In our last Ascending eSports article, we looked at Magic: the Gathering, the most successful collectible card game globally. Magic plays nothing like popular eSports like Overwatch or Dota, but that hasn’t stopped them from making a splash. Their Mythic Invitational was the most-watched event in the history of the game, reaching peak viewership of 150,000. Now, we’ll look at another game making the shift despite not fitting the typical mold of FPS or MOBA games. We’re talking about everyone’s favorite mobile game of the late 2000s, Angry Birds!
You read that right. Angry Birds, a decade old casual puzzle game, has been making moves to enter the eSports scene. But before you shut off your screen in disbelief, we should clarify that the game’s competitive platform is offering nowhere near the millions in cash prizes that MOBAs and shooters are dishing out. Instead, publisher Rovio has partnered with tournament operator WorldWinner to release Angry Birds Champions. In this version of the game, players can pay to enter tournaments and compete for a modest cash prize.
We’ll dive deeper into this collaboration between Rovio and WorldWinner and what it means for the world of eSports. But first, we’ll take some time to review the Angry Birds franchise and find out why this move makes sense in spite of how odd it might first seem.
A brief history of Angry Birds
The first Angry Birds game was released by Finnish company Rovio Entertainment for iOS in 2009. In the groundbreaking puzzle game, players operate a giant slingshot and use colorful birds with different weights and special abilities as ammunition to topple structures and hit green pigs.
Angry Birds was based on another physics-based game Crush the Castle released in the same year. But given that no one remembers this precursor, it seems that the multicolor palette and cartoonish characters played a big part in propelling Angry Birds to historic heights. Interestingly, the game originally used birds as enemies, but developers opted for pigs instead to make light of the swine flu epidemic going on at the time.
The game became a smash hit immediately upon release, earning critical acclaim for its mechanics, design, and “freemium” model. The first game spawned multiple equally successful spin-offs and sequels, including an animated feature film released in 2016. The Angry Birds Movie received mixed reviews from critics, but that didn’t stop the film from racking up $350 billion globally.
To date, there are around 18 distinct Angry Birds games available for download, including the official sequel, Angry Birds 2. This figure also includes several tie-in games with franchises like 20th Century Fox’s Rio, Transformers, and Star Wars. Rovio has also released editions featuring twists on the core mechanics, including racing game Go! and RPG Epic, complete with a crafting system and turn-based combat.
In 2018, Rovio revealed that all of their games have been downloaded a combined total of 4 billion times. The company has released other games, but they undeniable owe most of their success to their spherical avian projectiles.
The Birds’ latest adventure
Angry Birds Champions was released on February 21, 2018 and is available on iOS devices in North America. For the first time in the series’ history, players can pay to enter events and come away with cash prizes.
Unlike most eSports shooters and MOBAs, Champions features asynchronous play, where competitors compete indirectly, on their own time. Tournament participants are awarded based on the highest score they achieved in two possible modes, best-of-three and progression. The game features a matchmaking system where players of similar skills are paired against each other for an asynchronous match. Matchmaking follows a predictable formula, pairing players based on matches played, win rate, and more.
The prizes don’t sound terribly exciting. Tournaments typically cost around a dollar to join and pay out two or three times that amount. You might wonder how interested the publishers actually are in breaking into eSports. WorldWinner has addressed this very point. In an interview with Engadget.com, a company exec said, “We clearly deliver competitions for money, from small two-player tournaments up to thousands of people participating. But we’ve never been in the viewership model. So I think that’s the one area where we evolve our lingo from saying we are eSports to we are really on the edge of eSports.
The game publishers themselves don’t expect the viewership other games get, but they still see the potential in competitive gaming. They see the game being played by thousands of competitors a day. That’s even without a version for Android available. So maybe next time you get frustrated knocking around League of Legends’ lower tiers, you might consider flings birds instead. With entrance fees figuring under a dollar, it’s chirp enough to try. You could even make a few bucks!