Ever since I played the original Splatoon, I’ve had mixed feelings about the iconic Splatfests. In many ways, they are an excellent community event. The hype from the playerbase ramps up as everyone scampers to build ideal Splatfest Tees. Debate over the theme’s best option heats up. Skilled and witty artists fill Inkopolis with creative posts. Valuable loot and bragging rights get placed on the line. All of these ingredients and more pool together to create a seemingly perfect recipe for the ultimate community hype machine, attracting everyone who owns the game for a once-in-a-month opportunity to celebrate and compete on a grander scale than the game sees otherwise.
But I think there’s a few tablespoons too much salt in the structure the matchmaking is built around.
To acknowledge some things I’m very grateful for, Splatoon 2 made big changes to Splatfests. Putting the stages on a rotation timer just like normal playtime is a huge relief, allowing much more diversity in every fest. Similarly, the brand new stage, Shifty Station, is another excellent incentive to join in on the fun. A Splatfest exclusive-stage that changes with every new fest? An addition like that is sure to keep the competition fresh even for the most experienced Turf War veterans, plus it draws in other players who’d be curious just to try out the unique stage.
And yet, while welcomed with open arms, neither of these changes address what I considered the biggest problem with the original game’s Splatfests. First, to get a pettier complaint out of the way, I believe it was a bad idea to have each of the cephalopod pop stars join the debate before the Splatfest. The debates between the Squid Sisters and Off the Hook add even more personality to these charming characters, but I’m iffy on how they heavily biased so many players’ Splatfest choices. While I loved how this culminated into the ultimate Splatfest theme of Callie vs Marie in the original game, for every fest before that, I felt this was a bad design choice because it diluted the focus of the Splatfests. At the same time, I can empathize with arguments to the contrary, such as that the waifu wars instead add an extra level of depth to the Splatfests. I understand where they’re coming from; after all, Marina is best girl. I simply don’t agree with Nintendo continuing this decision after acknowledging that the bias exists. This is easily the most opinionated aspect of my issues with Splatfest, so if you disagree, I’d love to listen to some counterarguments.
This nitpick is especially relevant to Spla2n because unlike Callie and Marie, Pearl and Marina appeal to radically different audiences. You might have noticed an overwhelming support for Marina here in America. Which ties into to the real issue I have with Splatfests; matchmaking.
For an event emphasizing the competition between two opposing armies, it seems extremely anticlimactic to be stuck in matchmaking or be matchmade against the same team just because you picked the most popular choice. The very nature of Splatfests and Turf War means that, unless the teams are perfectly even (which is not only unrealistic, but counter-productive against the idea of a popularity contest), there will be one team who doesn’t have enough members to be matchmade against the others. This issue became so commonplace in the original Splatoon that Splatfests were restructured to make same-team battles more relevant to event results via Splatfest Power. And yet, it’s still not as gratifying as being able to confront your actual rivals, and it feels as if same-team battles have little noticeable change in the balance of SP between the two teams. It’s especially a blow to your excitement when you need to wait through especially long matchmaking wait just to face off against not-the-guys-you-signed-up-to-splat. With some Splatfest examples having popularities as skewed as 25% vs 75%, this issue can become compounded enough for half the playerbase to struggle to find an opportunity for a real shot against their rivals. The waifu wars only complicate this matter by encouraging players to stick to their guns regardless of how evenly split a vote based on the themes might be, especially with Pearl and Marina’s more divided demographics.
I won’t go into depth on the online connectivity errors since they’re not only self-explanatory, but it’s also realistic to expect Nintendo to solve the issue as soon as they can. Hopefully, we won’t be seeing this screen nearly as much by the time we have our next Splatfest.
So, if the foundation of Splatfests causes such a sizable problem, what’s the best way to solve it? This would need a lot of debate, but my stance is that we could use Splatfests that include 3 options (or more) for teams instead of only 2. More options divide the playerbase, reducing the percentage of players on each side. As long as Turf War remains a 2-team sport, that means that each team has more rivals to be matchmade against. So long as no team has 50% or more of the population backing it, teams can be matchmade against anyone from their opponents with very rare instances of same-team matchups. Matchmaking algorithms would have to be tweaked specifically to prioritize the more popular teams, but otherwise, I see this being a simple and efficient solution. Finding interesting 3-way debate topics would be more difficult than only 2-way contests, but I can’t imagine it being a serious obstacle to this idea. Action Movies vs Romance Movies vs Horror Movies, anyone?
Do I need a change like that to find Splatfests enjoyable? Of course not! They’re already a beautiful opportunity to experience a heightened atmosphere of excitement within the Splatoon community, and a great excuse to play even more of one of my favorite PvP game modes in recent history. I used to look forward to them all the time in the original game and commit myself to playing at least a few matches every fest. But the matchmaking imbalances are an issue that nagged at me often, since I had a tendency to pick the popular team- and in the worst of cases, it directly hampers half the entire playerbase’s chances to fight. I want to spark debate about this issue because I want to see this already great event become even greater, however it might do so. Also, maybe introduce an equivalent for Salmon Run. Salmonfest. Actually, just make Salmon Run the whole game. Or even better, make Salmon Run available all the time instead of having arbitrary limited availability. I love Salmon Run.