Tom Martin gives us his opinion on whether the newly popularised battle-royale genre could be implemented into an esports setting
First off, I don’t think I’m the only one who feels like they were well ahead of the curve with Battle Royale, ‘Minecraft: Hunger Games’ anyone? Just saying.
It seems Battle Royale is the order of the day. ‘Beginning’ – soft quotes for safety – with a mod for DayZ way back in 2013, popularised by PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in 2017 and given a lasting home – just my opinion – in Fortnite for 2018 onward, the quickfire last-man-standing genre is currently the most popular on the internet; “3.4 million people were playing the game at same time, likely making it “the biggest PC/console game in the world,” Epic Games said.” – (CNBC). As expected then, the question is asked whether Battle Royale can be the next big eSport alongside popular titles such Overwatch or DOTA 2.
The first and most obvious question, would people watch it? As with any event, success is measured by attendance and interest. eSports are typically fantastic spectacles; 45,000 people attended the ‘League of Legends World Final’ in Seoul in 2014. Do Battle Royale games pull in the kinds of numbers needed to create such massive audiences?
Well, considering Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins – Twitch’s number one Fortnite streamer – alone attracts an average of 100,000+ viewers each stream, then you definitely have to recognise that yes, there is a serious viewership there. By those stats, it would suggest an event starring Ninja alone could sell-out almost any stadium in the UK! If something is holding back Battle Royale from eSports, it is categorically not viewership.
On the other hand, eSports are fantastic spectacles. eSports events in their modern format take great time to build audience hype, announcing the players as one would expect the worlds best football teams to be announced. Each player is typically given their moment in the sun before the games commence, building support for particular players, allowing for increased franchising, increased cashflow etc.
It’s pretty nauseating to consider this being possible for a Battle Royale eSports event, considering each match will typically consist of around 100 players. One possible solution would be to not announce every name; this however would perhaps damage the feeling generated by player familiarity, as aforementioned, audiences attend to see their favourite teams, players, rivals etc. Taking into account the RNG (random-number-generator) gameplay – which I will elaborate on later – it is fair to say that in the frantically crowded gameplay of Battle Royale, personality would be lost in the mix.
It is also a physical, logistical headache to consider. In putting on an eSports event, it is expected all the players will be physically in attendance; is this possible when 100(ish) players are required? With 100 players comes the need for 100 high-powered computers for said players, and then physical space for the 100 said players and high-powered computers.
When extra space for a stage is factored in, it is possible that just under a full football pitch worth of space would be required. This reduces the space for attendees, and as a result, the event will make less money or ticket prices will be driven way up. It is important to remember however that the majority of eSports viewership is online; as mentioned previously, 45,000 people attended the LoL World Final 2014, while 27 million watched online. This would perhaps offset any lost revenue from physical sales.
Aside from spectacle however, one would suggest the driving force of eSports popularity is the ability to watch some of the world’s most ‘skilled’ players in competitive play. It is this factor however which could pose a problem to Battle Royale as an eSport: all players, no matter what skill level, are at the whim of the RNG nature of the genre.
To use Battlegrounds as an example, in the beginning players are airdropped emptyhanded into a map filled with random loot placed in random spots. It is a random chance as to whether a player finds an abundance of fantastic loot or nothing at all. In researching prior to writing this I cam across a great summation from Reddit user ‘Scottz0rz’: ‘It’s like if at the start of a round of Counter-Strike the players rolled a die to see if they were able to buy armour and AKs at the beginning of the round.’ It becomes hard to have a competition if the winner is perhaps not the most skilled player but the luckiest.
As mentioned prior, I also believe the RNG gameplay will cause personality to be lost. I believe this would be the case as winners chosen by luck would mean a constantly shifting floor for professional players with some being hailed as great until a run of bad luck pulls out the delicately crafted wooden floor (Fortnite reference) below them. With the players at the top of the game constantly changing, it would be all but impossible to form a lucrative fanbase around individuals as is customary in other esports.
For those who perhaps think I’m placing too much emphasis on the importance of player image, one example of a prevalent esports figure is Carlos Rodriguez (Ocelote) who (in 2015 albeit) reportedly earned in excess of 700,000€ (about £600,000), 75% of which was from personal merchandising (esports Marketing Blog, 2015). Image is vital for both the sport and for the professional esports players as a way to support income.
It is true however that a ‘professional’ player such as ‘Ninja’ should be able to react better to bad luck than the average player. Whilst this is true, it is worth remembering that some players earn a salary based on their ability to win competitive tournaments, thus leaving the play to chance comes into the realm of being simply put, unfair. It would be like two freelance journalists both working on the same article about, for example, an upcoming GTA V update, when by luck the less skilled of them receives a call from the CEO of Rockstar; the lucky would get published and paid well, whereas the other gets nothing.
The alternative to this would be to start players out in the same area, with the same gear. It’s obvious how logistically unsound this would be, with players bunched and dying from the outset. To remove the element of random chance would be to remove perhaps what makes Battle Royale gameplay so exciting to viewers in the first place.
To try to answer the question, would Battle Royale work as an esport in a competitive format? In my own opinion, no. In their current format, Battle Royale games seem incompatible with the typical esports layout. Due to the sheer scale of games, the logistics of 100 players in one space and the prevention of pure skill-based gameplay by random chance.
It is my opinion that a Battle Royale event in its solo format would be missing some of the key components outside the gameplay too, such as player following. There is always, however, the option of ‘squad’ mode for a Battle Royale esports event, this would perhaps seek to solve the issues of numerous players by only focusing on the squads as a whole. In this situation supporters having the option to personally support individual members under the umbrella of the team as a whole; as is the case in almost any sport.
Although I personally do not think it would work, the growing popularity of such games across Twitch, YouTube etc. is impossible to ignore, and is sure to push the genre higher and higher to the extent that it is impractical not to come up with an effective solution to such problems. Battle Royale is certainly here to stay, and it is not entirely ridiculous to suggest that before long it will be the next big esport. For now however, the genre will enjoy waiting for its esports chance. I better get practicing.
Ninja’s – absolutely obscene – Twitch Stats (Up-to-date):