It's been Evo weekend in Las Vegas, arguably the most notable fighting game tournament in the world. Super Smash Bros. Melee and the Wii U entry are two of the biggest titles of the event, with recognisable competitors and a lot of press coverage revolving around the series. If Masahiro Sakurai takes personal satisfaction from the competitive scene endorsing his most recent effort, then the Wii U entry has well and truly delivered - debates about the use of customs aside.
Evo, and other events such as Apex, remain a big deal in the eSports sector, and competitive gaming is an industry that continues to grow. It's particularly significant in PC gaming, but in the console space fighting games are a key part of the industry.
Nintendo, primarily through Smash Bros., has a solid place in this growing space, even if professional Smash players don't necessarily earn big bucks. The big N's commitment to this competitive gaming market, particularly in North America, has been reasonable to date, too. Though it could do much more to support smaller events and to grow the broader competitive Smash market, Nintendo has sponsored major tournaments and - lest we forget - has used two E3 events in a row for gaming competitions. The Super Smash Bros. Invitational was an excellent advert for the Wii U release in 2014, and this year's retro throwback with the Nintendo World Championships was reasonable - the latter had a wonderful hour-plus finale with Super Mario Maker.
The World Championships ended well, though the qualifiers were half-baked and underwhelming. The disappointment of fans with that setup merely highlighted, however, how much desire there is to celebrate and embrace Nintendo gaming in events such as these. That's the key with areas such as competitive gaming for Nintendo - immediate returns and benefits in terms of sales figures and products are hard to quantify, but the publicity and sense of community from these events can be precious.
Beyond Smash Bros., what areas can Nintendo push further? Mario Kart 8 is an obvious contender, with its competitive and record scene being full of enthusiasm but without securing the attention of other eSports areas. We've been intrigued, too, by the potential of a small fan campaign that seeks to make Splatoon more suitable for competition. It remains minor at this stage - with a modest Facebook following - but the LAN and Spectator Mode campaign makes valid points on how Nintendo could convert its shooter into a solid part of the competitive scene. Beyond fighting games and complex PC strategy games, shooters are right up there as popular eSports titles.
So what is this campaign suggesting for Splatoon? Below are the requirements, as it sees it, that could make Splatoon accessible and suitable for events organisers and the development of an eager community.
Why is LAN necessary? At the moment, in order to have a single match for a Splatoon tournament when custom lobbies are available in August, you would need 8 Wii Us connected to the venue's internet in order to have two teams play. The internet at the venue would have to be spectacular in order for the game to run without hiccups. This effect would be significantly worse if a venue had multiple setups. This game is so unique, fun to play and great for spectators, and so it only makes sense that Splatoon can be very big. However, the lack of LAN support can severely hurt the community's growth, as it adds yet another barrier that venues will have to face in order to host tournaments. A game store or hotel internet can only take so much.
Why do we need Spectator mode? In order to be able to stream a view from each player in a match, a streamer would currently need to have each wii u equipped with a capture card. Assuming you're paying approximately $150 per capture card, that comes to a total of $1200, and that's a lot of money. Very few people will be able to stream Splatoon tournaments with much quality, severely limiting the amount of new people we can attract to the community. Online tournaments are not currently capable of being streamed at all.
Now, Splatoon has been at Evo for some fun distraction, and has featured in Nintendo streams and the aforementioned World Championships in previous months. Yet away from major big N events - which has the benefit of custom setups - these suggestions seem like viable ideas to bring it into non-official events. With the colourful shooter constantly expanding with updates, and the promise of custom lobbies in August, it seems like a great idea to grow the community around the game.
When you consider the utilisation of Super Mario Maker at E3, the established scene around Smash Bros., and the potential - with updates - of Splatoon, it's clear that Nintendo has the right blend of games, nostalgia and brand power to continue to grow in competitive gaming. Splatoon, as a new IP that's shifted a lot of copies and earned fervent loyalty from plenty that have experienced it on Wii U, could certainly be terrific in team-based events; imagine a future world of dedicated Splatoon teams and clans, training for major events to win attractive prize money.
It's not beyond possibility that in years to come there could be sizeable followings for competitive Nintendo gaming. Smash Bros. is already well on the way but can still grow, while Splatoon could fill the shooter space, and something like Super Mario Maker has endless possibilities in drawing in retro gamers and the speedrunning scene. As we've said, the Super Mario Maker segment of the Nintendo World Championships was truly riveting viewing, with two gifted players battling it out on spectacular courses.
Beyond set events, Nintendo can tie-in online events to further grab those that may typically just watch live streams online. Tournament modes and features have featured in multiple games, including Mario Kart 8, and the much anticipated Tourney mode is just weeks away in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. We've banged this drum before, but games like those, Super Mario Maker and Splatoon could really benefit from official competitions - perhaps even with prizes. When in the form of in-game bonuses or eShop credit, we can imagine a frenzy of activity if the eSport vibe was applied to official online contests within Nintendo biggest games.
Watching the Smash Bros. rounds at Evo, and remembering the last two E3 events, it's striking how much passion there can be for competitive Nintendo gaming. Embracing this to the full takes time, and we should be fair and acknowledge that Nintendo of America in particular has made notable progress; yet more can be definitely be done. The potential is there - we have the games and the potential appetite in the gaming public.
Let us know what you think of this - do you think competitive gaming can become an even bigger part of Nintendo culture, even beyond Super Smash Bros.?