Dragon Ball FighterZ took the gaming and anime world by storm when it was officially announced at E3 2017, and the hype train only continued from there. Dragon Ball’s immense popularity naturally led to dozens of game adaptations throughout the years, but Arc System Works’ take on the franchise is an entirely different beast. This time, Dragon Ball is brought to life by a studio well-versed in developing fighting games with polish, excitement, and perhaps most importantly for the long-term success of Dragon Ball FighterZ, tournament potential. Whether or not Dragon Ball FighterZ is capable of becoming the next huge fighting game esport is still uncertain, but there is reason to be hopeful. With Dragon Ball’s incredible popularity and Arc System Works’ previous experience informing their development and promotion of the game, Dragon Ball FighterZ has a great chance to break out as an esport phenomenon.
From the beginning, Dragon Ball FighterZ was crafted with esports and the competitive scene in mind. Other than Dragon Ball FighterZ, the most recent Dragon Ball games have been fighting-style games in a 3D plane. The Xenoverse series, which added an RPG-spin and recycled some leftover pieces of a once-planned Dragon Ball MMORPG, was quite popular and actually accrued a decently-sized and passionate fanbase. Yet, the direction of Dragon Ball FighterZ decidedly strikes away from the series’ recent 3D trend, and for good reason. Much like some other massively popular Dragon Ball fighting games like the Budokai Series, Dragon Ball FighterZ’s combat takes place entirely in 2D. Tomoni Hiroki, who is producing Dragon Ball FighterZ, cited esports as one of the reasons the game is moving back to the 2D plane familiar to older Dragon Ball fighting games.
By bringing Dragon Ball back to a traditional 2D fighting plane and away from the safe popularity of the recent Xenoverse series, Arc System Works is clearly maneuvering themselves to put another major title in the competitive fighting scene. Of course, Arc System Works is no stranger to fighting game competitions like EVO. Some of Arc System Works other fighting titles, Guilty Gear Xrd REV2 and BlazBlue: Central Fiction, had a presence at 2017’s EVO competition; Arc Systems Works has a clear pedigree for crafting titles well-fit for a tournament scene. Not only do they have the technical know-how to produce a fighting game mechanically worthy of tournaments like EVO, but they also have valuable experience promoting their games in an effective way. This promotion aspect is a huge part of how a game’s esport potential both starts and maintains itself, but Arc System Works is lucky that the game’s name is fantastic promotion on its own.
Unless you live under a Spirit Bomb-sized rock, the popularity of the Dragon Ball franchise is obvious. Through the original manga, anime, and countless filmic and video game adaptations of Dragon Ball, it is indisputably one (if not the most) popular and recognizable anime series of all time. Arc System Works other titles became well-known in the esport scene without much help in the realm of a mega-popular franchise, and the chance to work with a license like Dragon Ball is an enormous opportunity for Arc System Works. Indubitably, Dragon Ball’s name alone will draw in an enormous number of players. Even if a majority of these players never acquire an interest nor develop the talent to compete at a competitive level, a big player base always helps a game find its esport footing. Much like Smash Brothers, a fighting game with a huge competitive scene and even larger player base, there will likely be interest among casual players to see what professional level play is capable of.
Despite the technical prowess required to become a professional player of fighting games, Arc System Works’ attempts at simplifying gameplay for newcomers will help retain the more casual players who otherwise might be scared off. While this type of “casualization” may sound counterintuitive for a game trying to make a splash in the esport fighting game scene, having a level of accessibility is crucial to maintaining the player base after the inevitable initial boom. Dragon Ball FighterZ will be flooded with players from day one, but without quality of life features and an easy path to learning the game, that player base will evaporate before you can say Destructo Disc.
Hopefully, fans of both Dragon Ball and fighting games will witness a long, prosperous shelf life for Dragon Ball FighterZ as a competitive fighter. In the best case scenario, Dragon Ball FighterZ will be the perfect storm of mechanical expertise, fan interest, and good timing that brings Arc System Works to a level of relevance they have not yet experienced. Only time will tell what will exactly happen to Dragon Ball FighterZ in this regard, but I’d say that money bet on Arc System Works is safely spent.