Is it Possible to Resurrect an Older Game with Esports? It May Be Easier Than You Think

By on February 14, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Classic Games

We’ve been doing our best to have an honest discussion about the future and potential of esports over the past month or so; we’ve talked about the effect the esports landscape has on our community and our tournaments, but there’s still the third major part of the formula we’ve left out. Today we’re going to talk about the games themselves, which ones we choose as our defining titles, and whether or not there’s any room for anything different.

The main question we’re going to be considering is do we need to run our latest games over games from generations past? Developer support helps us make bigger events with grander prizes, but as we saw most prominently in the latest Evo donation drive, there’s a lot of love for older games without direct developer support.

Before going any further let’s set up the current landscape of the FGC. We tend to promote and play the latest games in our favored franchises. We play Street Fighter V over Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Soul Calibur V over Soul Calibur II, Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- over Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R, and so on. This seems like a natural progression, moving on to the next game, but is it our only option?

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When you sit down and think about our tendency to choose the newer games for competition, some basic questions start to come to mind. Are the newer titles better fighting games? Do we simply enjoy newer games more? People do enjoy the newness, the higher-end visuals, the sense of discovery. There’s also, of course, supporting your chosen company and franchise. These are important factors, but none of them translates to gameplay. If an older title was a better or more enjoyable game, why does it make so much sense to drop it completely for newer titles?

The current level of esports attention on the FGC means we are being viewed by a lot of people outside of our prior niche. We are getting backing from companies, we’re getting coverage on big news sites, and we’re appearing on ESPN. It makes sense in this light to play the newest game, as it aesthetically tends to be superior to past games, and this makes companies more likely to try and push it for newcomers.

On that grand scale, sure, playing the newest game seems ideal. Before ending the discussion at that, though, let’s take a break from the big esports talk and reel our sights in for a moment: without any outside perception or influence, if given the choice, which game(s) would our community promote to our biggest stages? Is it even within our power to do, or do we need the backing of parent companies to choose our games for us?

Some think so, but look at the Evo donation drive; we chose to promote Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 despite very little support from Capcom for the game outside of the recent PS4 port. UMvC3’s primary competition in that donation drive was Pokkén Tournament, which–while relatively new–has seen waning investment from Nintendo. If we as a community can choose which games go up on the Evo stage despite little-to-no developer interest, why don’t we choose fan-favorite games for the grand stage more often?

The concept of bringing our classic gems to the forefront wouldn’t even need to step on the toes of our current FGC esports setup, and could very easily mesh into the scenery. Let’s take a moment to imagine a scenario in which we, as a community, decided to promote an older fighting game as our title of choice.

The first problem you run into when considering an older game is the issue of attendance. Not as many players have access to the older titles–though many are rediscovering them through FightCade, emulators, and current-gen ports–and not as many people are even looking at them because they prefer to be a part of the bigger community. With fewer players, it seems like an endeavor doomed before it can start. There’s no point without wide-scale attendance, some might say.

For starters, this point of view only comes about by following traditional FGC logic. Many scenes and communities use their tournament presence as a sort of yard stick, measuring their worth compared to other games. This habit sometimes harms smaller games, with recent players dismissing games without large showings, but just looking at how much community attention is drawn to the idea of new tech for Vampire Savior, a new Street Fighter II update or Tatsunoko vs. Capcom tournaments, and it’s easy to see that the love for these games still exists. We even have an ongoing large-scale Street Fighter III tournament in Japan, which saw over 90 5-player teams competing (over 450 players!), and we have a big upcoming tournament for Super Street Fighter II Turbo at Combo Breaker, with an arcade cabinet as the prize. Excitement and passion for these old games still burns, just waiting for the chance to surface and be shown off.

