Out of the Ashes: How Rainbow 6 became one of the world’s most popular esports – and why you need to play it

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Rainbow 6 was, until recently, a game best known for its campaign.

Missions saw you team up with skilled AI operators – and in later games – human comrades – to tackle a variety of real-world-inspired terrorist scenarios.

The FPS was released three years ago

When Ubisoft announced Rainbow 6: Patriots in 2011 the audience expected and wanted more of the same.

But when Patriots was axed, replaced by multiplayer-focused Rainbow 6 Siege, the fan-base didn’t know what to think.

Just days before Siege hit shelves in December 2015, the atrocious terrorist attack in Paris caused Ubisoft to wisely pull next-to-all marketing from the game.

Patriots was cancelled giving room for Siege

Siege was out in the world but no one, bar hardcore Rainbow 6 fans, really knew about it.

Now, 35 million players later, and with global esports tournaments boasting $650,000 prize pools, Siege is firmly on the map – and shows no signs of slowing down.

The Six Major Paris was the biggest R6 event of the year

But why the change in focus from campaign to multiplayer in the first place?

Ubisoft esports director, FX-Daniele, felt the series’ DNA needed to be re-worked to better allow the key gameplay components  – teamwork, action and strategy – to shine.

“From the beginning, it was a single-player game with a co-op component – which was often AI,” he said at the Six Major tournament in Paris last month.

“Before the game was released the production team wanted to redefine the DNA of Rainbow 6.

“The idea was to go back to its roots and see how we can change the rules of competitive gaming and introduce a new way of making an FPS close to a MOBA.

The R6 competitive scene is seriously underrated

“I think it was a smart move because it’s helping a game to live for a long time because you update the game and change it all the time.

“We are doing some great single-player games – such as Assassin’s Creed – but there is an end for this type of game. You can complete everything.”In a multiplayer game, you can change it all the time.”

He continued: “We started by showing matches – for example – we did it at Gamescom in 2015 just to show to the people that we have a well-balanced game that we can bring to the esports community.

“What happened was just after the release people said, OK, I think it’s the right time and we started our first tournament.”

Players and fans came from all over the world to watch the tournament live

For those yet to give Siege a go, matches consist of two teams of five fighting to the death in various scenarios – be that protecting a hostage or disarming a number of bombs.

Rounds last a few minutes or so, kicking off with a preparation phase where teams select what operators they want to use (all have different strengths and weaknesses) before choosing where to deploy.

When the round begins, the attacking team scouts the area with land-based drones while the defending team fortify their position and lay traps.

An action phase then follows, usually culminating in a Quentin Tarantino-esque shootout that sees the floor and walls covered in blood. What’s left of them, that is – environments are almost entirely destructible.

This destruction completely changes the round, the map and the strategies teams use – and it’s this that FX believes helps set Rainbow 6 apart from the crowd.

Ubisoft plan to have 100 playable operators in the game

“For me, what we are offering is something quite in the middle between an FPS and a MOBO,” he said.

“What we are proposing in terms of phases and structure of a match is very different {to anything else that’s out there}.

“You have a preparation phase where you need to understand why a player is choosing a certain operator – then you get an action phase.

“For the first few minutes, you can see a sort of ballet between the two teams as they use different strategies.

“Then, in the last 30 seconds, this is when gameplay becomes more like an FPS and there is a lot of stuff going on.”

He continued: “Now, I’m not against the classic FPS genre – such as Counter-Strike – but this is completely different to Rainbow 6.

CSGO is all about raw skill and being in the right place. With us, our phase system is really important and helps set us apart.”

G2 esports won the $350,000 tournament this weekend

With an ever-evolving game, be that the introduction of new operators or updated ‘buffed’ maps, keeping gameplay balanced is a huge challenge – and one FX and his team are continually trying to address.

“We need to find the right balance between two types of community,” he said. “We have our pro players – 100 guys who are the best of the best and want some very specific stuff in the game.

“Then, there are another 35million people playing the game – so we need to find the right balance. That’s why we’ve put a process in place where we have workshops with pro players every three months and we have community tools to understand what is the right balance between the different types of players.”

With more than 35m players, Rainbow 6 is no small fry – but with the likes of Fortnite and PUBG dominating multiplayer news right now, how does Ubisoft feel R6 stacks up?

And has there been any pressure to once again change that DNA?

The new operation titled Grim Sky brings into two brand new operators Maverick and Clash

“For me as long as the community will stay and enjoy the game, it’s not the right time to have a new Rainbow 6. For me, we are still at the beginning – the production team want to achieve 100 operators. There are currently around nine released per year – which means Siege has the potential to go on for years and years.

“The strength of the production is the capacity and the flexibility of the team to change the game. Look at the game three years ago and then look at it now – yeah, some maps are similar but it’s not the same game. The best example for me is Grim Sky – a reworked map from three years ago.”

Despite the game coming up to three years old, Ubisoft is still actively trying to attract more casual gamers to Siege – striking a balance between being user-friendly and complicated enough to satisfy the more hardcore audience.

Fan favourite Hereford Base has had a huge overhaul

“What we need to work on is the onboarding of the game – the fact that we need to bring people from classic FPS to understand that we are not so far removed from it, such as introducing more intro videos to explain who is this operator and why you need to pick them. What is the relation between the attackers and defenders on this map etc.

We are working on the onboarding and the business team are doing with the free weekends. It allows people to come and play together all at once. We then need to create an ecosystem for the new players to learn together and not put them in front of the pro players too early.”

Be sure to keep a close eye on the games competitive scene as it’s only going to get bigger and better over the next few years.