Millions of gamers partake in online shooter matches every day — some play as though their lives depend on it while others are purely having fun. In the past few decades, the best players in the world convened to create one of the largest world organizations: Major League Gaming.
Shooters have been around for decades — some with competitive scenes and others without. One could compare those with and without competitive scenes and blame the difference on pure coincidence. However, despite a few anomalies, the deciding factor boils down to health. A shooter in which players have a large amount of base health fashions gameplay that requires more skill, setting up the game for competition.
Gaming competitions began in 1972, when a Stanford University (Calif.) “Spacewar!” competition drew students in for the chance to win a Rolling Stone subscription. Atari later held the first large-scale competition, a 1980 “Space Invaders” Championship, setting the stage for future competitive gaming.
Shooter competitions in particular gained traction, with “Counter-Strike” and “Quake” as two of the first games to develop tournaments in the late 1990s. Since 2000, shooter eSports — official competitions organized by Major League Gaming that pitch professional teams against each other — have been a dominating force, with games like “Overwatch” and “Call of Duty” offering countless championship prizes and bringing in millions of fans to international events.
However, not every shooter has had a chance at competitive fame. Recent “Battlefield” installments and “Sniper Elite 4” have not had any competitive scene surrounding them despite great reviews and loyal fanbases.
Meanwhile, other similar shooters, such as “Halo 5: Guardians” and “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” (“Counter-Strike: GO”) are some of the largest eSports organizations in the world. The main reason for this is subtle: the amount of player base health games offer. With more health, shooters need to hit consistently and accurately, immediately widening the skill gap between a good and bad player. With low health, a few lucky shots get the kill, making it easier for lower-tier players to eliminate more skilled players.
In some popular competitive shooters, such as “Counter-Strike: GO,” players do not have much health. However, headshots are vital since it’s a PC-dominated game and players use keyboard and mouse; the damage multiplier gained from them is enough to create a huge skill gap between players who can and cannot hit consistent headshots.
In many other competitive shooters, whether on console or PC, players have abundant health. In “Halo,” it takes multiple DMR rifle headshots or one sniper headshot to eliminate enemies. In “Fortnite Battle Royale,” headshots are vital, and with all the jumping and building during gunfights, an unskilled player will become disoriented and confused, losing the battle due to slow reflexes, poor aim and a lack of map knowledge.
Had “Fortnite Battle Royale” only given players enough health to be hit a couple of times before elimination, gameplay would be completely different. Players would be eliminated before they could start building, and unskilled players could land one hit with a shotgun and eliminate other skilled players. Additionally, games would last a fraction of the time they normally do, and losing yourself in the storm would yield a quick and merciless elimination.
“Call of Duty” is a competitive shooter anomaly — headshots are uncommon as the game is a console competitive sport — and players have low health. When playing a casual public match, the worst players get lucky grenade kills and no-scopes, in which a player snipes another player without scoping in. Campers, players who sit in one spot the whole game, run galore. From an outside perspective, “Call of Duty” is an unlikely candidate for competitive gaming.
To combat this, “Call of Duty” multiplayer, as casual players know it, is heavily altered — certain weapons, perks and equipment are removed and objective game modes are played, as opposed to team deathmatch, in which both teams would most likely camp to avoid elimination. Because of this, competitive “Call of Duty” is, in some senses, completely different from its casual counterpart.
But even competitive “Call of Duty” suffers from the skill gap — low health results in a whoever-sees-who-first-wins dynamic, which leads to a unique competitive strategy: sacrifice. With low health and quick respawn times, a death is sometimes not so bad, especially when it can lead to a flag capture. However, in games such as “Fortnite Battle Royale,” a death can end the match. When it comes to competitive gaming, “Call of Duty” is simply so popular that it has created a thriving scene, despite factors that make it an improbable contender for competitive play.
Some shooter franchises, such as DICE’s “Battlefield,” have been altered so heavily that it is no longer possible to have a competitive scene. “Battlefield 1942” was one of the first big competitive shooters when it was released in September 2002 but “Battlefield 1,” released in October 2016, lacks a competitive scene altogether.
Most things that changed from “Battlefield 1942” to “Battlefield 1” were trivial to the game mechanics — better graphics, more weapons and in-depth customization are a few. However, factors that affect gameplay did not change (other than smoother movement, which would only serve to help a competitive scene), such as map size, vehicles and game modes. The only component that was vastly altered is player health. “Battlefield 1” gives players much less health than “Battlefield 1942” and this is more than enough to eliminate competitive play.
A shooter’s competitive edge begins with high base player health. Despite a few exceptions, competitive shooters rely on larger amounts of health or risk losing the skill gap, thereby eliminating the factors that make a good player stand out from the rest. Though a subtle element, it is the basis for most of what we know today as eSports.