Puyo Puyo eSports: Fad or Here to Stay?

Puyo Puyo, the Sega-owned gaming franchise which has sold more than 25 million units since 1998, has brought its puzzle power to the world of eSports. The puzzle game which was first released in 1991 by its original developer Compile has since become a global phenomenon and the long-running series has launched its own competitive version available on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch that is formally acknowledged by Japan’s official eSports union (JeSU).

Puyo Puyo eSports was released last month with very similar graphical presentations to its 2014 predecessor, Puyo Puyo Tetris. The rules of Puyo Puyo’s eSports-focused version are based loosely around Puyo Puyo 2 (1994) and Puyo Puyo Fever (2003) and incorporates 24 original characters from the 27-year-old franchise. The eSports version features various online battles, where players can go head-to-head with other humans as well as eight-player offline tournaments involving the game’s intuitive AI.

Puyo Puyo is considered by many Sega fans as something of a ‘Marmite’ franchise – you either love it or you hate it. Some adore the twist Sega has put on puzzle gaming, while others treat Puyo Puyo with disdain for failing to provide a credible challenge to Tetris, which remains the undisputed king of puzzle-based video games. Earlier this year, the JeSU-approved Puyo Puyo as its first official game in their league, meaning there will soon be professional eSports tournaments for Japan-based gamers to sign up to. In fact, JeSU is now prepared to issue Pro Gamer licences to those who wish to compete professionally in Puyo Puyo.

Sega Fest 2018 was the perfect opportunity to test the water for Puyo Puyo eSports. The Poyu Poyu Cup was arranged in April, with the first prize for the winner earning them one million Yen.

The global eSports industry is set to become a billion-dollar business in 2018. It has a burgeoning worldwide audience of more than 300 million fans already – and rising. It could even become a professional sport at the 2024 Paris Olympics. In 2016, the League of Legends World Championship finals boasted 43 million viewers alone.

Esports now account for more than a tenth (11.6%) of all users that stream on the Twitch platform. The global appeal of League of Legends is that it’s fast-paced. Although it’s highly strategic, it’s full of action and that’s what gaming fans crave. There’s also an incredible amount of prize money up for grabs, with upwards of $1 million prize funds regularly offered. Factor in everything else such as sponsorship, appearance fees and more and eSports teams that win professional tournaments can now rake in tens of millions of dollars.

Aside from League of Legends, FIFA is another globally recognised video gaming franchise that is fast becoming a household name in the world of eSports. Earlier this summer, the FIFA eWorld Cup attracted an increase of 400% in terms of online views, totalling 29 million across the three-day event. A quick glance at the most popular eSports titles for online streaming shows that even FIFA doesn’t rank in the top ten. Dota 2, which fans can place bets on its DreamLeague at Betway, is the most popular in terms of dedicated eSports hours of streaming, totalling 17.9 million. That’s followed by League of Legends (17.2 million), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (15.6 million) and Overwatch (13.2 million). Puyo Puyo will simply never be able to compete with these figures.

According to Todd Sitrin, general manager and senior vice president of EA Sports’ competitive gaming division, FIFA eSports has “rallied the global football community together within this singular ecosystem” to help create a digital platform for FIFA’s official eSports competition to grow. A global community is what Puyo Puyo lacks if it truly wants to become a force in eSports. It’s unlikely to ever be capable of creating a community of the scale of FIFA’s, with football fans around the world joining forces to spark huge interest in the online game.

Although it will remain an interesting side game for many professional gamers, we think this blob-dropping puzzle game will remain far more casual than serious in the years to come – but you never really know, in the fast-moving eSports scene of 2019 and beyond…

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