|Original image uploaded by Andrew Karklins.|
And so my thoughts have turned to the question, can there be a Digimon World Championships series?
This is really asking the question; do we have a game worth playing at a high level, and if so, how can we organize competitions for it? Tournament play is nothing new to Digimon, but it's certainly been dormant for many years. The last official Digimon tournament was during the Xros Wars era in 2010, but that was a Jump Festa event and a blip on the map compared to Digimon's former lineage of competitions. Continuity with past tournaments was actually broken in 2007, when the Digimon Twin virtual pet became the last such pet to have official organized play for it in toy stores across Japan. The D-1 tradition dissolved during Digimon's 10th anniversary.
The closest thing we have in modern times are the DIGIMADO conventions, which meet four times a year in Japan and are only attended by ~40 persons per event. DIGIMADO is primarily for Digimon's Hyper Colosseum trading card game and miscellaneous video games like Digimon Racing, with Cyber Sleuth being the most visible. In past years, DIGIMADO has also featured Digimon World Re:Digitize and Decode tournaments, which were among their most highly-attended competitions.
Those games, which required less time devoted to raising a competitive Digimon and were overall fairly intuitive, particularly lent themselves to such events. These days DIGIMADO is lucky to see six people in the Sleuth tournaments, whereas the Decode tournament had sixteen entrants, enough to have a real eight-man top cut. We're facing the Super Smash Bros. dilemma, having to single out one game among an entire franchise that's representative of the best it can be as a multiplayer experience.
kusoge. Not only did Digimon Championship force tamers to play through the entire story mode just to unlock the ability to give direct orders to their Digimon, but the core gameplay brought the tedium of Digimon World's worst qualities to the DS without its sense of adventure. (It was technically ahead of its time; if it were rereleased as a smartphone game it would probably be the next Flappy Bird.) Moreover, there was never any real support for tournament competition on either side of the water, making Championship a competition game in-name-only. (Take note of this Titanic-esque press release from just before the game was launched, in which a Bandai representative circa 2008 sings the praises of the "ultimate Digimon experience" right as the brand is about to crash and fall into two years of dead silence.)
It's tempting to assume that Cyber Sleuth would be the go-to for a World Championship, but Sleuth was primarily designed as a single player RPG with the multiplayer as an optional component, whereas Pokémon games are designed with both single and multiplayer as part of a seamless whole. When you get down to it, Sleuth just isn't a very well-balanced game. The fact that it made the gen I mistake of consolidating Special Attack and Special Defense into a single stat isn't even the biggest issue--the game features direct turn manipulation, speed manipulation, evasion boosting that forces tamers to run no-miss moves, and numerous HP and SP recovery skills that cause most matches to run straight into the time limit. DIGIMADO attempted to rebalance Sleuth with rules restricting the use of healing skills (and to prevent rule exploits) but these regulations are difficult to enforce on a grand scale and don't deal with the problem of most Digimon just not being very playable.
There are also practical concerns at work. The PlayStation 4 version of Sleuth doesn't support local multiplayer, so the only people that could participate in a World Championship series would be those with PlayStation Vitas or PSTVs. PS4 users can import their save data onto the Vita, so they wouldn't have to start from scratch, but that's an additional $40~$100 invested just to play. While in Japan the Vita has enough of a consumer base in a relatively close area that makes this practical, the PS4 version is without question the more popular one overseas.
The most played alternative format to VGC in Pokémon is Smogon's, which uses a combination of usage statistics, player input, and oversight committees to divide 721 Pokémon into usage-based tiers that try to give all of them a viable niche. Smogon draws a lot of fire for their infamous bans and restrictions, which remove chance elements and abilities (nominally) to promote diversity and prevent a situation where trainers "have" to run certain Pokémon in order to win. Whether you agree with them or not, there's no denying that Smogon's methods are well intentioned, and that tournaments within each tier are much more diverse than VGC.
