Virtua Fighter X Esports: Does SEGA Have What It Takes To Create A Successful Esports Game?
With a new Virtua Fighter project announced, can the legendary fighting game make it in a brave new world?
The past weekend was an absolute hype fest! There was the Tekken season 4 announcement, the introduction of Kunimitsu, the introduction of Dan in Street Fighter and so much more. But, possibly the piece of information that garnered the most attention was SEGA's announcement of their Virtua Fighter x Esports project. There was a teaser video that showed moments from past Virtua Fighter tournaments before ending with a shot of Yuki Akira, the game's protagonist.
There was a deluge of hot takes and speculation soon after with the most popular being that the SEGA game was returning as an Esport and would come to challenge the likes of Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat, Smash, and so on.
I found this fascinating as it made me wonder if SEGA could actually pull it off. We know that the new project isn't Virtua Fighter 6, and the fact that it is coming almost a decade after Virtua Fighter 5 is very interesting. According to SEGA, the upcoming project is to commemorate their 60th anniversary, but beyond that, we know little else.
So, let's for a second assume that Virtua Fighter x Esports is arriving with hopes to compete with other games in the FGC, can it pull it off? To find an answer, I guess we need to consider three things: What makes a good esport? What makes a good fighting game? And, does Virtua Fighter have the tools to make this all work?
What makes a good esport?
Esports is a billion-dollar industry, and there is a lot of money to be made from the medium. Therefore, several publishers are trying to get in on the act by creating titles that they believe will appeal to a large number of people. Many fail, but, using the examples of some of the biggest games (LoL, DOTA, etc.) a good esport needs three things:
- A large player base
- Developer/publisher support
For the first, it's pretty obvious, but for any game to succeed as an esport, there needs to be a tonne of eyes on it, and a large number of people willing to play it. A quick glance at the player bases for both League of Legends and DOTA shows that they have huge fanbases which means more people are willing to consume the content.
In terms of accessibility, any game that hopes to make it as an esport needs to be easy to lay your hands on. Some of the most popular games are free to play, but with micro-transactions put in to help the developers make their money back.
Finally, as with anything that it a business, a game with hopes of becoming an esport needs to be backed by the creators, or sponsors. So, the more money is poured into the game to create tournaments, prize pools and so on, the more likely the game is to succeed as an esport. In addition, the creators don't necessarily need to be the ones who support it with money, this could come from esports companies or other avenues, but for these entities to be interested, there needs to be a large player base.
What makes a good fighting game?
Now that we have a good idea of what makes a great esport, what are the components needed for a good fighting game? This is a little trickier, and opinions differ. According to a piece on the Washington Post where they asked industry stakeholders what makes a good fighting game, the answers were varied. But, the general gist I was able to get from most responses was this: A fighting game needs to be easy enough for anyone to pick up, but complex or layered enough to ensure that only a select few truly excel at it. You can imagine that this is why a game like Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm wasn't really successful. The game was too easy, which made it feel like luck anytime you won.
There are other things to consider in a fighting game, including the speed, aesthetics, lore, and so on. But, the explanation given above about the intricate balancing act between accessibility and excellence is probably the most important factor.
Now to our third consideration.
Does Virtua Fighter have the tools to make this all work?
Can Virtua Fighter x Esports make it work? This is the million-dollar question, isn't it? Can this game, with its remarkable legacy, make it as an esport? Virtua Fighter made history as the first 3D fighting game when it came out in 1993. It was also quite popular, and it provided us with some great players including Fuudo, who is known for his Street Fighter prowess. So, it certainly has a legacy that it can lean on, but how much can they rely on nostalgia? The last Virtua Fighter game was in 2012, and some of the figures I've seen so far (I take these numbers with a grain of salt) show that it didn't sell too well. What that means is that if it comes out now, its legacy might not count for as much as they might expect.
Also, I wrestle with the idea of releasing a game with the sole purpose of making it into an esport. Sure, many publishers have this goal, but coming out to say it does sound a bit...I dunno...odd. Most successful esport games didn't start with the hopes of making it n the esports scene, but rather they wanted to create something incredible for fans.
With all of that said, Virtua Fighter x esports may yet make it in the FGC competitive circuit, but if you asked me right now, I wouldn't be too sure.
This is one of those that we need to wait and see.