherwise pretty boring or way too stressful but not in a fun way. It’s fun to play a PVP match like Destiny or COD, both games I genuinely hate, because it’s active, exciting, and consequential without being long winded and pointless when you finally do get killed. You can keep playing. You can make up for your death. You can go for revenge. Even though I don’t particularly like PVP games, and especially not those crappy FPS games I mentioned, I can still appreciate why they’re popular. But I have no idea why people enjoy these battle royale games. And I really don’t get how people can watch other people play them. That sounds unbearably boring. And I’m not even comparing them to story based games, which are by far superior both in development effort and gameplay experience.

Fear The Wolves

Someone please explain it to me. If you grew up playing games in a pre-battle royale context, how do you enjoy these types of games? How are you not bored 90% of the time while playing them? I get that kids today have been groomed to play these games. So much of game development has been building to these sorts of hollow experiences in the last five to ten years. The move away from single player games, always online requirements, and microtransactions have all culminated in the battle royale concept. But kids aren’t even the biggest gaming market today. I don’t get how gamers who grew up in or before my era can play these types of games past casual level. If you grew up with Mario, Final Fantasy, Uncharted, and God of War how does this type of gamplay experience appeal to you? It’s not just single player games though. Look at the multiplayer stuff we’ve come from. Mario Kart, Goldeneye, World of Warcraft, and Halo to name a few. I don’t even like all those games, but I’d play them over these battle royale games any day of the week. Even the half and half stuff like Dark Souls, The Division, and GTA Online are way more gratifying for all players than these battle royale experiences. How does one actually enjoy playing a game where only 1 of 100 people can win while everyone is putting in the same amount of time and effort? How does one call an experience where you spend more time in lobbies than actually playing enjoyable? I simply don’t understand the appeal.

Fear The Wolves

Some games got close to the sweet spot. Things like Sea of Thieves and updated No Man’s Sky are starting to get there. The Division, for all its faults, got very close as well. There’s even some merit to Destiny. But these battle royale games have gone too far. They took the concept of rogue likes, the size of RPGs, the mechanics of PVP FPS, and the scale of MMOs and squished them all together in a lazy smattering of tolerable graphics. They squeezed out all the good parts and left the skeleton of each genre. I like the concept of 100 people roaming Skyrim with the ability to rob and kill each other. But the story would still need to be there along with respawning and the ability to retain at least some of your valuables. Battle royale comes off like the Star Wars: Battlefront II of MMOs. All the heart has been pulled out to focus on pure gameplay mechanics, ultimately leaving a disappointing experience. But clearly I’m missing something because it’s currently the most popular genre both for concurrent players and stream views. What exactly am I missing? Because I just don’t see it.

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