There are few games left that haven’t been subject to competition in some way, especially if you include speedrunning. Any game with goals can be competed in, really. But there’s one game I never expected to be esportsified in some way.
And yet, I recently discovered that it has been: The Sims 4.
Yes, last year, the Sims produced an actual reality show called “The Sims Spark’d” where various personalities from the Sims community competed against each other in small teams to create the most compelling Sims, houses and stories. They competed in teams of three and were judged by a panel of experts. Each team consisted of three roles: a Stylist, a Builder, and a Storyteller. The prize? One hundred thousand real American dollars.
At this point it shouldn’t come as a surprise. These days, pretty much anything can be made into a viable competitive esport. League of Legends? Obviously an esport. Farming Simulator? Surprisingly, an esport. Microsoft Excel? Believe it or not, that’s an esport. But all of these things have concrete goals and methods of objectively assessing skill – which are things that the Sims 4 lacks. The Sims 4 has always been built around the freedom to create and play however you want, so there are no universal checkpoints that everyone needs to hit, and no actual way to “complete” the game. Even if your Sim dies of natural causes, you can just keep making new ones.
I watched the first episode of “The Sims Spark’d” just to see what it was all about. The competition was pretty straightforward. First, the teams were given three objects to base their build around. Then they conceptualized the characters and story together. Finally, the Stylist created the characters, the Builder created the setting, and the Storyteller orchestrated all the interactions. All of it was then presented to the judges.
Immediately, I could see traces of more traditional esports in the setup. The teams consisted of three people, much like in acclaimed battle royale Apex Legends. Having three distinct roles that each fulfill their own purpose yet ultimately must work together is classic Overwatch. And players that are mercilessly scrutinized and judged by a group of people who will point out your every flaw? Well, that’s just competitive gaming in a nutshell.
Yet, as enthralling as it was to watch the show cut between footage of competitors working together and talking heads of them confessing to hating each other, I couldn’t help but feel like this could be better. The Sims 4 can be a better esport, one that may one day rival the greats if done correctly. Here’s how:
Make a franchised Sims 4 esports league
Listen – if we’re doing this thing, we’re doing it right. People clearly want to see top-tier Sims 4 competition on their screens every week, and a full league format would be perfect.
I’m thinking that the league will consist of 10 teams, each representing a different Sims 4 world. I want to see the Brindleton Bay Ballers take on the San Myshuno Strikers. I want people to argue over which team is better, the Windenburg Wildfires or the Oasis Springs Oil Rigs. I want extensive analysis about just how the Glimmerbrook Goldfish upset the Sulani Sea Slugs. These are teams that people can really get invested in and root for week to week.
Draw inspiration from the game
The challenges shown in “The Sims Spark’d” were interesting, but they didn’t feel grounded in the game. The Sims 4 was merely the conduit for the real competition, which was about who could tell the better story. It was basically glorified Machinima.
I propose a series of competitions that are actually relevant to the challenges that Sims players constantly have to navigate. Things like:
- Fitting as many items as possible on a kitchen counter (bonus points for believable-looking clutter)
- Putting a window on a wall that makes it impossible to perfectly center said window
- Being given a large bathroom and deciding what to put in the middle of the floor since all the appliances have to be against the walls
Of course, there will still be a judging panel, but the process will be far more rigorous. They’ll be more like tennis referees, dealing in exact measurements and calling foul if the kitchen sink is in the wrong place. Art and decoration will no longer be subjective. From now on, the Sims 4 has rules.
Introduce a PVP element
The most exciting part of esports is watching players actively contest one another for a chance at getting ahead. You can’t really get that with the Sims 4 as there’s no online or multiplayer element, but this is where we can take cues from speedrunning.
One PVP-based competition could go like this: first, randomly generate a detailed description of a Sim, from their eye color to their body type to the exact clothes they’re wearing. Then, two competitors must enter the character creation screen and race against each other to find those options and fulfill those exact specifications within a tight time limit. Whoever’s final product is closest to the specification wins the challenge. This is a challenge with a tangible win condition, the baseline for any competition.
So, it’s true – with the right competitive ruleset, any game can be an esport. Even the Sims 4, a game famous for its lack of objectivity. It’s not too crazy to think that Sims enthusiasts could one day be competing against each other to determine who the best Simmer is. If the community reaction to the game adding corner sofas and bunk beds is any indication, the intensity and passion that makes for great competitors is already there in spades.