Feb 17 2014 - 10:30 pm

'Ultimate General' is a gorgeous RTS game, but is it an esport?

Ultimate General, a new Ukrainian-made real time strategy game set in the American Civil War, is beautiful

Ultimate General, a new Ukrainian-made real time strategy game set in the American Civil War, is beautiful. But is that enough?

The highly anticipated game gives players a complex command of thousands of soldiers in an incredibly rendered battlefield accurately based on famous locales like Gettysburg. Ultimate General is currently up for voting on the Steam Greenlight page where it’s doing quite well on its way to being sold in the main store.

With innovative features like morale and troop competency, the not-yet-released title has attracted positive attention far and wide.

It’s not hard to see why. Take a look. The game is downright gorgeous:

But can Ultimate General be played as an esport?

The game, which will launch first through Steam Early Access, will be adding multiplayer soon after launch. Players and fans are already vocally excited to rewrite history in battles against friends. But, from a competitive standpoint, the game has many obstacles to overcome.

Even though Ultimate General is not being built expressly to be an esport, any well-made strategy game will inevitably be played competitively. The question is, how big can the game’s competitive scene grow?

From a spectator standpoint, following and comprehending thousands of soldiers at once can be a staggering challenge. 

A game like StarCraft 2 generally features less than 200 units on screen even in the most crowded momentsand even that count has been blamed for its slow decline from the top of esports. The much more popular League of Legends, in which 10 players each control a single unit, can chalk up much of its success to how easy it is for fans to follow a game.

Beyond being difficult to comprehend, games that play out on a massive scale can be more difficult for non-experts to get excited about. In Dota 2, it’s easy to cheer when two heroes launch ultimate abilities at each other and get triple kills. In Civilization 5, the game is a slow moving, complex machine where the crescendos are few and far between. Both are brilliant games but only one will fill arenas.

For viewers, being able to focus in on just a handful of key points of the game translates to excitement. For Ultimate General, there are thousands of key points to watch in a battle that extends over days.

It’s undoubtedly a recipe for a fantastic game—I hope the developers can cook up a solid competitive experience as well.

Thanks to a bird’s-eye-view zoom-out feature, Ultimate General allows for a broad view of the battlefield. If developers and casters can somehow make all that information easily digestible, a big audience may stick around.

Multiplayer is being developed after the initial launch “as soon as we polish the game based on customer feedback and suggestions,” the developers said in an announcement today.

It’s easy to say that it will never reach the heights of esports like StarCraft—no arenas are going to be sold out anytime soon for Ultimate General tournaments—but there’s no doubt that Ultimate General will see competitive play online. 

If the developers can build an easy-to-follow game, criminally underserved big-strategy fans might have a serious competitive hit on their hands. And that would be a great thing.

Illustration via Game-Labs