It took PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds just three days on Steam’s Early Access to make $11m. It’s a nearly ridiculous amount of money, and suddenly all eyes are on the game, asking the important questions: what’s next for the game, and when can it be watched as a competitive event?
Brendan Greene, better known by his moniker PlayerUnknown, is a 41-year-old Irishman, now living in South Korea, home of Bluehole, the development studio putting the game together in association with Greene. Esports Pro had the chance to chat to him about the future of Battlegrounds’ esports and Greene’s love of spectacle.
The team are fresh from putting on an invitational event, raising $220,000 for charity Gamers Outreach. “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.” said Greene. “We wanted to put on just to show off the game in a competitive setting.”
The event came together in a little under three weeks. “It was really funny,” said Greene, “people were telling us, “Oh, the spectator camera is crap.” Stuff like this and all these kind of lovely comments that you get in Twitch chat, but they didn’t realise the camera didn’t exist three weeks ago, that they (Bluehole) kind of put everything that you saw in the invitational together in about three weeks.”
Regardless of the push to get the game match-ready, Greene says that for he and the Bluehole team, esports isn’t a priority.
“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.”
The team aren’t going to be pushing esports just yet, because Battle Royale will need work to become a viable esport product. However, they’ve hired Chris ‘Panky’ Pankhurst as the team’s esports product manager. “It’s not to start doing esports straightaway but more for him to start planning, start figuring out what we actually need from the game for it to be a successful esport.” said Greene “We’re not jumping headlong into esports. We really want to make sure that we’ve got a great platform first and make sure we do everything in small steps so we’re not rushing into it.”
Esports might be a far off destination, but Greene and Bluehole are already preparing for the journey. The Battle Royale genre does need some adjustments made to make it as competitive as it could be: many people have been critical of the RNG element to the game.
“Hearthstone is RNG based too, right?” said Greene with a laugh. “So, we’re trying to do things to kind of reduce the RNG and you can see that in the game.
“If Battle Royale really was super RNG then you wouldn’t have people at the top of the leaderboards but players that play the game that are consistently good because they know the right strategies to play during the game, how to play the game to win. While it is RNG, it’s RNG with limits.”
“We’re working hard to ensure that there’s good loot balance across the island. 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. So I believe Battle Royale can be an esport, but we just have to tune it a little bit just to reduce that RNG, because with 100 players, yes, the RNG can really play a part but if we take the player count down to maybe 64 players, it reduces less of the RNG because you can choose when to jump from the plane so you don’t have to get into a fight straight away.”
Greene has noticed that the slight changes between other battle royale games like H1Z1 and Arma’s Battle Royale mods — both of which Greene was involved with — have created some interesting strategies. “I enjoy seeing competitive players come in and start playing aggressively but then realising over a few matches that maybe aggressively isn’t the way to play this at the start. For me, it’s always been about the blue zone. That’s where the fighting should be taking place. Before that, just stay the fuck away from players. You don’t want to get in a fight because I don’t care if you get 25 kills, if you don’t win, you haven’t done anything.”
“A lot of it is just choosing when to fight, it’s picking your battles. If you hear fighting going on, especially when the circle is small, let the others kill themselves. Find a bush and love it. For me, Battle Royale has always been about surviving, it’s always being the last man standing, and how you get there, it’s your choice, but generally a little bit more campy towards the end probably works better for you.”
This flexibility, with players able to go full-aggro, a subtle sneak or something in between should mean that when Battlegrounds is ready to launch as an esport, it’ll be interesting to watch.
Team Solomid are one of the first organisations to move into Battlegrounds
“I think definitely you’re gonna see different strategies from different teams and how they play depending on who they got. Team SoloMid just announced they recruited Smak and Viss (Colton ‘Viss’ Visser and Austin ‘Smak’ Haggett), who are two longtime Arma 3 Battle Royale players, and they’re top of the leaderboards in Battlegrounds kinda consistently. There style is quite good, it’s sort of a mix of that aggressiveness, but also knowing when to pick your battles, so I don’t think we’re gonna see one style of play. I think we’ll definitely see some different strategies from different teams.”
Key to the game’s esports success, for Greene, is spectacle. Much of the work right now is working on getting the spectating to feel good, as trying to distill all of the action from a group of 100 people alternating between lying in a hedge, scavenging from buildings or murdering each other.
One of the toughest things about putting that game on, and trying to direct it for a live broadcast, is knowing where to look and when. That’s a balance the team are still struggling with.
“Trying to capture all the action is really hard in a battle royale game because there’s so many players. But we have some plans to add some stuff that will make it a lot easier and right now we’re working on 3D replays coming into the game, and 2D replays, but 3D so you can watch the game back in the engine. You’ll have a free cam so you can watch your whole round and follow yourself or someone else around and see what happened.
Not a Battlegrounds esports event. Yet.
“Using that tech, I think it’ll be much easier for spectating esports, because if we have a way to record the match as it’s happening and then playing it back for spectators, it doesn’t matter if we miss all of the action, we can send it on to a commentator and get it shown during quieter moments or after the match.”
“There’s loads of stuff we have to add to make it a good spectator sport, and make spectating worthwhile, but it’s just really hard to capture the action when 100 people are fighting constantly.”
So, what does a perfect event look like for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds?
“This is something we’re thinking about a lot because doing two days of events for a Battle Royale event isn’t feasible.” said Greene. “The standard format, where you need 6 to 8 hours every day, it’s gonna be hard because you can’t invite 1,000 players to come and duke it out. You can kind of get away about 128 or so and even that’s pushing it.”
“For me, I’ve always wanted to create spectacle in esports. I love watching CS:GO and the events they do but it’s two teams of five on a stage. That to me is, while it’s cool, I want to see 64 players sitting in the centre of the arena and having the first person have to get up and walk off and that kind of big, massive player base playing for a massive crowd.”
“I’d also love to do a Hunger Games type things where the crowd can vote on their phone for stuff to happen in the game. This is dream world for me, that’s probably not the best idea for a competitive game, but for a game like Battle Royale I think it could work for some ProAm matches or charity stuff that you have a showcase match where the audience can interact with the game from their phone. And that’s the great thing about Twitch is that we can do this with Twitch. They have the tools there to allow us to interact with chat or this kind of stuff so that’s the big dream.”
Your move, event organisers. Battlegrounds continues to be staggeringly successful and it’s currently occupying the #1 spot for most-sold on Steam, in addition to hovering near the top of Twitch’s most popular games. It’s not going anywhere for a while, but it’s comforting to know that the team are taking their competitive hopes and dreams seriously, looking to launch esports events when they’re ready with a bang, rather than a whimper.