An Overview Of Console Esports - Nintendo

Industry Guest Post: Jonathan Pan is an Esports Instructor at the University of California, Irvine. He has over 13 years of experience in management, strategy, or business development roles across companies small and large. After serving as a Product Manager at Riot Games, he co-founded and served as CEO of Ember, an esports team. He has also delivered one of the most viewed TEDx talks on esports. 

It seems like records are being broken every other day in esports and streaming. The International 2017 had a record $24.8 million dollars in prize pool. The ELEAGUE Major broke the peak concurrent users record on Twitch two years in a row, with a peak of 1.13 million users watching the final match. Most recently, the Ninja — Drake stream has brought all of these topics into the attention of mainstream media.

All of this record-breaking is happening with PC games and console makers — Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft — are looking to get a piece of the action too, each pursing a distinct strategy. Before we dive into each company’s strategy, we should take a look at what mobile esports has tried to do and is trying to do. It is arguable that mobile esports is the first non-PC platform to explore what esports means for their platform.

When I say mobile esports, I’m focusing on the big three — VaingloryClash Royale, and most recently Arena of Valor (the Western adaptation of Honor of Kings). Collectively, they’ve tried everything: pay esports teams to get involved, created leagues, hosted tournaments, created esports broadcasts, and more. Yet none of these efforts have gained as much traction as PC esports has.

And that’s okay, because the industry has yet to define what a successful “mobile esports” looks like. While I don’t have a definition, I offer the opinion that mobile esports is more suited as a participatory esport rather than a spectator esport. And as a participatory esport, mobile esports may be doing quite well. But it’ll probably never eclipse PC esports as a spectator esport.

Therefore, the biggest lesson learned that console esports can learn from mobile esports is to define it’s own success criteria.



Looking from the outside in, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft’s esports strategies seem to focus on one to three of these areas: first-party/exclusive games, input devices, and platform services.

  1. Creating an esport requires esports potential, financial investment, developer buy-in, and most importantly, community buy-in. In total, it’s a big commitment and only makes sense for first-party and exclusive third-party games where the publisher has influence or control over these inputs.
  2. Another lesson learned from mobile esports is that input devices matter. High-level and professional players of mobile games use keyboard and mouse when available because it offers more precision and complexity than the touch screen. We’ve seen this in the past with Vainglory and more recently with mobile PUBG. That’s also why arcade sticks are used by most professional fighting game players.
  3. Platform services make participating and watching tournaments easier. Tournament participation has demonstrated increased retention and monetization for some companies. For example, players in World of Tanks who participate in esports tournaments have 3x longer lifespan and 3.5x higher spending. Meanwhile, gamers watching esports on consoles can help console makers prove the case that watching esports can lead to increased engagement.



Nintendo has taken an about face on esports. After years of actively suppressing the Super Smash Bros competitive community, most notably at Evo 2013, Nintendo recently announced hosting the first official Super Smash Bros tournament and the first Splatoon 2 World Championship tournament at E3 2018.

Nintendo’s esports strategy appears to be focused on growing their two first-party games, Smash and Splatoon 2, on the Switch. Smash already had a vibrant competitive community before Nintendo’s official involvement. If Smash represents Nintendo’s past, Splatoon 2 represents Nintendo’s future. The team-based, family-friendly, third-person shooter has a burgeoning competitive community with professional and amateur teams. The Switch trailer in October 2016 ends with two teams playing Splatoon 2 in front of a huge live audience.

The Switch is interesting as it seems to straddle the unique space between console and portable. If you recall the participatory esports distinction I made earlier, the Switch definitely enables participation as you can bring it to tournaments — enabling larger brackets. There’s much more friction in bringing a PS4 or Xbox One and their accessories around. Outside of being a unique input device, the Switch has been a major commercial success. Nintendo has sold 14.86 million units of the Switch in 2017 with 52.57 million units of software sold alongside the system. It broke the U.S. record for the fastest selling console ever, with 4.8 million units sold in just 10 months.


Tomorrow will continue with Sony's esports strategy.

The Switch Could Be Nintendo’s Answer To eSports


Will The Nintendo Switch Drive eSports? (Photo: Machinima)

TNL Take: Nintendo is not knowing for being the most nimble company. The iPhone came out in 2007 yet it took a decade for Nintendo to release it’s first iOS game with Super Mario Run.

