There was a time in the past where titles like Quake, Unreal Tournament, or even Painkiller were the pinnacle of eSports, of competition, and the ultimate contest of reflex and strategy in the gaming world. But popular titles like these have taken the wayside in the last decade or so, making way for eSport giants like Starcraft, League of Legends, and DOTA 2. Sure, there is still a scene for FPS titles in eSports, mostly for games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, and Halo, but none of these titles are anything close to what used to be the pinnacle of eSports. But why have arena shooters fallen to the bottom of competitive popularity? Arena shooters certainly had all the requirements for competition, which flourished for several years, but I believe that most of the reasons that made an arena shooter great are also what lead to their lost popularity as gaming and eSports in general have grown to a have a reputation as an actual sport, over the last decade.
What makes an arena shooter? Call of Duty and Quake are both shooters, but what sets them apart? First of all, the first Quake title was released in 1996, whereas the first Call of Duty title was released in 2003. That’s almost a decade apart if you do the math. Why does this matter? Accessibility. In 1996 buying a computer for the intention of playing games on it was not nearly in demand as it was even in 2003. And as gaming grew, people wanted more accessible titles they could play casually.
If you were to put a casual gamer in front of Quake, and the latest Call of Duty today I could tell you which title most would choose to take home with them, and it wouldn’t be Quake. FPS titles these days make it very easy to “plug and play” so to speak. A game like Quake had a very high learning curve, and to even be in the competitive scene at all required the sharpest of reflexes, memorizing the movement of every map, and keeping track of every weapon and power up timer in your head all at once. To require a casual gamer in 2014 to do all of these things at once would turn them away before they even played the game. The point of this reasoning is people want to play and watch what they understand. It is a lot easier for fans of the game to watch the pros play if they feel like they can understand the meta and chat about it with their friends and practice it in their own games.
You can also see the same trends in the RTS world, whereas while titles like Warcraft III and Starcraft 2 still have a competitive scene, they have taken the backseat to all the big MOBA games currently dominating eSports. The reason? It would be much easier for a new player to pick up the mechanics of DOTA 2 than the complex reflexes and micro management required to be successful at Starcraft 2.
The FPS market these days are being overflown with low ceiling entry titles. Halo, Call of Duty, and Titanfall, and Counter Strike, are all making great success of their works but they are all the same type of game. A team based game with a ranking system and matchmaking. While these titles have been successful, they have been using the same formula for many, many years. The frustration is starting to be made vocal from gamers wanting more, and a small community believe the return of arena shooters is the solution. And while I do not believe this genre of gameplay will ever see the glory it did in the Fatal1ty days, I do believe that small number of titles being developed currently will breathe some new life into a genre we have seen sleeping for almost a decade.
Keep an eye out for the next month as I review some of the up and coming arena shooters that will be making a splash in the near future, how big a splash is what we do not know yet.