With the rise in esports and competitive games, many studios and publishers are sharpening their knives for a slice of the esports pie. But, what they don’t seem to realise is that you can’t force it.If you tuned into Microsoft’s E3 2017 press conference you would’ve seen the announcement of The Darwin Project. You may have even seen it featured in a few cringe compilations. It’s a survival-meets-third-person-combat-arena game set in the Canadian Rockies. It’s a promising idea backed up by an intriguing cast of characters.
But the whole presentation got borked by Scavengers Studio’s apparent desire to bring esports into it. They decided to let a shoutcaster take the stage and commentate over some gameplay. It might’ve been an attempt to make the presentation more engaging, or it may have been a genuine chase for the esports market. No matter the intent; it left the audience a little perplexed.
Fun to play, fun to watch, and easy to learn
These are the essential pillars that make up all great esports game. It has to be approachable at all skill levels, so that casual players can enjoy the competitive scene. This is usually achieved by simple match objectives: Move the payload from A to B, put the ball in the net, plant/disarm the bomb.
If the core gameplay becomes multi-levelled it runs the risk of alienating spectators. You must keep it simple and allow the players to create the layers themselves. Overwatch does this spectacularly: using strict loadouts and no customisation, the barrier of entry is low. Watching a match is almost as fun as playing one.
This is where concerns for The Darwin Project lie; it’s a game with survival mechanics. If they want to capture the esport excitement they presented, the devs must keep it simple. Not only will spectators have to track character abilities, but inventory and crafting mechanics as well. Could you imagine doing that across five or six players?
But, even if The Darwin Project holds its end of the bargain on gameplay, it won’t mean anything if nobody plays it.
Nurture not Nature
It’s definitely possible to manufacture a game for esports, but it’s a risky venture. Evolve and Battleborn are prime examples of this strategy going horribly wrong. If Scavengers Studio pushes the esports scene too hard, they’ll trip on their own laces as the pistol fires.
It’s not up to developers and publishers to create an esport, but to identify when their game becomes one.
Proclaiming that a game is an esport before it’s released is a bold move. Without a community, how could you know that it’s even possible? It’s not up to developers and publishers to create an esport, but to identify when their game becomes one. They must support and nurture their community and create the platform when it’s needed.
Blizzard created Overwatch with esports in mind. But it wasn’t until six months later that they decided to take it to a pro-competitive level. They bided their time. And there has always been a hardcore scene for Rocket League since Super Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. But you can bet that Psyonix never imagined that the World Championships would be a thing.
A game will live and die by its audience. That is why it’s bewildering to see publishers promoting new IPs this way, and why I’m concerned for The Darwin Project. Instead of being just a fun game with a small player base, they risk being “that failed esports game.”
Cheer up, buttercup
Come on, now. I don’t want to end this article on a bum note. The Darwin Project looks pretty cool. I like the setting and game show angle, as it’s a good excuse for fun video gamey stuff to happen. And, while we don’t know too much right now, the character design seems very slick with some interesting abilities. I just hope that Scavengers Studio calms down with the esport stuff.
Remember: You can’t make esports, esports makes you.
What do you think of ‘The Darwin Project’? Do you think they’re being a little presumptuous, or are you excited for it? Let us know!