Last time I wrote about MOBAs was in August, not too long ago. Since almost four months have passed since I looked how the interest in these games was developing, I believe it's worth a revisit now before this year’s end.
League of Legends
World ends, and where is the new Client?
Worlds has ended with SK Telecom claiming the Worlds Championship title, along with Faker new status of “Most Remarkable Champion of eSports Overall”. If you don’t know Faker, probably you have never heard of competitive LoL or modern eSports, as it were with Fatal1ty a decade ago. The team and its star player are in vogue of every news site nowadays, even after the All-Star match in Barcelona.
What is getting a lot of attention is how Riot decided to go from a fixed prize pool to a crowdfunded one for this Worlds. Is up in the air how this will pan out for other tournaments, because there is no established ecosystem to generate income for these external tournaments. For example, in Dota 2 you can buy treasures (with cosmetic sets) and tickets (to see games in-client) to support tournaments, today. Will Riot allow for the same?
The new Client should be ready next year, as word on how it has been performing so far has been quite small. There are still things missing, so that means the public test is still fine tuning the Alpha version. In other words, they want it to work first, and then QA the features. Spaghetti code drawbacks, it seems.
Dota 3, basically
The Fall Major 2016 turned the regional balance of power after the post-TI5 shuffle a little, showing the team stability is very important when it comes to play in tournaments — even some great teams failed to qualify to this. Next DAC in february may tell us how the professional scene develops.
The big problem afterwards was The New Journey Update. It fucked up Dota 2 to its core. New hero, new mechanics, new map and a better post-fixed HUD, are bringing new and old players again to the core of this 7.00 gameplay patch.
It seems that Valve took note on making the game more approachable for newcomers, as new visual indicators and timers are in place for a lot of effects (buffs), allowing new players to actually see effects rather than read what X thing does Y for how Z time and then remembering it. But, as it has become more user-friendly, has also widen the gap between choices — flexibility now allows for more decisions than before, being good or bad.
I can’t assure the new update will bring more features like this, being less than a month since it was published and still with a lot of small fixes pending, but it seems so for the sake of bringing more players into the game. They are behind the top League of Legends in audience, even so with 13M monthly active players, but the more the merrier.
A comeback as a miracle
It’s well known that Battleborn is pretty much dead. But some indication of “the last straw” from Randy Pitchford may be coming in the next weeks, or months.
As reports say, Gearbox Software is considering a “trial” version, from which you could purchase more characters, story missions and other forthcoming DLC, but still no release date. I suppose before Christmas if they want to get a chunk riding the holiday wave, but it would depend solely on Take-Two.
I expect them to shift development completely to Borderlands 3, the cash cow Gearbox Software has for quite some time. That could be very good given the maturity of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and would allow the studio to finally get off of this failed product. Hell, even Take-Two could outsource the remaining life of the game to another B or C studio!
Anyway, I think Battleborn will become another great example of how a good game can end in the bargain bin if you mess up your launch window.
Heroes of the Storm
Victim of friendly fire
It seems that Heroes of the Storm raised some awareness during the Blizzcon, but what took the show is the new format for the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship, or HCG in short.
The new HCG allows teams in their different regions to keep them playing steadily for survival, granting them a big exhibition match, and allowing amateur teams to have the opportunity to compete against struggling pro teams. Sound fair, and it is what HotS needed to keep the eSports stable, relevant and fair.
That, I suppose, should beef up the viewership next year. Right now, they are lacking a lot of number on Twitch, and Hearthstone is Blizzard’s juggernaut on the audience perspective. Currently, his Lead Director has been relocated to a new project inside of Blizzard and the “new” guy in charge has some sorts of big plans.
With exposition comes interest, with interest come players, with players comes competitions, and so on. As always, big companies never release numbers that doesn’t reach expectations, so if this keeps happening for HotS it’s gonna die sooner or later because it’s trying to compete without getting large numbers in an already well-packed market. Unless Blizzard has no problems with burning some dollars more until then.
Personally, I hope this can die has a failed experiment for Blizzard. They will someday understand that they came late to the party, and Overwatch-esque games are in the vogue right now. I would believe in the game if it was launched circa-2010.
Nobody can see his HP
There is no indication of player base rather than a shy “20 millions registered players” from a very simple Polygon article, something that everybody knows doesn’t translate directly into “active accounts playing”. For a relatively short (but fun) game, it looks like it can escape from the trends.
What Blizzard could be seeking is more active players, and players that can go for microtransactions — Loot Boxes are sold in the end by real money by the way. Active players are good, but their aim is to maintain the game as a product with steady income (for investors) in the coming months. Without active players, the game may become stagnant, and signs of that were strategies like the Free Weekend and new Heroes. Content-wise, it’s difficult to justify a buy for full price (or USD$40 on PC) if you have other… priorities.
