For approximately five minutes, Star Wars: Battlefront was one of the most transcendent video game experiences in recent memory.
There you are, standing on the frosty ridges of Hoth. A Tie-Fighter howls overhead, your lasers spark off stormtrooper armor, you pick up a thermal detonator and my god, they’ve actually done it. Suddenly it occurs to you that the dogfighting overhead wasn’t just a loose, world-building overture. Those are actual men and women, having actual space battles. For years I’ve wondered what it’d be like when technology could finally catch up with some of our more severe cinematic fantasies, and there was something about the Battlefront beta that felt like legit synchronicity. This was Episode V, in all its grandeur, you could strap into an AT-AT if you wanted. The only thing holding it back was human error.
Right, the human error. Battlefront is not a particularly complicated game. The shooting is forgiving and the respawning is immediate, but man have I been involved in some pretty pathetic games. The more personalities you introduce into a team game the more difficult it is to corral. And that’s why I’d love to see Battlefront develop an esports scene. That base simplicity could be made infinitely more complex with two teams of competitors who are actually taking the game seriously, developing strategies and tactics and playing the coordinated precision we’re used to seeing in games like Counter-Strike.
Battlefront’s Hoth map peaks at 64 players, 32 on both sides, and it is completely unwieldy. The Rebels win by destroying both of the AT-ATs. They do this by activating beacons which momentarily disable their shields, opening a brief window for direct damage. This requires a level of focus that you’re never going to get in a solo queue for a casually-inclined Star Wars game. Part of this is the development’s fault. Battlefront is still a beta, so there’s a chance some of these issues are taken care of by release, but I’ve spent too much time getting completely obliterated by a bad spawn. I swear to god I once spawned under an AT-ST’s foot, which is not a winning strategy.
There’s also an issue in how Battlefront splits up its resources. Jumping into a TIE-Fighter or X-Wing requires you to track down an upgrade lying listlessly somewhere on the battlefield. Once you claim it you press a button and immediately find yourself in the pilot seat. It’s great fun! You’re flying all over the map! You’re locking missiles onto other players! You’ll probably end up crashing! And you’ve also completely lost sight of the mission or its objectives. You’re so overwhelmed by the chance to fly one of your favorite space-fantasy vehicles that any semblance of team-play totally falls by the wayside.
Again, that’s mostly okay. This is a Star Wars shooter for fans and lifers. It’s totally okay for a bunch of yayhoos to crash their A-Wings directly into Darth Vader. I’ve been involved in enough blatantly uncompetitive Battlefront matches, however, that I’m eager to see how teams of real competitors would play. This is unlikely, I know, but the results could be incredible. You’d be able to tune in whenever you want and watch actual, competent dogfighting. Imagine tuning in and watching legit surgical expertise applied to Star Wars skirmishes. That’d be pretty awesome right? Instead of watching your buddy’s Snowspeeder fly in circles before dropping off the map, you’d get to see razor-sharp timing, feints, counter-attacks, and ambushes with multiple prongs and fronts. An elite starfleet, supporting an elite infantry, with elite armor and anti-armor units at the ready. The chaos of a random queued Battlefront skirmish makes me curious of what even a little bit of organization could yield.
It’d also just be cool to watch Star Wars battles happen on a massive, competitive scale. Something like League of Legends is so tied up in its own context, it requires a pretty arcane knowledge of both real-time strategy and role-playing game tropes to understand. Something like Battlefront is just more inclusive. It’d be good for the industry. I could show my dad two Battlefront teams on Hoth and at the very least, I think he’d understand that fundamental strategy. “Oh okay, you’re telling me the Rebels are trying to kill the walkers, got it.” There’s real value to that sort of clarity.
Developers DICE don’t have a great track record with building authentic, high-level competition. For all its popularity, the Battlefield series has never caught on as an esport, and you can probably chalk that up to the relatively low skillcap compared to, say, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. That being said, I’ve seen games with almost no corporate support (like Smash Bros.) develop their own scene. Passionate fanbases always find a way, and Battlefront is projected to sell something like 10 million copies. I’m just saying, it would be cool. I want to watch some people fly their TIE-Fighters with purpose.