As esports continues to grow, most of the focus is on the players on stage or at their computer. From League of Legends and its ambitious augmented reality opening ceremony at Worlds, to the city-based communities of the Overwatch League, to exclusively streamed events like the World of Warcraft World First race through new raids, esports is quickly becoming as much about the spectator as the player. Viewers are the lifeblood of any healthy esport, with their valuable eyeballs watching ads and their money going toward merchandise and in-game skins.
Axiom Soccer looks to take that a step further. The title, which is set to launch on PC in 2019, offers a spectating experience that links directly into the game. Inspired by traditional sports, viewers can interact in-game with the action via visuals, banners, and overlays. The goal is to combine the passion and community around real-world sports with the accessibility and energy of Twitch chat.
Axiom Soccer is much like Rocket League, in that the player controls electrically powered drones that are attempting to propel a ball around a field to score on the opponent, while defending their own net in turn. The gameplay is meant to take the foundation of Rocket League-style physics and add shooter elements as the main way to maneuver and propel the ball, an addition that is meant to add an extra expression of skill.
Developed by Earthbound Games, Axiom Soccer’s spectating system is ambitious to the point of being the main selling point of the game. The Scottish game studio creating it is looking to bring in the same energy as real-world football matches. This will manifest through banners in the crowd or advertisements on the big screen. Overlays can appear on stream, or plumes of smoke can arc over the field. Camera shots like reaction cams of the players will be added, giving the players a platform to showcase their personality, and hopefully build a brand that can be eventually monetized.
The spectators will essentially work as an in-game crowd in the stadium, and Twitch integration is meant to allow them to leave a visual mark on the field and provide similar encouragement — or hearty boos, or cheeky jabs — as their real-world equivalent.
The team at Earthbound have their pedigree in titles from Rockstar Games, Microsoft, Sony, and more, suggesting that they might be up to the task. The idea is to create an ecosystem where personalities can reign large over the field. It’s a game that is meant to draw in streamers, competitive players, and glory hounds, and the spectator system gives those players instant feedback after a stylish play or big win.
Earthbound Games says it’s also aware of the potential drawbacks of such a situation. Twitch chat is often known for its quick moving spam, vulgar images, and even hateful slurs. Axiom Soccer will have a moderation system designed to quash that before it hits the stands; viewers won’t be able to display, say, a giant phallus to the enemy team in a show of defiance.
Twitch has evolved over the years to introduce new ways for audiences to participate in and reap rewards from streams. Some games offer “drops”, which grant in-game cosmetics. In 2014, Twitch Plays Pokémon kickstarted a genre of audience-run adventures. Axiom Soccer intends to make a similar ambitious swing for the fences; it’ll be fascinating to see if Earthbound Games connects with a crowd.