I expect to see Blizzard launching a discount period along the way for the game, while keeping new content incoming, and see where the players graph is going to make more decisions. Worst case scenario: F2P, what could make the game very popular but would kill any opportunity to capitalize entrance price tickets. It would even kill Battleborn (nobody would give a f***) and let the worst kind of players come to the game.
Changing the Item Build
Epic went for a big update called Monolith Update on December 6th. It shifted Paragon to a much more packed and action-oriented game, while incorporating characteristics and mechanics that makes Dota 2 and League of Legends great MOBAs.
For example, a lot of cooldowns have been decreased, meaning more bangs in the game. The inclusion of Fog of War as “Mist” on the jungle, will give more depth in strategy, and a lot surprise skirmishes.
In terms of awareness, Paragon is still close to the leader pack. While numbers are close to 2 million, showing an steady grow, this update may be a good time to open the floodgates of newcomers while they make it more mechanically appealing. Visually, it's a very big GPU-taxing juggernaut on High Quality presets, but it is expected from Epic Games, creators of Unreal Engine.
Personally I think the new patch will bring more players. I don’t know if they will succeed on console ground, though.
Paladins: Champions of the Realm
Alternative item for the poor
Hi-Rez Studios was not happy with Smite, a game that was very well received for long time but never reached above 25K active players. Instead of insisting, it seems that they decided to seize a market opportunity: they launched Paladins, “an Overwatch for poor people”, in Early Access mid-September. In almost 3 months they gained a lot of audience pushing the game on the Internet with big ads everywhere.
With 1.9~ million players in audience since last two weeks of November, and “reached over 5 million players worldwide”, they are surely becoming the Overwath-Alternative as the most helpful customer reviews say. Everyone is happy about how the game has been panned out, and Hi-Rez Studios is not known for fucking shit up… except Tribes: Ascend, probably because of manpower — If you are not a big corporation, trying to maintain two big multiplayer games is next to impossible.
I expect this to die instantly when Overwatch becomes F2P, but I also don’t expect this to happen within a year or two, unless Blizz hits a low in short time or they have enough Heroes to start charging for each one of them — freemium trend. I think Hi-Rez nailed it under the shadow of a big game with enough ego, and the next step is to seize expand the market. There are already plans for this: a tournament in the coming weeks and console beta.
Small(?) fishes in a large pond
Directly associated with Paladins. The logic says to let the game slowly die (or outsource it) while they focus on Paladins. I don’t see each both getting top priority when Smite as stalled in growth since last year.
They recently launched the Open Beta for Xbox One and PC. Eurogamer’s article has all the details, but for now we will have to wait and see how the test pans out. Maybe Gigantic is what Microsoft needs to push his console.
Pretty much dead. The only hope for them is to keep polishing the game and grasp with teeth and nails the chinese market. S2 Games already had a contingency plan, to revive Savage, but still they don’t have the numbers required to keep a single game inside the market. Don’t act surprised if the games are gone and the studio closes.
Orcs must Die: Unchained
They scrapped Siege mode, which is the PvP. Without this, there is little reason to treat Orcs Must Die: Unchained as a MOBA. Robot is now focusing on polishing “the classic Orcs Must Die gameplay”. While there are no plans to bring back Siege, the could add a new competitive PvP mode in the future.
Pretty much dead. No communications from Primal GS or Bandai Namco. It seems that a new publisher could come to the rescue, as Bandai Namco seems to be uninterested in pushing the game through, but nobody picks a dead game unless they see a potential to turnaround. With a well packed market already, no updates, and an abandoned community, it means no. It’s dead Jim.
Cliffy and co. are almost hitting the nail on this one. The game looks very interesting, and extreme verticality gives something no other MOBAs have already tried before. It will be published by Nexon, has a Open Beta registration, and if they start strong with a heavy marketing campaign, it may turn some waters on the MOBA scene.
Steam Charts says the game has found it’s user base around 50k~75k players constantly playing, circa 5 million owners only in PC, and more counting on consoles. Can’t say much, but it seems it’s strong enough to be considered a big fish already.
Closed Beta still. No words regarding playerbase, public events or plans.
Master X Master
Closed Beta but they have announced a Public test in 2017 (may be H1). Nothing more, as I said before, it seems they are pointing this to the asian market rather than the western side of the world.
Arena of Fate
Crytek has its very own problems with staff not being paid since 4 months, and some important ones going to RSI. If Crytek doesn’t fix its stuff, they will probably be bought by a big corporation seeking IPs and CryEngine ( Microsoft, for example) and let Arena of Fate die.
League of Legends will keep being the juggernaut in terms of audience.
Dota 2, Paladins and Paragon will grow a lot if they keep being interesting. Rocket League may be too, it depends.
Heroes of the Storm will slowly die. Overwatch will soon become stagnant so I expect more Free Weekends and discounts, like it happens with Smite, looking on how much money Blizzard put into this.
Arena of Fate will die, like it will happen with Supernova and Strife. In their place will come Lawbreakers and Gigantic to seize the market, while Dropzone and Master X Master struggle both.