eSports Boxing Club has experienced more than an expected share of controversy and setback in its 5+ year development plan.
eSBC was oversold to audiences as a prospect in the running for the greatest boxing game of all time. Its developers proclaimed that the graphics and realism (shown in a video from about 5 years ago) were clearly indicative that fans would soon be able to play a new, realistic, simulation style boxing game that captures the real drama of the sport.
Oh, the excitement! Especially for those of us who’d grown weary of the traditional fighting game style of currently popular online boxing video games.
For years, Steel City Interactive failed to acknowledge that EA, the current champion of boxing video games, had released two completely different boxing video games 2 years apart as their farewell to the sport. Instead, the marketing efforts of Steel City Interactive appear singularly focused on comparing the gameplay of their still unfinished, and now completely renamed project with only one of EA’s later boxing games.
And it just so happens that, even though both games are over ten years old Steel City Interactive still chose the easiest comparison instead of the most impressive one. At first, it doesn’t make much sense to suspect that a game that came out 2 years prior to Fight Night Champion would somehow be more realistic. How could that be, if gaming technology always progresses?
Well, it can’t; but also, it doesn’t.
Due to repeated reorganizations and people in leadership positions being replaced by those that completely disagreed with predecessors’ philosophies, EA changed direction quite a few times during a period that we now know was critical to the future of development of boxing video games on the whole.
In 2008, there was a serious financial crisis the consequences of which could be felt in just about every aspect of any economy. From a game developers’ perspective, funds for releases that were already in development by EA were luckily already secured and allocated. But anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary and pretty much already done might have been up for discussion, a likely explanation for the odd pairing of impeccable gameplay of Fight Night Round 4 with un-intuitive menu system and lack of storytelling polish.
To us, it looks like there was possibly a different endgame in mind when development on the 2009 simulation release began. Realistic gameplay itself remained the premier priority for EA. Despite the spirited and innovative marketing campaign, Fight Night Round 4 is practically unheard of today when mentioning the Fight Night series. Most of the so-called experts in boxing video game development have little to no experience with it, despite Fight Night Round 4 being the most realistic professional boxing simulation game ever released.
Most people we’ve talked to that have played Fight Night Round 4 tried it briefly, but couldn’t possibly have any understanding of the correlation of the settings of the game to the actual gameplay. And this correlation can be striking; using the settings in Fight Night Round 4 potentially unlocks completely alien experiences when compared to jumping in and playing the game right out of the box with vanila settings.
Those that don’t like the arcade-like motion blur, the cartoony punch/step spam and the restricted upper body movement from Fight Night Champion are in for a treat with Fight Night Round 4. But by the same token, those that have grown fond and familiar with the control scheme of FIght Night Champion may have a period of adjustment before finding the same level of comfort with Fight Night Round 4’s New Total Punch Control.
Where they could’ve leaned into innovative controls, or an original take on boxing video game training, or even just committed to their many aesthetic promises, eSports Boxing Club pooped the bed by overinvesting in marketing and neglecting gameplay and mechanics. Through clever programming and messaging across their social media channels, they managed to get away with this for years. They’d show crystalline-pure high resolution still images to their audience and investors while offering 2-3 second clips at a time of cropped, heavily edited, low resolution gameplay. But behind the flurry of 4k stills was a horrible secret.
The community waiting for this game to come out for the past five years apparently hungrily lapped up whatever smeared crumbs of buttstew they could get from the furry, matted cheeks of Steel City. From the outside looking in, it looked as though the people in this community were actually content to chew on gristly headlines and swallow the greasily shifting timelines. It was a mess far beyond the operational scope of a tissue, but Steel City Interactive has been walking around in stinky discomfort for a good long while.
That is, until someone asked the simplest of questions: basically, if there’ll be an opportunity to play a demo, since the game is taking years longer than expected to develop. Within weeks, Steel City Interactive announced that they’d grant that wish. Within a few more weeks, Steel City Interactive likely wished they never read that comment.
It started out on the right tactical foot; Steel City Interactive allowed a select few individuals to access the beta at first. These guys weren’t necessarily chosen for any criteria besides their potential social media outreach. The chosen ones weren’t the most knowledgeable on boxing or video games, or even boxing video games in particular; but they all had sizable youtube, twitch, instagram or tiktok audiences.
This demo was almost a smart move; it allowed Steel City Interactive to placate the masses by letting the people experience a vastly reduced version of earlier promises of the game while still affording the company the ability of controlling the narrative around the beta by only seeding access to vetted content creators. Even though this was essentially stacking the deck, this still isn’t to say that there wasn’t negativity around the beta test. On the contrary, there most certainly was quite a bit of disappointment that eventually worked its way to the surface through the haze of aggressively immature and propagandic moderation.
Overall, Steel City Interactive did a fair job at deflecting criticisms and controlling the narrative around the beta at first. The moderators and developers have collaborated to encourage a community that behaves with unrealistic zeal toward perceived progress on the project, even though the game literally looks worse than it did years ago. People were seemingly content to argue whether Fight Night Champion was more realistic than their beta. All seemed well under control.
And then it happened.
Someone posted some sparring footage from the Greatest Boxing Video Game Of All Time. There were no lights, no cameras, no audience, no judges; no licensed boxers, no celebrity announcers; it was just a sparring ring in an old boxing gym. And as it turned out, it still was enough to confirm more than a few suspicions about the Steel City Interactive experiment.
Most notably, that Steel City Interactive doesn’t have the talent, the funding, or leadership necessary to create the product that they’ve been promising boxing video game fans for years.
The fluidity of movement, the smooth onscreen punch selection, and the jarring impact of the punches, even in headgear, was a stark contrast to the robotic, stiff-backed rock ’em sock ’em rendered automatons of eSBC. With every highlight, people become more and more impressed with the visuals and gameplay of a product from 13 years ago, and more and more disappointed with the dream that Steel City Interactive now clearly appears to be selling.
Key Staff Changes
While at first, Steel City Interactive seemed zealously dedicated to delivering a more realistic and engrossing boxing experience to fight fans than any that had been seen before, they now seem to have different motives. With the recent loss of the lead gameplay designer and senior designers mid-project, it’s no surprise that the direction of eSBC has changed in the five years since development started. And the reason appears simple and plain for all boxing video game fans to see:
Previous comparisons of eSports Boxing Club to Fight Night Champion on the basis of realism now seem like they were cherrypicked; Steel City Interactive is ducking the Greatest Boxing Video Game Of All Time.
The apparent downfall of EA’s Fight Night might have the same cause as the inevitable meltdown of Steel City Interactive’s doomed boxing game experiment. While we appreciate the attempt to fill the void, especially after 13 years, BB.M acknowledges that a good boxing video game simulator is already available, and outperforms even the loftiest goals of this new challenger from SCI. We can only imagine how well a remaster or re-release of Fight Night Round 4 for 2023 would compete against anything Steel City Interactive might muster in the coming years.