What few people outside Smogon's own community are aware of is that the bans are run democratically, via several-weeks-long suspect tests, which require trainers to be prescreened for skill by achieving a predetermined COIL rating. Suspect tests are followed by a community vote among those trainers to determine whether a Pokémon should or shouldn't be banned from a given tier. These methods are a lot of work and requires a huge community to support. Smogon's community efforts also wouldn't be possible if the base Pokémon games weren't as good as they already are, something which Digimon is generally lacking. (There are many more bad Digimon games than good.)
|We're going back to our roots. Like WAAAY back. Maybe further back than you could have ever possibly wanted.|
From the perspective of organizing tournaments, it would also greatly democratize the game by reducing the amount of time devoted to training expected of newcomers. More players would be able to participate, the impact of Support Skills would be reduced, and (theoretically) greater diversity would be observed without needing to hard ban specific Digimon. There would be no more cumulative passive speed boosting, and the Digimon that get hurt by banning duplicates in normal play would be more viable in singles as they're now competing against a lower power scale. Playing around the clock as is seen so frequently now (especially on pure Ulforce teams) also becomes less viable, as each tamer only has a single 60-second turn rather than three of the same, while the timer is still fixed at 30 minutes. This does introduce some potential complications where certain Digimon may be able to score one-hit kills from the onset with specific matchups, potentially pointing to two-on-two being the better balance, but this would require direct testing to determine.
The overall problem with this idea, as with any bans or restrictions, is that it can't be enforced in online play. All you can do is refuse to match with tamers that aren't compliant to such rules. With Cyber Sleuth's small but dedicated fanbase it may actually be possible to keep a registry of 1-v-1 compliant tamers, but the ideal is to grow the player community over time. As that community grows, you're looking at potentially hours of refusing matches until you finally get paired against a compliant tamer. The competitive ideal for any game is that real-world local tournaments will get started by small regional communities and expand to eventually encompass a national and/or world level (think Evo) and any restrictions make such play that much harder to organize. I think that it can be done, but the Digimon fandom has to seriously want it first.
What are the alternatives?
Digimon Universe Appli Monsters: Cyber Arena is an upcoming 3DS entry in the franchise that's built around the entire concept of multiplayer, with the early downloadable version featuring the PVP and the later physical release comprising the full story. This game actually centers on one-on-one combat, with tamers battling using a single Appmon at a time and supporting it by equipping other Appmon from their deck to borrow their abilities.
|Gatchmon and Cameramon face off.|
Moreover, the Appmon series as a whole is a hard sell to the core Digimon fanbase, which is infamous for being unreceptive to change; this is the same fandom that successively decried Tamers, Frontier, Savers, and Xros Wars. It took years for fans to grow into Tamers, and only since 2014 has Frontier begun to see serious appreciation. (Meanwhile, fans still have to be careful about where and how loudly they praise Savers or Xros.) The new game also hasn't shown any signs of containing "traditional" Digimon, focusing on the Appmon subspecies that arise from smartphone applications. If a large audience refuses to embrace it, then even if Cyber Arena were the best Digimon game ever, it wouldn't be viable for a World Championships series. Competition requires positive reception.
via Kaillera used in conjunction with ePSXe. The game is not available on PSOne Classics, which means the only way to host physical tournaments is via physical disks running on one of the first three PlayStation consoles. There are methods to import ePSXe save data to PS3 via USB drives, which makes it easy to transition playing at a desktop or laptop to a tournament scene. And unlike every other game listed here, World has a strong cult following and quite a bit of mainstream exposure.
get diminishing returns on stat gains as they increase in level, past level 42 gaining only a single point per Jogress in most stats. (The primary method of stat progression in World 2 is via Shin Megami Tensei-style fusion, using Jogress to reach higher stages and improve even fully evolved Digimon.)
Since stats gained from Jogress can decrease if not paired with a Digimon of comparable stats to the base Digimon, and with a cap of 999 on every stat, creating a fully competitive team with perfect stats is incredibly time consuming and probably not something that can be done in a human lifetime.
