By Michael Sagoe (mikedot)
The year of 2015 is now far behind us. It was a year of interesting and unique possibilities building towards the future of the gaming industry. As MMORPGs slowly continue to dwindle in popularity and MOBAs remain in the spotlight, the industry seems to be fixated on the rising phenomenon that is competitive gaming. The realm of eSports has gotten so big that entire football stadiums can be filled up with gaming fans who are excited to see playoffs for games like League of Legends or Counter Strike: Global Offensive. It’s gotten so big that the amount of capital raised by eSports leagues will actually pull in just as much money, if not more, than some national sports leagues in the US, and overall the competitive gaming scene shows no signs of slowing down in popularity.
However, there’s one rising trend that I’ve noticed this past year that seems to be attempting to capture a piece of the competitive gaming scene. This genre in question is the team-based action game. Because with the ever expanding popularity of eSports, with mass viewership on sites like Twitch.TV and Youtube Gaming, sponsorships and rising fame of well-known players within their respective gaming communities, it would be crazy for most game developers and publishers not to try and get a piece of that pie while it’s still piping hot. At the same time these upcoming team-based games are attempting to mix the scene up by adapting elements from the MOBAs and other genres (like TCG?!).
The order of the day is team-oriented competition that combines teamwork with twitch skill, tactics with timing and synergy. Thus far its being done by adapting elements from popular objective-based games like Team Fortress 2 and then adding in some elements found in MOBA titles such as skill cooldowns, ultimate abilities and meter management. To keep the action easy for fans to follow, player numbers are typically limited to the 4v4 to 6v6 range. Blizzard’s Overwatch is one of the bigger examples of a game that has all the qualities of an eSport while trying to stay fresh and relevant with its gameplay elements. While the officials for Overwatch have mentioned that they won’t force the game to become an eSport, it should be pretty obvious that they had eSports in mind from the very beginning.
Another game that fits the same mold would be Dirty Bomb by Splash Damage. While the gameplay in Dirty Bomb leans its focus towards completing objectives in a sequence like in Splash Damage’s previous titles such as Brink and Quake Wars, they’ve also included elements such as cooldowns for abilities (instead of ammo pickups to keep the action flowing). Even pre-game, teams must tactically decide on specific load outs with different weapons and passive abilities that could make or break many combat situations. The team at Splash Damage has been hosting their very own tournament series called “Dirty Cups” and are constantly tweaking the gameplay balance for 5 on 5 competitions while promoting all of their players to stream the game on Twitch. Though Dirty Bomb was initially released in 2015, the game is still technically in an open beta, and many more features and game modes are being planned that will further shape the game.
One title that has potential to become an eSport is Ubisoft’s For Honor, a sword combat game similar to titles such as Mount & Blade or Chivalry. While bouts in this game are generally centered around one-on-one or tag team situations, the main objective here is to capture points on the map and eliminate opposing attackers after a certain amount of points have been reached. NPC Soldiers that could be considered minions or creeps in a MOBA are also present as they pile up into the center of the battlefield awaiting players to heroically slaughter them over control points. Along with unique sword swinging controls that emphasis spacing, bluffs and other tactics, For Honor also feels very much like a fighting game, one of the originator genres of the competitive gaming scene. If Ubisoft plays their cards right with this title’s ongoing development, this game could easily appeal to both MOBA and fighting game fans.
Gigantic by Motiga is a rather unique specimen of a title, as it can be described as part MOBA, part shooter, and part action game. It really ties everything together with very impressive results. Rather than controlling lanes, teams have to control points on the map with various monsters that can be summoned and upgraded. Seeing static tower defense buildings as dull, giving players a variety of these summonable beasts adds new elements of strategy not present in the competition. Even the “nexus” or ultimate goal for victory is a gigantic monster that enters combat itself, warping the map in the process while assisting players at key moments. While containing other MOBA elements such as leveling up during battles, the game really sets itself apart by having such a fast and engaging movement system that allows you to run and dodge enemy attacks with ease. As mentioned in a previous impressions article, all the heroes in Gigantic are designed so differently that they will appeal towards many different fans of several game genres, so there’s something for everyone. With all these elements in the mix, the gameplay in Gigantic feels so unique that even the developers didn’t want to call it a MOBA, so calling it a team-based action game was close enough.
With more games on the horizon for this year including LawBreakers, Battlecry, Battleborn, Paragon and more, it’s clear to me that diversifying the team-based action genre is what the industry is pushing towards when it comes to competitive games. But beyond just the merging of MOBA and Shooter into one ultimate eSport, a less obvious factor seems to be fueling the rise of success in these games. They’re all centered around “characters,” different archetypes and personalities that players can relate to and enjoy because they see a piece of themselves in certain characters. You can only look at the ten glasses wearing Korean teenagers at tournaments for so long before they blur together, but seeing your favorite gods in SMITE wearing the swag logos of your favorite team has greater meaning to even the casual followers of competitive gaming. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this trend will continue to grow and explode into something huge, because with games like League and DotA 2 being at the top for so long, I feel the scene is beyond past time for the next revolution in eSports.