PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds burst onto the gaming scene in 2017 as an early access title on Steam, pulling up to 3.2 million players at one point, and initially begged the question: Can a Battle Royale game become an esport? Since that initial success, PUBG continues to struggle with bugs in-game and more recently, has played second fiddle to Battle Royal supernova, Fortnite. Despite that, PUBG’s Global Invitational (PGI) proved that competitive Battle Royale can check all the boxes that a successful esports does, whether it’s dedicated players, tense moments or passionate fans screaming for victory.
Champions rise and inspire
PGI opened with the pretense that teams from the West were set to dominate -- the few international tournaments results up to that point implied as much. The European and CIS regions were especially expected to succeed. There was even discussion among the community over imbalanced seeding for the tournament, but other regions proved that not only were they there to play -- they were there to win.
Third-Person Perspective (TPP) is traditionally seen as the less-competitive mode in the Western scene as opposed to First-Person Perspective (FPP), but for the purpose of this international tournament, it was introduced to open the event with eight matches over the first two days. On the other hand, Asian teams -- Korean teams in particular -- still played the mode regularly in their domestic leagues and arguably had the advantage. Still, that doesn’t make the eventual winner’s run any less impressive.
Gen.G Gold came into the PUBG Global Invitational with a second place curse brewing -- the team had numerous opportunities to win events back home, but always fell just a tad short. Gen.G’s in-game leader, Kim “EscA” In-Jae, was no stranger to that feeling, placing second at three different events before finally winning APEX Season 2 in Overwatch. Then, he was mired by community criticism, but for Gen.G Gold and PUBG, he rose as a superstar.
EscA racked up the most kills and survived longer than anybody in the opening event, to lead Gen.G Gold to its first tournament win, edging out European favorite, Team Liquid, by nearly 700 points. EscA and Gold’s triumph will become remembered as one of the first emotional moments to grace competitive PUBG and undoubtedly will be remembered as one of the game’s first checkpoints on its trek to esports legitimacy.
In what some would call the main event, FPP, another champion from Asia rose despite the mode’s popularity in the West. China is comically known for its aggression in multiple esports titles and Oh My God (OMG) did not disappoint en route to its own title run. OMG racked up three “Chicken Dinners” on the first day and carefully played for the victory on the second, edging out Team Liquid by 200 points for its own championship pan.
OMG didn’t have the same redemption arc that Gen.G Gold did -- being winners in China -- but they provided exciting maps to an audience fiending for action. Additionally, given the game’s popularity in China, the FPP title is a great victory for the motherland and all those who love the game. OMG’s victory galvanized the Chinese fans in the audience and might very well inspire the next generation of Battle Royale pros from the East Asian nation.
Setting the stage for esports
More than just the champions, 18 other teams set out for Battle Royale glory at PGI 2018. Team Liquid came away with two second place finishes, while unsponsored European team WTSG competed at the top with some of the best in the world, and even underdogs like Refund Gaming and Crest Gaming Xanadu had their moments as lesser Asian teams. PGI may not have featured the 20 best teams in the world, but it provided a diverse palate of flavors for fans to sample as it gave PUBG esports the grand floor.
PUBG’s competitive mode features more vehicle and weapon spawns along with a different circle mechanic, making for fairly balanced play among the pros. As a result, PUBG has a great number of team rotations, but plenty of skill expression with grenade angles and general ballistic aim mechanics. There are moments of camping, but that tends to happen when a team has a sole survivor waiting to play spoiler and score some extra points for his team, and even that creates exciting moments for the fans -- who doesn’t love the tension of watching a snake in the grass?
It’s no secret that PUBG is still fully optimizing its game for the everyday experience, but the pros still made it work and the game is exciting. As PUBG corp put it, PGI was a test run for esports and it is hard to evaluate it as anything other than a success. As the nuts and bolts are tightened, the quality of its competitive side can only rise.
Carving out its niche
The elephant in the room for PUBG esports is the rise of Fortnite, Epic Games’ Battle Royale title. The game has appealed to younger and more casual demographics with its cartoon-like aesthetic and inviting building mechanic. Streamers such as Ninja -- who appeared at PGI 2018 for the charity event -- and Team SoloMid’s Daquan among others have ballooned the popularity for the game and built a strong community. Fortnite is set to run as a community-first type of esport centered around its greatest personalities, but PUBG is seemingly looking for something different.
PUBG Corporation already announced that rather than community-focused tournaments, PUBG esports will be centered around competitive leagues centralized in North America, Europe, Korea and China. The leagues aren’t franchised so that means theoretically anyone can compete, but there are still more details to be released on qualification and participation. The format itself is more competitive and lends itself to those who are fans of high-level PUBG more than its personalities -- like Dr. DisRespect or Shroud -- and that’s the way to go moving forward.
Gen.G Gold and Oh My God proved that there are stories and excitement to be had, while the international representation proved that PUBG has clout on a global scale. The fans roaring in the arena and tuning in online came for PUBG and stayed for PUBG. Battle Royale has an uncertain future, but the PUBG Global Invitational proved that the foundation is there.
Photo Credit: PUBG Corporation