Posted by: seanmalstrom | August 18, 2014

Email: eSports and the Hardcore/Casual Dichotomy

Master Malstrom,
Quick question: do you think the risen popularity of eSports around the late 90s to early 2000s due to globalization may have had something to do with aggravating the so-called hardcore vs. casual debate, in a really sad example of disruption?
I mean, I know competitive electronic gaming existed as far back as the days of the Atari and Commodore (heck, proto-eSports is what TRON was based on!), and of course we had the Nintendo World Championships back in my day, but I remember the term “casual” started being thrown around during the early 2000s with the game industry’s embrace of “mobile gaming” and the encroaching decline of the arcades. I could also name names like PopCap and such hitting it big back then with games like DynoMite and Bejeweled; funny though, didn’t those use to exist in arcades…like maybe Puzzle Bobble for instance?
But I also remember that this same time period also saw the rise of things like QuakeCon (1996) and the televised StarCraft tournaments in South Korea. The EVO fighting game tournament began in 1995 after the Street Fighter II craze hit its high point, and since then the Fighting Game genre began to supplant things like shmups and beat-’em-ups. The early 2000s saw the creation of WarCraft 3 and eventually the DotA map, and of course the Counter-Strike mod also came to be. E-Sports was on the rise during this period with large scale tournaments popping up left and right.
But you also mentioned that the kinds of games these tournaments had would attract “the wrong kind of crowd”, one that ultimately turned families away from electronic amusement centers. Could the increasingly myopic game industry have based their entire “hardcore vs. casual” dichotomy in part due to these kinds of crowds–the e-peen types?
I’m sorry if I’m still coming off as ignorant on the matter even after half a decade but there’s a nagging feeling I’ve been getting in the back of my head for a long time. Any mention of “the wrong type of crowd” pertaining to arcade games always keeps jabbing at me. You said that good games always tend to create their own crowd of hardcore enthusiasts who will then proceed to tear it apart unwittingly and ultimately give that particular genre a bad reputation. And I noticed that most of these good games had an eSports scene grow up around them: competitive gaming, whether for number of wins or for score (even shmups have a competitive scene where people strive to set new world record scores, including Hudson’s Caravan series of score attack games in the 80’s).
I know there’s layers and layers to this whole thing–disruption, overshooting the market, catering to high-end customers and so on–but the mention of anything that remotely resembles “e-Sports” seems to resound a lot in “hardcore” circles, and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really a good thing in this day and age of excessive electronic entertainment. Can’t we just have fun with a video game instead of acting like crazy football hooligans or something?
The casual/hardcore language diarrhea came about during the Wii Era. It was a way for butthurt Game Industry and their freak customers to invalidate the Wii. “The people buying the Wii aren’t gamers. They are casuals.” And what about their Xbox 360 and PS3 games? “Those are hardcore.” I think motion controls are the most hardcore games out there. You have to STAND and MOVE to get the game to do stuff. The hardcore games can be played when you are half-asleep.
Looking back, it isn’t the ‘casual’ nature of the game that was distressing to these gamers. It was the lack of immersion. Nintendo realized that there was an audience out there that didn’t desire an escape or immersion in gaming. This was the Expanded Audience. This led to interesting new gameplay experiences. Since Wii Sports wasn’t immersive, it could create the ‘living room house party’ effect. This also explained why these same people hated Mario Kart Wii but love Mario Kart 8 (Mario Kart 8 has some slick graphics) and hated NSMB Wii but loved Mario Galaxy (Mario Galaxy has a sweet soundtrack and slick graphics).
The divide can be closed very easily. Just give those ‘casual games’ the slick graphics and sweet soundtracks. Can you imagine a new 2d Mario that has slick graphics and a sweet soundtrack? You have to imagine it, reader, because we have never received it. This is why the NSMB series is suffering in sales. There is no immersion in the game. It is just stale graphics and ‘bah bah’ soundtrack. And it is being done deliberately by those in Nintendo to sabotage 2d Mario as they dislike how its popularity represents the failure of 3d Mario. Sounds doubtful? Why do you think Nintendo stopped making Super Mario Brothers games for nearly twenty years!!!??? It wasn’t an accident or an oversight.


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