One of my favorite things about esports is the seeming randomness that determines what blows up. There’s nothing inherently more strategic about League of Legends than, say, Heroes of Newerth, but League still manages to lap its competition in terms of revenue. A game like Hearthstone is probably 30 percent luck, but it remains one of the most popular things on Twitch. Super Smash Bros. Melee is a 15 year old game that doesn’t have any developer support whatsoever, with players relying on ancient Gamecube controllers—but it’s still one of the most vibrant communities in all of fighting games.
It’s exciting to think that any game, regardless of age, platform, or developer, can nurture a grassroots esports scene. You see it now, with Age of Empires II fostering an unbelievable revival on Twitch. Anything can happen. Back in January, we laid out a few games around which we’d love to see have a robust, competitive community form. That list included games like Forza Sport, Civilization 5, and Total War (which seemed to get the most excitement from our readers). We figured it was time for another run at this thought experiment, this time including some really out-of-the-box ideas.
Here are four games we’d love to see get some competitive love.
It’s weird how Titanfall didn’t take off. It’s developed by former Infinity Ward guys and aimed specifically to reinvent the first-person shooter genre for the new generation of consoles. They did a pretty good job of that, as far as I’m concerned. Wall running! Double jumping! Unconventional arsenals! The ability to drop a huge mech from the sky and completely change your style of play! Titanfall was the perfect antidote for the static corridors and tired conceits of the Call of Duties of the world.
That’s why I hope Titanfall 2 (which will be released on multiple platforms this time, and not just the Xbox One) leans all the way in with its esports initiative. Seriously, it’s a multiplayer-only game, so it might as well be free-to-play. Microsoft and its investors have been pining for a heavyweight to get some of that esports money, but instead of producing yet another League clone, I think it’d be a lot wiser to go after Valve and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Titanfall should be a big deal, and there’s no reason it can’t be.
It’s hard to describe Gang Beasts. Think of a Super Smash Bros.-esque brawler, but with heavy, physics based gameplay. You’re in some precarious arena, like the top of a couple mack trucks or a slowly spinning ferris wheel, and your goal is to be the last person standing. You don’t have any special moves, so instead you fight like you and I would: with punches, grabs, and momentum.
So Gang Beasts has quickly become my go-to party game. Despite the cute costumes and cartoonish mayhem, it has a real brutality. You’re making people crumple and viciously tossing them over the edge of the stage. Sometimes you’ll be prying fingers off the edge of buildings, squashing out any chance of recovery. There’s just so much drama. It’s the sort of thing you want to see played at a high level. I’ve been in situations in Gang Beasts where I’m holding on to the leg of an opponent who’s holding on to a railing, both dangling over a meat grinder. That’s an EVO moment waiting to happen.
Nidhogg seemed to be in development forever until it finally came out early last year. It’s basically a one-on-one swordfighting game, with a very Intellivision take on aesthetics. Your goal is to reach the end of the level, and the only thing standing in your way is the person you’re playing against. If you fall there’s constant, generous respawning which means there’s a new duel every few seconds.
You’re equipped with three different stances, a jumpkick, a roll, and even the ability to chuck your sword across the stage. The gameplay is super frenetic and surprisingly approachable. Seriously, you can recruit anyone for a few rounds of Nidhogg. But there’s a lot of depth here too. Nidhogg reminds me of a fighting game stripped to its bare fundamentals. There’s spacing, footsies, punishes, and counters, all without the arcane inputs or frame data. It’s the sort of game you want to see played at a high level, and when you consider how people managed to remold Smash Brothers into a massive scene, that doesn’t seem unlikely.
Out of the Park Baseball
Bear with me here.
Out of the Park Baseball is the most complex, realistic baseball simulation in the universe, but it’s also literally a game about staring at spreadsheets. You’re in the front office, scouting players, making trades, and managing your roster. So naturally, there is no button to “swing the bat” in Out of the Park. Instead you’re looking at the big, big, big picture.
That might sound incredibly boring, and to a lot of people, it is, but the joy of rebuilding a tarnished roster into a juggernaut is truly profound. Out of the Park is so carefully realistic that there’s a chance your starting pitcher might get bit by a snake and be forced to retire. Seriously, that can happen. Life is cruel.
The idea of putting 30 of the best players in a league and letting them play out, say, 20 years of baseball might be the sort of thing that only appeals to me, but whatever, it would be fascinating. All the intrigue! The trades! The crumbling alliances! It would be the most meta baseball competition ever. Imagine if you completely choke and ruin your salary cap or get fleeced in a deal in front of the whole world, would you ever be able to psychologically recover? I want to see if we’re really as good at running baseball teams as we think we are.