Battle Royale games have recently taken by storm the gaming industry as well as the streaming world with two major games: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and the addition to the FTP genre, Fortnite Battle Royale in September 2017. And while the love for the games is undeniable given the viewership for both titles - Twitch and Youtube combined - beats out any other genre, one question has begun to pop into many people’s mind.
This question is:
Are battle royale games on their way to become proper Esports?
One of the first concerns regarding BR games becoming Esports is whether or not the genre lends itself to high-level competitive play. Indeed, the fact that around 70 to 100 people are dropping on a single map and battling it out for victory raises several issues, such as the viewing experience and spectating tools.
In general, Esports become relevant when the community of the game in question enjoys watching the same game they play at home, but played on a much higher level. Spectators need to be able to have a smooth experience without having to wonder too much about what is going on. For instance, when the Overwatch League was launched, Blizzard was quick to realize they needed specific color schemes for each team so that teamfights were more easily enjoyed by the viewers.
That being said, PUBG has already partnered with tournament organizer ESL (also a great friend to the GreatGamers Awards initiative) to host two PUBG Invitationals, at IEM Oakland in November 2017 and IEM Katowice in February 2018.
While there was a lot of hype surrounding the events, the feedback from the players who took part and the viewers tells us a lot calls to be improved. Some of the issues raised were about the difference in the style of play between the home experience and the Invitational, the viewing experience or even the frustration for teams who did not have the best start to the tournament knowing they couldn’t come back in the standings.
Matches turned out to be very campy and slow-paced because of the unbalance between the kill reward mechanic and the first place finish. Because there was no incentive to get kills, teams could rely on not picking fights with others they saw in front of them, or even loading up one player with meds and having him stay outside the safe zone for several minutes in order to obtain a better placing for the match. This resulted in a lot of flat, action-less matches where nobody died before the 20-minute mark. Add to this the observers (people in charge of showing the action and depicting a storyline) who had a hard time capturing the important fights and rotations and constantly show the viewers meaningful action. This was an issue because of the difficulty to know when two teams will engage in combat, and so on... Needless to say it was not the most entertaining experience for the spectators!
The omnipresent randomness associated with BR games and the high number of players involved makes it harder than in other games to pick out skill. Many matches need to be played among the same players and teams to determine who is the most skilled, by smoothing out the randomness. Overall, it seems many aspects of the games and tournament structure need to be rethought in order to recreate a competitive yet enjoyable experience for the viewers such as zone timers, damage dealt by it, and the point system. PUBG serves as a good BR game to try out competitive play/Esports but still remains littered with minor bugs, graphical glitches or even desynchronization.
With the arrival of Fortnite Battle Royale, people have high hopes of seeing it become the first true BR esports game. More stable than its realistic counterpart, more suitable to outplays and exiting fast-paced matches with the building mechanic and already well received by big organizations such as TSM or FaZe Clan, Fortnite BR could very well replicate the matches we are used to play and love at home - at the top professional level.
Famous streamer and former pro player Ninja has recently hosted his own Fortnite BR event at the Esports Arena in Las vegas which gave us a glimpse into what the competitive scene could look like, but a long process of trial and error will most likely be needed before we see a BR game become ready for Esports.