Oct 15 2013 - 2:00 pm

The 5 best competitive games you've never played

Professional gaming is big business
Patrick Howell O'Neill
Dot Esports

Professional gaming is big business. League of Legends tops out at millions of players every day. Dota 2 awards $1.4 million to its world championship team. That’s not chump change.

But eSports aren't all big numbers and big tournaments with flashy production values. For decades, highly skilled players have grinded out grueling matches for little recognition and even less money, all in games you've probably never heard of. There's a reason players with so much talent have dumped so many hours into these games. They're phenomenal games and deserve wider recognition—and more players.

If you have a few hours (or weeks) to kill, check out the games we've curated below. These are the best eSports you've never heard of.

1) Frozen Synapse

One of gaming’s great mysteries is why turn-based tactical strategy games never became more popular. Maybe real-time strategy—which is undeniably a great genre as well—is just easier to grasp. Take Frozen Synapse, for instance: It's a beautiful game of techno-chess, requiring all the right proportions of skill, luck, and depth.

A good, PG-13 way to describe this game would be "brain candy." But when the kids aren’t around, you can tell the truth: Frozen Synapse is a drug. The best turn-based tactics title since the criminally underrated Laser Squad Nemesis, this game will have you agonizing over every move and exulting over every little victory.

The player population for Frozen Synapse is pretty small, but you can always find a game online or a sparring partner on Reddit. The top competitive league is held at Rock Paper Shotgun. Fair warning: They’re pretty damn good over there.

2) Altitude

When Altitude made the rounds in 2009, it won awards and got great reviews. StarCraft players—including a former notable Brood War professional named Pillars—flocked to it. It’s still got a good population today and, if you hop on, you might be able to find the right server full of competitive players.

Groups of five have to strategize, coordinate, and execute to destroy an opponent’s bases with unique planes and weapons. Every little thing about the game—from the scoring to the movement—lends itself to genuinely exciting, competitive play.

3) Warsow

Is there a genre more deceptively difficult than the first-person deathmatch?

Sure, games like Quake look simple: Two people with guns try to blow each other's virtual brains out. But once you take into account the lightning quick movement, the precise timing, and the killer aim required, you’re already 10 frags behind a 10-year veteran—and he’s a newbie by comparison to some of the genre’s old guard.

If you have a history degree in eSports, there’s no genre you miss more than deathmatches. Games like DoomQuake, and Unreal Tournament helped build competitive gaming’s foundations. Sadly, the genre has fallen from prominence.

Warsow has built on that pedigree since it was first released more than eight years ago. The updates have kept coming, albeit slowly (1.0 came in 2012!), and the dedicated players have stuck around. This is a game with an extreme focus on movement. You have to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time and you can dash, jump, and trickjump your way there.

There’s no easy way to master Warsow but, like its deathmatch cousins, there’s not many more satisfying feelings after getting your first kill after putting in the work.

4) Total Annihilation

Sure, you’ve played StarCraft and maybe you even snuck onto Warcraft 2, but have you even heard Total Annihilation? Upon its 1997 release, the game did extremely well with critics and fans alike thanks to its groundbreaking selling points: a vast scope, 3-D units, and terrain and the ability to issue complex orders to thousands of units.

Total Annihilation suffers from a comparison to StarCraft not because it's a poorer game, but because it never reached the celestial competitive heights that StarCraft did in South Korea. Gamespot's Bruce Geryk has gone so far as to declare it "superior on many technical levels" to StarCraft. It was only Blizzard's style and panache—as opposed to substance gameplay or community—that have led to that game's greater success.

If you’ve ever seen an argument between Dota and League of Legends fans, you have a small idea of what forums in the ‘90s looked like when real-time strategy fans went at it.

Inexplicably forgotten by many competitive gamers, Total Annihilation retains a loving fan base to this day. There’s nothing quite like having 5,000 units at your fingertips. Take it from a huge StarCraft fan: Do yourself a favor and give this enormous game a play.

5) Netrek

We’ve officially entered a time machine. Released in 1988, Netrek is the oldest Internet game still actively played and one of the first titles played competitively online. It’s a Star Trek-themed space shooter in which teams dogfight each other to conquer planets. If you win, you conquer a whole galaxy.

By 1990, inter-collegiate leagues pitted Carnegie Mellon and Berkeley students against one another. Competitions sprouted up around the world before a  decline at the turn of the millenium.

