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No one knew what game Nintendo was teasing when the camera opened on a barren desert during a Nintendo Direct in February. The screen showed a blue sky over a sand-covered junkyard with train cars scatter around. The tension was building.

“Guys it’s not Splatoon, I’m sorry,” said Kadeem “ThatSrb2DUDE” Carrington-McKenzie on stream as he watched the Direct with his viewers. “I don’t know what the hell this game is.”

The camera cut to a familiar hooded character, sitting under the shadow of a decrepit train car.

“Wait,” he said, before getting so excited that he could barely catch his breath.

He couldn’t get a word out once he realized what he was looking at, slapping his knees in excitement as he watched Nintendo announce the third installment of his favorite franchise. The hooded figure was an inkling and the game was Splatoon 3.

ThatSrb2DUDE, who goes by DUDE in the Splatoon community, is one of the best Splatoon players of all time. He and many others were pleasantly surprised by the announcement. Activity in the Splatoon 2 scene had been slowly dwindling after Nintendo announced they would no longer support the game with regular updates. Splatoon 3 has brought many who had left back to the scene.

Community didn’t see Splatoon 3 coming

Fans of Splatoon didn’t expect another sequel to come out the Nintendo Switch after Splatoon 2 launched in July of 2017. They thought the scene in the desert had to be something else.

“It was the first real Nintendo Direct in a year. I gathered a bunch of Splatoon comp friends in a voice chat, ” EndGameTV tournament organizer Didier “BeTa” van der Valk said. “We saw the desert and thought it was Metroid Prime, but once we realized what it was, the pop off was unreal.”

Online Splatoon communities on Reddit, Discord and elsewhere had similar explosions of excitement, with fans hyper analyzing the new weapons, maps, mechanics and other tidbits shown off during the brief trailer. The wait until Splatoon 3’s release window in 2022 is going to be a long one for them, but they said they’ll fill that time by playing Splatoon 2.

“I used to host a monthy tournament, Saturday Morning Coffee,” BeTa said. “But now there is always something conflicting with the time it was usually held. So many people want to host tournaments now. It’s oversaturated.”

Splatoon inkzooka
The inkzooka was a special in the original Splatoon that wasn’t included in Splatoon 2. It did appear in the trailer for Splatoon 3. | Image provided by Nintendo

The explosion of excitement has brought more activity to the scene in general. More players have started to create content for the game on YouTube and Twitch, more events and tournaments are in the works and everyone is thinking about what the next game will include.

New, ink-filled mechanics

“Most of it’s speculation because the trailer really didn’t reveal that much,” Splatoon streamer Nick Hitzel said. “For me personally, I just want a good sequel.”

The trailer showed a new map, new weapons like a bow and arrow and some new mechanics like wall-jumping that we saw in early Splatoon trailers when the game was originally announced at E3 in 2014. Fans have also found other tidbits of news, including a Nintendo job listing that implies the studio is going to bring old maps back to the new game.

BeTa, Hitzel and others in the community have specific hopes for how Nintendo can improve the franchise. They want new mechanics that take more time and practice to master, similar to how Super Smash Bros. Melee has mechanics like wavedashing. Squid Strafing, for example, was one mechanic in Splatoon 2 that let players change their direction instantly without losing any speed.

“I’m hoping we get more — more tools, more mechanics like that,” BeTa said. “Super Smash Bros. lives off its mechanics. Controls are fluid with tech you can learn. The more you learn, the more you can build it into your identity.”

New game, new maps

The original Splatoon had 16 maps and Splatoon 2 had 23 once Nintendo released all the updates for each game, so fans believe they’ll see another small increase. They also said they hope the maps in Splatoon 3 are more open and varied, giving players the freedom to use their Overwatch ultimate-like special abilities in unique ways.

“If maps have lots of choke points and are slower paced, the game balance requires Specials to fill the role of allowing teams to brute force through those choke points to break stalemates,” Hitzel said. “Maps that revolve less around choke points allow specials the freedom to fill different roles. I’d like to see that happen in Splatoon 3.”

The map shown in the trailer looked more open than ones in previous games, according to Hitzel, but it didn’t reveal many details about the rest of the game.

Splatoon 3's new hub world
Splatoon 3 has a new hub world where players can buy clothes, customize gear, and access the single player mode. Image via Nintendo

The cycle of a new Splatoon game coming out, the community growing and then slowly shrinking has happened twice with the previous games. It looks to be starting again with Splatoon 3. Players and teams still believe they can make Splatoon more than a hobby, though. Sponsors and organizations like Ghost Gaming have signed teams in the past, but they’ve mostly left the scene.

A connection with the Super Smash Bros. community

Despite the Splatoon 2 community slowly shrinking over the past two years, one incident brought a some significant attention to the third person shooter. In November 2020, Nintendo issued a cease and desist order to the organizers of The Big House for using the Project Slippi mod to improve Super Smash Bros. Melee online play. The entire tournament was cancelled.

Nintendo held a Splatoon 2 North American Open tournament a month later. Several in the Splatoon community, including Hitzel, encouraged teams that were playing to change their names to support the #FreeMelee hashtag the Melee community had started on Twitter. Nintendo then cancelled the live stream due to “unexpected executional challenges.” The show of support brought a ton of eyes to the Splatoon community.

“I had friends reaching out to me who weren’t even gamers because they had heard about what was happening,” Hitzel said.

The community raised more than $25,000 for a prize pool for their own version of the same tournament after the top four teams pulled out of the NA Open, including more than $3,000 for charity.

“That happened and that lit the spark for a lot of people,” BeTa said. “It told them that this scene can grow.”

The Splatoon 3 announcement came at the perfect time to help the community turn that spark into something bigger. They’re working on content to make the game more accessible for newcomers, bringing in more casual and competitive players and counting the days until the sequel is in their hands.

“Now we just have to carry that until Splatoon 3 actually comes out,” BeTa said. “I feel like we’re in for something big.”

Check out some Splatoon 2 action this weekend with EndGameTV’s Cloudburst event.