Making Mordhau into an Esport (Part 2)

Team Objective Modes

TO was the bread and butter of Chivalry. Epic 16v16 sieges with catapults, burned granaries, and peasant-slaughtering felt incredible. 16v16 may not be feasible for competitive ladders where 5v5 or 6v6 allows individuals to play a larger role, but none of that is stopping 6v6 modes from having TO in addition to LTS and other game types.

While the money model might not work as well in TO since money wouldn’t be gained from completed rounds, it could still work out as long as there are means to spend your cash without dying. A quartermaster NPC or simple chest in the spawn area/other areas would solve this problem.

One other interesting alternative is to include items scattered around the map. Perhaps a defending team must keep attackers out of a castle, but the village below has a smithy full of weapons and armor for the taking. This would force the defenders to choose between gaining a stronger defensive position at the castle or taking a risk to move away from their spawn and defend the smithy and treasures within.

Keeping the Developers Afloat

Mordhau has already been priced at $25 on release. While this should prevent it from falling into any of the pay-to-win nonsense popularized by mobile games and failing MMOs, that doesn’t mean Mordhau can’t (or shouldn’t) have additional paid skins/cosmetics for sale.

Paid skins may ruffle feathers. When Torn Banner Studios began releasing paid skins in Chiv, people criticized them heavily. However, they didn’t take flak simply because of the skins. Refusing to polish the game itself and fix existing bugs, in addition to relying heavily on community-created content, earned them plenty of player animosity for good reason. As long as Mordhau’s team does the following three things, paid skins shouldn’t be a problem:

  1. Don’t let skins affect gameplay (keep all skins/hitboxes the same size, not too obstructive or distracting, etc.).
  2. Prioritize bugs and pressing gameplay problems over skin releases.
  3. Allow players to earn some skins in game, without payment (even if it takes a very long time).

Make Room for Incentives

Some people play competitive games for fun, some play for exciting moments, some play for close matches, but many also play for rewards. Rare cosmetic rewards, indicators of a player’s ranking, and other means of demonstrating the time invested in competitive modes will help keep players excited about ranking up and keeping these queues populated.

However, if too many rewards are given for competitive play, other problems may occur. When cosmetic rewards are handed out liberally as simple participation trophies, many casual players who don’t care as much about winning will join competitive modes and decrease the quality of matches. After all, if you can only get that double-horned, Skyrim-style viking helmet from playing 500 competitive matches, you’ll do so even if you don’t care about winning. Furthermore, if that special helmet is only given out at the end of the season to the top 10% or 1% of players, the players near these cutoffs may be extra salty when their team starts losing.

To mitigate these issues, the rewards given should be recognizably unique and alluring but simultaneously simple. Overwatch does a great job at offering cosmetic incentives without causing too many additional problems. Rather than offer completely unique skins for participation or high placement, Overwatch allows players to grind competitive games for points which will allow them to buy golden guns. These participation trophies are distinct and recognizable but, at the same time, they are just recolors. Furthermore, the rewards earned by players in the Top 500 include a simple player icon and an animated version of an otherwise ordinary spray. The rewards are attractive but aren’t going to cause that many people to obsess over them.

The Viewer Experience

Last but not least, the viewer experience is arguably the most important element of creating a successful esport. While first-person camera views and aerial fly-by spectating is expected with these types of games, other additions could enhance visibility greatly. For example, forcing teams to have specific colors (red versus blue?) depending on if they are on offence or defence would allow spectators to clearly distinguish who is on each team. A simple, non-intrusive scoreboard would also keep the emphasis on the gameplay.

Better yet, consider a system that allows viewers to spectate however they wish: either during the game or through replays. While this may not be technically feasible due to server limitations (imagine 20,000 people joining a server and each of them spectating from the first-person perspective of one of the competitors) it could be done through an in-client replay system after the game is complete. If audio from shoutcasters is somehow recorded on top of the game footage itself, you could go back to games that had already finished and watch the entire thing, casting included, from a different player’s perspective each time.

Final Thoughts

Mordhau has great potential. If Marox and friends can create an engaging competitive ranked mode with the potential for strategic use of resources and a monetary model with longevity in mind, this game will go far and may emerge as a competitor to the big dogs like LOL and CS:GO some day. Of course, this doesn’t have to happen immediately upon release.

Just like Overwatch, we can wait and see how well the game sells before investing in esports infrastructure and a competitive ranked ladder. However, I would urge the Mordhau developers to consider laying the foundation for these systems as early as possible. With the alpha coming around the corner, the time is now to make core design decisions. Lastly, I’d love to hear some suggestions about how to make a more engaging ranked solo queue experience.

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