Jun 1 2016 - 9:41 pm

Battleborn is a cautionary tale for developers jumping on the esports bandwagon

Maybe Battleborn was doomed from the start
Luke Winkie
Dot Esports

Maybe Battleborn was doomed from the start.

It seems every developer on Earth is developing a fun, colorful arena shooter with MOBA elements and a lot of esports aspirations. It's just that with Battleborn, Gearbox had particularly bad timing, releasing its game right alongside Overwatch. Blizzard’s giddy, tactile first-person shooter is running a weeks-long high, dominating both critical and cultural spheres, and is currently sitting at the number one played game on Twitch with 99,075 active viewers. As for Battleborn—it's viewership is just barely cresting over the 1,000 mark. To put that in perspective, that’s three slots below Pokemon Red/Blue, which came out 20 years ago.

There are a number of reasons for this. Battleborn is a brand new IP in an untested genre. And there’s a chance this whole “hero shooter” trend we’re seeing right now (in games like Overwatch, Epic’s Paragon, Hi-Rez’s Paladins, and Microsoft’s Gigantic) might be a failed trend. There have only been a couple companies capable of ruling the roost when it comes to competitive FPS: id Software’s Quake in the ‘90s, Valve’s Counter-Strike more recently. And as someone who remembers Microsoft’s terrible, multiplayer-only Shadowrun from 2007, it’s pretty hard to convince first-person shooter fans to find a new favorite game. Still, the utter radio silence following Battleborn’s release is a little surprising. Gearbox has a pedigree and a lot of bankable FPS success, especially from its Borderlands franchise. How has it not translated?

Well, let’s start with the easiest answer: The game isn’t great. It’s currently sitting at a middling 72 on Metacritic, with most people praising the thoughtful character design, but griping about the barren lack of features. Paying retail price for a bundle of multiplayer modes is some real 2005 thinking, especially when you consider that most of the world’s most popular competitive games (League, Dota, Hearthstone,) are all coming free of charge. In an era where a legacy title like Halo 5 is clunking on impact, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised.

But if that’s the case, why is Overwatch succeeding? Blizzard’s product is strictly multiplayer-only (unlike the few stray single player options in Battleborn,) but still comes with a hefty entry fee. Obviously Overwatch has earned a lot more critical acclaim than Battleborn, but the disparity is still kinda nuts—except when you consider that this industry is unfair.

I’ve covered a few Heroes of the Storm events over the past year, and every time I go to one I meet kids who tell me this is the first MOBA that they’ve ever played. It’s always a little bit shocking. No prehistory with League or Dota? Really? You just jumped straight into Heroes sight unseen? But then I remember that this is Blizzard. And thanks to a lot of hard work and some good business decisions, Blizzard has cultivated a worldwide cult that will follow it into any arena it wants to enter. An MMO? Sure! A card game? Sure! A MOBA? Sure! How about a Team Fortress-style first-person shooter with hero powers? Absolutely!

I visited Blizzard headquarters in Irvine earlier this year, ventured into Overwatch’s development center, and saw reams and reams of fan art of every character in the game. This was several months before release, in the closed beta. On the way out I walked by a freshly crafted statue of Tracer, standing proudly next to Illidan and Tyrael. It seems redundant and overly simplistic to say, but  Blizzard is really, really good at making video games. Everything that comes out of that office has a polish that other developers fail to replicate. Twenty years later it's earned the trust and fellowship of millions of kids.

There aren’t many companies that can do that. Right now Riot is the only independent success story in esports. The powerhouses of this industry are Blizzard and Valve, which, predictably, are the only two video game publishers you could reasonably say command a legion of fans with dedicated, personal, cross-platform success. That’s not to say it can’t happen on a smaller scale—look at Rocket League—but it’s really hard to blow up big time from scratch. Maybe that will change with time and the industry expands, but that’s certainly not a guarantee. Overwatch was a hit the second its first trailer hit Blizzcon. The path for Battleborn is far, far more treacherous.

Jan 20 2017 - 4:08 pm

Kungarna, Immortals advance to Overwatch Winter Premiere finals

Team Liquid and Renegades will not move on.
Nicole Carpenter
Dot Esports
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Andrej "babybay" Francisty hides just out of view while the rest of Kungarna baits compLexity Gaming into position in the second floor corridor inside the Dorado ziggurat. Babybaby, on pink-haired tank hero Zarya, peeks out from the side and unleashes graviton surge just as Michael "mykL" Padilla launches his D.Va self destruct bomb from the first floor, right into the mess of compLexity players upstairs. And that's the majority of compLexity just melted by the massive bomb combo.

With four compLexity players down, Kungarna is able to cruise right to the finish.

As one of the only two unsigned teams heading into Next Generation Esports' Overwatch Winter Premiere, Kungarna took many opponents by surprise. Some questioned whether they'd be able to get out of the first phase of group stages. But it's going to be hard to overlook Kungarna after their incredible run in the round of six. The team fell only to Team Liquid on day one and Immortals on day two, going undefeated on day three.

Heading into the finals, which begin Jan. 27 at PAX South in San Antonio, Texas, Kungarna doesn't have to worry about Team Liquid. Along with Renegades, Team Liquid will not move on to the LAN finals for the Overwatch Winter Premiere. Instead, Kungarna will take on Immortals, compLexity Gaming, and Luminosity Gaming next week.

Renegades' early departure from the Overwatch Winter Premiere will likely shock fans, given the win streak the newly acquired team started the tournament with. But on day four of the round of eight, everything changed: They started losing and never stopped. Through the round of six, Renegades put up a fight, taking one round each match, but weren't able to take a full series. With the whole team moving to Detroit to live and play together, Renegades is surely hoping to regain their initial success.

The single elimination finals bracket begins Jan. 27 and will continue into Jan. 28. The tournament will be broadcast live on both the PAX Arena and NGE Overwatch Twitch channels.

Jan 19 2017 - 9:19 pm

Overwatch players honor friend with heartfelt send-off

The tribute was organized by a Philippines-based gaming collective.
Nicole Carpenter
Dot Esports
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Processing the death of a friend is never easy. But it can help to grieve where you spent time together—even if that happens to be the battlegrounds of Overwatch.

When the team at games website Too Much Gaming lost their beloved colleague Willem Den Toom, they took to Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch to express their pain. Using Toom's favorite Overwatch heroes—Pharah, Reinhardt, Symmetra, Zarya, and Lúcio—and Hanzo, the group of friends coordinated rocket launcher and fire strike sendoffs toward Overwatch map Eichenwalde's moon as a gun salute for their friend.

"Wherever you are, may the payload be always moving, the point always contested, no one trickles out, and may there always [be] a healer on your team," Toom's friends posted to YouTube. "We miss you, big guy. This Play of the Game is for you."

Toom suffered a heart attack and died at 35 on Jan. 16, Too Much Gaming editor Carlos Herdandez told Mic. "He was loved by many and his loss pretty much struck waves in various communities in the gaming community here in the Philippines," Hernandez said. "Overwatch was the one game that we play together regularly after a long day. It's one of his favorite games." Honoring Toom in Overwatch was an obvious choice for the group.

The video ends with each player sending off Hanzo's dragonstrike ultimate, unleashing a continuous stream of swirling dragons toward the moon.

H/t Mic