Does Gears of War have a place in eSports?
Once more, the Gears of War franchise shall drop its latest concoction on the ever waiting shoulders of bloodthirsty fans with the repackaging of its outset title in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on August 25th, 2015. The original entry in the popular Microsoft series was one of the defining third-person shooter experiences on the previous generation of consoles as well as its brief stint on PC.
The bloodshed, tight controls, and imaginative weapon designs kept players coming back for two sequals, a prequel, and has fueled anticipation for the already announced next generation installment Gears of War 4.
While the campaign for each game had its glorious and heartfelt moments through viceral images and unique situations, the multiplayer component was where the majority of fans made residence. The undying loyalty of the game's competative multiplayer clientele was shot into the forefront as the new curators of the series, The Coalition, announced the reimagining of the original entry. Gears of War: Ultimate Edition will see a complete graphical overhaul with updated visuals in both its campaign and multiplayer with addition content for both that was exclusive to the PC release of the game in 2007. At 60 frames per second, the competitive arena of Gears of War will be injected with new life as the current dry spell in Microsoft's Xbox One library comes to a close.
Will the new visuals change the way the game is played?
In the age of competitive gaming that we currently occupy, a strong eSports presence is almost a requirement in securing a title's longevity. There are three pillars that a title must have in order to have a chance at attracting a passionate competitive playerbase and viewership.
1. Infinite Skill Ceilings
Here is a loaded question; why do we watch professional athletes? Answer: They are the best. It is a psychological state of envy for a skill that we cannot hope to achieve easily. In gaming, this is even more prevalent. While professional eSports players are required to have an athletes mental discipline, improving at video game like Counter-strike: Global Offensive has the misconception of being an easier goal compared to the bodily requirements of physical sport.
A game requires a sense of attainable skill when watching a professional. The feeling of wonderment with a dash of understanding of the principles being executed. Games like Counter-strike and Super Smash Bros. Melee have this. All the gameplay mechanics needed to play at the next level are available to everyone, but players who hone and perfect their gameplay will have the advantage without the mechanics used seeming imbalanced.
Competitive Counter-strike is known for being easily accessible to spectators.
Gears of War has this. The cover mechanics available to everyone became key for skilled players to manuever both the map and other players during close quarters combat. The "Active Reload" became a tool to use in combination with the over the shoulder aiming with the popular sniper rifle. The combination of using the cover mechanic with picking up a new weapon would result in a sliding motion to avoid sniper fire. These tips and tricks go hand in hand with the mantra of any eSport worthy game: easy to learn, but difficult to master.
2. Balanced Teamplay and Engaging the Spectator
While being able to improve your skill infinitely within the sandbox of a multiplayer environment is key for a shooters success as an eSport, it is meaningless without the incorporation of unique and improvable teamplay. This all revolves around the synergy of gametype and map design. Once again, Counter-strike: Global Offensive is the poster boy for these concepts. Valve employes top tier map design that is directly fueled by the "Bomb Defusal" gametype that is in the forefront of their competitive experience. One team attacks while one team defends and the sides are switched half way through the match. The sandbox of Bomb Defusal has an infinite skill ceiling for teams that are willing to dedicate themselves to improving synergy and strategy.
This is where Gears of War has the opportunity to grow. Having a tight and dedicated gametype that can be improved upon by players is absolutely essential and Gears of War only scratched the surface on what their game can be competitively. While the last teammate standing Execution mode has been the most popular throughout the series' tenure, it is missing that spectator value that can spawn a series of intense and memorable moments. Any player would agree that seeing the last surviving member of your team come out on top over the four remaining enemy players is one of the best aspects of the gametype, but those moments are few and far in between.
The mode was, and still is, stale for spectators. While Counter-strike has the same last man standing mechanic in their Bomb Disposal gametype, the added layer of an overall object (arming/defusing the bomb) gives the spectator another level of investment in each match. Simply watching the slaying of players is not what is needed to have an engaging shooter as an eSport.
The concept for Gears of War's Execution mode is simple: Eliminate the enemy team. Both teams spawn with the same gear loadout and do battle over weapons that are placed in the map (i.e the sniper rifle, grenades). At its most basic level, the game is easily accessible for a spectator. However; the simplicity of a games mechanics are not what make a game accessible. Powerhouse eSports titles like League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Counter-strike: Global Offensive each have there own complex nuances that need to be explained to a viewer in a coherent and understandable way. Visual aids for weapon spawn timers, respawn timers, and easy access to the basic rules of the game through engaging commentary would give Gear of War easy access from the outside looking in.
Gears of War also features objective based modes
On the opposite end of the spectrum, fighting games like Super Smash Bros. Melee and Street Fighter suffer from accessibility issues. Being able to explain the complex mechanics being exploiting by a games top player base is one of the main points holding back the genre as an eSport outside of each games individual niche. Gears of War is lucky in this aspect.
The simplicity of Gears of War's mechanics give way to engaging commentary and visual guides for unfamiliar spectators, which happens to be most viewers due to the games previous exclusivity on Xbox 360 and Games for Windows Live. With the impending release of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition for PC, the overwhelming presence of competitive PC gamers will give Gears of War the competitive trial by fire it deserves when determining its value as an eSport.
Will the game be embraced by competitive gamers upon its August 25, 2015 release date? Check back as we will explore the positive and negative changes to the games multiplayer as well as its stake in competitive gaming after newcomers have gotten their feet wet.