Were I to make a list of games that seemed ill-suited to the blossoming world of eSports, Sid Meier's Civilization series would probably rank near the top of the pile. It's certainly fun to play and critics (including Motherboard) are merrily shoveling accolades on the freshly released Civilization VI, but watching matches is a bit like watching civilizations advance through their various stages in real time. By the time the person I'm watching reaches the space age, I'm wondering if I'd be having more fun banging a club against the wall of a Neolithic cave.
But Team Liquid, the influential eSports team best known for its successes in StarCraft 2 and League of Legends, begs to differ. Yesterday Team Liquid owner Steve "LiQuiD112" Arhancet announced the creation of a new eSports team for Firaxis Games' Civilization VI, filling a void in the eSports scene with all the surprise of a monolith materializing before squabbling primates. And just like that, a competitive eSports scene is born, although the big question is how many players will follow Liquid down this path.
Anyone who does will have their work cut out for them. Heading Liquid's Civ VI team is Stephen "MrGameTheory" Takowsky, who currently holds the records for the most victories in Civ IV's 1v2, 1v3, 1v4, and 1v5 matches, and who holds the top spots on the leaderboards for 2008's Civilization Revolution and the International Leagues for both Civ IV and Civ V. That kind of performance, Arhancet says, leads some players in the community to call him a god.
Liquid will choose two more players to fill out its team's roster on October 29, and then start hosting its own "series of grueling tournaments" in order to find other exceptional players.
"The strategic depth required in Civilization is beyond compare," Arhancet says in his announcement, while acknowledging that many players "feel the game is simply too complicated to break into esports."
Civ VI, he believes, will attract players precisely because of that depth.
"Civilization provides the perfect platform for players to showcase their gaming intellect and we feel that Firaxis is on the cusp of bringing the franchise to a competitive esports level," he says.
Will it attract any viewers? Takowsky himself calls it "the most complicated game in the world" in his brief announcement statement. Civilization lacks the action of a shooter like Counter-Strike Global Offensive, where tension stays constant and objectives can switch hands within a matter of seconds. It lacks the intuitiveness of League of Legends, with its roughly 40-minute matches that generally make sense to casual onlookers even if they don't know ins and outs of its strategies.
But Civ? Civ is the kind of game where I can find some guy on Quora talking about how he beat a Civ V multiplayer match "in just 4 hours with a friend of mine on fastest speed" and still think that's kind of impressive. It's turn-based, and some marathon matches can drag on for days. If Civilization VI is going to work as an eSport, matches will likely have to have very different preset conditions.
A eSport doesn't necessarily have to pull in piles of thousands of Twitch viewers to be rewarding for both competitors and community, of course, as chess and golf tournaments enjoy strong followings despite sharing the pace of watching grilled fat congeal. It could be a niche activity; a sport for the intellectuals while everyone else is off watching football (of either variety).
But Arhancet has much bigger plans than that. He believes it's "inevitable that Civilization will take its place alongside the top esports in the world."
That's quite the claim, especially considering that word is currently circulating on Reddit and elsewhere that Civilization VI doesn't have any kind of Team Multiplayer mode yet. Cooperative multiplayer was one of the great strengths of Civ IV, a game which Arhancet says gave him the "confidence to jump into the world of esports and leave behind my job in the world of finance." Civ V's multiplayer scene was never really as strong, which is likely partly why it barely figures into MrGameTheory's impressive roll call of achievements.
As for now, it's just a case of waiting to see how things turn out. If you're a Civ player, you're probably already used to that.