Esports has grown larger than I ever could’ve imagined. Not just in viewership or finances, but in the list of competitive titles. The landscape of games has never been so diverse. Long-term franchises like League of Legends and Counter Strike continue having strong involvement, while new games like Fortnite and VALORANT bring in a new generation of spectators. Even genres like fighting games continue having a steady pipeline of boundary pushing titles.. For those with a competitive spirit, the list of potential games to play has never been so diverse. Unless you like real-time strategy.The RTS market has been as shallow as a puncture inflatable pool. The only major game to come out in the last five years is Clash Royale; a game StarCraft fans would sever their fingers to avoid playing. StarCraft obviously still has a passionate community, but one that’s niche with very little hope of growing. Developments like the release of StarCraft: Remastered or StarCraft II becoming free-to-play are cool. However, history’s shown that there’s very little chance an old game can catch on with new audiences—something that doesn’t seem to be on Blizzard’s priority list. Other studios have tried to make compelling games, but none that have made a significant impact. But for the RTS genre to revitalize itself, a new game needs to lead the way. IMMORTAL: Gates of Pyre could be the one.The game had an incredibly successful Kickstart campaign, raising almost five-times their initial goal, with $150,000. Esports Heaven had the chance to talk to IMMORTAL’s team, SunSpear Games. From the get-go, it was clear they had a long history with StarCraft. “IMMORTAL started the way many great projects begin: a strong sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo, a collective willingness to act, and the technical know-how to pull it off, all tied together by undaunted stubbornness to see it through. Back in 2010, company founders Colter Hochstetler and Dylan Kahn met on TL.net while scouring forums for high strategy and hype tournaments. Like so many others at the time, they were hotly anticipating the arrival of StarCraft 2. Eventually, Colter and Dylan wanted to make a game that mechanically fulfilled what they were yearning for, but also one that solved many of the shortcomings they were bothered by as well. Enlisting Founder Travis Toler, creator of leading mods Starbow and OneGoal, they began designing and iterating. A decade later, SunSpear was born, and that game is getting ready for its Closed Beta launch.”
One area of concern with any RTS game in the current market is the barrier-of-entry. Compared to a game like Fornite that you can start enjoying minutes into playing—Brood War requires at least a two-week bootcamp to have any semblance of knowing what you’re doing. One focus SunSpear has is creating accessibility without sacrificing complexity. Related: The Future of RTS: An Interview with Frost Giant Studios“We make complexity optional. Other attempts to simplify RTS have focused on removing complexity from the entire experience, and in the process, lost what made the game special to the hardcore & high-skill player base. We can get the same value by keeping the complexity in IMMORTAL, and all the strategic magic that comes from it, without requiring new players to master it to get to the fun of smashing armies. We help guide players and provide decent but not great assistance. As players learn, they can take direct control to optimize. High players don't need this assistance, and will barely encounter it and can completely avoid it.If we ever remove skill (such as removing most decisionless macro tasks, as we have), we compensate by putting more opportunities for top players to be skillful elsewhere (such as making controlling your units more, or, in 2v2 and 3v3 modes, teamwork.)”IMMORTAL has the potential to introduce new gamers to a StarCraft-like game. It isn’t just a ripoff, though. SunSpear looks to other industry standouts as well. “At low level Starcraft there is a big issue with how scary the game feels. You're in your base, the rest of the map is shrouded in darkness, stepping out could mean death and you are cooped up scared to move out. Scouting with workers isn't an immediately intuitive concept.Our Towers and map objectives that help solve this are rooted in two games. We take inspiration from moba's ability to help loosely guide the player to going out on the map and completing objectives. From games like Company of Heroes and Dawn of War for their feeling of conquering the map in a soft fashion. Our towers provide elements of both.From Age of Empires, having a some very obvious scouting units to go look around the map with does wonders. You've got an extra unit not doing anything while building your initial base, why as well go send them out on the map.Lastly we take inspiration from Command and Conquer Generals, and other games with similar sub faction systems for how our Immortal grant access to unique unit replacements, global spells fueled by our third resource, and other global perks to the faction.”SunSpear appears fully committed to the title as well—seeking to release a multitude of expansions and spin-off titles. “Right now, we're 100% committed to IMMORTAL: Gates of Pyre. We see IMMORTAL having 10+ years of expansion. However, the enormous universe of IMMORTAL fits nicely in other places. One example is IMMORTAL as a tabletop RPG. We created a one-shot based on one of the starting Factions, Jora, to help us promote our Kickstarter. It was insanely popular, which obviously got us thinking of where we can take this, but we quickly shifted back into IMMORTAL: Gates of Pyre gear.” Obviously one big question is how the game will cater to the esports market. There has been virtually no major RTS events (especially in the west) for years now. Though SunSpear can’t immediately put a large investment to creating a strong esports scene, the do have it in their sights. “The first and most important thing you need if you want to have an esport is a fun game that can support a big enough player base. So when you ask "what does esports mean to the success of the game" I think of it more like, what does the success of the game mean for esports. We have tested the gameplay for years in mods and the feedback was clear: this is a fun game that can support a big player base. So we expect that esports will begin to arise whether we facilitate it or not! In preparation for this eventuality, we have been talking to esports industry veterans for over a year developing how we're going to approach esports. Our primary goal is to create an ecosystem where each role is taken care of: that's players, coaches, teams, sponsors, viewers, TOs, us, publishers, venue owners... the list goes on. There will be more specifics on these advisors announced soon! As for specific esports plans, we're focused on the game for now. When it's time to make those decisions we'll talk more specifics.”Overall, sullen RTS fans can be cautiously optimistic with IMMORTAL. The Kickstarter was very successful, exceeding its initial goal almost five times over—raising more than $150,000. The team is composed of RTS veterans that have actively listened to industry legends and the community. More than anything, a spiritual-successor to the StarCraft franchise has been desperately needed in the current game market, and IMMORTAL just may fill that void. If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @OddballCreator.
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