Why Battle Royale games have a long way to go before they're eSports-ready
Here's why Battle Royale games like H1Z1: King of the Kill and Player Unknown's Battlegrounds are still not quite ready for eSports.
H1Z1: King of the Kill (opens in new tab) (KOTK) has been around for a years, and while Player Unknown's Battlegrounds (opens in new tab) (PUBG) only just hit Steam, we think both games are representatives of the Battle Royale genre when it comes to eSports. These two games are the most popular titles within the genre, but their numbers don't match quality levels, and issues continue to plague both titles.
Fight for survival
Take the recent Charity Invitational held by the developer of Player Unknown's Battlegrounds. Bear in mind that this game was only released to the Steam store back in May and is considered to be in "Early Access." But that hasn't halted the team from providing eSports fans a taste of what could come with future development by hosting a charity event on Twitch. Surprisingly, I found the tournament to be a fairly average experience.
Issues that are present with these games include rather high amounts of lag and poor optimization. This causes stuttering and a general unpleasant viewing experience for the audience. While it could be considered acting too hastily to consider these games for eSports, from the way they have been set up with ranked systems it's clear their developers have a plan in place for future deployments into the eSports arena.
One thing that I feel PUBG got right was the spectator mode, which was reportedly put together in just three weeks. The developer has done a solid job with making it possible for viewers to enjoy action on screen, as producers pan the camera around and casters comment on what's currently going on. Players were highlighted in yellow to make it easier to spot their exact locations within a building as the camera moved around the location, and health bars and active weapons were also displayed.
A big advantage PUBG has over KOTK is the ability for players to better select their spawn locations. In the latter game, you're reliant on the position the game puts you in, while in PUBG it's down to the individual to exit the plane and land safely. One thing that may affect matches is the heavy reliance on RNG for weapons and items. There are no set spawn locations for objects, and so luck of the draw can play a big part early- to mid-game.
After raising $220,000 for the charity Gamers Outreach, Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene spoke to eSports Pro on taking his game to the big screen. "We really wanted to do an invitational because raising money for charity is something I've done with Battle Royale since I started the game mode in the Arma series," he said. "We wanted to put on just to show off the game in a competitive setting ... We really truly believe that for any eSport to form around Battle Royale, the game, number one, has to be stable, it has to be competitive and we have so much research and work to do to get it to that state."
Blue Hole, the developer making the standalone version of PUGB, hired Chris Pankhurst as the company's eSports Manager. The company may not have concrete plans on how to advance its game, but it's clear the desire to do so at some point is present.
PUBG may retain RNG elements like loot spawn, but Greene noted how the team will work on ways to make it slightly less based on luck. "We're working hard to ensure that there's good loot balance across the island," he said. "Yes, there will be certain areas that will be more high risk to go to to get better weapons, but you'll still be able to find those better weapons in low-value loot areas, just the way the system's set up."
As we noted above, the fact players can jump out of the plane and select which location on the map to head for allows for some tactics and strategy to take place. There are certainly areas of improvement that need to be tackled before these games draw in hordes of viewers and attract sponsors for stage productions. But it's clear that there's the potential for PUBG.
The stage is set
I'm not saying that I feel the Battle Royale genre won't make it to eSports. It certainly has the potential to pull in thousands of viewers. One only has to look at viewership figures on streaming platforms like Twitch to gauge interest. I've actually got some suggestions for improvements to occur to PUBG in particular for eSports:
- The spectator client needs to have the entire map loaded into memory for quick access when hopping between teams or players to avoid pop-in.
- Lag and optimization need to be tackled.
- Make bullets and grenades more noticeable on-screen with trail effects and highlights.
- Better alerts to in-game events, including kills.
- Highlight teams when focused on individual players to better tell apart who's friend and foe.
- Needs much more polish.
You also have to remember that Battle Royale is proving to be a popular category right now, and new games are popping up. KOTK and PUBG may not even be the titles that hit the eSports stage, and it could a newcomer that's waiting for the right moment to launch.
What do you think? Do you see Battle Royale taking off in this space? How did you find the recent broadcasts from PUBG and KOTK?
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Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.
I thought that Press Play's Project Knoxville looked a lot more interesting than either of these games. It's really a shame that Microsoft cancelled the game and killed off the studio. They were a really talented group of developers, and Project Knoxville had a lot of potential.