Top Six Obscure Esports Games
Obscure esports games seem to be poised to hit the scene yet something holds them back. Typically esports that are on the front page of Twitch are now mega-titles, and the more popular a game is, the easier it is to advertise for it. Esports as an industry can be fickle. Plenty of great games get snubbed because they’re hard to stream for or don’t have any big names backing them.
That doesn’t make these games any less enjoyable, but there’s plenty of excellent games with exciting tournaments that simply aren’t as popular as their Hearthstone and Dota cousins. Here are my six top picks for the most fun esports games that reside mostly in obscurity.
Obscure Esports Games #1 – Catherine
We’re starting the list off with a doozy because it’s a little hard to explain. Catherine was a game developed by Atlus, the studio now famous for Persona and other anime-style games.
Catherine was popular when it came out for being a “dating sim” that hit the mainstream—it had a storyline that got centered on the main character who had to choose between two women, Catherine and Katherine.
The gameplay involved running around on foot and solving puzzles involving stairs, moving blocks, and some platforming elements to get to the end of the level. For most people, the gameplay segments took a backseat to the beautifully animated seventh-gen cutscenes.
However, Atlus decided to add a multiplayer mode, which seemed to gel well with the core gameplay. The platform-puzzle-survival in multiplayer added an element of speed to the game and turned it into a race to the finish as well. The game in motion looks frantic and “hype,” and it’s still getting played as a side event yearly at EVO.
However, you won’t get videos of matches if you just look up the name of the game on YouTube because it wasn’t the focus of the development at all.
Obscure Esports Games #2 – Windjammers
If Rocket League is the “fictional sports” game about cars that play Soccer, Windjammers is the fictional sports game about an intense version of Frisbee. Its Japanese name is Flying Power Disc if you need any more info about what the game’s aesthetic is like.
The gameplay is like air hockey, with there being special techniques and such for manipulating, catching, and throwing the Frisbee. Like Catherine, the original game (on Neo Geo AES, arcade machines, virtual console, etc.) was played at EVO until there was a PS4 reboot in 2017.
There’s not much to say about Windjammers other than it deserves plenty of success; it has unique gameplay built for dueling or teams and has the background to prove its competitive worthiness.
Obscure Esports Games #3 – Tetris Attack/Puyo Puyo
Like Catherine, this is another competitive puzzle game that suffers from poor marketing and niche gameplay.
The gameplay of these games usually involves having a board full of blocks, with a way to manipulate them and add more to create chains of matches. Creating chains of matches make your opponent’s board fill up more or make it more difficult for them to interact with it until it gets full and loses.
Most Western players know the gameplay from SNES games like Tetris Attack (featuring Yoshi), Puzzle Fighter (featuring the Street Fighter cast complete with special moves), or Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (which didn’t even feature Sonic). Nowadays, there’s the multiplatform hit Puyo Puyo Pop, but the game focused on nostalgia and online matchmaking rather than tournaments.
Nonetheless, the gameplay is competitive and intense. If there was ever a game to make a name for itself with different gameplay, it’s Puyo Puyo.
Obscure Esports Games #4 – Dissidia
Dissidia is an awkward name for the franchise, as we’d much rather just call it Final Fantasy Brawlers or something that explains how huge this game could be.
Often referred as Dissidia Final Fantasy, the series is an action-RPG-fighting game packed with rapid movement and action and, of course, Final Fantasy characters.
The series was hugely popular on the PSP and is now popular on the PS4 and in Japanese arcades.
The gameplay is entertaining, and although it’s not necessarily as deep as Street Fighter, it is esports-worthy. The only problem is that Square Enix has a hard time marketing the game outside of Japan, and most of the Western world doesn’t even know it exists.
What a shame, too, because then we could have two games at EVO where a couple of Clouds beat up on each other. Feels much like Ehrgeiz, another amazing fighter from Japan that most westerners never heard of that featured the FF7 cast. Maybe one day.
Obscure Esports Games #5 – Killer Instinct
For casual gamers, Killer Instinct is flat-out the best fighting game that they probably have never heard of. It’s a legacy IP from Rare that was mega-popular during the SNES and N64 era (and in arcades during that period) that got a revival for the Xbox One in 2013.
It even has a freemium model that allows for players to try out rotating free characters as well as a few core characters from the first “season.” Oh yeah, it was also one of the first fighting games to release characters in waves, or “seasons,” which has since caught on.
It’s also on Steam with cross-play between the two communities, even allowing for different controller support. Plenty of people have fight sticks that work on PC but not on Xbox One. The problem? No one will touch the darn thing.
The combos are insane, the game has been out for a while, and this seems “old” to some people, and the godlike netcode means that the community mostly resides online—they have no reason to play in LAN because the online is so good.
You’d think that with the Arbiter, a Battletoad, and General RAAM as guest characters the game would be more popular amongst casuals, but apparently not. The incredibly deep, complicated gameplay systems make it hard for new players to find footing against those that are experienced, especially now that the roster is bigger.
Obscure Esports Games #6 – Mario Party
Alright, I’m not going to pretend you haven’t heard of Mario Party. In fact, a new one is releasing in early October for the Nintendo Switch that is a return to form for the series. However, the Mario Party landscape has been changing over the past couple of years.
Mario Party reached new popularity on YouTube as a way for streamers to play with each other, or for a fun thing for tournament players to do after tournaments ended. Naturally, they started becoming more competitive with each other, put betting on the line, and the game feels just like it did when we were kids.
The players usually focused on the N64 and early GameCube versions that did not focus on any sort of gameplay gimmicks. The Wii and Wii-U versions are notorious for abandoning many core gameplay principles of original games in the series.
That’s changing with Nintendo Switch’s Super Mario Party, though. Nintendo explained in several Directs that it will include online matchmaking, a ranking system, and the ability to play circuits of minigames with players around the world. The classic board game style will also return for local gameplay.
This one’s kind of a stretch, but we significantly hope that we’ll see Mario Party minigames as a side event at EVO. Why not?