Comment & Opinion

Why (I hope) the experts are wrong about Brawl Stars

Something completely different

Why (I hope) the experts are wrong about Brawl Stars

Like anyone cares, I have a complicated history with Supercell.

Through circumstances, I ended up on the soft launch for Clash of Clans in 2012, played it a lot pre-and-post launch, and liked it a lot too.

(Although I actually thought Hay Day the superior product, I didn’t play it much.)

But, then, after a year, I decided I’d had enough and tapped out. Neither Boom Beach nor Clash Royale appealed beyond an initial flirtation, and perversely I quite enjoyed the fact I didn’t enjoy them either.

Partly this is because I think Supercell has somewhat misplayed its role in the mobile gaming ecosystem and the wider industry recently.

Of course, its corporate situation as a trophy wife/football for rich Asian giants is hardly within its control. And the upstanding moral example of an executive team, which ensure the company pays all its taxes and who now run one of the largest charities in Finland cannot be denied.

Nevertheless, Supercell’s public champagne celebrations when killing failed soft-launched-games now feels akin to rich socialites lighting up their cigars with $50 bills.

Brawl Stars is the best example to-date of Supercell’s skill.

So why do I love Brawl Stars so much?

The feeling is particularly odd as I don’t enjoy MOBAs, shooters or even head-to-head competitive play much. Neither am I much good at such things

Similarly, a bunch of F2P mobile game designers I like and respect reckon Brawl Stars isn’t up to much, while plenty of other industry people - including our Mavens - also seem unimpressed.

Cream of the crop

For me, however, Brawl Stars is the best example to-date of Supercell’s skill at condensing the essence of complex elements such as gameplay, metagame, social reinforcement, monetisation, and sheer fun into a simple package that appeals to the widest audience.

Maybe that’s why I like it so much; at heart, I am a simple man.

With Brawl Stars, you have a selection of characters, each offering obvious trade-offs in terms of level of health and attack styles. The more you play (and win) with those characters, the more they level up.

As for the gameplay, the basic mode is a three-vs.-three team battle to collect the gems that spawn in the tightly restricted levels. You can camp invisible in the foliage or shelter behind crates and rocks, although the former two can be temporarily destroyed by certain attacks.

Each session is short but multi-paced as it moves from an early collection phase to a frantic countdown that sees the winning team trying to protect its lead, while the losing team goes all-out to hunt them down.

Even at this stage, losing can quickly be converted into final victory.

Keeping it simple means the most important long-term aspect becomes the teams.

Underpinning this all is Supercell’s typically clean UI/UX, and very fast loading and matchmaking. There’s little game management. It’s all about play.

Team up

Indeed, the main criticism of those designers was that, lacking sufficient levels of randomness (gacha), Brawl Stars’ monetisation isn’t complex enough, nor do its character options offer enough gameplay depth.

However, given Supercell already has two games generating $1 billion annually, perhaps this sort of monetisation isn’t the core focus for Brawl Stars.

That said, it’s already a top 10 grossing game on the Canadian App Store.

Similarly, the point of keeping it simple means the most important long-term aspect of the game becomes the teams.

Providing the ability to set up custom game rooms means Brawl Stars can be played like a LAN game, with a group of friends in the same location. No doubt, over time, support for voice communications might even be added.

Brawl Stars - all about eSports?

But, more generally, the need for even adhoc teamwork adds immense depth to the game, both in terms team roles based on selected characters and tactical in-game actions: supporting an attacking Big Baby Bear, being healed by Poco at a critical point, or the placement of Jessie’s turrets can all reverse the direction of a brawl.

Successful mobile eSports on mobile will offer a knife-edged winning narrative for spectators.

The Star Player can end up on the losing side and the worst player - often me - on the winning side.

The eSports card

And in this way, I wonder if the early consensus on Brawl Stars may be skewed because people aren’t taking into account what you need to do to create and operate a successful team-based mobile eSports game, which is what all the most successful eSports games are.

As I’ve previously argued, aping successful PC/console eSport titles on mobile hasn’t yet been successful.

Instead, successful eSports on mobile will play to the strengths of the platform - accessibility, short sessions and replayability for players - plus offering easy-to-understand gameplay and a knife-edged winning narrative for spectators.

Successful eSport games also take a different approach to monetisation, with simple character unlocks and aesthetics being the main driver. In this way, the revenues of a game such as League of Legends comes from the sheer scale of its player base.

On an average revenue per player basis, it’s a low-baller.

Hopefully, then, Michail Katkoff’s conclusion - “I don’t believe that Supercell will release this game. Why? Well, because Brawl Stars is not a billion-dollar game” - is wrong in both regards.

Personally, I believe Supercell will release Brawl Stars and think it could become a billion-dollar eSport, but less than this, I just hope there’s no champagne party.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.