Checkpoint #6: The Prize Pool War

Teamfight Tactics, Steam Summer Sale, esports prize pools, Super Mario Maker 2, Valve Index + more

Welcome back to Checkpoint!

An avalanche of auto chess games is hitting the market, the Steam sale metagame has gone awry, Twitch is trying to get in on the Private Web vibe, and Epic Games and Valve are having a prize money flex war.

Let's get into it.

Auto Chess Is The New Battle Royale

PC gaming and cross-platform titles

Hot on the heels of Dota UnderlordsTeamfight Tactics was released this week. It's an auto chess game mode inside of League of Legends. The game has been very popular, leading to server issues and changes to regional rollouts. Early impressions of Teamfight Tactics suggest that its social features will give it a leg up over the competition.

Steam's Summer Sale began early in the week, but you've still got plenty of time to take advantage of the deals — the sale runs until July 9th. Here are some of the best PC games on sale. There's been a bit of controversy around this year's sale metagame — people were confused about its mechanisms and removing games from their wishlists en masse, incensing indie developers. Valve has since begun working to make the metagame easier to understand.

Twitch has rolled out a new feature allowing streamers to run subscriber-only streams — a move that reminded me of the Substack approach to content monetization (Substack is the platform this newsletter runs on, and allows newsletter operators to send issues to all subscribers, or just paying subscribers).

Bandai Namco has announced a new action RPG for PC called Blue Protocol. Details are very scarce at present, but we expect to hear more pretty soon.

Playerunknown's Battlegrounds is doing a reverse-Fortnite. Having started with a focused Battle Royale, the company is now developing a story-focused game in the same universe. There are some notable names involved, including Glen Schofield (Dead Space).

Over in EVE Online, players are incensed (that's not the newsworthy part, that's just EVE players). Without warning, NPC Drifter fleets have begun attacking to player-run stations in nullsec, forcing some of the major alliances to put a hold on their larger-scale conflicts and defend their space. Given EVE players play this game instead of World of Warcraft for something with more depth and emergence, it's hard to blame them for being upset.

Hitman 2's New York bank mission DLC is here. This is the first full mission DLC released since the game's launch, and involves an assassination and infiltration job.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood and Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot will become the first Wolfenstein games released in Germany with the same uncensored Nazi art assets as the rest of the world.

As the game's run winds down, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has gotten a way to acquire content outside of the microtransactions system. Contracts are challenges that can be completed for in-game rewards — you're probably familiar with similar systems from previous Duty games.

Meanwhile, devs at Treyarch are pretty unhappy with Black Ops 4's endless crunch and aggressive post-sale monetization.

Fallout 76 is getting NPCs after all. Here's how that will change the game

Epic's strategy of aggressively pursuing exclusives for the Epic Games Store has made PC gamers quite unhappy. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney says it's the only way to battle Steam's deep entrenchment. I'm not a fan of exclusives, especially when there are no technical barriers to a wider release, but serious competition is good for all of us — even those of us who stay loyal to Steam. 

If you want a reminder of what monopoly offers, just open your Steam app, which is essentially a 2004 nostalgia simulator with all the user experience failures that entails. Without Epic, Valve is more than happy to sit on its laurels while it takes your money. (I'm still a Steam user.)

The Prize Pool War

Gaming culture and miscellanea

Epic Games and Valve aren't just battling it out over storefronts. They're also in a competition to one-up each other's esports prize pools.

More of a laugh than news: Budweiser has applied to trademark 'the official beer of esports'. Cos millennials and younger who drink beer are totally drinking Budweiser, and not an orange vanilla milkshake double IPA. (Ah, sweet memories.)

The same crew who have been working on The Witcher for Netflix are working on a Final Fantasy 14 live-action TV series.

Meanwhile, id Software's origin story is being developed into a TV series called Masters of Doom. Sounds like a gaming-themed Halt and Catch Fire. I'd watch it.

Motormouthed Mike Morhaime

Blizzard news, rumors and reviews

World of Warcraft's 8.2 patch, Rise of Azshara, went live this week. Explore two new zones, get gnome and tauren heritage armor, unlock Battle for Azeroth flying, and do a new dungeon and raid with your friends.

Meanwhile, team 5 is looking to keep Hearthstone's classic mode fresh with new cards and class changes.

Mike Morhaime, departed Blizzard CEO and company co-founder, had a few tasty bits of info to drop when he spoke on a Gamelab conference panel:

Make Me Bad

Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch news

Super Mario Maker 2 hit this week, and the reviews are in (they are very positive).

Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have all sought an exemption from Trump's threatened trade tariffs, to avoid having to mark up their products by as much as 25%.

Your free Xbox Games with Gold games in July are Inside and Big Crown Showdownon Xbox One, and Xbox 360 owners get Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Meet the Robinsons. There are also a bunch of indie games coming to Game Pass soon. Another five games are leaving the service at the end of the month

Read Dead Online's finally getting character re-customization, the ability to retain playing style preferences, and more.

EA Access is coming to PlayStation 4 on July 24. It was previously only available on Xbox One and PC.

Sony says that while everyone else focuses on streaming, it's going to cater to the hardcore gamer with the PlayStation 5, focusing on serious AAA titles and graphical fidelity.

If you had hoped all this controversy would sway minds at The Pokémon Company, I'm sorry to disappoint: Pokémon Sword & Shield producer Junichi Masuda says the team will continue as planned and will not be expanding the National Dex.

Acclaimed narrative game What Remains of Edith Finch is coming to Switch, launching on July 4Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is another port that hit the Switch this week, but it wasn't well-made and the developers have had to promise to fix it.

The next Switch isn't going to be any Project Scarlett, but it will get better performance and longer battery life out of the next evolution of the Nvidia Tegra X1.

Vindex Windex

VR, AR, streaming, and other emerging tech

Valve Index reviews are coming in and they suggest the tech is good, but not a big shake-up for the state of VR.

Meanwhile, the Vive Cosmos headset (which you may recall had a bit of a childish aesthetic going on) has been reskinned to look a lot more like the other things lying around a gamer's room.

Google promises that it will never pull games from your Stadia library, even if they're pulled from sale, and warns that you shouldn't expect Stadia game pricing to be any cheaper than on consoles.

Just Relax

Mobile gaming news

Cessabit is a newly released mobile game that is designed to help you calm your nerves when anxious, and improve your memory. Available on iOS and Android.

Pokémon Masterscoming to iOS and Android later this year, is going to be a real-time team battler. Instead of catching Pokémon, you will catch trainers, apparently.

Tetris Royale is coming to iOS and Android layer this year, building on the mode in Tetris 99.

That’s it for this edition.

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- Flob