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Could Sonic Team Racing Take The Esports World By Storm?

Sega and Sumo Digital pushed the kart racing genre in an intriguing new direction when they released Team Sonic Racing earlier this year. The gameplay differs from traditional racing titles due to its focus on collaboration: winning the race is not good enough, as you must also help your teammates thrive. Teams of three are given points based on how well they work together, sharing power-ups and capitalising on other unique team mechanics to ensure a strong overall finish.

It can be frustrating when playing solo, as you can win the race and find yourself let down by two AI teammates; yet that is not really the point of Team Sonic Racing. It is designed for online multiplayer fun and it can be exciting to work together in a bid to outfox rival teams.

Riding in a teammate’s slipstream can build up a slingshot charge. This allows you to shoot ahead via a speed boost. If you swerve past a stalled ally, it gives them a jump start. Working together causes an “Ultimate” meter to be filled, and when it reaches the top it provides a temporary burst of speed. The ability to trade items – known as Wisps – between teammates allows for strategic play.

A focus on collaboration

The most efficient team with the best collaborative play wins, and this focus is somewhat trailblazing in the racing genre. “We didn’t take any notes from other kart racers like Mario Kart 8, we didn’t want to make a network game,” lead developer Takashi Iizuka told Variety before it was released. “We wanted teamwork to be one of the key elements/ Team Sonic Racing is more like Splatoon or Overwatch, where you get that good sense of collaboration.”

That quote caused some eyebrows to be raised among the Sega community. The mention of Overwatch was particularly intriguing, as Blizzard Entertainment’s team-based multiplayer first-person shooter is making great inroads into the lucrative world of esports.

The competitive gaming industry is set to be worth more than $1 billion this year due to sponsorships, merchandise and ticket sales. Fans pack out arenas around the world to watch their heroes in action, and esports betting is huge, having overtaken wagering on many traditional sports. The industry is growing all the time, and its stars are becoming richer and more famous with each passing month. 

Overwatch has firmly established itself as one of the world’s most important esports and this has allowed it to nail down a place in the top 10 most viewed games on Twitch. Overwatch tournaments have already dished out more than $15 million to players and a thriving professional scene has helped maintain interest in the title.

Mixed Reviews for Team Sonic Racing

The success of League of Legends, CS:GO, Dota 2, Overwatch and various other esports titles shows just how great an appetite there is for online multiplayer games. Massive, passionate communities have sprung up around them and they are still flourishing many years after they were released.

Bringing the kart racing genre into this field was a smart move from Sega, as it could provide Team Sonic Racing with a lot more longevity than its previous offerings have enjoyed.

However, the reviews have been mixed. CG Magazine said it “refines and advances the genre in creative ways that make it a must play for both kart racing and Sonic fans alike, which is easy to do thanks to its budget price”. Softpedia proclaimed that “the team mechanics provide a bit of a unique twist on the genre, even if they make rubber-banding even more of an issue”. It highlighted some shortcomings, but was reasonably positive overall.

Yet Trusted Reviews called it “ultimately underwhelming”, a sentiment echoed by many others. “Like it or not, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the standard for kart racing today and Team Sonic Racing can’t compare,” said Game Radar in a stinging review. It lamented the stiff and clunky driving, nonsensical racetrack design and dull presentation.

These themes cropped up in several reviews. Experts praised the Sega team for trying to do something different with the genre and bringing an innovative approach, but they felt the actual driving mechanics let it down. Many were disappointed to see the usual Sega all-star roster ditched and just the core Sonic characters remaining.

A number of reviewers also felt that Team Sonic Racing lacks the frenetic, madcap fun and tight driving mechanics of Sumo Digital predecessors like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.

The Kids Are Alright

That throws its potential to crack the esports scene into doubt. “The best thing I can say about Team Sonic Racing is that kids will probably love it, although that’s damning praise considering its predecessor,” said the reviewer at GamesCritic. “Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed was a wonderful title offering both nostalgia and gameplay, easily giving Nintendo’s efforts a run for their money.”

A game needs to have wonderful gameplay and a high skill ceiling in order to make it in the cutthroat world of esports. The likes of Overwatch, CS:GO and LoL are adult games that require thousands of hours of practice in order to master, and a title only the kids will “probably love” is unlikely to cut it. The focus on team gaming makes it very suitable for esports, but there is an argument that the driving mechanics will scupper its chances.

It has a Metacritic score of 72, while users have rated it 8.0. That is a decent performance, but Mario Kart Deluxe 8 has a score of 92, while Overwatch gained a score of 91. A more likely scenario is that Sega will eventually release a more refined sequel that fixes the shortcoming of Team Sonic Racing, and this title will have the potential to turn into a leading esport.

Since Team Sonic Racing was released, Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled has hit the market. This provides a strong challenger to Team Sonic Racing in the nascent multiplayer kart racing genre, which could now grow and improve during the years ahead. Sega’s initial offering is a great start, and it should be commended for its pioneering approach, but fans will hope for a more compelling offering in future. 

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