Splatoon 2 could be Nintendo’s biggest e-sport title

It’s no question that e-sports are a big money-maker right now, and probably will be going forward. Riot, Blizzard, Valve, and EA are pulling in millions of dollars through their tournaments and sponsorships each year. Blizzard is reportedly taking their franchising cost up to $30-40 million for their second year of Overwatch League.

In other words, there’s some serious money on the line.

But one contender that hasn’t been on the scene much is Nintendo. They’ve had a complicated history with e-sports. Most notably, their dislike of Super Smash Bros. Melee sticking around for so long on the professional scene, despite the fact that it was released back in 2001, and there’s been three iterations of Super Smash Bros. since then.

While Super Smash Bros. will probably be popular in whatever form, the Splatoon 2 World Championship is just around the corner. Nintendo will be streaming it, along with the new Super Smash Bros., at E3 in just a few weeks. Although Splatoon 2 hasn’t pulled in great numbers on Twitch, it seems to be Nintendo’s best shot at becoming a contender in the e-sports world.

Simplicity is king

For an e-sport to be successful with the general population it needs to be simple for the viewer to follow and understand. Accessibility is something Nintendo has always done well, and Splatoon 2 is a prime example of that philosophy. Anyone who tunes into a game of Splatoon 2 can easily tell who is on what team, and what the basic gist of the game is. The same can’t always be said for games in the Overwatch League.

Splatoon 2 also provides a great competitive landscape for participants, both at the professional and casual level. A key factor is the versatility of the Switch platform. Being able to practice and play anywhere, without having to have a TV or computer monitor around is a distinct advantage.

But what about the gameplay depth? When you’re building a spectator sport, spectators need to be able to see and understand what’s going on. They also need to be able to understand a bit more than just the basics to be entertained. With Overwatch, a lot of the action and mechanics can be hectic, too fast for the eye, and confusing. You’ve got champion counters, in-meta champions, per map champions, bey-blade comps, dive comps, and tank comps to list but a few. This can be quite a learning curve for new viewers.

Splatoon 2 keeps it simple, not only in the map objectives, but overall. Character diversity is great for games like Overwatch and League of Legends, but that diversity means both players and spectators have to learn more about the game to truly understand the intricacies. Inklings, on the other hand, only get modified by their choice of weapons and gear.

While the weapons and gear do modify what the Inklings can do in combat, all of the weapons have something similar going for them. They’re visually distinctive from each other. No matter what it is, whether you’re using an Ink Roller, a Shooter, or even Dualies, each weapon type has a distinctive effect, strengths and weaknesses.

Even the special powers that Inklings can use during a match are distinctive, much more so than a Tracer Pulse Bomb.

Both weapons and special powers also have another thing in common: they further the main goal of the game: inking more of the map. Not all abilities in other competitive games do this. Many abilities like a Mei Ice Wall (Overwatch) can be used purely for zoning purposes.

Who’s good, who’s bad?

Another requirement for a competitive e-sport is the ability for the audience to determine who is good and who is bad. We have to be able to see those plays that make the audience cry out in astonishment. Plays that let the audience get hyped.

While we may not get someone sniping an entire team shot after shot, there certainly is room for showmanship in Splatoon 2. Crucial single-man, or Inkling as the case may be, holds on Turf War maps can easily showcase a player’s skill and creativity in defending. Fierce battles around moving towers can keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

The addition of dodge rolls for repositioning and new weapon types in Splatoon 2, and the ever-present diving into ink for defensive purposes, allows players to really up the level of play. Remember, it’s not just about covering the ground ink brightly colored squid juice. Smacking your enemy with a paint roller or a long-range ink gun is just as important.

Player base

Let’s be realistic for a moment. Splatoon 2 will never be able to compete on a viewership or monetary level with Overwatch, DOTA 2, or League of Legends. It just isn’t that type of game. Nintendo just isn’t that type of company yet. But Splatoon 2 as an e-sport can bring something to the scene that those games haven’t been able to, and that’s more participation from a casual audience.

Nintendo seems to champion having fun with your friends above all else. They have never been the “hardcore gaming” company, which is part of the reason they wanted to move away from Super Smash Bros. Melee. Splatoon 2 is vastly different from the rest of competitive e-sports at the moment. Yes, the objectives in competitive play are basically the same as Overwatch, but it’s all about the delivery.

Nintendo knows how to put on a show. They know how to engage with their audience and give them what they want. And most of all, they aren’t afraid to make mistakes and adjust when needed.

Fun aesthetics, creative maps, less violence, and the power of Nintendo could push Splatoon 2 a long way in the competitive landscape. And don’t forget, the Nintendo Switch is insanely popular among consumers, with nearly 18 million units sold to date worldwide.

Splatoon 2 has all the ingredients to go big in competitive e-sports. Whether or not Nintendo goes for it is a different story, but the upcoming Splatoon 2 World Championship at E3 could show not only Nintendo, but the rest of the world that Splatoon 2 is ready to enter the big leagues.

If you want to watch the Splatoon 2 World Championship, as well as the Super Smash Bros. invitational, head over to Nintendo’s E3 website on June 11th and 12th for the free stream. And if you want to check out some Splatoon 2 gameplay, check out last year’s matchup between Japan and USA.