We’ve spoken at length about all the coulda, woulda, shouldas of Playstation’s management of the Vita. No big franchises after launch, lackluster third-party support (no bespoke Grand Theft Auto? Come on!), expensive storage, the list goes on. But one of the biggest omissions is, arguably, the lack of proper esports support. Granted, eSports only took off half-way into the Vita’s lifespan, but it’s easy to imagine how different it would have been if we’d had eSports on the Vita. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you why this is.
The most obvious benefit of having proper eSports on the Vita would have been monetary. As per a recent Forbes article, eSports revenue reached US$1 billion in 2019, with a worldwide audience of 443 million people. Money comes in from a variety of places: sponsorship deals, betting on eSports games, prize money, the list goes on.
Can you imagine what cashflow like that would have done to the Vita? Licensing alone would have made everyone at Sony rich. It’s not an impossibility, either. We’ve seen eSports moving into the mobile phone market, too, with games such as League of Legends and World of Warcraft making the move with huge success. But to me, there’s an even more obvious pairing: licensed eSports. Enter: F1.
Big Names, Big Pull
I’m a huge fan of Formula 1. Considered the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1 has its official eSports league. What’s more: the F1 eSports league is tied to the real-life teams which compete in the Formula 1 championship.
The attention which would have fallen onto the Vita’s lap had Codemasters’ legendary F1 game franchise arrived on the Vita would have been legendary. The mainstream appeal of seeing a Ferrari or McLaren driver with a Playstation Vita in his hands would have sold countless units. But it’s not really just about the money.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a competitive guy. I admire athletes, including esports athletes. But that level of competition is not for me. Even taking all of that into consideration, I enjoy playing the games which are based around esports. I like playing PUBG, I adore playing the aformentioned F1 games, and even Hearthstone, the WoW trading card game is something I dabble with every now and then.
So, eSports games are not just for competitive gaming. Rather, competitive games are inherently fun and entertaining to play. That’s why they become eSports hits. Even for causal players, a good game will always resonate. That’s why eSports on the Vita wouldn’t have been an exclusively competitive experience. Rather, it would have helped popularize the handheld through the mass appeal of those competitive-oriented games, even for casual gamers.
eSports on the Vita: What Could Have Been
Alas, that’s all this will ever be. There’s no chance now that eSports on the Vita will ever make it big now. We had multiplayer experiences, particularly fighting games, but never on a large, competitive scale. We will probably see some kind of competitive homebrew scene sooner rather than later. But nothing that will bring big bucks.
And it’s a shame, because I honestly think that the money we left on the table when Playstation ignored the Vita’s potential to take part in the eSports revolution is immense. It could have made all the difference in the world, and saved both the Vita and dedicated handheld gaming devices at large. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, indeed.