World 3 and 4 have no multiplayer components. Digimon Story (known overseas as Digimon World DS) has local multiplayer only, and while the DigiFarm and Farm Tools features make managing stat increases easier, this brings us to a shared issue with World 2. Since every Digimon can have perfect stats and acquire an overall similar set of generic skills, usage comes down to what their unique non-transferrable skills are. There are only a few Digimon with unique skills good enough to justify use, once again curtailing diversity. A particularly glaring example is Mugendramon, whose Mugen Cannon has the highest base power of any skill in the game and can hit any square up to five times. (So you can choose to hit the same square five times, or two squares two times and one once, or five squares once each.) The perfect team in Digimon Story is probably two Mugendramon with a Marine Angemon, or just three Mugendramon. You can try to limit tamers to using only one of each Digimon, but with no Memory system like Sleuth and a small pool of viable Digimon to work from, every team is going to look very similar. Sunburst and Moonlight (AKA Dawn and Dusk) has similar issues, just with a wider pool of Digimon to work from and wireless multiplayer. (The official servers shut down years ago, but there is a workaround available via setting up fan-run proxy servers.)
The most viable candidates we're left with are;
- Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth
- Digimon Universe Appli Monsters: Cyber Arena
- Digimon World Re:Digitize
- Digimon World
|Four boys and Digimon mascot character "Commander Yu" after a weekly Digimon tournament at a toy shop c. 2007.|
However, having both observed and assisted just such a scene emerge for the (then no-name) Cardfight!! Vanguard TCG, I can attest to the fact that a championship series is possible. It took Vanguard approximately four years to make the transition from grassroots play to paid professional competition. The bulk of that growth took place in 2015, under Altered Reality Games' supervision--a third party unaffiliated with Vanguard's parent company, which worked in coalition with the player community to organize a proper national championship series with cash payout.
|Commander Yu leads the Liberation/Revolution Battle, the final D-1 GP tournament, c. December 2007.|
These types of competitions promote a special part of fan culture, and the experience of being able to play with a large collection of like-minded individuals is what keeps drawing the players to attend even when it's not always convenient. As a business, it makes sense for ARG to support such events because it eventually goes back to them getting more traffic to sell trading cards and merchandise like card sleeves and playmats. Such a sponsor would be hard to find for a video game series with no associated merchandise, but the success of finding sponsorship for Smash Bros. and other games suggests it's possible.
|Restoring Digimon to its former glory is a long road filled with challenges. In this photo taken December 23rd, 2001, Volcano Oota and his co-hosts lead day 2 of the D-Array Grand Prix finals & Battle Spirit Caravan at Jump Festa 2002.|
The key at this moment would be to do community organizing and grow a large number of scenes within local gaming communities to the point where they could no longer be ignored. Fan-organized events like the Pound series and early Apex tournaments were instrumental to the growth of Smash. Video streaming was an integral part of these events' exposure to the general public and the "mainstreaming" of competitive events into spectator sports. If a grassroots effort can help cultivate a large receptive audience that is too profitable not to pursue, then Bandai will be put in a position to directly cater to that audience, and sponsors will have an incentive to support the events to expand their products' visibility. For Digimon to reach the same eSports potential as Pokémon, it needs a strong centralized community put in constant communication with one another, numerous regularly-held locals that can contribute to the cultivation of a skilled playerbase, and large events exposed to the general population. At the onset, every player would be a kind of ambassador for Digimon, responsible for quickly bringing in new membership.
We can have a Digimon World Championship series, but it's a long road to walk. While Digimon hasn't been in direct competition with Pokémon since 2002, the overnight success of Pokémon Go undoubtedly dealt a decisive blow to the brand. Pokémon was popular before, but its sheer visibility now guarantees that newcomers will always view Digimon as a rip-off. Overcoming that image on top of everything above is a daunting task. A name means everything, and on that front the title Digimon isn't doing us any favors. The Appli Monsters rebranding may actually be one of Bandai's smarter moves. It's the same idea--the nebulous differences between a program and an application ensure that "Digital Monsters" versus "Application Monsters" are functionally similar terminology--but the new name is an invaluable weapon against Digimon's public image. The new series isn't actually called Appmon, and for good reason. To move forward at all, Digimon has to overcome the initial impression that its title brings. It makes Cyber Arena all the more appealing as a potential basis for a large-scale competition. I wouldn't sit around waiting for it to arrive though; if we're to have a DWC at all, it would make more sense to lay the groundwork for it now with Cyber Sleuth or another game so that Arena could hit the ground running.