Carving a place for the battle royale style in esports

Photo by Casey Gomez

Esports is a fast-growing industry. Unlike traditional sports, the growth of esports also comes with new types of games every year.

Imagine if a sport like blernsball from Futurama was suddenly added to the everyday lineup of ESPN. In esports, an event like this is commonplace. The most recent of these additions is the battle royale style game. While the battle royale style game mode has existed for quite a while, there hasn’t really been a push for them to take a place in esports until the last few years.

While other styles of games like Real Time Strategy (RTS) and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) have cemented themselves as members of the esports community, battle royale seems to be having a bit more trouble.

There are a few reasons why: first and foremost, there needs to be one title that takes over a large share of the market and keeps fans interested. For RTS games there is Starcraft, for MOBAs there is League of Legends (LoL) and DoTA and for First Person Shooters (FPS) there is Counter Strike (CS) and Call of Duty. For battle royale there has only been a rotating cast so far.

It began with H1Z1, which was then toppled by Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG), which is in turn currently fighting with Fortnite. While this currently is a problem, it has an easy fix. I can see Fortnite and PUBG being two coexisting leaders in the brand and launching successful esports leagues and tournaments.

The next biggest problem I see is a tough one for esports: format.

First, you have to figure out if the 100 people dropping into the game are going to be on small teams or squads, or if it’ll be a solo fight to the top. For now, it seems that PUBG and Fortnite have settled on the squad format in a sort of bastardized version of the classic FPS esports like CS. Instead of battling over control of one single objective against one other team, teams will face off to be the last team standing.

This leads into another issue with format: watchability.

Even with games like Overwatch, watchability has been a concern. In the early stages of Overwatch, people were concerned about watching all the action. In traditional sports, the action is relatively straightforward: a pitcher throws to the hitter, a quarterback takes a snap and so on.

In esports action is happening in multiple places at once. This makes it more difficult to show everything and can result in fans being disappointed that something was not shown until later on. This problem is magnified in the battle royale game style since there are so many more players compared to other formats. In LoL it’s five-on-five, in Overwatch it’s six-on-six and in PUBG and Fortnite up to 100 players battle it out to be the last one standing. While the action towards the end of the game becomes more straightforward and easy to follow, early game action, arguably some of the most important stuff to happen all game, is much harder to track.

Finally, the last problem with format has to do with deciding a winner itself. Do you play a single game in a winner-take-all scenario? Do you average out places across three to five games? Or do you do something different entirely?

These questions need to be answered before the battle royale style game can become a successful esport. Until then it is simply a game meant for streamers, which isn’t necessarily bad; it just doesn’t seem to be what is expected of the games in the genre.