Opinion: Unless the Publisher Kills it, It’s Not a ‘Dead Game’ – The Esports Observer

Each quarter when The Esports Observer releases its PC Games Impact Index, there is a type of comment you can expect to see every time without fail. A fan of some popular game that has been highly rated will reply or quote tweet the graphic, commenting something to the effect of “anyone thinking this is a dead game is wrong.”

The phrase “dead game” gets thrown around so much it has almost lost its meaning in this space. There are people unironically calling Fortnite, still one of the most-played and most-watched games in the entire world, “dead” because it is no longer the overwhelming cultural juggernaut it was in 2018. The notion that if a game isn’t actively growing and breaking records it is therefore dead is obviously harmful and useless as an effective metric for anything, but it also does a great disservice to the esports industry.

When Apex Legends launched in early 2019, it changed the game for influencer marketing on Twitch. A title with virtually no preview hype fell out of the sky and suddenly appeared on every major Twitch channel. It shattered viewership records, pushed Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek to the top of the platform, and seemed like the game with the best chance to dethrone Fortnite for good.

But its developers were slow to roll out new content, late to create an esports infrastructure, and when a new update came out for Fortnite, many players and streamers returned to the Epic Games title. Apex Legends viewership declined until it fell out of the Top 10 and was quickly declared “dead.”

Rather than give up on the game entirely, however, Respawn and EA remained committed to Apex. They continued advertising, releasing content updates and new characters. They rolled out their esports plan. Fast forward to 2021 and Apex Legends just recently surpassed 100M players. It is now a consistent Top 10 category on Twitch once again. The game may not be shattering records the way it did at launch, but to call it anything other than a success is simply laughable.

Apex Legends is not the only such story of a game returning from the “dead.” Rainbow Six Siege had a famously catastrophic launch, but through continued work Ubisoft was able to turn it into a well-regarded game and a thriving esport. Again, it may never challenge the likes of Counter-Strike, but it has carved out a strong position within the esports space.

Before the pandemic, TEKKEN 7 was one of the only modern fighting games that saw increasing entry numbers year after year at Evo. The game didn’t fly out of the gate in first place like Street Fighter V, but consistent content updates, a revamped global competition circuit, and a passionate fanbase helped keep the game alive and steadily build an audience until it grew into a major title in the fighting game space.

Even games which developers are actively trying to kill might sometimes refuse to die. There is no one at Nintendo actively working on the development of Super Smash Bros. Melee and in fact the company has repeatedly tried to snuff out its esports scene. But thanks to an extremely loyal and driven community, as well as the hard work of one man who literally wrote his own online matchmaking service for it, Melee is in a stronger position than it has been in years.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this phenomenon is Among Us. Most people playing the game in 2020 probably thought it was a brand new title, but the game was released in 2018. If any game was dead, it was Among Us, but all it took was a few popular streamers finding the game for it to become one of the biggest gaming stories of the pandemic. 

Esports is not a monolith. If you’re only looking at the games that are breaking records or standing at the top of the pile for years, you’re missing out on large swaths of passionate, loyal gamers who are committed to games many have dismissed as “dead.” Maybe that game will carve out a sustainable niche, maybe it will return to the top. All it takes is the right influencer, the right content update, some unpredictable shift in the market for a “dead” game to rise up.

If people are playing it, it isn’t a dead game.

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