Opinion: Destiny Really Shouldn't Be an eSport
I like Call of Duty. At its core, it provides such remarkable gameplay as sprinting forward at remarkable speeds while firing in a forward direction. The shooter delivers the fantasy of being a gunfighter who casually shreds people with bullets. The arm-distance of the internet gives me just enough room to revel in killstreaks and K/D ratios, while being removed from actual guilt. The problem is that Call of Duty, like explicit videography, does the absolute bare minimum necessary for pleasure. They’re not simulators, and they’re not designed to be engrossing. Watching someone else play Call of Duty is like watching someone else pleasure themselves to something you’re not watching. There’s no enjoyment to be had. It’s so far removed from the source of pleasure that it’s barely watchable.
This is a lot of words for me to explain that professional Call of Duty is unwatchable.
I’ll watch Overwatch, CS: GO, Rainbow Six and even Halo 5 pro matches. But I draw the line at attempts to make COD and Battlefield eSports. Players of the former games derive pride from complex strategies, execution of moves and domination of engagements. Someone can watch a replay of a particularly notable play and understand why it’s so excellent. Call of Duty and Battlefield deliver something else entirely: You’re a soldier placed in a war, who needs to kill as many people as possible. Battlefield 1 or Infinite Warfare clips are trophies demonstrating rapid kills, long killstreaks or exceptionally creative use of explosives. The pride of these plays is in the satisfaction of the power fantasy.
Destiny is a game with a far more sophisticated fantasy than Call of Duty of Battlefield—and significantly more complex gunfighting—but it ultimately lacks the qualities that make for dramatic broadcast gaming.
The issue with eSports are that the games are rarely built to be played as eSports, meaning there’s no “follow the dotted line” approach. But there are universal elements that the games need to display. Games such as Quake, Halo and CS:Go have had success as eSports, with thriving tournament scenes and eager viewers. Notice that all three are notably minimalist games compared to mainstream shooters, lacking ADS (aim down sights) and sprint.
The heavy reliance on individual engagements means purifying gameplay to its essentials. Single-jump, crouch and grenades represent the most versatile tools for evading enemies; they’re exactly enough for a skilled player, and can be countered by an opponent’s proportional skill. There’s no way to respond to ADS, yet in modern shooters, it gives a player a huge advantage over a player who doesn’t ADS, or doesn’t ADS quickly enough. In Destiny, 1 v 1 engagements are frequently defined by who draws first, because their bullets have superior range and damage. The issue for eSports lies here.
A player who hip-fires has no advantage over a player who aims down sights, and the ability to aim down sights quickly is more important than any other reaction. Unlike jumping, crouching or a grenade, nothing a player can do will neutralize that advantage. You can ADS, as well, but now the engagement is being defined by who aims down sights first, and lands the most shots. In a Destiny gunfight—whether it be in Trials, Rumble or Control—rapid ADS (paired with accurate target acquisition) delivers a larger advantage than any response in the game. And it just isn’t a metric that inspires viewers or makes them cheer.
The immediate issue is that kills in Destiny—and modern shooters as a whole—are determined by elements that just don’t make for good sport. ADS-ing and target acquisition absolutely are elite skills that players should cultivate. But for an eSport to be successful, the metrics for point-scoring and victory need to be interesting in and of themselves. In soccer, the dance of getting a ball into the goal; in football, the strategic routes and machinations that get a player down the field and into the end zone. To be an eSport, the defining element can’t just be skillful, it also has to be interesting. Aiming down sights is not interesting. The gun game and map positions in CS:GO are.
Cross-apply this to any number of the dozens of mechanics related to supers, abilities and exotics within Destiny. The elements that make it such an engrossing, amazing game to many players are also elements that don’t translate into successful eSports. I love chess. I won’t watch televised chess. Changing chess to make more interesting television would ruin the game.