We don’t talk a lot about esports here at PlayStation LifeStyle, and for good reason: Esports just haven’t taken off on consoles the way they have with PC games. With the exception of fighting games and maybe the occasional console-centric shooter like Halo or Call of Duty League (played on PS4), esports titles haven’t worked as console ventures either due to limitations or a lack of precision. A recent interview with Riot about its prototyping of a console version of its new Counter Strike-esque shooter Valorant is a perfect example. Players give up a lot of features by going console instead of PC that are crucial to the esports experience. However, if there is any hope to be had, it’s with the announcement of Squadrons, the upcoming Star Wars strategic, 5 on 5 dogfighting game and, potentially, an esports dream mashup of a beloved franchise, gameplay style, and accessibility.
While details as to what Squadrons gameplay is actually like haven’t surfaced (we’ll get gameplay at EA Play Live), we do have some hints from both the trailer, as well as how EA is marketing the game itself. The $40 price point seems like a dead giveaway, as historically consumers have sneered at the concept of paying $60 for a multiplayer-centric experience. And let’s be honest: Players are more likely to be okay with purchasing cosmetic items when the game wasn’t full-price to begin with (if the game even has in-game purchases. Not yet confirmed). But besides an educated guess based on price, the trailer itself says a lot about what the gameplay design will be and why it’s most certainly made with competitive gaming in mind.
The set-up for esports is all there: Two factions warring over locations with strategically placed obstacles. Nondescript pilot characters meant to remind players of the Star Wars tropes and aesthetics but aren’t recognizable characters. Varied types of ships meant to represent different classes in the old competitive gaming triangle of tank/damage/support. One of the bigger clues about this being an esport comes in the fact that both factions appear to have a gigantic home base in the form of a ship where players will deploy. It all smacks of esports, especially when combined with EA’s own description of the game that says “feel the adrenaline of strategic first-person 5v5 multiplayer dogfights alongside your squadron.”
My educated guess in regards to the gameplay is that teams of five will compete on various maps, working to blow up the enemy base in a style not too far from a traditional MOBA. Both bases will spawn weak, base ships akin to minions that march down the lanes in a MOBA, which fits in the with Star Wars dogfighting of the movies where thousands of ships are blasting each other in every which direction. Your ship will level up throughout the course of a match, both from the experience harvested from weaker minion ships as well as getting kills on the enemy squadron. (EA has so far confirmed a basic 5v5 deathmatch mode as well as a “Fleet” mode, where players work to destroy a larger ship, but hasn’t offered additional details yet.)
And, honestly, it’s the perfect set-up for an esport that is easy to get into but also simple to understand. After all, Star Wars fans have been watching dogfights across various media for decades at this point. it’s not like sitting a novice or casual viewer down in front of something like Overwatch and trying to explain what every explosion, icon, and HUD element mean. space ship battles make sense and are easy to wrap the head around.
The potential strength of a franchise such as Star Wars in the esports space cannot be ignored either, as the right license can get curious players to take a look at a new game style and potentially stick around. My wife is a sucker for Star Wars ships and can name the various classes at the drop of a hat. For her and other’s similar, there is a real value to a game that puts the emphasis on the lore of Star Wars and its machinery. There’s also a real consumer want for Star Wars space battles if tabletop gaming is to be considered. Games such as Star Wars: Armada, X-Wing, and others all recreate the thrill and strategy of space aerial combat and continue to be successful, as well as lucrative thanks to the selling of individual ships and specific models.
Space combat and dogfighting is a potential game genre that lends itself to being accessible to console players as well, with some of the best aerial combat games ever being on non-PC devices. The likes of Colony Wars, the classic Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, and more are all part of a long lineage for a game genre that’s been in remission for some time. The addition of VR (and full platform cross-play on all devices) to this equation means a level of accessibility that can potentially put console players on the same level as PC opponents.
All of these things together are a perfect storm of esports: Something easily recognizable and iconic, yet simple to pick up and understand the basic strategy. It may also be the competitive game I never knew that I wanted so badly, as Squadrons has jumped up to be one of my most anticipated games of the year. Surely we’ll see more in the coming months about Squadrons, already confirmed to see gameplay tomorrow during the EA Play Live event. I’ve always wanted to jump into the cockpit of a ship in a galaxy far, far away and Squadrons may finally be my chance to do it at a competitive level. So, here’s hoping.