Five games that could rise in esports in 2017

CyanEsportsCyanEsports 2017-01-03 17:23:08

Welcome to 2017, esports fans! The new year is upon us, as are new video games that are seeking to make their mark on the global esports scene! Esports has become an effective marketing strategy for many games, and developers are becoming more and more passionate about supporting the best players of their creations. This is my personal list of games that might become big in the overall esports scene. None of these are games that I predict will overtake LoL and CS:GO, but they’re all serious contenders that I think may surprise people in 2017!

BATTLERITE: Produced by Stunlock studios, Battlerite is the successor to Bloodline Champions, a cult classic esports title from 2011. The game is available now as an early access title on Steam.

Battlerite belongs to the MOBA genre, but only in the sense that it’s a multiplayer game, played online, and you’re battling in an arena, if you catch my drift. I don’t believe that you can compare Battlerite to LoL, Dota, or Heroes, the titans of the MOBA genre. The gameplay is too different.

Gameplay involves top down mouse and keyboard gameplay, but that’s where the similarities end. A game of Battlerite is a competition between two teams (2v2 or 3v3) in a best of five format. You win a round by killing the all the enemy players. Before each round, you can pick a ‘battlerite’ which will buff or change one of your character’s abilities. Then you’re off to the fight. Battlerite is incredibly fast paced, with games lasting approximately 5-10 minutes.

I think that the game is tremendously fun. Its everything that I could want in an esport. Its fast, its easy to follow, and victory relies entirely on a team’s skill.

Will it succeed as an esport: The Battlerite community is experiencing the kind of self-consciousness and anxiousness that I’m all too familiar with as a StarCraft 2 diehard. Concurrent player numbers have been dwindling since an initial spike on release per steamcharts and fans worry that there isn’t enough content to keep people interested in Battlerite in the long run. The price tag on the game right now also serves to be a relatively large barrier to entry for some in the age of free to play gaming. Buying the game now will grant you all champions released in the future automatically.

Stunlock released a statement to address some concerns, saying that Battlerite would see a ‘Late 2017’ release. This statement wasn’t well received, and Stunlock later clarified, saying that their ‘goal is to launch F2P by mid Summer but this is not an official release date or something we wish to promise. We are open to the idea of having multiple free weekends or an Open Beta before Battlerite’s official release.’

I think that when Battlerite is released to the f2p audience, it will be a success. Even in early access amid the community’s concerns that the game is dying, Battlerite reached number 1 on the steam sale charts worldwide. The game has also been met with praise from game critics. Weekly cups, produced under the name Battlerekt by NGE (Next Generation Esports), are already giving us a taste of the esports action that we could see and the game is fantastic to watch.

I think that its inevitable that we’ll see Battlerite as a feature at one or two Dreamhacks after its free to play launch. I’ve not spoken to anyone yet who didn’t love the game after playing it, so I think that the sky is the limit for Battlerite. Success is dependent on its community and how Stunlock moves forward.

Arc System Works fighting games BlazBlue and Guilty Gear: 2016 was an interesting year for the fighting game community. Street Fighter has been the number one franchise in the FGC for years, but that hold may be starting to crack. Despite fantastic viewership, incredible storylines throughout the year, and a developer who is dedicated to their esports scene (Capcom), Street Fighter V is viewed by many as a huge disappointment.

SFV is strewn with problems. From the PC port to the netcode to missing features like arcade mode, to the balance of the game (Queen Mika is dead, long live Queen Mika). Not to mention Capcom’s undying love for DLC.

All of this builds into a situation where the most diehard FGC fans are craving a change of pace. In steps Arc System Works, a Japanese game development company famous for titles such as BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, Melty Blood, Battletoads, Persona 4 Arena, and much more.

Although ‘anime’ is panned by some in the FGC as a joke, nobody can deny the momentum that BlazBlue and Guilty Gear have been building.

In the last three EVO tournaments, one of the two games has featured on the mainstage early in the final day. The games are extremely fast paced and flashy, making for the perfect spectator sport fighting game. Tapping directly into the anime fandom is a unique feature here as well. Watching a hype professional match of GGxrd FEELS like watching an anime. Its back and forth, there are super moves going on, it’s the storied battle between player 1 and player 2.

Another thing working for Arc System is the love they have for their games. From the music of Guilty Gear, to the storylines of BlazBlue, its clear that the developers put their heart and soul into their games, striving for the absolute best. For many in the FGC, the same can no longer be said for Capcom.

Will it succeed as an esport: Whether we’ll see Arc System Works games in 2017 esports is a given. The most recent Arc System Works fighter is BlazBlue: Central Fiction. It will almost certainly be the choice for tournaments like EVO in 2017 to fill the anime timeslot, although Guilty Gear Xrd is still very popular as well.

The question is whether these anime fighters will see a popularity rise in the esports community at large.

I think that this is entirely dependent on the diehard FGC fans’ patience with Capcom. Street Fighter will almost certainly always be top dog in the FGC. If Capcom keeps alienating that diehard fanbase though, its likely that we’ll see Arc System Works rise as top competitor. Even with Marvel vs Capcom Infinite on the horizon, the ire of the FGC may become so great that the floodgates are thrown open for a mass migration.

