Artifact: Can Valve's new card game become a big deal in esports?
It might not be Half-Life 3, but there is a new game from Valve and that's a reason to be cheerful. The most beloved developer in PC gaming has kept the fans waiting a long, long time for a new intellectual property from the "makers" of Dota 2 and CSGO, and it is finally upon us, with the thrilling release that is…a new card game.
The release of Artifact might not seem the most exciting title you can imagine amid the zombie apocalypses and battle royales, but there is already a strong card game esports scene based around releases such as Hearthstone and the area has a good deal of depth and intrigue, too. The opportunities for human outplays and skill wins are much higher in games that have no real execution barrier when it comes to skill, making for some amazing stories writers can tell.
High hopes and challenges
One of the best storytellers in the world of card games is Dutchman Tom Matthiesen, known as 'Matthieist' anywhere a virtual card is drawn in anger, so we decided to pick his brains on how Artifact esports could evolve, and the challenges it faces. Having written for numerous outlets on a variety of card games, it's safe to say Tom is a dab hand with the deck, and he has high hopes for Artifact going into 2019, but is well aware of the challenges any new esport faces.
"So needless to say, Artifact has a steep mountain to climb," he told us. "Esports can be very unforgiving when it comes to new games and, with Hearthstone still sitting as king of the card-game genre, it's exactly that which Artifact seems to have to beat. It's not impossible, though. The game itself is incredibly fun and allows for greatness to be highlighted."
To understand Artifact better, you have to play
This is a key point about any esport, and something Valve are already aware of, the ability for players to demonstrate their dominance when there is a skill gap. In terms of the areas that Artifact will need to work hard on, Tom believes it can be broken down into a number of small challenges the game must overcome, some of which already affect other games in the genre, and beyond.
"There are three hurdles I see Artifact facing as an esport," Tom said. "The first is the fact that it's not the most viewer-friendly game, and while it is true that it gets much easier as soon as you've played the game, to many people that won't fly. The same argument can be given for Dota and League of Legends (which in my opinion are sometimes impossible to follow just because I have no idea which character does what), but at least those are free-to-play games - anyone can dive into it.”
Understanding comes at a cost
Money does make the world go around, and Valve are masters of extracting pennies from players already. This is, however, another of the challenges facing the game that Tom has identified, especially in the current market, saturated as it is with free-to-play games that get your dollars once you’re already committed to the grind.
"This ties in with my second point: To understand Artifact better, you have to play, and thus pay, and I don't know if that's something many people are willing to do when there are free-to-play card game alternatives," Tom told us. "You can compare that to CSGO, which is also pay-to-play, but, compared to card games, CSGO is an incredibly viewer-friendly esport, partly because of the outstanding observers, which displays greatness easily and obviously for the viewer."
The biggest problem for Artifact might be one universal to all card games, though, although curiously not one that has held poker back. "Card games suffer the 'RNG' (Random Number Generator) stigma,” Tom explains. "With Hearthstone, it took Blizzard four years to find a model suited to highlight the consistency of players."
In esports, being able to tell why a player wins is crucial to fan enjoyment, and the fact a "random" element seems to play such a large part in results led to players not being credited for their skill, as Tom outlines.
I'm certain there will be a strong core of fans
He said: "Instead, people saw different winners of tournaments every time and incorrectly concluded that the game has too much RNG to achieve greatness in. With the wisdom the card game community has, I have no doubt that they can find systems to display greatness and consistency in Artifact too, but I wonder how quickly that'll be found."
Overall though, this is a bright spot for the card game scene in Tom’s view, and things could certainly get better still.
He said: "Artifact has great potential - Valve is the most successful publisher out there and they know what they're doing. With a community ready to build a strong scene for it I'm certain there will be a strong core of fans. I don't want to say I'm sceptical - I'm hopeful, if anything - but I'm hesitant to call it the next big thing just yet, because of the challenges games like this face."