Competitive gaming is quickly becoming one of the most exciting markets out there today. Between the championships of games like League of Legends having a viewerbase large enough to be comparable to the NBA Finals or the World Series, Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U actually being broadcast on ESPN, and the sheer amount of money being thrown around, making a statement about the explosive growth of this subsect of the medium is met with about as much surprise as saying water is wet. That being said, not every game makes a good esport, just as not everyone is cut out to be President of the United States. So, I beg the question, what games make good esports? I believe that, through showing similarities in live sports and the information at a given viewer’s hands at any given time, the amount of focus on action, I can show that fighting games make the best esports (at least for games that are currently being played).
Of course, this statement might be a tad biased because of my background, as I’ve been playing in fighting game tournaments for nearly 8 years, but I believe that the biggest factor to the success of the fighting game genre would be how easy it is to watch. In almost every televised sporting event, the bulk of the action is on the screen at all times. Sure, there may be a nice off-ball block in a football game or the 7th place person manages to pass the 6th place runner in a 100M dash, but ultimately, those aren’t really pertinent to the actual action.
That being said, I’m almost certain that of all the genres of games that constitute “esports,” fighting games are the only ones that follow that trend. In MOBAs like DOTA 2 or League of Legends, you can only see a screen’s width of information at any given time, and with action happening all over the map, it’s very easy to miss critical information at any given time, unless all 10 players are at the same place. I feel that FPS titles also suffer from the same limitation, except that, due to the first person nature of the genre, the viewpoints are even more limited, only being able to see what one competitor can see at any given time.
However, like most live sports, fighting games tend to always have all the action on the screen at any given time. As a matter of fact, the only example I can think of where it doesn’t is when Morrigan uses Astral Vision in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and the opponent is full screen away. And, while the information available on the screen for the spectator may be enough for someone that’s been “blooded” in the game, for the casual esports viewer who may not be able to infer the goings-on of off-screen action by what is shown, it’s certainly enough to make them change the channel. This is important, because, for esports to grow into what we all know it could be, the casual viewer is what we really need to think about in order to get potential sponsors interested in backing our events.
Another aspect that fighting games have going for it in the “ease of viewing” department that sets it apart from most other games is the straightforward nature of the genre. You see, in fighting games, the goal is to, essentially, punch people in the face. Every character, while they may go about it differently, is ultimately designed to be able to punch people in the face. Other games, however, have different roles in play, such as your supports in MOBAs and Tanks in Overwatch, those not necessarily designed to be able to defeat an opponent, but to allow the completion of objectives and keeping teammates alive.
That’s not to knock the design decisions of those games, as any other genre — especially if it’s built around objectives instead of simply defeating your opponent — would be bland if every character on the roster is designed to be a murder machine, but having those extra roles and information makes things rather difficult for the uninitiated to keep track of. Speaking of keeping track of things, pretty much every competitive game has some sort of resource management system, be it Health (which is near-universal in every Player vs. Player game), Gold, Cooldowns, Items, or any other of a wide spectrum of factors that impacts the match.
Continuing with the trend of this piece, in my experiences, fighting games have the most palatable resource management system for unfamiliar esports viewers, generally with only Health (lose this and you die) and a bar that denotes when players can use certain enhanced versions of normal moves or super moves. This bar, depending on the name, could go by Super/Hyper/EX/Tension/Heat/Critical, but most colloquially referred to as “meter.” Meanwhile, those that fall outside this particular umbrella tend to have a cavalcade of different resources to keep track of, and oftentimes those resources, even in the same game, can be situationally different.
Again, keeping with another pattern previously established, in MOBAs (and really, why shouldn’t I draw comparisons to them, since right now they seem to be far and away the most popular genre), each of the five players on a team needs to manage more than just their health and mana (or any other secondary resource used to cast abilities). They also have to consider the cooldown of said abilities, their income — which they need in order to buy items with which to become stronger — the items themselves, the characters chosen on a given team as well as the opponent’s selection, and the timings of certain spawns of neutral enemies, which are constantly hotly contested throughout any particular game.
That’s a whole lot of info to parse through; I’ve dabbled in both League of Legends as well as DOTA 2, and even with higher-leveled players nearby to help me understand certain situations that I may not understand, there’s still a considerable amount of pertinent information that can drop through the cracks, which can negatively impact the viewing experience for the uninitiated heavily. By contrast, most of the outside information needed to enjoy viewing a fighting game event is all readily available and easily digestible.
Much like its ease of viewing, it’s easy to see why fighting games make the best viewing experience by far. They don’t require you to have a relatively intimate knowledge of gameplay mechanics and a spectator’s guide on hand for those that don’t. The question of “Why?” is very infrequently heard from casual viewers of major fighting game events, as the information is all on the screen at any given moment, and doesn’t require homework from anyone catching the action. Next time, (and this statement might catch me some heat) I’ll go into why Street Fighter V, despite being one of the worst currently-running fighting games on the tournament circuit, is quite possibly the best game in terms of a legitimate esport.