[OPINION] Longevity and Competitive Integrity: Fixing the health of Siege Esports

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An ageing engine and no sequel could damage Rainbow Six as an esport. That needs to be prevented.

Back at the 2018 Invitational in Montreal, Ubisoft announced that Rainbow Six: Siege would not be receiving a sequel. Instead it would continue on for a total period of ten years, emulating the "games as a service" model that is so prevalent today - but given the plethora of issues the game has had in the last six months alone, how viable is that ten year marker?

As we look forward to another five years of Siege, it's important to reflect on what has occurred for us to arrive where we are now: When Rainbow Six: Siege first released in late 2015 as a replacement for the ill fated Patriots project, it struggled to hit the ground running initially for a variety of reasons, such as network issues and problems with hit registration, amongst others. Through a combination of staunch community support for the game, as well as robust content updates in the form of seasons, the game persevered, steadily but surely growing into the top level competitor it is today.

However, within the last six months to a year, there have been murmurs and rumblings of dissatisfaction around the state of Siege. Several have called for an 'Operation Health 2.0' of sorts, to combat the bugs, crashes, glitches and various issues that have cropped up as of late. With that in mind, I believe it's important to drive home some key points about Siege as a whole, that shed light upon the current position of the game:

  • Rainbow Six: Siege was not expected to reach the heights it has today

Upon last update on the 7th of September, 2019 by Ubisoft, R6S hit the milestone of 50 million players - something that, according to Community Developer Craig 'ItsEpi' Robinson, caught the Siege team by surprise.

Speaking on the Hot Breach Podcast on the 6th of March last year, shortly after the game had surpassed 45 million players, Epi mentioned that "We didn't expect to have mainstream appeal. We anticipated it to be more of a niche game, for people that liked SOCOM and games of that nature."

  • The game will not receive a sequel for the foreseeable future

As mentioned previously, Siege was given a lifespan of ten years and the goal of one hundred total operators. This was announced by then Brand Director Alexandre Remy during the Year 3 panel in order to serve as "not only a symbol but a testament to the longevity that we want to put in the game."

  • The AnvilNext engine that Siege currently runs on was not built with the game in mind

Originally applied into Ubisoft games in 2012 for Assassin's Creed III, AnvilNext was a refresh of the existing Anvil/Scimitar engine. R6S meanwhile, did not officially enter development until January of 2013. While the RealBlast team behind the destruction system worked closely with the rest of the development team, they had to include these features into the game whilst constantly working alongside established constraints, instead of having the engine suit the desired features. If anyone remembers the launch of AC: Unity, you may recall that the bugs and glitches made headlines upon release - well, Siege is running on the exact same version of the AnvilNext platform. Whilst Unity’s issues are largely a thing of the past now, Siege still has glaring issues to this day.

Essentially, what all of this has meant is that the R6S team working on the game is constantly fighting an uphill battle. To continue to introduce the content and the concepts they want to see in the game, they must cooperate with an engine that was not built to specifications, that powers everything from the physics of objects, destruction mechanics, map layouts, rendering and so on.

In my humble opinion, the teams working to keep siege running have pretty much worked nothing short of black magic up to this point - but if Ubisoft truly wants Siege to compete at the top level with other FPS or esports titles, such as Overwatch and Counter Strike, they need to do so by reinvesting into the game, and that starts by building or using an engine that matches their vision. Otherwise, the integrity of the game, from casual to Pro League, will suffer.

Siege as an esport is fast cementing itself as one of the premier esports, globally. Now consisting of the North and Latin American, European and Asia-Pacific regions, Siege is attracting more attention with each passing year as the prize pools for professional tournaments continue to trend upward, with the Invitational pool increasing from $500k USD in 2018 to $2 million USD in 2019. The scene also continues to collect awards, with Team Liquid player Thiago 'xSexyCake' Reis scooping up Esports Play of the Year and R6 Esports itself taking the bronze for Esports Game of the Year at the 2019 Esports Awards, falling short only to CS:GO and League of Legends.

With a greater fanbase comes a greater need to maintain a game that looks and feels like it can compete with the titans of the industry. Not only that, but preserving the gameplay integrity of the professional scene is a must. As recently as the Raleigh Major, the importance of this need for integrity made itself apparent; not once, but twice as Team Empire and FaZe Clan were both victims of game crashes during rounds that were heavily skewed in their favour, requiring a round replay on both counts - a gaffe so embarrassing that it made it to 5th place on theScore esports’ “Top 10 Biggest Esports Fails of 2019” video.

After consulting with Peter James Palmer, Game Developer/Programming Lead, and Dominic Villarreal, Game Designer, who possess over two decades of combined experience in game development and programming, the cause of the crashes was most likely a piece (or pieces) of redundant code that’s no longer needed to make the game function, causing a buffering loop and then a complete crash.

While you can argue that the crashes happened to either side and therefore did not hand one team an obvious advantage, what’s clear is this: the downtime between restarting/setting up the lobby and getting back into game can seriously kill any form of momentum that a team has been building. What’s more, starting Siege on a new engine would essentially provide a clean slate of sorts, without the junk code that leads to things like game crashes.