If you haven’t played Netrek, you’ve played a game influenced by it. Several designers tried their hands at homages. But this game invented online team play, and you can consider any online game its spiritual successor. Wired called it “the first online sports game” long before the term eSports was on anyone’s mind.

Twenty-five years later (happy birthday!), it seems people will only stop playing this game when the Internet itself ends.

Photo via Mode 7 Games

Jan 23 2017 - 8:37 pm

Armada takes out Genesis 4 Melee crown

His win at Genesis 4 helps solidify his claim as the best Melee player of all time.
Xing Li
Dot Esports

We've seen this story before. Adam "Armada" Lindgren vs. Joseph "Mang0" Marquez for the Genesis Super Smash Bros. Melee title.

Once again, Armada emerged victorious.

Both players are idolized in the Smash community for their stunning success over the years. But if any venue has been the site of their personal rivalry, it's Genesis, where the two have met in the finals again and again. There were other talented players in the field, but this is the matchup most fans wanted to see at Genesis 4.

Armada had the easier path to the final by virtue of his 3-1 victory over Mang0, which sent his rival to the loser's bracket. Armada had a relatively easy time, absolutely controlling stages and strangling life from his opponents. His run seemed relatively routine until he ran into Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman.

Mew2King was on-point with grabs and air attacks on his signature Marth. Many times, Armada was stalling on Peach, trying to get into winning situations. Mew2King had a lead and momentum.

But Peach is hard to finish off and Armada's stalling got him to a deciding fifth game. Even then, Mew2King had chances, but missed key inputs. Small mistakes compound against a talent like Armada, and he punished Mew2King relentlessly.

In the loser's bracket, Mang0 survived by grit and guile, coming back from numerous deficits. First, it was against William "Leffen" Hjelte, where Mang0 mounted an insane comeback to tie the set at two games apiece. But Leffen came out strong in the deciding game and quickly took a two-stock (life) lead. Down to his last stock, Mang0 found his way back to the middle of the stage and went ham, somehow ending Leffen's run. The comeback ignited the crowd, with fans hugging and high-fiving at what they just witnessed.

Things wouldn't get easier. Juan "Hungrybox" Manuel Debiedma, valiantly playing with a broken finger, used Jigglypuff's burst to take big stock leads. But Mang0 continued to control the center of the stage to take Hungrybox down. He then beat Mew2King—reeling from his loss to Armada—to set up the finals rematch.

Fans wanted to see a show, but it was a different one than they might have expected. Though these two have gone back and forth in extremely close sets over the years, Armada has been on a tear for the last several months. And the final against Mang0 was no different. Instead of a close, tightly-fought match, fans got a coronation.

Armada had an answer for everything Mang0 threw at him. He floated around and seemed to take no damage. It was perhaps his most convincing win of the day.

Melee has been ruled by the Six Gods (which includes all the aforementioned players) for years now. But Armada is beginning to separate himself from the pack. He stands alone at the top at the beginning of 2017—if he ends the year in the same position, he could cement himself as the greatest Melee player of all time.

Jan 23 2017 - 3:29 pm

Our predictions for the Evo 2017 lineup

These are the ten games we think will make it to Las Vegas... and the four that won't
Steve Jurek
Dot Esports

Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to officially enter Evo season.

Organizers for Evo, the largest fighting game event in the world, will reveal the event's 2017 lineup on Tuesday at 9pm ET. Thousands of fans will be watching intently to see if their favorite game will be played on the fighting game world's biggest stage. There is a bit of uncertainty about this year's lineup, as several new games—including King of Fighters XIV, BlazBlue: Central Fiction, and Injustice 2—all have strong cases to be part of the Evo 2017 lineup, and the nine games that were part of Evo 2016 all have strong arguments to return to the event.

Earlier this month, lead Evo organizer Joey Cuellar asked which seven games fans would like to see at Evo 2017. This led many to believe that only seven games will be featured at this year's event. While that's certainly a possibility, Evo staff have a tendency to try and do things bigger than they did the year before. I feel that this year will be no different, as I believe a record-setting ten games will make the final list.

Here are the 10 games I believe will make the cut for the Evo 2017 lineup, along with a few that won't.

