PC Master Race watch out - console esports are coming for you
The world of esports doesn't move as fast as you might expect, given the way it developed and how advanced it is from a technological point of view. For some time now, there have been three dominant games and one main platform, as CSGO, Dota and League of Legends on PC have led the way and created the scene we know today, which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
However, the latter part of this year is going to give us not one, but two games with the potential to change the way esports looks and one that has the potential to also alter the landscape of the emerging battle royale market.
Call to action
We’ll start with that and we know you have already seen the game in question, namely Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and, specifically, the Blackout game mode.
For years now Call of Duty has led the way for console first-person shooters, ever since the Halo franchise and scene imploded, with teams such as FaZe, OpTic and Luminosity among the big names to have benefited from the popularity of the scene.
There is also a thriving content community around the pro scene, making monstrous montages of moments from casual play that make you question how exactly they are able to pull of moves that seem impossible, even with a virtual super soldier.
A CoDsend on console
With Blackout, the makers of the game have managed to combine the traditional mechanics with some classic CoD maps to create a play area for battle royale combat, similar to Fortnite and PUBG, 2018’s success stories. Unlike those two games though, they are doing so in a game associated with and to some extent optimised for console play, with a group of high-level pros already enjoying the action alongside their more traditional team-based gameplay.
All of that means CoD has an incredibly skilled player base with established stars who can bring in a giant audience from day one. Again, and crucially, this also is all going to happen mainly on console, meaning there is a huge number of new or currently non-active audience members to be parlayed into customers, that are currently watching either PC shooters or nothing at all.
Put all of that together, with the backing of publishers Activision, who already own not only MLG but also their own streaming platform and you realise that Call of Duty could be one of the most important console games in, well, ever. And what's more, there is another game coming, from another giant of the gaming world, that has the potential to elevate an entire community to the top level, as well as bringing console esports to the fore.
Ultimate chance for Smash
Nintendo might be the most famous name in gaming, full stop. There are many companies making money and some more than the Japanese firm, but their contribution to the culture and history of gaming is undeniable and today they occupy a completely unique place in gaming, too. Where most people come down on one side or the other of the "PC vs console" debate, Nintendo are universally loved for their work, making them something very special indeed.
In a few short weeks, they will be releasing the latest title in their Smash Bros series, this time called Super Smash Bros Ultimate, on the Switch. Ever since the release of Super Smash Bros Melee for the GameCube, there have been people playing the series competitively, but since that game's release in 2001 there has been a very real sense that Nintendo would prefer they did not, instead adhering to an ethos that can be summed up with the phase "everybody wins".
While that is lovely for some Wii bowling with Nana at Christmas, the ethos of esports and all competition is that everyone loses, essentially, except the champion, and that has been a factor behind Nintendo’s development of their games since Melee. Brawl and Smash 4 were both designed to be casual, to the point certain mechanics were included to balance out games between players of different skill levels, but the release of Ultimate looks to be ending all of that.
Gone are the trips that made Brawl so infuriating and the slow gameplay that made Smash 4 seem so much like Brawl, to be replaced by a faster, more accessible version of Smash. While it can't match Melee for sheer creative freedom and speed, it looks as though Nintendo are keen to see how far dedicated fans can go with their new game and included many esports pros in the invitationals run to promote the game’s launch.
PC Master Race take note
There are still many hurdles to be cleared for both games, but crucially they both have massive financially backing from companies that have been in gaming a long, long time, and that have established audiences ready to engage with. On top of that, with the advances in tech, companies can now promote their esports events directly into the game itself, as we've already seen with both PC titles like CSGO and console versions of Rainbow Six, making it even easier to reach people who already love the product.
If they are able to bridge the gap and bring even a small percentage of the casual players into the esports world, it would fundamentally change not just how esports is marketed and run, but maybe even how people in esports think about their world. For years, the mouse and keyboard were the highest level of tool an expert could wield and console players were derided, but 2019 might be the year of the controller if two giants of gaming get their way.