However, Nintendo is known for completely thinking out-of-the-box. From the toy gun used in Duck Hunt, the Nintendo Gameboy and the radical Wii.

There’s also been some missteps like R.O.B (Robotic Operating Buddy), the Power Glove, the Virtual Boy and the Wii U.

While eSports has been around for over a decade and exploded over the past few years, Nintendo has stayed on the sidelines

The Nintendo Switch might finally be their entrance to eSports.

Here's why.


The Nintendo Switch (Photo: Nintendo)

The genius of the Nintendo Switch is you can play console quality games at home on your TV and then take the “console” with you wherever you want. If they can pull this off with more titles, they may have finally bridged the elusive mobile eSport.

Yes, you can argue mobile games like Vainglory and Clash Royale are true mobile eSports but stick with me here.



Have you tried to play a game like League of Legends for the 1st time? Even a PHD in Physics would have a hard time to grasp not only what’s going on, but how to actually play it.

Almost all popular eSports titles – League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty – are all very hardcore titles that have a relatively steep learning curve and even harder to make it as a Pro.

The first The Next Level 001 addressed the fact that for eSports to grow even bigger, the industry needs to cater to more of a casual playing audience.

Nintendo has practically invented the casual gamer since Super Mario Bros.  The games are extremely easy to learn and pick up. My dad has never played a video game yet loved Wii Bowling and Tennis.

Which brings us to the next point.



The early games being released for the Switch are super casual and could make early converts engage with eSports.

Ill put my chips on Splatoon 2 (which is like a cartoonish Third Person Shooter), Arms (basically boxing), Ultra Street Fighter 2 (already hugely popular) and the biggest one of all, Mario Kart 8 – who doesn’t love Mario Kart?

Splatoon has had several tournaments already:

·      2015: Japanese had an event with a $1M prize pool

·      2016: ESL held a months long tournament

·      2017: Nintendo promoted Splatoon on Battlefy’s platform



The internet connection failing and lack of infrastructure at arena’s make online connectivity a big issue in eSports even in 2017. I’m going to directly quote from Nintendo’s press release to showcase an amazing new feature:

The Nintendo Switch Lan Play aka Squid (Photo: Nintendo)

“A new feature called LAN Play will be added to Splatoon 2, allowing up to 10 docked systems—eight players and two spectators—to connect via wired LAN. This feature allows players to create local Private Battle tournaments without the need for an Internet connection. Local wireless play is perfect for your regular gaming get-togethers, but LAN Play is where it’s at when you want to organize a serious tournament event with your fellow players.”

Instead of lugging around consoles, cords and other miscellanea, you just bring your Switch.

Yes you’ll need to buy the cord separately but it’s an amazing feature.



One of the other big challenges in eSports is how to translate what the player is seeing, that’s applicable to a spectator. Splatoon 2 will offer a “Private Battle Spectator View”, where two people can watch eight players battle it out.

That potentially solves the "who's the cameraman issue?"



While all that sounds rosy, there are still some obstacles that Nintendo will need to overcome to make this successful.

Nintendo’s controllers don’t seem to be the most friendly for extended play and far from either the PS4, Xbox One or even a keyboard and mouse.

Nintendo Switch's Controllers (Photo: Nintendo)

While it seems that Nintendo is making a push towards eSports, will they actually fully support it like other publishers? Nintendo wanted to stop the live stream of Super Smash Bros. Melee back in EVO 2013. Their full commitment remains to be seen.

Ultimately, I’m excited for the Nintendo Switch as it’s something never done before.


Also play Zelda…it’s awesome.

Nintendo and ESL Partner For Splatoon eSports


Nintendo and ESL Partner For Splatoon eSports

TNL Take: This is awesome.

In a brief announcement, Nintendo and ESL announced a 6-month European online tournament for popular "Shooter" Splatoon.

I use the term Shooter loosely, because just like Overwatch, it's not a blood-and-guts type First Person Shooter like Counter-Strike, Call of Duty or Gears of War.

Which makes Splatoon more appealing to both new audience engagement and Brands.

This is also important as Nintendo gets more involved in eSports with Super Smash Brothers having huge potential.

No Pokemon Go is not an eSport.

I said this about Splatoon last June.