Press Play to Start: ‘Among Us’ proves casual games belong in tournaments

Unless you have been living under a rock, odds are you’ve probably heard of “Among Us.” Best described as a game of “Mafia” in space, the game has you and your friends play as a group of spacemen trying to complete tasks. However, some of you are impostors whose objective is to either sabotage the tasks or kill all the crew. The crew must balance between completing their missions, finding the impostors and surviving. 

This game took the world by storm seemingly out of nowhere. It was released back in 2018 and for the first six months had an average player base of 8.2 people. Now, it has peaked with 438,524 players on stream and is the most viewed game on Twitch. The game has found success even among those who are not usually interested in video games, being used in social events all around the world. 

With such a widespread appeal, why are there no official tournaments for it?

I say “official” because there are already a lot of amateur tournaments. One quick Google search will reveal dozens of opportunities to join one. Of course, everything about them pales in comparison to professional tournaments. Since none are being held, people have no alternative but to join the shoddy championships. 

A lot of people think it is because “Among Us” is not a competitive game. Because of that, it would be hard to formulate rules around it and thus create tournaments. But like I just said, tournaments already are being held, and they show it is possible to formulate rules and regulations around this game. 

The problem is that the “skill ceiling cap” is too low and too inconsistent. There is not a surefire method to measure skill and almost all the players have a similar level of ability independent of how many hours they pour in. While there are tactics, there is no set strategy to employ in the game. Luck also plays a big factor, which makes it even more difficult for people to become highly skilled at the game. In other words, it is a “casual-friendly” game, which is why it’s so popular. 

The esports industry should incorporate more of these “casual-friendly” games to make it more accessible.

This is not a new discussion. Thanks to the pandemic, not only have more people become interested in video games, but every industry has also reviewed their practices to make them more flexible. 

Online learning, working from home, remote projects — all of these things were refined because of the coronavirus. For esports, adapting meant decentralizing tournaments while at the same time maintaining the strict regulations and sponsorship participation, which makes now the perfect time to introduce “casual-friendly” tournaments.

Ideally, it could work like this: Tournaments are created by streamers or small organizations and sponsored by bigger esports companies. These larger companies would, in turn, make sure the tournament has rigorous standards and get in touch with sponsors. Then, once the sponsors are secured, the tournament can be held online and streamed at the same time. 

This plan relies on the mechanisms created during the pandemic and would benefit all parties involved. Streamers would gain higher recognition and money from hosting these tournaments, esports companies would not have to worry about hosting the in-person tournaments themselves and sponsors would have more security on their investments while gaining opportunities to reach new markets. 

Of course, that is not to say that they should be a permanent addition. One look at “Fall Guys” is enough to see that these popularity spikes are hard to sustain. Maybe by next month, a new game will have taken the place of “Among Us,” and the once-thriving player base will be reduced to its initial numbers. But the space allocated for casual-friendly gaming tournaments should remain. 

Not every casual game should have a competitive scene, either. While various factors separate “Among Us” from highly competitive games, it is undeniable that players need some skill to master it. The game is full of complex mechanics, some of which vary depending on which map you are on. 

To properly understand them, you must have extensive knowledge of how the game works. A player must also master argumentation since that is essential to the game. Depending on how well you manage to defend your case, you might end up “killed” by the rest of the crewmates. Sure, there are all the issues I mentioned earlier, but “Among Us” is a good example of what kind of casual games should be incorporated into the competitive scene: easily accessible, yet requiring some skill. 

It is also important to understand that these tournaments would not have a large prize pool or anything close to the size actual esports tournaments often boast. But compared to amateur tournaments, the payout would still be considerably larger. Let’s take, for example, a “Super Smash Bros. Melee” tournament organized by Twitch streamer Ludwig. It followed a plan similar to the one I described previously, with a company sponsoring a streamer’s tourney. The total prize pool was $25,001, a mere 10% of the lowest prize pool recorded in an esports tournament, “Blizzcon 2014 (Hearthstone).” Even so, that pool towers over every public amateur “Among Us” championship available, with most of them having a prize pool of $100. And that, of course, helps in achieving the final goal of expanded accessibility. 

But why is accessibility important in the first place?

If esports is no longer something only highly skilled players can participate in, even if they still retain the de-facto control of the scene, more people will congregate to it, which can then increase diversity in the scene. 

The second way we can look at accessibility is through the eyes of esports companies. By increasing accessibility, esports harnesses more household support. Tournaments would no longer be only populated by highly trained athletes but also by regular, relatable players. This, in turn, leads to average households growing more familiarized with esports and building trust with the industry, as they know someone who participates in these tournaments. In other words, it allows the esports industry to not only secure new markets but also gain a more widespread popular support, something essential for a business to grow.

Ultimately, casual-friendly tournaments prove beneficial for everyone involved. From the sponsors to the companies to even the players, everyone would gain something from this plan. Even if there wasn’t an entire tournament dedicated to this type of game, there should still be an incorporation of casual games into the esports scene because they compose the great majority of video games out there. 

While I said that not every game is fit for a competitive scene, it seems wrong that only a handful of them are deemed “competitive enough” for esports. If we try to expand the scope of the industry while maintaining its positive aspects, the benefit of more accessibility will be worth it. 

Guilherme Guerreiro is a sophomore writing about esports. His column, “Press Play to Start,” runs every other Wednesday.