Why Does Pickup Culture Exist and is it Good or Bad?
Joseph "WALKMAN" Hamdan
Nov 28, 2018
Disclaimer: Before you read into this I just wanted to state that this is sort of a personal rant based on a few comments I’ve seen and my perception of the competitive scene currently. Also, I know it has been a while since I’ve written an article, the reason being I didn’t have the motivation to do so. This was a topic that I saw a lot on twitter and had multiple conversations with people about recently so I wanted to write up a thought out opinion piece on it.
Currently in the Splatoon competitive community a lot of high end players are entering tournaments as pickups instead of forming stable teams. Some refer to this as pickup culture and it's seen frequently in the North American scene where top seeded teams in many tournaments are often just a conglomerate of the strongest players. Some people have expressed concerns that it is detrimental to the growth of the scene for these strong players to not be on teams and while this argument definitely has some merit to it there is also a whole other side to consider. However, before I go further I want to post a screenshot of one of the tweets (original post) that made me start thinking of the topic more so that I can refer to some of the points the writer and others brought up. Okay so now let’s explore both sides of pickup culture and see exactly why it exists and why in my opinion it is not a bad thing in the current state of the community.
First off, you can see from the posted screenshot one argument against pickup culture states that it is hindering community growth. If you clicked on the original tweet one poster reasons that without regular teams there are no story lines for people to follow. Basically casual viewers won’t be able to tune into a tournament stream and say “Oh hey I remember that team name they did great in that event I watched before.” Which leads into less viewers who tune into a tournament for their favorite team because they aren’t exposed to the same team long enough to form a favorite. An example in favor of this argument is Ghost Gaming, who when on the main stream causes the viewer count to shoot up because they have fans. Without teams you can also lose out on story line match ups such as: will Demise finally have the breakout performance against Ghost Gaming and Kraken Paradise to win their first major tournament? Then, instead of rivalries we have established teams fighting a different strong pickup or a pickup verses a pickup. People who see this as a problem definitely have a valid argument, there is nothing worse as an organizer than a quality stream where the grand finals is 2 teams nobody knows or cares to know. It's hard for casual viewers to follow what’s going on in the scene without teams to look for and thus the community is at a state where its growth is hindered. I’m not going to argue that this isn’t true, though players just forming teams isn't going to fix the issue.
So pickups aren’t exactly promoting growth of the scene, but to know if they are hurting the community we need to know why they are so common in the first place. I can assure you it is not because people are trying to mimic the pickup culture that the Japanese has practiced The truth is there is little to no reason for teams to exist right now. What events are there that encourage teams sticking together? Just take a look at the current tournament structure of the scene. There are a bunch of weekly tournaments, but none of them mean much outside of BNS because it seems to have a consistent $200 or above prize pool. There is InkForce, but all that really offers is a chance to be on a tournament stream and many teams don’t see that as valuable enough to play in on a Wednesday night. Then for big events, there are none that appeal to everyone. The Inkvitational was only for 16 teams, the Rising Squid LAN qualifiers were only for European players, Long Island Summer Splat was a LAN so not everyone can get to it and outside of these nothing major occurred. Each is an inclusive event and the majority of players couldn’t participate in them. So why should people form stable teams and practice when there is very little events to grind toward? Not many high end teams are signing up for these weekly events with no prizes and therefore tournaments aren’t even a good way to test your skill most of the time. It just creates situations of "yeah we made it fairly far in this tournament, but there weren’t many teams so how good are we really?" Sadly your team probably won’t be given the chance to find out until months later in some big event where it will be your first time playing against a high tier team in half a year, that is if your team even sticks together that long. The only thing a team can set a goal toward is being invited to the next Inkvitational. Obviously it is a tremendous accomplishment and worth it as teams got a chance to play forthe largest online prize pool and were given free promotion through trailers, but at the same time it’s only for 16 teams. If you were the 20th best, you worked for nothing because there were no other events around to showcase your improvement. In my opinion there is one event that promotes teams to grind and that is the Inkvitational, otherwise you are just playing to play.
This collection of images shows the four BNS events that took place in the month of October. The 2 pickups shown here are doggy dog world and robux collectors won 3 out of 4 of the events and came in second 1 of the events. Not shown is Splashdown Saturdays which ran 2 tournaments in the month of October and 2 pickups placed top 3 in one event and a pickup won the other. These are the tournaments that included what little money the scene has and a pickup won 4 out of 6 and won money in 5 out of 6. These players are still winning events what will motivate them to form teams if they are already winning?
