Dragon Ball FighterZ (DBFZ) is not only the fighting game of the year, but also the best game to come out in Universe 7, the seventh of the twelve universes in the Dragon Ball series.
The anime fighter united the fighting game community and thrust the genre into the public consciousness. There were many ways DBFZ could fail as a fighting game. It would be dead on arrival if it prioritized imagery and graphics over gameplay, a game for fan service, or it played too much like other games that solely leverage a well-known franchise title. It wasn't enough to combine the popularity of the Dragon Ball series with the concept of a fighting game; there needed to be proof that this wasn't a flash in the pan.
Many of these preconceived notions disappeared after the developer, Arc System Works, was announced because there was finally a background of work to lean on. Because of the reputation of Arc System Works' previous games (Guilty Gear and BlazBlue), the gameplay was perceived to be in good hands. For the fighting game community, gameplay and quality were paramount.
Luckily for all parties involved, the game was a triumph. The buildings crackled when a stage interaction was performed, and electricity was heard when a move was charged up, and from the first puff of smoke that trailed a character's flight to the clouds of dust that followed a Ki blast, it was clear that the game was beautiful. Each character was a 3D model textured to look like a 2D hand-drawn sprite, and blended with the dynamic camera, every fight felt as if you were both the controller and spectator. Gone was the chaos of following delayed hyper combos or air extensions into 50/50s. In was the animation spectacle of watching an episode of Dragon Ball played out in a three-versus-three format.
DBFZ struck a delicate balance between simple and complex with an easy control scheme and auto combos that also provided the blueprint for a deeper fighting system. In place of tight-frame windows to perform a combo, timing presses were forgiven for chunk damage.
With the implementation of a super dash, mobility was no longer a halt for beginners, but the system also allowed grinders to move quickly with instant air dashes. While it would take practice for optimal play and mobility, the learning curve was not an impossible barrier. Not since Street Fighter 4 has there been a game that brought in both new and veteran players and combined different groups of styles together. DBFZ's player base was a melting pot of anime and air-dashers, 2D and 3D fighters, and everything in between. The game provided a great bridge for newcomers who wanted to experience a dream fight in a beloved universe.
Where Street Fighter 4 provided a new start for players in a dying genre years ago, DBFZ provided satiation in the form of a beautiful canvas that blended simplicity with creativity. The most important thing for the game's success was the rivalries that built off its gameplay. Much like the animation, players from around the world took shots at each other for supremacy. The biggest and most intriguing storylines came from the Dragon Ball side of things, and as a result, it headlined most of the largest fighting game tournaments of the year.
-- Timothy Lee
Rocket League is the fastest growing esport in the world, and in 2018 Rocket League had some of the biggest upsets and storylines in all of esports. Team Dignitas began the year as a dominant force, and in the course of eight months won a world championship, went through a perfect season of the RLCS, and stood on top of the world. That is until Cloud 9 showed up. Dignitas might have walked over the competition in Season 5, but in Season 6, Cloud 9 were not to be outdone. A legendary lower-bracket run and an inspiring 8-2 grand finals bracket reset saw Rocket League's dynastic Dignitas brushed aside. From awe-inspiring lower-bracket runs or dominance taken to new levels, Rocket League in 2018 was anything but boring.
The inaugural season of Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch League had a lot of doubters accompanying the dizzying excitement on opening day. Every week, the Blizzard Arena in Burbank was filled with cheers, jeers and exceptional Overwatch play. Come on a day when both Los Angeles teams were playing and the place was packed to the rafters with fans bringing their own intricate homemade signs and cosplays. Although Overwatch has had more than a few hiccups in not only its competitive league but its Tier 2 scene and potential staying power in certain regions, the first year of OWL was a resounding success when many expected far more problems and far fewer fans. Overwatch fans have built a robust culture around the game, its characters and the league itself, which says all you need to know.
