The astronomical popularity of Nintendo Switch has caused an inflow of high-profile ports since its release, but competitive shooters generally aren’t among them. Well-known games like Fortnite and Overwatch have made the jump to Switch, but in doing so, they often come with problems that result in the Switch versions never being the preferred platform for competitive players. As the latest in a short lineup of competitive shooters to come to Switch, Apex Legends recently launched with myriad problems that resulted in the game being borderline unplayable for anyone trying to take the game seriously. It serves as the prime example of why more big-budget shooters have been hesitant to release on Switch, but are there any exceptions to this trend and is there a way to circumvent it?
Competitive shooting isn’t viable on the go
The Call of Duty or Battlefield franchises are yet to appear on Switch, and that’s probably due to the underpowered hardware of Nintendo’s platform. Downscaling games can be a lot of work, which explains why ports are often outsourced to studios like Panic Button instead. Technical sacrifices are fine for single-player-focused games that have more to gain from a Switch port, such as portability and a new audience. However, these compromises are unacceptable for competitive games that depend on their graphical performance.
Apex Legends frankly doesn’t perform well on Switch. Its poor frame rate and draw distances create a clear disadvantage when trying to spot opposing players and reacting in time. In a game where visual fidelity, frame rate, and online stability can mean the difference between becoming the champion or being killed early on, these problems are the kiss of death to any players that were hoping to engage in cross-platform competition on the Switch version of the game.
Aside from graphical conundrums, there are other reasons why competitive shooters like Apex Legends do not work on Switch. When cross-play is turned off, Apex Legends does not have a large enough player pool to sustain matchmaking. Developers must therefore choose between downscaling a game and creating competitive disadvantages or forgoing cross-play altogether and risk having a player base insufficient to keep the game alive.
What this implies is that online shooter fans are not using the Switch as their preferred platform for these games, and there are some likely reasons for this. Ignoring presentation issues, Switch versions of these games are often released long after these games have established followings elsewhere and offer little incentive to migrate to a visually inferior version. Typical Switch benefits like portability are a non-starter when competitive shooters rely on stable internet connections, and given Nintendo’s long-standing online infrastructure woes, that’s an even bigger problem to consider. When optimal performance is a key part of gameplay — as seen in esports that exclusively use PC hardware — it’s a tough sell to convince hardcore shooter fans to play on Switch.
Are there any exceptions?
A decent number of shooters have still been brought to the Switch. Titles such as Overwatch and Fortnite have a better chance of succeeding over the Call of Dutys of the industry due to their unique art styles with inherently lower graphical demands. A downgrade in graphics isn’t as much of an issue for colorful games like these when compared to the gritty realism that competitive shooters like Apex Legends aim for. Yet, despite the well-done conversions to Switch, Nintendo’s platform is still not where the competitive players for these games reside.
In practice, these games are still experiencing the same issues that plague Apex Legends. Technical disadvantages and a lack of players make all the difference when it comes to competitive play. Epic Games noticed this and decided to limit Switch players of Fortnite to settling for cross-play with mobile devices as they felt cross-play with other consoles was too imbalanced (though this may have made the Switch version of the game easier as a result). Multiplatform releases on Switch will always be held back by the competitive disadvantages its underpowered hardware creates. Games like Rogue Company and Paladins have seen limited success, but unless the rumored Switch Pro comes out this year, it’s unlikely that a new Call of Duty or Battlefield could be on a Nintendo platform anytime soon.
The final piece of the puzzle is exclusives. Splatoon 2 only has one version and no potential for cross-platform play. As a byproduct of its exclusivity, Splatoon 2 will always present players with a level playing field for competition, which in part could explain the tremendous success the game has seen casually and to a degree in esports. Creating a Switch-exclusive entry in their marquee franchises, much like Capcom with Monster Hunter Rise, might be one of the few avenues left for EA and Activision to find a foothold on Nintendo’s console with such games.
What are the alternatives for the future?
So, we understand why many competitive shooters are not viable on Nintendo Switch, and the few exceptions either come with significant caveats or are exclusive. With that in mind, is there anything to look forward to for players that have an itch for PvP shooting in Nintendo’s ecosystem? Shooters with unique art styles have been the closest to being competitively viable (though still a far cry from it), so what about a game with a simple art style and relatively low hardware requirements? Last year’s Valorant was a breakout success and fits the bill, so could a Switch version work? Cross-play would naturally give an advantage to PC players, but if the game runs well enough, perhaps it could find a sustainable player base on Switch alone.
Shooters running on mobile may be another avenue for Switch owners. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), much like Valorant, can run on relatively underpowered hardware, so maybe it could find its way to Switch at some point too. It’s unlikely that a new Call of Duty would appear on Switch, but what about the already existing Call of Duty Mobile? Another option to consider is cloud gaming. While the technology may not be perfect right now, it will get better in time. Could that make big-budget games like Call of Duty competitively viable on the Switch or on its eventual successor?
In the short term, Nintendo Switch owners with trigger fingers should probably stick to exclusive hits like Splatoon 2 and the eventual Splatoon 3. Unfortunately, when it comes to multiplatform shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield, we can only hope that publishers decide to make Switch-exclusive entries or wait for cloud gaming to reach its full potential.
Do you think competitive shooters will one day be viable on Nintendo Switch?