Delving deeper into the past and future tournament calendar, the last major event that wasn’t extremely inclusive was Inkstorm Cup (open to players 16 years of age and older) back in July. That leaves August, September, October and November as months in which a major tournament that appealed to a large portion of the scene did not occur. That is four months, a third of the year, in which probably 75% of the community or higher had nothing to practice for, no reason to be on a team trying to reach the top. Looking at December we have Rising Squid LAN, Don’t Park on the Grass, Super Splat Bros (possibly if people sign up for it) as the major events (I say major events but only Rising Squid LAN will have top teams seemingly).One of them is in Germany and the other two are on the west coast of the United States. Squidboards seems to be happening December 1st which is nice, but it’s also the same day as RSL and there hasn’t been one in a while so I can’t put much stock in it being a consistent tournament again. It also was just announced so it isn’t like people had something to look forward to these past 4 months. Project Dorado is a new tourney that seems promising but it isn’t at the most accessible time for Europeans, it isn’t a major tournament (it doesn’t need to be), and how long will the event live. Where are the online events from big organizations that offer something for people to enter and that rack in views? Our community is spread across the globe with minimal funds and minimal sponsors so why do we have more in person “major” events that have a lot of resources put into them instead of in online ones where the majority of entrants lie? Yeah the LAN events are amazing and bring a type of excitement that online events can’t compete with, but you can’t just throw the online events to the side if you truly want to grow the scene.
In this screenshot Hitzel, a prominent member of the community, who isn't motivated to play in pickups also realizes that the scene is so stagnant that there is no reason to be on a team. He gives his further reasoning throughout the tweet's thread here.
In order for there to be community growth there needs to be better reasons to play in events than playing in weekly events with no stream when you can just stream a scrim while improving your skill and growing your own channel. The community needs events like the RSL qualifiers, in which smaller events lead into a bigger major event with a prize pool just in a completely online and open to everyone setting. There should be at least one major online event a month coming from various organizations with their own special flare to make it interesting and unique to viewers. From a player perspective without these things there is minimal reason to join a team, in fact it might actually be more detrimental to the player than beneficial. Take one of my favorite players in North America as an example, Kyo. He played for a long time on a team called TOMO and they were really good. However, without a consistent 4 players available they just stayed good, never great or the best. Nowadays Kyo plays in pickups, is seen as one of the best players in his region, wins weekly tournaments week after week, and more people know him despite not being on a constant team for a long time. He’s playing more consistently with a team now, ftwin, but still there was no reason really to join a team it was just something that happened and he is feeling out. Had he stayed on TOMO I can assure you his reputation wouldn’t be as great as it is now because he simply wouldn’t be winning as much. He would just be another great player being held back by an inconsistently available team and to me that is a worse fate than playing on pickups “hindering” community growth. As for grinding for the Inkvitational as a team, it would have been a travesty to not have Kyo play because of the renowned reputation he built for himself after he left TOMO. This is why I invited pickups that included him, so one of the best players had a spot in a tournament for the best. His team placed 3rd in a top 16 team tournament as a pickup, something that TOMO may not have been able to do, so I think it’s safe to say Kyo has made the right choices for himself as a player. And if you don’t believe this is how players feel take it from Kyo himself in this next screenshot in which I asked him to read the above paragraph and let me know if I represented him accurately, ignore typos/poor wording as it was a casual conversation between 2 friends.
Puppypop won a couple BNS events and then disbanded. Neptune looked like it had all the pieces to rise the ranks, disbanded. InControl Sorrow had some the best talent in Europe, gone so quick I forgot they existed and had to look up old teams. I could go on and on finding teams back to Splatoon 1 because this has always been a trend in the community. Perhaps those who follow the scene have noticed how we have less posts about some promising team disbanding after a month or two? Well it’s probably because a lot of players aren’t limiting themselves to one team anymore, but branching out to either find more compatible players or not forming teams at the moment. If there are no events that promote creating and sticking with a team you may be hurting yourself. Pickups are being seeded high and winning a lot so why don’t they just make a team and win everything? Well you never know how you get along with a player after one event and the meta is still changing with at least one more month of weapon updates. Especially with a new abilities, subs and specials being added late into the game. So with a rapidly changing meta what if the player you decided to team with only plays one weapon that is amazing right now and it isn't next patch You want to be the team with a Charger main when they are nerfed back when every charger main quit playing or how about the team with the H3D player when the meta right around the corner is triple Brella, one of the hardest match ups for the H3? Yeah weapon updates are coming to a close (metas will still shift months/years later), but these were/are thoughts of players. As a player you should just focus on playing and practicing as much as possible with people your skill level no matter if you are on a team or not. Then when the community develops to a point where you have a reason to form a team, you have now played with so many players that hopefully you can make a team that would give you the best odds of being successful.
With this piece I’m not expecting big events to just pop up because someone said that is the fix, it’s complicated to organize these events. Funds are low to make events special, I get that. Can we do a little more as tournament organizers, players, and viewers to raise those funds? One hundred percent, but don’t blame top players for wanting to play a game the way they want to play when like I said there is so little money involved. Splatoon 2 is not a game you are getting rich off of as a player so you might as well play in pickups all day if that is what you want to do and it makes you a better more successful player. Without proper incentive to stay together the few stories that do build up will probably be gone in a month or two after the team disbands anyway because they “just formed a team” without it being a good fit. I also hope that this gets people thinking a bit more on ways to promote teams forming and lasting so we can grow the community in that way. The main purpose of this article was to get people talking so whether you agree or disagree with me hope you express it either in the comment section here or on twitter under the official tweet, thanks for reading and I look forward to reading some counterpoints.
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