Four esports games to watch out for in 2012

Shadowloo Showdown 2011 crowd

What will 2012 have in store for esports? It has become clear, to myself at least, that the esports experience is not just about competitive gaming, but also about the spectator experience and how it can form an emotional connection between a game and its players. With this in mind, I picked out four games I believe everyone should watch out for if they enjoy games — and that will also make big waves in the esports landscape and ecosystem for 2012.

StarCraft II

When StarCraft II was released in July 2010, it put competitive gaming and the concept of spectator esports back into the global limelight. 2011 proved that it was a phenomenon that wasn’t going away.

It was a perfect storm: a community which bided its time more than a decade while tournament activity was largely confined to Korea, the last bastion of competitive StarCraft: Brood War; the rise of simple do-it-yourself video broadcasting made possible by video steaming sites like TwitchTV and; and, of course, Blizzard releasing a highly balanced and polished sequel to what is possibly the greatest RTS of all time.

With the upcoming expansion Heart of the Swarm promising to shake up the already constantly-shifting competitive landscape, there is no doubt StarCraft II will continue on with its current momentum into 2012.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

StarCraft II may have stolen the spotlight from this esport stalwart, but make no mistake: Counter-Strike is still one of the biggest games in competitive gaming. It is currently in a limited closed beta test and will be released by developers Valve some time this year.

Will the long overdue sequel refresh the community when it arrives, just like how StarCraft II reignited the global StarCraft community? Will it finally reunite the competitive community, which has been torn between Counter-Strike 1.6 and Counter-Strike: Source? Is Counter-Strike even still relevant to casual and core gamers in a first-person shooter world now dominated by Call of Duty and Battlefield 3?

These are all questions which can only be answered when the game, or the limited beta, gets into more hands.

Dota 2

Dota 2

Dota Allstars map maintainer IceFrog surprised many when he announced that he would be joining the ranks of Valve and leading development of the official sequel to the genre-defining game for the company, more known their first-person shooters than real-time strategy games.

So far, the unlikely partnership has borne fruit — two years and a US$1.6 million tournament later, the game is clearly ready for competitive play. But will the steep learning curve and highly competitive nature of the game put off casual players? Can Dota 2 draw gamers away from popular free-to-play alternative League of Legends, which recently hit the 4 million daily player mark?

The jury is still out on this one, but what’s for sure is that the game already made a big splash in 2011 and will undoubtedly do so in the near future, at the very least for 2012.

Soulcalibur V

The resurgence in the fighting games community had no better showcase than last year’s Evo Championship Series — the largest fighting games community event in the world — when over 2 million people tuned in to watch the live video broadcast. With Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 already firmly established in the community, what’s next for 2012? Turns out that Soulcalibur V might very well be it.

In Soulcalibur V, characters have been rebalanced, with essential moves now standardised across the roster and other repetitive and overpowered moves removed. Each character now has their own truly unique play style, resulting in a game focused very much on character versus character matchups instead of mechanics abuse.

The changes are not just for competitive players either. The game has also been made easier to understand to the public eye and character movement has returned to the fluidity of the first Soulcalibur. Together with character tuning allowing for more aggressive playstyles, this makes Soulcalibur V a better viewing experience for spectators.

Soulcalibur V has already been included as one of the games in this year’s Evo Championship Series, and there are already promises of more competitive action to come in 2012.

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