Will make the cut

Street Fighter V

After a launch year that included poor reviews, missed sales targets, and an embarrassing rootkit fiasco, it is safe to say that 2016 was not a great year for Street Fighter V. However, there was one area in which the game was unquestionably successful: tournament turnout. A record-setting 5,100 players took part in last year's Evo tournament, which is more than the number of players who participated in the second- and third-largest tournaments in the event's history combined. Despite its freshman struggles, Street Fighter V's status as an Evo game is as safe as can be.

Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. for WiiU

The increasing prominence of Smash games at traditional fighting game events has not been without controversy, but it's a trend that isn't going away anytime soon. Last year's two Smash games were the second- and third-largest events in Evo history. Over 2,600 players entered last year's WiiU tournament, while over 2,300 entered the Melee event. With support like that, it's impossible to imagine a 2017 lineup without either game.

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

To steal a line from a popular fighting game talk show: Marvel lives! The Marvel community did everything they could over the past two years to reignite interest in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Capcom's December announcement of Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite poured gasoline on that spark. There's no doubt that we'll see at least one more Evo with the insanity that is Marvel 3.

Injustice 2

Injustice 2's May 16 release date will surely make Evo organizers a bit nervous. With just two months between the game's release and Evo 2017, the game's entertainment value will hinge largely how well-balanced the game's cast is at launch. A poor initial balance could lead to a repeat of the original Injustice's Evo debut in 2013, an event in which three of the top six finishers played Superman. Still, those fears won't be enough to dissuade Evo organizers from including the game in the 2017 lineup.

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution

It's strange to think that Tekken 7, a game that hasn't seen an official North American release, can be making a third straight Evo appearance. Yet here we are. Bandai Namco, the Tekken series' publisher, has done well to drum up interest in the game with its regional King of the Iron Fist tours. That effort will pay dividends on Tuesday, and they'll pay dividends once players can finally get their hands on the game. Speaking of...

 BONUS PREDICTION: Tekken 7 console release date will be revealed

Tekken publisher Bandai Namco has promised to announce a console release date for its much-anticipated fighter some time this week. The company has been coy about exactly when that announcement will come, but Tuesday's Evo lineup reveal show seems to be the most likely choice. With popular figure Mark "Markman" Julio - who has appeared on the reveal show in each of the past two years - now working with both Evo and Tekken in official capacities, this appears to be a no-brainer.

King of Fighters XIV

The King of Fighters series is always a favorite among international Evo viewers, so it would be incredibly shocking to see the recently-released King of Fighters XIV left out of the 2017 lineup. 

Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- and BlazBlue: Central Fiction

Evo has historically had one unwritten rule for "anime" games: they only get one spot in the lineup. That rule was broken in 2015 when both Guilty Gear Xrd and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax were included in the event, but only Xrd returned last year. I feel that this year will see that rule broken again, as the BlazBlue series has a strong new entrant in Central Fiction to join Guilty Gear Xrd's still-strong -Revelator- update.

Killer Instinct

This may be the toughest call on the list. With the amount of developer and community support shown for the game four years after release, Killer Instinct is the type of game you want to see succeed. Microsoft is now backing the competitive scene in a big way as evidenced by the upcoming $30,000 Killer Instinct World Cup in March. I feel that momentum should be enough to see the game make the cut again despite being the game that had the fewest entrants at Evo 2016.

Will not make the cut

Pokken Tournament

It's tough to imagine a game going from over 1,100 entrants at Evo 2016 to not even in the 2017 lineup, but that's the fate that I believe Pokken Tournament will face on Tuesday. The game's community has shown up to events in force, but so have many other communities. Pokken felt like an odd choice last year, but with so many other games in contention,this year it feels like the odd one out. 

Mortal Kombat XL

There is precedence for Evo including two different NetherRealm Studio games at one Evo - both Mortal Kombat 9 and the original Injustice were a part of Evo 2013. But with so much crossover between players from the two series, along with the abundance of potential choices at Evo's disposal, I think that we've seen the last of Mortal Kombat XL at Evo.

Ultra Street Fighter II and ARMS

The Nintendo Switch will likely have at least two fighting games available by the time Evo rolls around, but don't expect to hear the name of either game on Tuesday. Many tournament players love Super Street Fighter II Turbo, but its re-release as an "HD Remix" was not particularly well-received by most of that group. It's doubtful they would be more receptive to Ultra Street Fighter II, a game that appears to be an HD remix of HD Remix. And as fun as it would be to see players like Justin Wong and Daigo duke it out with motion controls, there are far too many 'legit' fighting games in the running for a spot in the lineup to take a flyer on ARMS.