Since Fortnite: Battle Royale’s inception in September 2017, battle royale has become one of the dominant genres in gaming. While this gamestyle isn’t new — H1Z1 (January 2015) was an early example of a game in this space — these types of multiplayer online shooters have gotten more sophisticated. In order to understand the impact and magnitude of the genre within the gaming community, it’s important to take a step back and analyze the origins of battle royale and its eventual rise to video game fame — and its role as a potential future for esports.
A brief history
At its core, battle royale is essentially an online video game version of the “Hunger Games,” with the goal of being the last player (or team) standing. In short, hundreds of players are dropped onto a virtual island with nothing to help them survive other than their ability to think logically and strategically. Similar to Katniss’ cornucopia of supplies, battle royale players are left to find — and fight for — the tools they need to survive including weapons, ammo, and armor.
PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) was one of the first battle royale games to reach mainstream success. Its release and subsequent popularity in March 2017 paved the way for an entire genre, allowing for other gaming companies to follow in its footsteps and develop their own iteration. In September 2017, Epic Games released Fortnite: Battle Royale, after its first-person iteration Fortnite: Save the World flopped in July 2017. As the popularity of Battle Royale games continue to grow, new gaming titles emerge; EA’s Apex Legends (2019) was new to the gaming scene earlier this year and quickly drew in a huge number of players, demonstrating that Battle Royale is a genre I don’t see slowing down any time soon.
Simple concept, huge impact
The concept behind the battle royale genre is relatively simple, yet every game is entirely unique. Due to the random nature of the game, it’s impossible to play the same game twice; so every time players are dropped into the virtual universe, they are challenged in new ways. Fortnite’s original single-player experience wasn’t unique or exciting enough, so it didn’t capture players’ attention or loyalty in the same way its battle royale iteration has captivated the masses. With Fortnite: Battle Royale, Epic Games made sure to incorporate unexpected twists and turns to keep players engaged, like the ability to build your own structures.
In my opinion, battle royale offers the most unique game experience of any esport genre. Battle royale games allow players to lose and still have a good time playing because of its evolving nature; because there isn’t a way to map out a clear path to success, it pushes players to work together as a team and think strategically to win the game.
Battle royale is for team players rather than individuals. While battle royale continues to enthrall team players with its randomized gameplay, it can also leave single players wanting more. For individuals, the experience can be hectic and hard to follow without the support of a team to help you strategize and ultimately win. Unfortunately, it’s a genre that is not designed with solo gamers in mind.
Battle royale and esports
While the randomized nature of battle royale keeps teams and individual players interested, it creates some challenges for the genre as an esport. For example, when Starcraft II released in 2010, it had all the components needed to be successful as a competitive esport from day one. Players were able to see the various units and buildings in progress, which allowed them to anticipate their opponents’ next move and strategize an appropriate counterattack.
With the battle royale genre, players aren’t able to strategize much and the dominating team for one round could be completely wiped out the next game. In a traditional esports model, the best players battle each other to see who has the best skills and will come out on top. Battle royale evens the playing field — you may drop down in the same location, however, the same weapons and tools won’t be available every time, which makes it harder to map out your course of action. However, the added challenge of being able to strategize quickly has its benefits. Longtime players are able to think more strategically in a shorter amount of time and therefore have a better chance of navigating the ever-changing world of battle royale.
The battle royale genre is upending the traditional nature of esports — the best player one round may not be around for the second due to randomization. That doesn’t mean it won’t be successful.What we’ve seen with PUBG and Fortnite is that you can build a successful multiplayer game without the same framework of pitting the best players against each other. The same year that Fortnite: Battle Royale was released, the worldwide esports audience reached 335 million and is at 454 million this year, according to Newzoo.
As battle royale games become more popular, new teams and viewers are discovering esports for the first time. With this worldwide excitement and demand, well-known brands have taken notice — next week, NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and others are playing in a PUBG Mobile tournament. As esports continues to grow and new games like Fortnite continue to bring new ways of playing to the forefront, a growing number of brands are taking notice. Global esports sponsorship revenue is forecasted to reach $456.7 million in 2019 and that’ll only continue to increase.
Battle royale games like Fortnite and Apex Legends are expanding esports by getting an entirely new group of players and viewers excited about playing a game and competing against one another. Brands that previously knew nothing about esports and had no direct connection to the gaming industry are following suit and realizing the potential in the industry.In addition, core groups of new viewers and players are joining the esports community every day, wanting to get a piece of the action.
What this means for the future of gaming
With new iterations of battle royale games being launched on a regular basis, this is a genre that shows no signs of slowing down. Yet, it’s impossible to predict if today’s leading games like Fortnite and PUBG will remain on top for long. Similar to the MOBA genre where League of Legends and Dota 2 have dominated over all other games, we’ll probably eventually get to a point where 2-4 games will dominate the genre, but only time will tell which games will top the leader board. Any game developer attempting to challenge today’s battle royale leaders will have a tall order to fill — and more recently, Auto Chess as an even newer contender.
However, while popular among online gamers, I do believe the battle royale genre will continue to struggle as an esport. While an individual team may dominate one single game, there is no guarantee they’ll continue their winning streak into the future. This makes it hard for teams to develop a loyal fan-following that cares about their success because the randomized nature of the game evens the playing field and typically prevents any one team from rising to the top. Additionally, the random nature of the game also removes the community aspect from the esports team version because fans and professional players alike aren’t able to watch a winning team to determine their game strategy or follow along as they continue to dominate other teams.
Battle royale is here to stay
Despite the potential drawbacks of the battle royale genre, game developers continue to push the envelope as the genre and the games themselves evolve over time, delivering exciting experiences for players as they search for the next big thing. This is a really exciting time to be a gamer, as developers are just scratching the surface of this genre. I can’t wait to see which new games emerge and how the experience will evolve.
Patrick Soulliere II is Global Esports and Gaming Marketing Manager at Ballistix (A Micron Company).