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Can Destiny find a home in a crowded esports world?

Can Destiny find a home in a crowded esports world?

On September 20th, Bungie will release Rise of Iron, the fourth major expansion of Destiny since the game’s release almost two years ago. The update will bring new story missions, new Crucible maps, a fourth raid, and all-new game modes and features such as private PvP matches, along with official guidelines for holding competitive Destiny tournaments. In retrospect, this seems more than a little strange, given that the developer shipped Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001 with custom LAN games right from the start, thereby ushering in the dawn of competitive console shooters.

But that’s Destiny for you.

So much of Destiny remains a mystery.

Bungie’s massively ambitious, shared-world FPS chimera has never quite given players exactly what they expect, and that may go a long way toward explaining its enduring popularity. Like the Traveler, the otherworldly Big Dumb Object at the center of it all, so much of Destiny remains a mystery—its backstory, its characters’ motivations, its cast of hostile alien foes. Those mysteries are part of what keep us coming back.

The studio deserves no end of credit for their openness toward the game’s community, given the various ways player feedback has directly impacted (and, in a number of cases, improved) the game’s experience. But why has it taken more than two years for Bungie to embrace the notion of Destiny having a place in the world of esports?

One answer may be that it had something to do with the title’s last-gen iterations on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and the technical limits imposed by those consoles. In 2014, when Destiny 1.0 landed, those platforms were still in wide use; the PS4 and Xbox One had only just arrived in time for the previous holiday. But looking back on the number of features that shipped with the day-one version of the game, regardless of performance concerns like the once-standard 30-fps frame rate, it seems unfair to judge competitive Destiny in terms of more recent FPS releases like Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Halo 5: Guardians, or Overwatch.

As somebody who’s spent fifteen hundred–odd hours with the game since the late Dinklebot resurrected his very first Guardian, I’ve got another theory: I don’t think Bungie expected the game’s PvP arena, the Crucible, to become the same sort of draw that Destiny’s various cooperative elements have.

In its first year, and arguably well into the second, the game has often felt a bit like an ongoing beta for some grander vision the developer’s kept up its sleeve—but the reality is much simpler: Bungie’s fabled “ten-year plan” is simply to give players more of what they want. Upon release, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted that that would be competitive multiplayer events like the Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris, or the upcoming Call of Duty–esque kill-confirmed mode, Supremacy. After all, the game’s first PvE raid, the Vault of Glass, was the thing in Destiny’s inaugural months.

If Bungie’s history tells us anything, however, Destiny esports could well be a viable prospect as the developer leaves the PS3 and Xbox 360 behind and looks to the future for what is being referred to by Activision as “Destiny 2.” The PvP component of Halo didn’t grow to its full potential until Halo 2 and 3, after the studio had learned from the first three years of Halo: Combat Evolved’s homegrown competitive scene.

Destiny esports could well be a viable prospect.

As we enter year three of Destiny, the developer finally appears ready to test those waters, having just published the Destiny Competition License outlining their legal guidelines for holding sanctioned competitive tournaments within the community. The license grants players permission to organize live events with cash prizes of up to $5,000 and to broadcast them online within certain restrictions, and generally seems to encourage a fun, good-spirited extension of the game’s present PvP culture. Major League Gaming has already announced the inclusion of Destiny in their GameBattles online tournament system.

It remains to be seen whether Destiny 2 will bring modern, 60-fps performance to the Crucible, but the addition of features like private matches, and esports-ready game modes like Supremacy and last year’s underappreciated Rift, seem to point in the right direction. The game continues to rank in the top fifteen or so titles being broadcast on Twitch, so I suspect that considerable audience will decide whether the world is ready for Destiny esports.

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