How Candy Crush All-Stars Turns a Casual Game Into an Elite-Level Tournament

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How Candy Crush All-Stars Turns a Casual Game Into an Elite-Level Tournament

Candy Crush All-Stars is the world’s biggest tournament for King’s Candy Crush Saga. In its fourth iteration, and its biggest to date, this months-long event offers a $1 million prize pool to the game’s most elite players. But, you may be wondering, how does someone become a top-level Candy Crush player? And how do you build a tournament to help them prove that?

With the event coming to a close last week, we caught up with some of Candy Crush’s level designers, as well as Ben Chin, who took on over 15 million competitors to become Candy Crush All-Stars 2024’s overall winner. Together, they gave us a sense of how one of the world’s biggest casual games, open to anyone, can offer a challenge befitting of that million-dollar prize pool.

For Chin, there are some key skills you need to reach the top level: “You definitely need tenacity and endurance. Getting through the different stages leading up to the All Stars finals, it requires a lot of time and effort for sure – especially once you get to those final knockout stages. The last round is 24 hours, and that’s all you have. So you really need to be able to go the distance and be able to pull it out all the way through.”

From a design perspective, the standard of the players involved meant the team needed to create something that feels familiar, but with a new level of challenge, befitting of the ten players who made it all the way through to the grand final.

Candy Crush All-Stars champion, Ben Chin.

“Our inspiration for the All Stars Live Final came from a desire to create something that both honored the classic elements of Candy Crush Saga and introduced new, exciting challenges for our finalists,” explains Lead Level Designer, Therese Sander.

“We wanted to celebrate the journey players have taken with us by offering levels that are visually appealing, but mechanically intriguing,” added Level Designer Oksana Samsonova. “We’ve created nine custom levels for our finalists [with] various challenges – different modes, the newest game mechanics and replicas of some iconic levels from the game.”

Those nine levels required a unique design brief – the team needed to create stages that worked without the usual game economy and boosters that players have available, and each one needed to feel totally distinct, forcing new approaches out of the finalists with each new level. Through extensive manual testing on the team, the level designers emerged with a set of stages that demanded the finalists refine their approach:

“I actually employed multiple different strategies throughout the course of the tournament as well as in the finals” says Chin. “Those things included just being very smart about how you use your moves – when it’s proper to get through a level as quickly as possible versus sticking around a level for as long as possible just to maximise how many points you actually earn per level.”

A selection of Candy Crush All-Stars final levels.

In a way, the finals act as a ‘battle’ between the level designers and the players themselves. With elite players taking on the challenge, the designers are free to create levels that might not feel quite as approachable if you came across them in the regular game.

“While the core game gradually increases in complexity, tournament levels are designed to challenge players’ advanced skills right from the start,” says Sander. “This means incorporating more complex mechanics, requiring quicker thinking, and often demanding a higher level of strategic planning. We aim to create levels that push players to use everything they’ve learned in the game so far and think creatively to overcome new obstacles.”

That complexity meant that Chin had to up his game, even from his own high standards: “When it came to the competitive nature of it, you really have to take a look, observe the level and, really identify, ‘OK, I have a limited set of time and moves and different objectives. I’ve got blockers in my way. What are the blockers?’ I’ve never planned more than in this tournament. I think that’s going to carry over into the future of me playing this game.”

That’s exactly the goal for the designers: “The most rewarding part is seeing the joy and excitement players experience when they play the levels. Watching players discover new strategies, overcome challenges, and share their experiences is incredibly fulfilling,” says Samsonova.

And in turn, watching the game’s best players take on their levels should lead to even more exciting designs later: “Watching elite-level players tackle our stages has been incredibly insightful,” Samsonova continues. “These players often employ strategies and techniques that we hadn’t anticipated, showcasing the depth and potential of our game mechanics.”

“Observing their gameplay helps us understand how to design levels that are challenging yet fair, and it also inspires us to create new mechanics that can provide even deeper and more complex gameplay experiences,” adds Sander. “It’s always fascinating to see how creative and strategic players can be!”

It makes Candy Crush All-Stars a truly unique tournament, elevating a game enjoyed by hundreds of millions – at many skill levels – into something competitive at an incredibly high standard. For Chin – who says he can’t pinpoint the moment he realized he was playing at an elite level – it’s been a revelation:

“For me personally, I’ve always been a pretty competitive gamer, amongst other games as well. And originally for Candy Crush, it was kind of my time-killer game until the possibility of coming out here to compete was available. Being able to just put all the time and effort into it, and being able to play against other people who are similarly as good as each other, it was a lot of fun and it was very exciting. And I think that excitement was really what sets that apart from just playing casually.”

It’s been a banner moment for Chin, who can now call himself the world’s greatest Candy Crush player: “It was such an overwhelming feeling at first just to be up there and even considered one of the top ten in the world. I was so honoured to be among them and interact with all of them. We all have the passion of playing Candy Crush together, and being able to bond over that was absolutely incredible.”

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