Evan Denbaum & Michael Martinez – Command & Conquer: Rivals – RTS esports goes mobile

Originally announced back at E3 2018, Command & Conquer: Rivals is the latest game in the long-running franchise. This time, however, the game is on mobile. Whilst the game is still a real-time strategy game, it’s a big step away from C&C games of the past.

Just this week EA announced the game will officially launch on December 4th on IOS and Android. The team behind the game have stated that esports is a big part of the future of the game. With that in mind, we spoke with Evan Denbaum, Command & Conquer: Rivals Competitive Gaming Commissioner and Michael Martinez, EA General Manager on Command & Conquer: Rivals, about the game, the esports,  the C&C legacy and much more.

Esports Insider: Was esports a big focus from the start of development?

Michael Martinez: At its core, Command & Conquer: Rivals has always been competitive PvP. We had aspirations of esports in the early stages of development but knew it needed to be authentic. Today, Rivals matches are as fun to watch as they are to play – players understand the action on the board and the clear missile objectives and we are excited to build this into a full-scale championship program. 

ESI: You want the community to assist in developing an esports program. In your ideal situation, what form does this take?

“Ultimately, this is for them, our Rivals players, and I’ll know I have it right when the ideas and plans really resonate with them and get people excited”

Evan Denbaum: When I built the first large-scale international mobile esport with Vainglory, I like to think I co-created that with the community over time based on a constant, ongoing dialogue. Ultimately, this is for them, our Rivals players, and I’ll know I have it right when the ideas and plans really resonate with them and get people excited. Literally, the first thing I did today after getting to work was begin the public dialogue on Twitter and Discord and Reddit with our soft launch and future players, as well as reach out to mobile esports pro players I’ve known for a long time. It’s essential that I’m having a frank, open conversation with the Rivals community where they feel heard and know that I care.

When you take the journey from nothing and truly build something together with the community, they take pride in it. They see it as “theirs” too and want it to grow and succeed. Even the harshest initial critics can become your biggest supporters and evangelists. That’s what’s worked for me before, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When it comes to the out-of-game esports program, we’re going to need to start somewhere. I’m going to take everything I’ve learned and heard from players the past 4+ years building and running mobile esports and apply that. Then, we’re going to build in multiple moments throughout the competitive year where we can try new things and course-correct where we’ve gotten something wrong. I can promise you right now, we’re not going to get everything right from the outset, but we’ll listen and take in the feedback to get make it better. The key is building an agile, flexible ecosystem where you can rapidly course correct until you arrive at something that makes sense for the viewers, the players, the esports organizations and our competitive gaming business.

Building something together with the community is the most fun part of the job, and we can’t wait to go on that journey together with Rivals Esports.

Will we see any esports team/player integration with the game, such as team skins or icons to help support both the game and those who compete in it?

Evan: An esport isn’t successful unless all its participants feel a part of that success. I’ve certainly had these kinds of conversations with the dev team, and we have a very real, very robust competitive gaming product roadmap. The order in which we prioritize those features will depend on what we’re hearing from the general player base, viewers, pro players and owners. It’s so nice to have an announced launch date (Dec. 4) because now we’re marching toward having these types of conversations with our competitive community at scale.

An example of the C&C Rivals map layout

Has the success of games like Clash Royale had an impact on the team when developing a new C&C title?

Evan: In terms of mobile competitive play, my mind immediately goes to Rivals’ opportunities: continuous unit control adds immense strategic and tactical depth that I think players will love, especially if they’ve played games that came before. If you put down a unit, it’s not like throwing a bowling ball down an alley, where you just watch it go regardless of whether it’s into a good matchup or bad. This is truly a skill-based game through and through, and if you don’t like what you see, you can retreat, you can feint, you can cycle and deploy new units and change the dynamics of the battle. Additionally, the capture-and-hold point in the middle of the map actually reminds me a little bit more of MOBAs, where it can be stolen at the last second. That objective guarantees suspense, drama and anticipation — and equally important for me on the competitive side, it controls match length. Players and viewers know exactly what they’re getting themselves into and can experience something really exciting with a clear beginning, mid-game and ending all in 2-5 minutes.

C&C has a big legacy and fans have an affiliation for the old RTS style, what made the team step so far away from the series’ style? 

Our goal with Command & Conquer: Rivals was to define real-time strategy for mobile… By distilling and focusing on the fundamental essences of RTS – base building, resource gathering, building an army and controlling the army to victory”

Michael: Our goal with Command & Conquer: Rivals was to define real-time strategy for mobile. This meant ensuring that our game was built for mobile devices’ size, touch interface and mobile session lengths. By distilling and focusing on the fundamental essences of RTS – base building, resource gathering, building an army and controlling the army to victory – we were able to build for 4-minute matches on mobile. Rivals has depth without the complexity and quicker matches that favour action and dynamic play. It’s certainly a different type of RTS, but we believe we’ve captured the same emotional beats that players find exciting and fun about this genre.

Finally, what would you like to say to anyone reading this who might be interested in C&C: Rivals?

Evan: When interested in a new game, here’s what I look for: Are the devs playing their own game when they go home at night and all weekend long? Are they in alliances with soft launch players discussing strategies and game balance? Are they arguing over lunch about how things feel like as a player of their own game and what they’d like to see changed?

Our dev team is, and that tells you two things: One, it’s a good game. And two, we care deeply about our players. Every conversation begins and ends with what it means for our players and how players will feel…our devs are real, everyday players too.

We’re taking a unique approach to competitive gaming, where the commissioner works on all competitive experiences in-game and out. I’m embedded with the dev team, and almost all my time to date has been spent trying to make the best-possible in-game competitive experiences for our players. Our devs want this game to be something special. Get into this community early. If you can’t download yet, install on Dec 4 and start telling us what you think. Let’s make something awesome together.

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