Escapist EditorialsWhy Boss Key's Blue Streak Is Good for You, Me, Epic, and eSportsEscapist Editorials - RSS 2.0
By now you've undoubtedly heard about Cliff Bleszinski's new studio, Boss Key Productions. And perhaps you felt excitement swelling within after Boss Key's first game, Project Blue Streak, was announced yesterday. As a lifelong fan of the arena shooter, I was already looking forward to a new Unreal Tournament (even as an entrenched member of Team Quake). And then a second free-to-play arena shooter appears? That excitement has only increased over the last few days. I'm looking forward to playing both UT2014 and Blue Streak, not only because of the anticipated competition between the two, but because both titles could very well dictate the future of shooters in eSports.
I've been largely inactive since becoming a full-time writer, but there was a time when I took competitive gaming pretty seriously. I competed at high levels in Battlefield 2, Battlefield 2142, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty 4, the Enemy Territory franchise, and Team Fortress 2. While I hung up my mouse and keyboard a few years ago, I still follow the various eSports scenes with a close eye. Some genres have taken to eSports like a fish to water, particularly the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) segment. One look at Valve's The Invitational 4 and its $10 million prize purse affirms that. And the StarCraft II-led RTS genre is also very healthy, especially in Asia.
There's a lot we don't know about both UT2014 and Blue Streak, but the greatest unknown from an eSports perspective is cold, hard cash. Not cash in the context of development budget, but rather, "how much money are we going to put into competition?" Back in my day, $40,000 in an 8-versus-8 Battlefield 2 tournament was an impressive sum. Now? It needs to be six figures or bust, at minimum. Is Epic going to put up that kind of prize purse? Should I expect a $1 million Unreal Tournament Masters event? And what about Nexon? What kind of eSports events will they partner on?
But the FPS genre has been struggling. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Call of Duty rule the competitive FPS roost, but the prize purses are not at levels I would call impressive. The largest prize for a first-place finish in a CSGO tournament was $100,000 at Dreamhack Winter 2013 (awarded to Team fnatic), while the 2014 Call of Duty Championship winners (Team Complexity ) received $400,000.
Neither of those prizes purses are anything to sneeze at, but let's keep them in perspective: Dota 2 has the aforementioned $10 million tournament happening right now, and the League Championship Series is a worldwide phenomenon, fueled by a 2013 $1 million-plus grand prize that will surely grow in 2014.
It could be worse for team-based shooters, but arena shooters? The leading lady is still Quake Live, a 2008 FPS that offers little to the average eSports viewer. It's a six-year-old title, based largely on Quake III, which was released by id Software in 1999. Arena FPS fans are relying on a game with technical roots going back 15 years, and that's simply not good enough. And the Quake Live prize money is comparatively paltry, at best, with QuakeCon tournament winners nabbing $25,000, while Dreamhack winners take down roughly $8,000.