A job listing on Epic Games’ website suggests they’re about to move into the eSports arena.
Creators of the widely used Unreal game engines and billion-dollar franchises like Gears of War, Epic writes that, “One of the teams is working on an unannounced competitive online action game that includes player progression, heavy itemization, and a dynamic economy.” Another team is working on Fortnite, a long-in-development co-op action game. The open position at the Raleigh, NC studio is for a senior systems designer, suggesting the project isn’t very far along.
Recent stories also suggest Epic plans to mothball the Gears franchise after the disappointing Gears of War: Judgment. That leaves speculation open as to what Epic might bring to eSports.
While a new IP certainly seems likely, Epic made its bones in 1999 with Unreal Tournament, a benchmark first-person, multiplayer shooter populated by an entire arsenal of gonzo sci-fi weapons. Plenty of fans would welcome a return to the franchise, which featured heavily in the 2001 and 2002 World Cyber Games. Several sequels even included year-of-release titles — Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal Tournament 2004 — adding to the impression of a sports-focused feel.
Epic has seen a number of high-profile departures in the last year, including design director (and Gears of War creator) Cliff Bleszinski, senior producer Rod Fergusson, and president Mike Capps. Chinese company Tencent Holdings acquired a 40% stake in Epic in July 2012, just before the departures began. Tencent also owns Riot Games, the studio behind League of Legends.
Whether those changes placed Epic on a new trajectory or not, the company is now focused heavily on multiplayer games. Fortnite, first revealed in December 2011, is described as a co-op experience where players work together to scavenge resources by day, build defenses, and fight off encroaching threats by night.
Either way, it’s significant to see such a major player building an eSport-centric game, presumably from the ground up. Whether it turns out to be another Unreal Tournament or a multiplayer online battle arena-style game like League of Legends, Epic tends to produce games that stand on the leading edge of what’s possible. It’ll be interesting to see what they bring to the table.