Furthermore, pros in particular are extremely limited in what they can do when prepping for an upcoming match - as Slashug of Luminosity Gaming explains, having to remake an entire lobby just to practice throwing grenades is something that should have been left well behind by now. If given the opportunity and the tools required, Siege esports as a whole could be even more strategic, heartstopping and inventive than it currently is.

Ubisoft has also spent considerable amounts of time and money to invest more and more into Siege as a whole. Beginning with the team charms that first released in July of 2017, there has been a slow but steady supply of content that either supports competitive siege (such as the pilot program), or renowned content creators tied to the game, such as Macie Jay, Annemunition and Narcoleptic Nugget, to name but a few.

Not only this, but the inclusion of the BattlEye anti-cheat software into Siege’s ecosystem communicated an intent by the development team that they were sticking around; “If we were shutting the game down after the first year of content, we probably wouldn’t invest into something like BattlEye” (per Epi). Furthermore, with the recasting of a few voice actors for accompanying cinematics, it’s clear Siege is here to stay. 

But if these problems continue to go unchecked, there may come a point where the game is, for want of a better word, unplayable. Siege is Ubisoft’s biggest esport, and also its first. Enough time, effort and energy has gone into creating and promoting these items, that it would be a disservice to all parties involved if Ubisoft were simply comfortable with the condition of Siege when there are obvious, nagging problems that are holding it back.

(an example of an error with mesh registration)

Fixing these issues can take us down one of two paths: The cheaper, but probably more time intensive option would be to extensively rewrite the base systems on the current engine and work at optimising the features currently in place. According to my sources, working within the boundaries of AnvilNext would be a bit of a hot mess, but most issues that the game currently encounters right now, such as the effects of improperly calculated client side physics and the registration of meshes (eg: walls) to the server via the client can be fixed.

(an example of client side physics going wrong)

They gave Siege roughly a 60% chance of surviving through to the the 10 year mark, but stated that it would be difficult without new technologies to support that. This is without touching upon the fact that by the time we close in on the 10 year milestone, various other IP’s from competing publishers will be one step ahead, as technology gradually improves and gains greater capacity for memory, processing power and the like.

The second option is to build a new engine from the ground up, or to use a tried and tested one that provides greater flexibility (compared to AnvilNext). This one requires a steeper cost in the short term, but pays off ultimately in the long run. It is not without its own challenges however, as all the current assets - all the maps, operators, animations, furniture, etc - on AnvilNext would need to be transferred across to the new system, which could limit options on an existing engine due to the compatibility of coding languages*.

(Gregor implores Ubisoft to update the engine and mentions the need for competitive integrity)

One potential existing candidate could be the Snowdrop engine used in The Division, providing a level of familiarity, given that it has been used on other Tom Clancy/Ubisoft titles, and more modern portability; Snowdrop has been used on the Nintendo Switch, as well as the other three major platforms (PC, Xbox and PlayStation), meaning it could be suitable for releasing R6S on the new, upcoming consoles. 

Again, my helpful sources chimed in and mentioned that, although a lot of modern engines have their code modularized, meaning it’s basically as easy as “drag and drop” to move data from one place to another, AnvilNext may not share this trait, given its age. To solve this conundrum, an “Identifier script” would most likely need to be written, marking each asset with a tag to separate relevant data so it can be imported.

Alternatively, with a new engine built with Siege’s pre-existing data in mind, greater freedom could be attained through newer tech, allowing the R6 developers to potentially revisit some shelved projects. Community requested features such as training ground facilities, rendering techniques to provide a clearer, sharper image in game (à la Temporal Filtering) and a reworked/improved observer system could also be on the cards, or investing in new ventures that are currently unattainable with the limits of AnvilNext. This is not to say that the replacements for AnvilNext would be perfect by any means, but they would certainly be a step up from where we currently sit now.    

To anyone reading who has got to this point in the article, firstly: thank you for patience. Secondly, if you truly want to see tangible, positive change for this game moving forward, you need to act. When you submit a support ticket for something, and you are asked if there is anything else you would like help with - say you want a new engine for Siege. Let your feelings known to Ubisoft in a polite and respectful way. Because if BikiniBodhi can start an entire movement around a single gun optic, I see no reason why something can't be done to improve and enrich this game we all love.

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In conclusion, I would like to make a few things abundantly clear: this article is not a set of demands, it is not me taking potshots at the Rainbow Six dev team, and it certainly is not a list of reasons why the “game is dying” or “not a Tier 1 esport”. Rather, it is an impassioned plea to those who make key decisions on the future of Ubisoft games as a whole:

I, like many others, have become a stalwart fan of Siege and Siege esports over the course of the game’s life. We can see the potential of what this game could be with more investment into improving the core systems and quality of life. It’s never going to be flawless but it can at least be a lot better. If you truly want this title to still be standing tall after what could be 10 great years - at least consider if you want the remaining five to be good… or if you want it to leave an indelible legacy in the history of esports.

*Footnote: this “compatibility” relates to the various functions and game code and how they translate from one engine to another. Imagine it like translating a phrase from one language into another - not everything can be translated literally, but the basic meaning still carries across. Whilst it’s not identical, that message still carries enough of the original meaning that it can serve its purpose.