There’s an increasing acceptance of ‘anime’ in the FGC. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that such momentum will slow in 2017.

Speaking only for myself, as someone who usually pans anime for its strange subcultures, anime tropes, and excessive sexualization, all it took was about 30 minutes of playing BlazBlue Continuum Shift casually with a friend to sell me on how hype these games can be. If you’re doubting these games, I’d recommend you try one out first.

PALADINS: Produced by HiRez studios, the developer of Global Agenda, Tribes Ascend, and Smite, Paladins went to open beta in September of 2016.

I’m not going to bother talking about whether Paladins is an Overwatch clone (it’s not). There are plenty of other articles, videos, forum posts, and beyond regarding that topic. I’ll simply say that both games are derivative of Team Fortress 2 and are forerunners of the emerging ‘Hero shooter’ genre.

The game sets itself apart from competitors in several ways. A card systems allows players to customize individual champion abilities before ever loading into a game. Cards can reduce the cooldown of an ability, buff the damage, increase the range, etcetc. Within the game, Paladians grants credits for kills, assists, blocking damage, playing the objective, and healing. With those credits, players buy items a la traditional MOBAs to increase armour, move speed, damage, or any other number of effects. These factors give Paladins a unique sense of depth compared to its competitors.

Will it succeed as an esport: HiRez has experience in esports with Smite, a persistent title in esports that is maintaining its popularity across the years. Many high level esports teams such as Dignitas and Cloud9 have established relationships with HiRez through Smite, which certainly counts for something.

The most glaring problem facing Paladins is whether HiRez can make it stand out to the general gaming audience as more than an Overwatch clone. Considering that Dota 2, and League of Legends can both exist as Tier 1 esports though, I believe that this is an issue that CAN be solved, providing HiRez plays their cards right.

I’d like to think that gameplay issues will be ironed out as time goes on. After all, what else are betas for? So I’ll give HiRez the benefit of the doubt on all issues within the game.

The last hurdle facing Paladins is shared by Overwatch. Will the gaming community want to watch Hero Shooters as esports? Its hard to say right now. Overwatch’s competitive scene seems to be treading water right now, despite experiencing tremendous initial success. The expectations for the genre are very high. In all likelihood, if Overwatch becomes a T1 esport, it will carry Paladins along with it.

DUELYST: The space for digital card games has become more and more crowded. Hearthstone has always been top dog, with nothing else really coming close. Hex experiences some success, but it didn’t manage to reach the esports success of HS. Similarly, Magic the Gathering Online is swamped with problems, stemming from its ancient game client and an unfortunately high monetary barrier to entry for anyone who wants to play above a casual level.

In comes Duelyst, the lovechild of Counterplay Games. Officially released in April 2016, Duelyst was launched as a kickstarter project in 2014. Development was headed by Counterplay Games’ cofounder Keith Lee, a Blizzard Entertainment alumni. The crowdfunding campaign for Duelyst was tremendously successful, raising over $137,000; double the initial goal of $68,000.

Duelyst combines the gameplay of the turn based strategy/tactics genre with that of a card game. The basis for your 40 card deck choosing a general from one of the six factions in the Duelyst universe. Each faction represents a traditional TCG archetype, such as burn, lifegain, stompy, etc. Within the game, you find your general on a 5x9 grid, facing down the enemy general on the opposite side of the board. Your turns involve casting minions onto the grid, casting spells, and moving your units around the board. Duelyst is as much about spatial control as it is about card advantage. You win the game when you deal enough damage to the enemy general (who all start with 25 health).

Aesthetically, Duelyst combines images of ethereal looking landscapes, with cartoon-like depictions of the generals, but for the most part focuses on the pixel art characters that are seen within matches on the grid. The colours are sharp and each style feels unique. I know that ‘pixel art’ is becoming something of a cliche, especially in indie titles, but to me Duelyst sets itself apart even there.

The game is free to play, just like its competitors, allowing players to spend money on packs and cosmetics for their account.

Will it succeed as an esport: The digital card game space is almost as crowded as the MOBA or MMO scene. Despite how many choices players have, its hard to find people who play anything other than Hearthstone (similar to the genre dominance of LoL and WoW). If the esports scene is more than just a flash in the pan, its inevitable that a second title will rise in popularity. So assuming that digital card games continue to grow in popularity, can Duelyst assert itself in the #2 spot, and establish itself as an esport?

I’m a huge TCG fan. I spent years playing YuGiOh and MTG competitively. Hearthstone never really grabbed me for many reasons. Duelyst is such an innovative approach to the card game genre, its impossible not to fall a little bit in love with the concept. Chess and TCG together in one game? Heck yes!

The issue that Counterplay Games faces is getting the message out to the card game communities that Duelyst exists. Furthermore, convincing them to switch games. One of the biggest barriers to entry for card games is price. Even in a digital card game where you can melt down cards that you don’t want to craft cards that you need, there’s still the baseline investment of time spent grinding for packs, or money to buy packs outright. This is an even bigger issue in digital card games where you can’t liquidate/cashing in your collection the way you would with a physical TCG.