It's impossible to talk about the year in games without bringing up Fortnite. Tyler "Ninja" Blevins has been all over the world as the face of the game, and with Epic Games announcing its push into the competitive scene with a promise of $100,000,000 in prize money, it has been a wild year for the king of battle royale games. Although the competitive scene had some hiccups, as Epic tried to find the sweet spot for Fortnite to thrive as a competitive title, it's hard to look past the numbers that Fortnite drew through Twitch, YouTube and other streaming sites.
When a Summer Skirmish or Winter Royale is on, people tune in, and that's why Fortnite is one of the most impactful games of the year. From athletes to musicians to actors, Fortnite has taken over pop culture like no other game we've seen. If Epic Games can find the right balance in competitive play and continue the momentum it began in 2018, there is no ceiling for Fortnite in the coming years.
2018 was a historic year for Counter-Strike. The ELEAGUE Major broke the Twitch record for concurrent viewers with 1.13 million fans tuning in to watch the final. Astralis made their case for being the best team of all time in the game. On the level of individual players, s1mple made his case for being the best player of all time. North America broke through with Cloud9 winning a Major and Team Liquid developing into a Top 3 for an extended period of time. As an esport, CS:GO took a significant step this year, with teams opening up to international players to an unprecedented extent, broadcast hiring a breadth of new talent, and tournaments slowly but surely adopting formats with group stage best-of-three's. Counter-Strike underwent a maturation this year, and its growth was a pleasure to watch.
League of Legends
The king remains the king. In a year when Fortnite, Dragon Ball FighterZ and other new competitive titles have sprung up, League of Legends has had its best year ever in terms of viewership worldwide. China leads the charge as the game is only becoming more popular in the esports hotbed, with the country finally producing a world champion, as Invictus Gaming took down Fnatic in South Korea to take home the Summoner's Cup. Riot Games reported that nearly 100 million people watched the most recent world final with 44 million concurrent viewers being the peak in front of a live house of over 20,000 people in Incheon.
While other games are making waves in one or two parts of the world, no esports title can match the strength League has over the globe. Be it North America, Europe, China, South Korea or in growing regions like Vietnam and Brazil, League of Legends is still growing as a competitive sport, with franchising and new sponsors coming in from all corners of the world. Other games might have had flashier years, but Riot Games is setting up League of Legends to not only be up for the game of the year in 2018 but to be up for the game of the year in 2028 as well.
Super Smash Bros. Melee
The oldest game on this list, Super Smash Bros. Melee, just keeps on giving. In its 17th year, the Nintendo GameCube-based fighting game produced one of the best Evo moments, as well as some heartbreaking storylines, like the second retirement of Adam "Armada" Lindgren.
The game saw the likes of Plup and Leffen -- who have both hovered just below the likes of Hungrybox, Mang0, Armada and Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman in the rankings -- finally ascend to greatness, taking home major titles and breathing a new, exciting competitive environment in the game. Regardless of the tournament or Hungrybox's newfound consistency, it felt like either Plup or Leffen could take any tournament they competed in.
Then there's Zain "Zain" Naghmi, who has had a great year in his own right. Zain and other younger players made Super Smash Bros. Melee even more interesting, as they competed against some of the historic best for spots in top eights across multiple tournaments. It might be an old title, but in 2018, Super Smash Bros. Melee continued to prove that it's here to stay.
Rainbow 6: Siege
As the top four most popular games in esports -- League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2 and Overwatch -- hold strong, others have vied for the fifth slot on the totem pole in the past few years. While fighting games, Call of Duty and unique titles like Rocket League have succeeded, in 2018, Rainbow Six: Siege had an incredibly surprising and relatively successful year.
ESL and Ubisoft reformatted the Rainbow Six Pro League, boasting large prize pools and a format that stood on its own, rather than with the game's season cycle. The game also received significant interest in its competitions, gaining over 100,000 concurrent viewers in several of its tournaments. Alongside the likes of Rocket League, the game emerged as a second-to-third-tier esport in 2018 and will prove interesting to watch as it continues to grow moving forward.