A portion of the Nintendo Switch's reveal trailer showed two esports teams filing into an arena, picking up some Pro controllers and gearing up for a round of Splatoon in front of a roaring crowd. While seemingly fantasy, Splatoon 2 as an esport isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Nintendo of America recently tweeted a surprising announcement: That Splatoon 2 would be able to connect 10 Switch consoles over LAN for a private match, four on each team and two observers able to spectate from player-perspective or an omniscient overhead view.
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) February 11, 2017
These two facts in tandem might indicate a marketing push to try to force "esports" in as a buzzword for a non-endemic game. Most of the best, and biggest, scenes come from grassroots efforts. Street Fighter was born in the fluorescent depths of arcades, Dota 2's grandaddy was built on the bones of another game and Super Smash Bros. Melee almost revels in being an esport with no real publisher or developer support. Often the esports cart is put before the proverbial horse.
Splatoon isn't quite the same though. This quirky, ink-based squid-shooter wasn't pushed as an esports title for its release on the Wii U, and despite being on the Wii U, it gradually garnered a following.
Organisers of Splatoon events faced some of the most significant logistical challenges of any esport. In an AMA a year ago, members of several teams and organisers discussed the competitive scene. The tournament organiser for the Booyah Battle Series, "BestTeaMaker," described the amount of equipment needed to host just a single competitive match:
While there's a whole suite of tools for players to play competitive with in place, there isn't much from a spectator's point. LAN events are also very hard and expensive to do due to the number of capture devices and ethernet connections needed.
Any match in the past needed capture devices and ethernet connections to hook up ten Wii U's, leaving an observer only 10 player point-of-view cameras to work with for play-by-play. That's certainly far from ideal, but tournament organisers and teams pushed through to make events happen.
The passion for Splatoon is still alive, though muted. Streamers still play online, and players gather in a Discord server called "The Inkademy" to discuss builds and share strategies. One of the most interesting niches I found was a content creator who goes by "Silver," who delves into really in-depth game theory topics using Splatoon. This one on whether low accuracy is a boon is really something else:
Though a spot of esports in the Switch's reveal trailer may be a marketing grab, the reality is that Splatoon already has a passionate following. Users have delved into the game data, charting shots-to-kill and theorycrafting map strategies. Twitch streamers like PKFuzzy, SendouC and Its_Power_ play scrims during the day, streaming high-level play in the Competitive Splatoon community group.
Many games fail to garner a grassroots community, much less one as fervent as Overwatch or Super Smash Bros. But with the right tools in the right place, and on a brand-new system, the stars might be aligning for Splatoon to have a real competitive presence.
Could it be at the level of say, the League Championship Series or The International? Probably not. But for passionate folks who have been hooking up dozens of Elgato capture cards and ethernet connections just to host a small tournament, being able to build up the scene without hardware or software limitations might be all they need.
For a community willing to go to that trouble and endure over a year of pushing a Wii U scene as far as it can go, the possibilities with these tools are exciting.