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Making Moves: Mario Kart Makes Its Way Into Esports

Mario has long been considered one of the most iconic video game characters ever created. However, with the rise of professional gaming, most of the games that feature Nintendo’s iconic plumber have remained examples of a more casual and recreational gaming ethos; that is, until the recent breakthrough success of EndGameTV’s 2020 Mario Kart Wii World Cup.

Making Moves: Mario Kart Makes Its Way Into Esports
Image Courtesy of Nintendo

While there may not be clear and specific designations of what makes a video game worthy of “esport” status, thanks to the efforts of gamers from the independent competitive Mario Kart scene, Nintendo’s popular go-kart style racing game seems destined to earn such consideration. Erik “Eirik” Jácome and Aiden “Calvin” McCaig, for example, first met through the Mario Kart scene before going on to start EndGameTV, the organizers behind August 8th’s 2020 Mario Kart Wii World Cup. The event would garner the attention of 14,000 viewers across two livestreams which, according to an article from The Washington Post, makes it “the most-viewed competitive Mario Kart event of all time.”

EndGameTV’s first event was the 2015 Mario Kart World Cup, which incorporated a system of five-on-five team battles—or “clan wars”—competing across both Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U. Although the year before Nintendo had shut down their official online Wii servers—The Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection (NWC)—EndGameTV made use of Wiimmfi, a system of private servers that had been established as a replacement for the Nintendo network. “Clan Wars” and usage of Wiimmfi had long been par for the course within the competitive Mario Kart scene and by combining these elements with sharp graphics and professional commentary, EndGameTV landed the event a spot on Twitch’s front page, drawing in a record-setting 4,000-5,000 spectators. 
In the five years since then, EndGameTV focused their attention on Splatoon and Super Smash Bros. and the esports industry continued to flourish. Yet, Mario Kart remained on Jácome and McCaig’s minds, even if the game hadn’t yet made the leap into the esports arena. After attending a 2019 Mario Kart LAN in New York, the duo began to re-establish connections within the Mario Kart scene.

Image Courtesy MarioKartBoards

These connections, along with the experience the duo had accumulated since their 2015 endeavor as well as a collaboration with McCaig’s roommate, popular Twitch personality Ludwig Ahgren, set EndGameTV up for success when it came to 2020’s World Cup. Sure enough, Ahgren’s restream hit a peak of 12,000 spectators, introducing competitive Mario Kart to his over 500,000 followers and 26,000 subscribers.

Although competitive Mario Kart lacks some of the features typical of other pro esports, such as in-game cameras and changeable skins/jerseys to differentiate between competitors, the competitive Mario Kart scene has proven itself adept at problem solving. Just as the development of Wiimmfi has allowed gamers to continue to race, modders within the community have continued to work towards enhancing the competitive experience. For instance, Custom Track Grand Prix Revolution, a group consisting of developers devoted to providing the sort of game modification that has become a key part of competitive Mario Kart Wii, has been in touch with EndGameTV to address areas of concern.

As of right now, the efforts of EndGameTV and the passion of the competitive Mario Kart scene have seemed to pay off. Given the success of the 2020 World Cup and the attention it drew from the wider esports community, it’s only a matter of time before Mario Kart is as equally regarded by pro gaming as it is by the die-hard racers who’ve been taking it seriously all along.

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