Metal Gear Online 3: A Future eSport?

Generally, whenever you hear the phrase Metal Gear, a singleplayer experience probably comes to mind. The term eSport; however, does not, but does that mean it’s outside of the realm of possibility?

Exactly one month ago, Kojima Productions’ Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain launched globally to almost universal acclaim, with most critics hailing the game’s sandbox and open-ended gameplay. In just a few days, on Oct. 6, Metal Gear Online 3 – Metal Gear Solid V’s multiplayer counterpart – will release on last-generation and current-generation consoles with a PC release coming in January 2016.

Generally, whenever you hear the phrase Metal Gear, a singleplayer experience, filled with long-winded dialogue, hours of cutscenes, and a seemingly convoluted story, probably comes to mind. The term eSport; however, does not, but does that mean it’s outside of the realm of possibility?

As previously mentioned, Metal Gear Solid V’s gameplay has been the subject of numerous praise from franchise veterans to new players, alike. Unlike most games, Metal Gear Solid V is loaded with a myriad of tools and mechanics, with each of these mechanics interacting with one another to create a cohesive sandbox that offers a number of ways to achieve one’s objective. An example of this, at least, in The Phantom Pain, was the widely circulated supply drop method to defeating Quiet, one of the game’s central characters. The point is: the game rewards critical thought, a major characteristic of a sandbox-based game, and this sandbox is the foundation of Metal Gear Online’s gameplay. This is essential as deep gameplay sandboxes often entail a much higher skill gap.

This sandbox was shown in great detail during Konami’s Metal Gear Online presentation at Tokyo Game Show 2015 with players using equipment in ways that most people would not necessarily consider. For example, at one point during the gameplay demonstration, as seen above, a player uses the ever-popular (and staple of the Metal Gear franchise) cardboard box as a means to set up a trap. Normally, the cardboard box is used as means of hiding in plain sight; however, in this instance, the player manages to effectively use the box as bait to earn two kills.

From what we have seen, Metal Gear Online (hereafter MGO3) builds upon the stealth-based tactical gameplay of its two predecessors while still offering new ways to play; as such, MGO3 also introduces a class-based system with three different classes: the Enforcer, the Scout, and the Infiltrator. Each class essentially fills the three roles that players would normally assume during a mission in The Phantom Pain.

As the name implies, the Infiltrator acts as the stealth-oriented class and excels at secretly taking down targets and in close range combat. Conversely, the Scout excels at long-range combat and would generally be regarded as the “Sniper class” of MGO. Then, there’s the Enforcer; this class fills the role of a heavy combat specialist. As such, he wields heavy weapons including, but not limited to, various light-machine guns, rocket launchers, and even a riot shield. In other words, he is geared towards players who prefer firefights over wetworks.

Metal Gear Online takes the formula from The Phantom Pain and puts it in a competitive PvP environment.

Moreover, MGO3 emphasizes communication and teamwork, two major components of competitive play; as such, the game features a buddy-link system which allows for two team members to become partners. As a result, the two buddies are always aware of what the other is doing and who their buddy is currently aiming at. Naturally, this would allow for players to more easily communicate with each other when it comes to protecting one another, playing the objective, and setting up in-game strategies.

Best of all, players are able to change buddies at any time during the game. This allows for players and teams to adapt the changing enemy strategies in a fluid manner. The game also makes team-wide communication easier for players without a microphone as MGO3 offers, just as its predecessors have, preset voice commands (think the preset voice commands in Rocket League or Battlefield).

Although the game makes communication easier, don’t think it makes the game easier since the game severely punishes teams who play recklessly. For instance, successfully interrogating an enemy reveals the positions of all enemy players on the map. This forces players to constantly be on their toes and aware of their surrounding since the revealing of such critical information could mean the difference between a successful sneak attack or a bloodbath for exposed team. Furthermore, game modes such as Bounty Hunter stress the importance of situational awareness.

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Ever since its introduction in Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Plus, the Fulton Recovery System has become the go-to method for extracting live enemies and targets. As a result, in Metal Gear fandom, the word “Fulton” has become synonymous with extraction.

For the uninformed, Bounty Hunter is a game mode where players attempt to drain the enemy team’s ticket count (similar to Battlefield’s Conquest) by killing or extracting enemy players. Bounty Hunter’s special twist is that players become more vulnerable as they eliminate more opponents. This is due to the fact that as players kill or fulton enemies, they also accumulate “bounty points” which the enemy team can convert into additional tickets if they manage to fulton you. For example, if you have 5 bounty points and an enemy extracts you, the enemy team gains an additional five tickets. Interesting game modes such as Bounty Hunter keep the action entertaining as the game can always be sway in the losing team’s favor, maintaining a sense of uncertainty among the players since a reversal of fortune can occur at any time.

Outside of gameplay, Metal Gear Online has a lot going for it in terms of an established community. It goes without saying the singleplayer portions of the Metal Gear franchise have a massive following, but Metal Gear Online is no slouch either, with its roots going as far back as December 2005 when Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence released. As a matter of fact, fans have managed to revive both of the original MGO titles through emulation, and each has relatively significant user bases despite the lack of developer support and official servers. Having an established player base means that the community already has an established core of elite players that will dominate the scene.

In Metal Gear Online 3, buddy linking is as easy as saluting one another.
In Metal Gear Online 3, buddy linking is as easy as saluting one another.

The closest analogue that I can potentially think of is Rocket League, the sequel to the largely unknown Super Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. Thanks to the established group of elite players, Rocket League was able to take off as an eSport shortly after its launch since elite teams had already existed. Ultimately, whether MGO3 becomes an eSport is left up to the community of players and what they want MGO3 to become. If the player base wants to develop a competitive scene, then it can certainly blossom into a popular competitive eSport. Invariably, certain settings will have to be tweaked, and certain equipment should probably be banned from competitive play for there to be an optimal experience, but that proper balance can be achieved.

However, there is a major elephant in the room when it comes to the future of the Metal Gear franchise, Metal Gear Online 3 included, with that elephant coming in the form of rumors describing Konami’s potential exit from AAA game development. This potential re-focusing of Konami’s assets to mobile development has already, quite infamously, led to a corporate power struggle between Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima and Konami executives. Reports suggest that, as a result of this, Kojima and his team plan to leave Konami at the end of this year.

The cardboard box is something of an icon for the Metal Gear franchise. Here, a player user an empty box to bait two enemy players into a trap.
The cardboard box is something of an icon for the Metal Gear franchise. Here, a player user an empty box to bait two enemy players into a trap.

Although Konami has confirmed that the Metal Gear series will continue, many are still left wondering what direction the franchise will take and whether continued support (as in beyond 2016) of Metal Gear Online 3 is part of Konami’s plans. As a result, even if the MGO3 community actively chooses to develop a competitive scene and embraces this scene, the uncertainty surrounding the game’s future support could potentially prevent some eSports organizations from taking the dive. Essentially, the possibility of MGO3 becoming a popular eSport is more of a matter of trying on the part of the game’s community and of, perhaps more importantly, Konami.

The foundation is there. All it needs is some support and initiative.

Wouldn’t you agree? Could you imagine Metal Gear Online 3 becoming an eSport? Post your thoughts down below in the comments or tweet us @eSportsNation.

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