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Why everyone is playing Yu-Gi-Oh! out of nowhere

It’s time to d-d-d-d-duel

an image of a board of cards. one is closes to the camera and is being played. Image: Konami Digital Entertainment
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

Looking for another way to relive that ’90s and early 2000s nostalgia? You’re in luck — Konami recently released a new free-to-play Yu-Gi-Oh! game called Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel. The game injects new life into the competitive card game that’s been around for over 20 years with flashy animations and over 10,000 different cards. Master Duel has made a giant splash on Steam and on Twitch, where its one of the most played and most watched games.

Yu-Gi-Oh! is a turn-based card game franchise where you and your opponent summon monsters to attack and deplete your enemy's life points. Master Duel is free-to-play digital version of that game, which allows players to spend money on gems that can be used to buy digital card packs and other accessories, like card protectors. Konami released the game on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X, and it’s available for download on mobile devices. It’s cross-platform, meaning you’ll be able to duel your friends regardless of what device they play on.

The game has been tearing up the Steam charts since its Jan. 18 debut. At the time of publication, the game was the fourth-highest game for concurrent players on Steam, nestled between perennial favorites Apex Legends and PUBG: Battlegrounds. At its all-time peak, the game had over 262,000 users playing at once on Steam.

Twitch streamers have buoyed its popularity. Prominent players of Master Duel’s predecessor, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links, like world champion finalist DuelLinksMeta, have already moved to stream Master Duel to the tune of roughly 15,000 viewers. At the time of publication, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel has over 51,000 viewers on Twitch. A series of unofficial tournaments have already been announced as well, signaling that competitive players have already taken interest in the game. The game’s development team also shared in a note that they plan to organize tournaments in the future.

The Yu-Gi-Oh! games are based on the popular manga from Kazuki Takahashi and its anime spinoff. The story follows the spiky-haired protagonist Yugi Muto and his alter ego, Yami Yugi, as they seek the power to become better duelists. The Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise video games were popular on handheld consoles like the Game Boy Advance — when Konami released loads of games like Yu-Gi-Oh! The Eternal Duelist Soul in 2002 and Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship Tournament 2004. Since then, Konami has gone on to release dozens of titles to later platforms.

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