Even if you aren’t any good at it, like me, Brawlhalla is just plain fun. And at PAX South, nobody seemed to be having fun quite like the people at the sizable – or should I say mammoth? – Blue Mammoth Games booth. Players exulted in victory as they ripped off moves at demo stations, while the staff smiled generously at passers-by and other interested parties.
I scored some time with the chief fun-maker, Executive Producer Zeke Sparkes (not to be confused with Zach Sharpes), who I feel like could have gone on for an hour talking about Brawlhalla and how well it was doing. In fact, that was one of the first questions I posed to him: For as generous as Brawlhalla is with its cash shop… well, how are you doing?
He was unequivocal in his response: “Great.” As of Jan. 1, the game had over one million players, with about 115,000 daily and 600,000 playing monthly. “We’re a big fan of free-to-play done right,” he said, even to the point of not offering progression acceleration in the cash shop. It was something the team considered, but even that could be seen as a form of “selling power,” and with Brawlhalla’s competitive nature being so sacrosanct, even a seemingly little thing like that would have been treading too close to that pay-to-win line.
Speaking of competition, the big news from last week was the announcement of the first-ever Brawlhalla World Championship, taking place in Atlanta in August. E-sports was something the game was built around, something that Sparkes and his team wanted to make happen, but it couldn’t be “forced,” as he put it. Instead, it was something the community had to want, and, encouraged by the growth of the game and the many player-run tournaments organized around the Brawlhalla subreddit, Blue Mammoth feels like it has the infrastructure and, most importantly, the community, to pull off such a grand event. Sparkes couldn’t offer too many details on it yet, other than to say that it would be a combination invitational and play-in event, with regional tournaments and the like, with the goal to get the best Brawlhalla players in the world to participate. Further details will be announced as the year goes on.
As for the current day, I brought up something that’s always near and dear to any competitive player’s heart: balance. And by “near and dear,” I meant, “everyone hates everything.” Character A is too strong. Character B is too weak. Character C is stronger than Character A. Everything’s broken, and why won’t those stupid devs just fix it?
Sparkes told me the same sort of thing I heard during my trip out to Obsidian Entertainment to talk about Armored Warfare. While he and the team do listen to player feedback, they also have much better tools to observe the actual reality of the game and how it’s played. To put it another way, a player can only observe the matches he or she plays; Sparkes and his team look at all the matches, and puts them under a microscope. What they find doesn’t always match up with the small sample size any individual player can view.
For example, Hattori is considered by many players to be overpowered. She’s used all the time, perhaps to the point of seeing two or three Hattoris in a match. Naturally, that leads to the appearance that she’s winning all the time, but it’s not because she’s overpowered. In fact, Sparkes told me that Hattori has a win percentage slightly below 50% in 1v1 matches. Of course, some of that might be due to less-skilled players hearing that she’s good and thus playing her and bringing down that win%, and in a match with two Hattoris, one will win while the other loses, but it’s still not a cut-and-dry case of Hattori winning all the time because she’s good. She wins all the time because she’s in so many matches. That’s Sparkes’ goal when he’s trying to figure out how to balance things: to figure out why players are saying what they are instead of just taking everything at face value.
There are still a number of steps to be taken before the game can shed its open beta label and move on to a full launch. There are a number of “features to make the game more vibrant” Sparkes still wants to get into the game, such as clan support and other social tools, and the production cycle for new legends still needs smoothing out. It will also come out on PlayStation 4 in the summer, bringing console players a free-to-play alternative to other brawlers. The future’s so bright for Brawlhalla, even Bodvar’s gotta wear shades.