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Why Nintendo games don’t succeed as esports (despite being great)

As Pokémon UNITE is shaping up to become one of the more popular titles this year, why don’t Nintendo games succeed as esports titles?

Pokémon UNITE has been released to the public and it offers a new twist to the Pokémon franchise and possibly introduces a new angle as an esports title. Many people have already written of Pokémon Unite as a possible esports title due to Nintendo’s treatment of it in the past? What’s that all about?

Nintendo just doesn’t like esports

The most simple and actually easiest explanation for not many Nintendo games having thriving esports scenes is the support of Nintendo themselves. They simply don’t like catering to it in almost any way, shape or form. That doesn’t mean Nintendo hasn’t acknowledged their esports scenes however, as they have supported them in the past, just not very much, despite some games having a solid following and thriving scene, despite their lack of support.

Back in 2017, former CEO Reggie Fils-Aime was asked about esports at E3. The answer remained kind of vague, but it came down to Nintendo liking the structure and format of a tournament and that people want to compete using their games, yet they’re not looking to get into esports. Fils-Aime said a similar thing in regards to criticism coming from the Smash Brothers community, saying Nintendo wants to be more hands-off in regards to the scene.

The simplest explanation comes from the design philosophy of Nintendo (and the general idea behind their games). Nintendo likes to put accessibility forward as a key component of their games. Everybody should be able to keep playing and just have fun. Acknowledging and supporting the esports scene behind a game can be seen as a direct counter to that mindset. In any case, it didn’t stop fans from just doing it themselves. That’s not to say Nintendo hasn’t done anything. Some of their games do have yearly World Championships and promote competition. Pokken being a prime example.

When Nintendo tried, they faltered

Nintendo hasn’t ever really been great in communicating with the community and as a result, has come out seeming a little spiteful as a result. A great example of this was the esports scene of Smash Bros trying to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, not being able to have offline events. Their use of Slippi, which allowed them to play offline, wasn’t endorsed by Nintendo, who swiftly sent out a cease and desist, which led to great outrage among the many fans of the game.

Community outrage was the name of the game in their NA Open Splatoon event all the way back in December as well. When teams entered their tournament they used names in light of the #SaveMelee movement, which was launched in regards to the Slippi situation. After deciding not to do a livestream of the finals, most likely due to the names of some of the teams, the Splatoon (and Smash) community went wild, again speaking out about Nintendo’s views on esports and competition. Once again, their lack of involvement and communication remain the biggest problem today.

What about Pokémon UNITE?

Any way you look at it, Pokémon UNITE is in its infancy. The MOBA genre is a tried and tested genre when it comes to esports and it’s no surprise that many people are pointing to UNITE as one of those games that could really have an impact if Nintendo decided to put their backs into it. The fact that the developer behind the game (TiMi Studios) has a track record of launching and maintaining healthy and positive esports scenes is a good sign at least.

With the gameplay of Pokémon UNITE rewarding good players and offering more than enough leeway to go and outplay your opponents, there should certainly be teams popping up that are willing to take the game a step further.The biggest questions remain if Nintendo will actually reach out to the community this time and is willing to set up tournaments and offer up valuable prizes to those willing to participate.

It’d be great to see Nintendo finally reach out to those who love their games and want to take it to the next level. There’ve been so many games coming from them, with great fan communities and depth (gameplay-wise), that it’s insane they’ve almost never stepped in and just worked with them. Let’s hope that’s something we might finally see change if UNITE can build up a solid following.

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Image Credits: Nintendo
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