In my opinion, Duelyst is worth switching for. The depth and the skill involved in Duelyst is fantastic. The art style is fantastic. The game mechanics are fantastic. I hope that people will agree with me in 2017 because I feel that this game deserves more attention than it has right now.

DIABOTICAL: Originally titled ‘Reborn’, development for Diabotical officially began in 2015. Brainchild of esports legend, host, and former pro Quake player James ‘2GD’ Harding, Diabotical aims to revive the Arena FPS genre that was so popular in the 2000s with titles like Quake, Painkiller, and Unreal Tournament.

A Kickstarter for Diabotical was created on July 31, 2016 and successfully raised 168,314 pounds, enough to fill all the stretch goals. The GD Studio’s goal is to release a closed beta to Kickstarter backers in the summer of 2017, with a full release following soon after. The business model for the game is pay to play, bucking the trend of free to play indie games (along with Battlerite).

The inclusion of Diabotical on this list is somewhat exceptional. It’s the only game that isn’t currently playable. Nonetheless, I’m confident including it on this list though. The goals that 2GD has for Diabotical are lofty, to say the least. Map creation is a key feature, with 2GD taking time in every dev update stream to talk about on the game’s mapmaking tools. There are also promises of an automated in-game tournament system, co-op survival and racing modes, support for community tournaments, LAN support, matchmaking, and the list goes on and on. Many of these are features that I believe should be industry standards, but c’est la vie. Diabotical at least should be given credit for aiming to raise the bar for its competitors. With an industry veteran like 2GD heading the project, I don’t see a reason to worry about whether these features will be included when the game is eventually released).

Will it succeed as an esport: Arena FPS hasn’t been a big feature at an esports event for many years. Quake Live has been carrying the flag for the genre since 2010, but the Arena FPS has declined in popularity and slipped into the background of the esports scene overall. Some may say that Arena FPS isn’t a genre that many gamers are interested in playing now. Others may believe that 2017 is a perfect time to resurrect the genre. It certainly has a storied past, and without games like Quake and Unreal, its possible that the growth of esports would be years behind where it is now in 2017. But will Diabotical reclaim that former glory?

The environment of esports has changed considerably since the early 2000s. Team games now dominate the scene, and arguably so do the more casual games (at least compared to the games that dominated the scene in the early 2000s).

Another factor to consider is that id is developing Quake Champions. However it’s a serious departure from their past in Arena FPS. Quake Champions seems to be a step into the Hero Shooter genre, hoping to replicate the success of Overwatch. Unlike Paladins though, Quake Champions will be arriving so late to the party that it may slip completely through the cracks. Not Quake-y enough for the Quake fans, and not fresh enough for the new fans of the genre. If this is the case, then that’s just one less barrier that Diabotical must climb. One less competitor.

I think that, like Battlerite, it’s inevitable that we’ll see Diabotical on stage at a few Dreamhacks, and that’s a bare minimum. 2GD has so many strong connections within the esports industry after working for years as a player and personality. Just looking at the list of esports personalities who signed up to be a part of the Kickstarter for Diabotical is staggering. Game time with personalities like Soe, Rotterdam, Redeye, TLO, and many more were listed as 300 pound backer rewards. The President of team Dignitas, Odee, was even featured in the Kickstarter’s promotional imagery with a Dignitas themed player character and a mockup of what an esports player profile might look like. It seems that Gabe Newell is in a minority thinking that 2GD is an ass. If 2GD can get half of the people who were listed on the Kickstarter to tweet about Diabotical when it hits beta and then release, the game will become very notorious very quickly.

That’s my list! If you have an esport that you think will be a Darkhorse success in 2017, feel free to tweet it to me @CyanEsports on twitter!

Images courtesy of their respective fan kits || Cover photo courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

Two points:

-A general clarification on what it means to be an "anime" fighting game:
It isn't really a matter of aesthetics or anything, that just is a common coincidence.

Basically "anime" FGs have higher mobility(like airdashes), better ability to continue pressure on a blocking enemy, and larger attacks due to very common use of weapons. Basically, they tend to be more complex(more complex neutral due to higher mobility and variation in attacks, more complex character-specific mechanics, more complex pressure/defense) and flashy and have more varied characters than traditional 2D fighters.

Thus it isn't a matter of "Does it look anime?", but is a matter of gameplay, which is why there's a coherent subcommunity for it since it is a matter of gameplay preference. So some sort of 3d naruto fighter isn't an "anime fighter" by this classification, and neither is something like Koihime Musou.

However, it is somewhat ambiguous as to whether games like Skullgirls and Marvel vs Capcom 2/3 count, since while they fit these elements more or less, they also have very different risk/reward and pressure design and power due to the tag system. There is not as much overlap between these games as say, Guilty Gear and Melty Blood.

-You say that one game Arcsys is famous for is Melty Blood, but they only produced that one time(and not most versions of it), they did not develop it. French Bread developed it and is sort of a rival for ARcsys.
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