With this much in-house attention and hype for these older games, there is a clear path for these titles to resurface in an esports setting. For a clear example of an esports title running on only a few entrants, let’s look at League of Legends. We used League as a comparison in our last article, and talked about the fact that 40 teams of 5 players competed to form the qualifiers and the world championship. That’s only 200 players, which is lower than many numbers we get in Major Tournaments across the country, year-round. There are of course millions of League players, but it proves that a world-class showing of skill doesn’t need thousands of competing players to be successful. A concise experience on a focused circuit for an older game across 5 to 10 events a year is something that is genuinely manageable.

So, once you understand the route that an older game could take to find success, the next question that bubbles up is simply: why bother? Our current formula sees thousands of players making dozens of events across the country. So, why make the effort when our current method of operation works fine? Well, there are a few benefits that should be considered before dismissing the idea.

The main advantage these games have would be that they would be handpicked by the community, instead of assigned to us by companies trying to sell a product. Concepts like dealing with poor business practices, poor/unpopular design choices, rushing to learn the game and adapt faster than anyone else, dealing with certain parts of the world having the game longer than others, hoarding tech, and sudden meta changes become non-issues for the most part. An older game is essentially an unchanging monolith that allows competitors to simply focus on improving, uninterrupted by anything that isn’t just refining their play.

The other huge benefit to promoting an older game is never having to worry about the game changing with patches. Sports in general don’t need to concern themselves with learning the game over and over again with each new season (or mid season!), meaning you can leave and come back at any time while be completely familiar with how the game works. Having a fighting game that stays consistent would be largely beneficial for both spectators and competitors, something we see with Super Smash Bros. Melee. Fans and competitors alike are allowed the freedom to take breaks without losing basic knowledge of how the game works. Additionally, as a very technical game, the amount of practice needed to improve in Melee is so consuming that a rework every year would potentially kill a lot of the enthusiasm people have for practicing.

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Games that are intentionally propelled into the esports realm by their developing companies have a habit of shaking up their community to maintain interest. Titles like Mortal Kombat XL and Street Fighter V have applied game-changing patches simply to stir up their community, but even titles that aren’t “esports” feel the sting of too many updates. Updates can be nice to fix problems and refine gameplay, but being able to stay consistent from one year to the next is a valuable quality for competition. In addition, promoting an old game would ensure more quality gameplay and commentary–thanks to sheer familiarity–and we as a community would be able to focus on a sleek experience made for nothing but our love of the game.

The last benefit of having a smaller, tightly run circuit for an older game would be for the tournaments and players themselves outside of the game. The FGC player base is ballooning in size, an issue talked about in our last esports article as being a potential catalyst for changes to the way we run a tournament. This over-saturation at events can lead to fewer tournament games and a larger disconnect between the players/events and the regular attendees.

While the issues discussed in that article–of cutting attentiveness to attendees–are negative effects with larger events, smaller and concise events would be able to get away with these things becoming more positive points instead. While attaching qualifying events to a 50-event series could be a confusing, expensive and a stressful headache for competitive players, a qualifier at the end of 5-10 events is reasonable. The issue of needing to cut back on number of setups solves itself with less players, and most of the other issues solve themselves by the simple act of running an older game at a handful of premier events.

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If you’d like to see some of the stuff I’ve talked about in action, be sure to watch Combo Breaker this year. This tournament has chosen to run that high-profile Super Turbo tournament mentioned above, one that could mirror a lot that I’ve gone over in this article. This could be a great chance to see how esports and classic passion mix.

While we as a community are excited by our new stage and the spotlight we’ve attained, it’s important not to forget our roots or our sense of self. Older games symbolize a lot of what the FGC stands for, pure and uninfluenced passion for the fight. Whether the game(s) we chose would be Vampire Savior, Project Justice, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Heritage for the Future, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Samurai Showdown VI, or whatever other game you can think of, there are clear benefits to representing our heritage that would be a shame to ignore.

John "Zidiane" Silvia is a big fan of classic fighters. Most well known for his efforts in the Skullgirls community, he spends his focus on approaching articles with fresh and unique perspectives. He prides himself on his passion and attention to detail on issues others rarely talk on.