Interview: Pro Players On What Splatoon 2 Needs To Be A Successful Competitive Game

Nintendo’s ink soaked shooter, Splatoon, has been a grand slam in the short time it’s been out, selling more than four million copies to-date, ultimately becoming one of the Wii U’s best-selling titles. Although its sales success is a story in its own right, its popularity as a competitive game is a much greater story; few expected a Nintendo exclusive title with colorful visuals to become one of the most popular eSports shooters, that much is for certain.

Only two years later, Splatoon 2 is headed to the Switch. This time around Nintendo seems set on building up the series' eSports audience.

While the original Splatoon was a fantastic game in many regards, there are still plenty of changes that need to happen to get it primed and ready for the competitive scene. “It doesn't take long to realize that some more attention is needed in the finer details,” said competitive Splatoon player OctoPops. “The collective Splatoon audience wants to see more than two playable maps at any given time, as well as weapon adjustment during online lobbies.”

As I would learn during my chat with several notable Splatoon pros, most believe that Splatoon 2 doesn’t need any big overhaul of gameplay mechanics or any serious balance issue addressed. Instead, it needs a handful of community and quality of life improvements that are common among other competitive shooters, including the addition of a versatile spectator mode and adjustments to its complicated gear system.

The lack of a ubiquitous spectator mode, similar to the one found in Overwatch, restricts Splatoon’s potential as a viewership-friendly eSport. “With Splatoon, tourney organizers have been at the mercy of casting the perspective of the streamers,” OctoPops said “The absence of spectator mode challenged Splatoon's ability to be enjoyed to the fullest by an outside audience.”

Splatoon doesn’t have any form of spectator mode. Instead, most tournaments and streamers showcase matches through the perspective of one player, causing the audience to miss a majority of the action that the streaming player wasn’t involved in. A new spectator mode could fix all that, giving tournament broadcasters and audiences far more control over how matches and their greatest moments are presented.

“The spectator experience is what launches games [like Splatoon] into eSports,“ said competitive Splatoon player Thatsrb2DUDE. “The pace and strategy of the game make it incredibly fun to watch.”

While it can be interesting to follow an entire match through the perspective of one player, watching them get back to the action from the respawn can be uneventful. Since many competitive Splatoon matches go back and forth, with the lead being traded between teams, the action can take place all over the map, far out of reach of the vision of a single player.

“It’s games like this that show perfect examples of great moments we could see in the next game.” said thatsrb2DUDE. “In another tournament few people know that I got a quadruple kill at the end of the game because the team was from a different player's perspective.”

We know that a spectator mode is coming to Splatoon’s next installment, but we don’t know all the details about it’s capabilities. Nintendo has been known to hamstring its network features in other games. If that’s the case here, then it’ll severely limit Splatoon’s competitive potential.

Another change that competitive players are hoping for is a more simplified gear system. “The game needs to be more welcoming with attributes,” thatsrb2DUDE said. “The Gear system is very random and off putting when you want to play the game competitively.”

Splatoon’s attributes come in the form of hat’s, shirts, and shoes—customizable outfits that can give your character boosts in reloading time, swim speed, or a number of other options. You purchase gear from a few different shops with in game currency in the game's hub world, Inkopolis. To a large number of players, this is perceived as a major contributor to the attractiveness of the original game. Though, it wasn't perfect.

Each piece of gear has primary and secondary attributes that are unlocked as you play. Those attributes can be “rerolled” by paying an in game named character named Spyke. The problem is that those rerolls change all three secondary abilities randomly, making RNG a big part of the metagame.

You probably have an idea of how complicated the gear system is and I haven’t even mentioned how different brands of gear affect what attributes they’re more likely to get and how much the different pieces of gear costs depending on where you get them. Nintendo knows how to hide complicated mechanics in seemingly straightforward parts of its games, after all.

“The chances of you getting the type of gear you want the first time isn't common,” said thatsrb2DUDE. “It’s possible to spend two to three months rolling three pieces of gear just to get the slots you want.”

A revamp of the gear system would make it easier for players to get the gear sets they need, requiring less tedium in earning the currency to purchase and reroll attributes on any said piece of clothing. “If the system allowed you to be more specific with slots and roll one slot at a time then it would be a lot more welcoming for people wanting to get specific builds for competitive play,” thatsrb2DUDE said.

While these changes are important to seeing Splatoon become a successful competitive franchise, more than anything the Switch needs to be successful in order to create a larger player base this time around.

“With the Wii U only selling around 14 million units and Splatoon having an attach rate close to 33% it's easy to see how we have only come so far,” OctoPops said. “Not getting Splatoon into the hands of a broader player base limited the eSports potential of Splatoon from the start.”

Splatoon 2 is one of few first party titles confirmed for the Switch this year, and the primary key to its success will be a large install base. Thankfully, many competitive players are confident that if the Switch sells well, Splatoon will become a popular eSport franchise.

“Nintendo is really showing off what it can do with the Switch and millions of people seem interested,” said thatsrb2DUDE. “Knowing how well Splatoon sold when released on the Wii U, I can only imagine how well Splatoon 2 will do and how many more people will join the competitive community.”