How a strong eSports community made Rainbow Six Siege a ‘player retention machine’

Rainbow Six Siege has become somewhat of a surprise hit in the world of eSports. Things started out slow after a muted launch at the tail end of 2015, but during the last twelve months Ubisoft and ESL have built a sizeable pro scene, with a consistent and defined structure, high quality broadcasts and regular LAN events with significant prize pools. The first year of any eSport is always the most difficult, as building an audience can be near on impossible for some titles, but Rainbow Six has managed to do that and Ubisoft is now reaping the benefits.

“It’s grown and grown and it’s gone crazy” says brand director for Rainbow Six, Alexandre Remy when we chat to him just before the Rainbow Six Siege Invitational in Montreal, Canada. “I think when we started last year and when we held an event in Cologne, our thoughts at that moment were like, ‘Hey cool, in terms of retention the game is an incredible retention machine and it’s doing really well. But we’re not expecting the game to actually outgrow itself.’ Now, nine months down the road we’re seeing a game that is now having more players than it had at launch. So that is good news obviously, and a testament to what the team has been doing.”

Amazingly Rainbow Six Siege now boasts over 10 million unique registered players, and it’s active player base jumped around 40% when Operation Skull Rain and the Season Two finals took place in August. For a full price game to boast these kind of stats is certainly impressive and something that even its biggest competitors would be envious of. Remy explains that the reason why it has done so well in terms of player retention and as a game that people love to watch is because of core design choices the team made.

“There are two elements that I feel are at the core of Rainbow Six that are explaining why it grows,” explains Remy. “First is the systematic destruction, it’s making every map, every play, every match always different, opening up lots of creativity, lots of complexity, or depth. Since every wall or ceiling can be a murder hole, can be a point of access, we always feel like maps are changing all around us, so destruction is a huge aspect. Then, obviously, the operator system that means making hugely meaningful choices at every game where you are asked which operator do I pick? How much does it synergize or not with the rest of that team? How much is it gonna be potential counter pick versus the enemy team? So I think the game is taking every player for someone mature, educated, who wants to think, and at the same time it’s still a shooter that is reflex based. I think the design choices are really the reason why there’s so much retention in the game.”

These features have not only made sure that people keep playing, but also make Rainbow Six Siege incredibly entertaining to watch. Whereas other shooter such as Call of Duty are mostly about mechanical skill and quick reactions, Rainbow Six brings in a slower and more tactical approach, where the right strategy could see a lower ranked team destroy the most technically adept players in the world. It’s popularity as an eSport saw strong communities pop up on both PC and Xbox One, however now Ubisoft and ESL are focusing primarily on the PC as the main platform for the highest level of competition.

“The idea behind this decision wasn’t an easy one,” says Remy. “But if you put the focus on one lead platform, the PC in this case, then we are in the right position to make the scene grow. When you’re talking about an eSports ecosystem, or at least for Rainbow Six, there’s the questions and the challenges about the stability. We want the players and the teams to feel that the ecosystem is stable, so you provide that stability by giving them a long horizon as much as possible, so that they know that we’re here with a programme that lasts a full year. It’s also stability that you can give with prize money, which will make a decent living for, if possible, all of the players in that professional league.”

The switch to focus solely on PC is one that has annoyed more than a few console players, but almost everyone in the scene realises this is ultimately for the best. It creates a less fractured scene and means that more effort and money can be pumped into the PC scene to make sure it can flourish. With this change Ubisoft believes that Rainbow Six Siege is here to stay as an eSport, and there is no obvious reason to doubt them.

“The game is built to last,” states Remy confidently. “We have almost a highway in terms of making the game grow thanks to the operator system, the destruction and everything else. We know what’s sort of like the identity for the next five years, there’s no problems or no deep design questions as long as we keep doing what we have been doing. There’s going to be challenges no doubt, but I don’t think these are going to be creative or design challenges. I think the foundations of Rainbow Six are rooted and super stable. There’s tonnes of challenges from ensuring the health of the game to how we help newcomers, or potential newcomers, but we have such a dedicated team so I am very very confident. Yeah. I am very confident we’re going to keep growing.”

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