The growing pains of eSports, case study: Magical Stone

The world of competitive gaming has existed for ages, yet it’s only recently that it’s become big business globally under the nebulous banner of “eSports.” eSports is very quickly turning into a huge moneymaker, but it’s also a field that’s going through some serious growing pains: bad contracts for players, shady team managers and sponsors, cheating and rigged game scandals… basically, all of the problems that plague more physical sports, but with additional internet drama attached due to the online-connected nature of many of these titles (and the online presence of the players and companies).

But what happens when the game itself is the subject of scrutiny?

Japan doesn’t have quite the reputation for being an eSports hub as other Asian countries do, but the field is definitely growing: numerous local teams have been formed, an eSports square has opened in Akihabara, League of Legends has been making a Japanese push, Daigo Umehara is a bestselling author… and that’s just a handful of examples. Longtime competitive gamers are seeing a lucrative market, which has some of them are saying “Hey, why can’t my competitive game be eSports, too?”

Such is the case of competitive Puyo Puyo. Much like the Smash Bros. series, Puyo has gone through numerous iterations, but a subset of the most die-hard players swear by one particular installment: Puyo Puyo Tsu, the second game in the series. Among other things, Tsu introduced the “offset” rule that allows players to counter each others’ garbage drops by assembling combos of their own. Versus matches of high-level Puyo Tsu are mesmerizing to watch as a result:

Sega, however, is more keen on promoting their current version of Puyo than Tsu, leaving competitive players feeling a bit left out – there’s not really a good way to play Puyo Tsu online, much less any sort of streamlining to aid competitive play. That’s where Magical Stone comes in. Basically, it’s a puzzle game that’s ~heavily inspired~ by Puyo Tsu, only with a few additions to make the game more eSports-friendly. In fact, there’s already an eSports team for the game with a few top Puyo players onboard!

…Or, there was, anyway. See, things got… complicated. Friend of the site Gosokkyu alerted me to ongoing drama surrounding Magical Stone via Twitter, and having a passing interest in the Japanese competitive puzzle game scene, I wanted to dig into things a bit more. So, I invited him here to share his knowledge of just what went down with this game — while the controversies have garnered some press on the Japanese side of things, Western eSports coverage completely overlooked Magical Stone. And that’s a shame, because this is an example of what can go wrong when you try and elevate your game to the big leagues — and both players and developers could stand to learn from it.

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Arcade Road Trip: Natsuge Museum (Akihabara, Tokyo)

I visited Japan for the first time in a while over the holidays, spending my new year with a posse of fellow nerds celebrating in the most irredeemably dorky way possible: Comiket and arcade-hopping. (And a few game bars, too, for good measure – A Button is a lot smaller than I thought it would be!) While some Tokyo arcades like Mikado and HEY have already developed a strong reputation among retro-obsessed fans from abroad, I’d like to showcase a smaller, cozier, but similarly cool retro game space called the Natsuge Museum.

The name “Natsuge Museum” is derived from a combination of the words “natsukashii” (nostalgic), “Game,” and “Museum.” It’s located a short walk away from Akihabara station, though it’s in the opposite direction of Chuo-dori where HEY and most of the major stores are located. It’s a bit easy to miss: it’s not on any major roads, and its signage is limited to a few posters and banners hanging around the vicinity. It’s a fair bit smaller than those arcades, as well, being a single-floor establishment with as many machines as possible crammed into the space while still allowing you to move – just like the good ol’ game centers of old! This place is here to make you feel like you’ve warped back to the 80s, or perhaps the early 90s, when little arcades like these dotted the landscape, offering fun, strange, and challenging titles for everyone who was willing to waltz in and plunk a couple hundred yen into the machines.

Let’s take a more detailed look inside, shall we?

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