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The redemption of Rainbow Six Siege

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A game that is only getting better with time

Rainbow Six Siege - action on Skyscraper map Ubisoft

The first year of existence is becoming less and less important for competitive multiplayer games.

The path to success is now all about building an audience over time with consistent updates that add value and depth of gameplay. Dedication from a developer, even after what might have been a modest launch, is key to success.

Whether its new heroes and extensive patches in Dota 2 or balance changes and rotating maps from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, any game that has had long-term growth and esports success has also had a devoted developer, which continues to put work into the game.

For Rainbow Six Siege, Ubisoft Montreal’s commitment to increasing the fan base has been its saving grace. The game was met with middling reviews upon release, but has since found a solid base of players. It has more than doubled both its average and peak PC players in the last six months, according to Steam Charts.

The team behind Siege has been tweaking the game over time to make it something that could very well become the next big esports title, and the work is paying off.

But the game’s not there yet. Rainbow Six Siege has been operating just outside of the major esports scene since its release, with few tournaments garnering the huge viewership typically attained by games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or League of Legends.

This is what the game is doing right, and where it still needs improvement.

Carving out a space for itself

The shooter market is crowded right now, especially in esports. CS:GO casts a large shadow, but Blizzard’s Overwatch League may be coming for the throne. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite are making strong pushes to bring the battle royale genre to the top of the Twitch viewer list. Call of Duty and Gears of War are perpetual leaders in the console space.

It’s a great time to be a shooter fan, but it’s a near-impossible time for a new game to break in.

That’s where Ubisoft have been doing things right with Rainbow Six Siege. Rather than make a massive push for esports relevancy without a proven audience, Ubisoft has been slowly growing its audience with consistent, high-quality updates.

The developer has released new maps, a slew of balance updates and a whole bunch of new Operators — Siege’s character classes — over the course of the game’s two-year history. Pricing concerns aside (I’ll get to that in a bit), the commitment to improvement is impressive, especially for a game that didn’t set the world on fire when it launched.

Those new Operators are key to Siege’s long-term success by helping Ubi’s tactical shooter occupy a less competitive space. The game may look awfully similar to Counter-Strike at first glance, but the Operators make it something completely different: a tactical hero shooter.

Siege exists somewhere between CS:GO and Overwatch. It’s got aggressive Operators for pushing into a bomb site. It has defensive Operators that lay traps for anyone pushing too aggressively. It even has a ranged healer for those moments where gunfire gets a bit too heavy. More Operators join the crew every few months, keeping the strategies fresh and forcing players to adapt.

The meta is always shifting and becoming more intricate, with players finding new and creative ways to combine Operators’ strengths and cover up weaknesses. Whether it’s a hard breach with Montagne and Sledge or more of a tactical approach from Hibana and IQ, finding new combinations or ways to counter them is a joy.

The path to success is now all about building an audience over time

More and more Ubisoft-sponsored tournaments have been popping up lately as well. This week, teams from major esports organizations are involved in the ongoing Six Invitational. Among the roster of teams are recognizable names from other esports, like Evil Geniuses, Counter Logic Gaming, FaZe Clan and Team Liquid, proving that major organizations believe in what Rainbow Six can become.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Ubisoft has quietly put together one of the best spectator clients in esports. Siege’s complex, often vertical maps could easily be difficult to understand. But somehow, it works. The top-down camera that can quickly shift between floors is a genius touch, one that happens in other games, but never at this level of polish. Watching a tactical shooter has never been this easy or enjoyable.

There are still things to figure out

It’s not all good news.

The pricing of the game itself is an issue. You can pick up the “Starter Edition” of the game for $15, which up until last weekend gave you the credits to unlock two to four new Operators. Now, it unlocks up to six, but that’s out of nearly forty possible Operators. It’s the full game, just with fewer characters available to play.

But unlocking new Operators is a slog from there. It takes hours and hours to earn enough in-game currency to pick up a single new character and, with 36 Operators in the game, that’s hundreds of hours before you can access even a majority of them. Thankfully, along with the increased number of Starter Edition Operators, new players will no longer have to pay for gun attachments as of last weekend.

You’ll still be spending time unlocking new Operators if you pick up the $40 standard edition of the game, especially since new Operators are being released on an ongoing basis. But these changes at least show that Ubisoft is listening to the complaints while trying to find a good compromise.

This isn’t an issue of money as much as it’s about accessibility for a growing fan base. Sure, games like League of Legends take a similar approach to unlocking new characters, but they’re also free to start. Siege is a premium game with economies that feel lifted from free-to-play games. It’s a hard game to jump into if your main goal is to become competitive.

Some aspect of this economy is going to have to change for the game to gain the sort of community that’s necessary in a dedicated esport. By easing up on some of the challenges for new players, Siege could very well start to catch up with CS:GO or Overwatch.

There’s also a bit of confusion about which platform is the premier place to play. Ubisoft sponsors tournaments played on both PC and consoles, leading to a split between the fan bases. For most esports fans, the PC is the natural home of first-person shooters. Sure, Call of Duty has a massive base on consoles, so that’s where those tournaments take place, but the majority of other FPS games are PC first and foremost.

While the highest-profile tournaments (like the Six Invitational) are currently largely played on PC, Ubisoft does still run several console tournaments a year. It’s a split focus that could have a detrimental effect on the viewership, and players who want to gain prominence in the scene have to decide where they want to play to perfect their skills.

Ubisoft needs to pick a side and stick with it for Siege to really take off.

Into the breach

Ubisoft may have not had a hit on its hands when Rainbow Six Siege first dropped, but it has turned what was a mediocre game into something that’s poised to become a popular first-person shooter in competitive spaces.

The company has grown its unique, slow-paced shooter into something that is truly unlike any other shooter on the market. It’s remarkably deep, requires immense skill and is one of the best team-focused shooters around. It’s become a great game and could very well become a great esport, especially with the high-quality spectator tools that Ubisoft has released.

Rainbow Six Siege is moving in the right direction, and it’s going to be fun to see how far it can go, once the rough edges are sanded down.