Bandai Namco is wrapping up its latest King of Iron Fist Tournament (KOIFT) 2016 eSports tournament in November with a North American championship event in San Francisco, followed by a global world finals event in Japan in December. The company has used competitive gaming to market Tekken 7 before the game’s official console launch next spring.
Michael Murray, game designer on Tekken 7 at Bandai Namco, told [a]listdaily the KOIFT 2016 has progressed very well.
“Not only did we include some staple fighting game tournaments like Final Round and Evo, but several stops on the Wizard World tour,” Murray said. “The Wizard World stops have seen participation of a different audience that we may not have gotten with just the established tournaments alone. Also, it is quite difficult to plan and execute these large-scale tournaments, so it’s a good experience for our events team to have when we decide to possibly hold events after the launch of the console/PC version. We’re also trying to share this experience with our event teams in other regions so that we may possibly have more events for fans in Europe and Asia as well.”
Mark Religioso, brand manager for Tekken 7 at Bandai Namco, told [a]listdaily that when his team brainstormed what they were going to execute this year, Japan already had the game in arcades and their competitive gaming scene was already big. But that wasn’t the case in the US, where the arcade game was never released.
“We wanted people to get their hands on the game to try it out and play it,” Religioso said. “We wanted to bring awareness for Tekken 7 as we’re preparing for its console launch in 2017.”
Bandai Namco took the competition on the road to 16 different cities. It was free anyone to enter and there was a $3,000 prize pool at each location. In addition to Wizard World conventions, the game was also featured at bigger indie tournaments like Combo Breaker, Final Round, Evo and the Soul Calibur Regionals across North America. Religioso said the circuit allowed Tekken 7 to generate buzz in secondary market cities like Tulsa and Pittsburgh throughout the year.
Bandai Namco worked with sponsors Asus, Hori, Mad Catz and BenQ on this tour. One of Religioso’s goals for eSports this year was to get players sponsored. A few players in the finals are sponsored by different eSports teams, and the game doesn’t officially launch until next year.
“We’re just getting our feet wet in eSports,” Religioso said. “Our goal was to meet the right people and right partners for the post-launch eSports activation. We’re looking at what other publishers are doing and seeing what fans like and don’t like about tours and applying that to next year.”
One positive that Religioso has already seen from the American competition is an even playing field. At Evo, two Americans were featured in the top eight going up against Japanese and Korean talent. One American, Keysmasher from the Midwest, beat the world champion from last year in Evo.
“We have the culmination of our Tekken Tour with the 20 best players throughout North America going head-to-head in San Francisco for $20,000 and a slot in the World Finals in Japan in December where $80,000 will be up for grabs,” Religioso said.
The majority of fighters will be from Korea and Japan, but there will be three finalists from Europe and North America. The event will be streamed on the Tekken Twitch channel in English, Japanese and Korean.
Religioso said not many players are using the same characters in competition, which points to the development team’s work in creating parity among the characters.
“What makes fighting games such a big thing is that it has to be equal for all characters, otherwise no community will support the game,” Religioso said. “There are only a couple of fighting titles up there at the top and the most important thing is solid mechanics.”
That’s something the development team focused on while creating the two arcade versions of Tekken 7 for the new PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 coming next year. Religioso said the team also used the arcade versions, as well as feedback from players during the tournaments, to fine-tune some characters like Asuka, who was overpowering in her first iteration.
“For Tekken 7 we added several gameplay mechanics to make the game not only more exciting to those playing, but for those spectating as well,” Murray said. “Rage Arts and Rage Drive, both extensions of Rage, add a new layer of strategy to the match, while also making the game visually more exciting. The super slow-motion mechanic mentioned earlier is also another example of this influence.”
Murray and producer Katsuhiro Harada have been going to Evo and other competitive events for many years now, so they can see how a game appears to different audiences while on stage and on streams.
“One thing we noticed while watching tournaments, was that Tekken, and perhaps 3D fighters in general, was highly enjoyable for people playing the game and those with knowledge of how the game works, but not so much for your average spectator or someone that is new to the series,” Murray said. “A lot of the action on-screen required knowledge of the moves and characters to see what strategy each player was trying to employ, as well as see when the tide of a match had turned. It’s kind of like boxing or grappling arts, both of which are more enjoyable when the viewer has more knowledge of what is going on on-screen.”
While eSports remains a digital entertainment experience, Religioso believes Tekken 7 could benefit from the recent influx of televised eSports in the US.
“Fighting games are the most relatable game to a casual fan,” Religioso said. “If you see a League of Legends or a Dota 2 match on TV, it’s a little hard to follow and understand,” Religioso said. “Fighting games are almost like watching a boxing match. I think TV is going to be huge. ESPN’s airing of Evo Finals had a bit of mixed reviews. The presentation of the product needs to be presented in more a traditional sports way with storylines about the players and where they came from, the history behind grudge matches. That’s what motivates people to watch, adding that extra layer of content.”