Nintendo has historically balked at expanding online multiplayer support, let alone its competitive gaming presence. They’ve tussled with Smash Bros. esports and YouTubers, and while they’ve loosened their grip over the past few years, Nintendo remains one of the last major gaming platforms to be swept into the esports craze. That might be changing, though. With the latest batch of Nintendo Switch news, it looks like Nintendo might finally be preparing to join the 21st century.
The first hint of this came in October when an early Nintendo Switch trailer showed two Splatoon teams facing off in a massive stadium. While Splatoon fostered a passionate community, the game never took off in the competitive sphere, largely due to the lack of private lobbies and Nintendo’s hard stance on YouTube and streaming. With no actual LAN support either, competitors are at the whims of the game’s unpredictable peer-to-peer functionality, meaning players will have certain advantages in matches depending on their internet connections. Even playing in the same room poses difficulties, as Wii U controllers can interfere with each other and cause chaos.
But if Nintendo is serious about drawing the crowds shown in that aforementioned trailer, it suggests that they’re also serious about improving competitive features in their games, and that they’ll be leading that initiative with Splatoon 2.
Splatoon isn’t the only game that hints that Nintendo’s ready to make a big commitment to esports, though. ARMS, too, could be a big candidate, especially since it can be played with the Pro controller in lieu of the motion controls. ARMS is very clearly inspired by colorful hero-shooters like Overwatch, but with a brawler twist. After seeing demos of the game, ARMS clearly has a lot of strategy for folks on the competitive edge to sink into. Each character has their own set of abilities that could make for an entertaining live spectacle.
Games like ARMS and Super Smash Bros. will be aided with the Switch’s Pro controller. While the Wii and Wii U both had Pro controllers, the Switch’s most closely resembles the Xbox One gamepad, providing a more ergonomic feel that will be comfortable for folks in the tight grip of competitive play.
Nintendo’s biggest sticking point when it came to esports, though, was its impressive but not entirely surprising lack of community support. Splatoon doesn’t have a spectator mode, making it difficult to stream competitions when they actually do happen. The new device could be abandoning the Wii U’s unwieldy online multiplayer setup. At the Nintendo Switch Direct event, the company unveiled a new premium online service. While details on the new paid model are scarce — we pretty much only know that it has voice chat and monthly free games — it could be seen as a sign by some that Nintendo is committed to improving its online capabilities.
At this point, with many major publishers jumping into the realm of esports, Nintendo would be wise to adapt. The fact that League of Legends has partnered with the Big Ten Conference to organize college leagues says a lot about the trajectory of esports over the next few years. Despite questionable decisions regarding Nintendo’s online presence (RIP Super Mario Maker), Nintendo fans are still a devoted community. If the Japanese giant chooses to invest in that, it could be big.