The battle of the online survival arena games is underway, as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds looks set to take on the immensely popular H1Z1. The new game has been a favourite amongst some of the top Twitch.TV streamers during its closed beta, and recently some have grown tired with H1Z1 and the plethora of known bugs and problems with the game.
The competitor arises just as H1Z1 makes it’s debut into the esports scene, with a huge $300,000 tournament that’s drawn the attention of many top tier organizations. DJ Steve Aoki’s team Rogue, Rick Fox’s NRG Esports, and North American fan favourites Cloud9 have all invested in teams for the tournament. Questions are already being asked about how viable the game is as an esport, the last thing it needs is for a newer, cleaner, better performing rival entering the space.
In fact, some would even argue that the only reason it’s H1Z1 to receive the esports treatment is because there was simply no better alternative. If Battlegrounds continues to live up to the hype, will it too start edging its way into the esports scene? Is there space for two battle royale games in this industry?
First we have to look into the appeal of the battle royale genre. It’s a fairly basic concept: a bunch of people (up to 100) are dropped out of a plane onto an island, which eventually becomes more and more restricted as harmful gas (or an electricity storm) closes off areas of the map. Ultimately, the few that make it to the end will be forced into close quarters combat until a winner is declared. It’s essentially the Hunger Games in video game format.
Whether it be the tactical thought regarding where you’re aiming to land, the manic rush to find a weapon to combat the player that landed just behind you, or the stress of having to leave your spot of cover to move to the safe zone, there’s aspects of these games for everyone. It switches from fun, to hectic, to ridiculous in moments, and that’s what makes a game like H1Z1 the third biggest game on Steam, behind CS:GO and Dota2.
But do those qualities necessarily qualify a game to become an esport?
Kind of. Of course the game does have to be at least somewhat entertaining, otherwise you won’t have any viewers, but once you push a game towards competition, many other factors come into play. Let’s see who pulls out ahead when it comes to these factors. Bear in mind, H1Z1 does already have a well funded tournament on the horizon, while Battlegrounds is still in limited closed beta.
Spectating is arguably the most important factor outside of the gameplay itself when it comes to competition. The debate has largely centred around Overwatch in this regard, as many viewers feel as though the game is too hard to follow, so how does H1Z1 compare?
Using the H1Z1 Invitational hosted at Twitchcon as a basis, it really doesn’t seem as though much thought has been given to making the game spectator friendly. Most of the time, the observer would simply switch from player to player, with the occasional use of a free roaming camera to highlight important areas of the map. In this regard it’s not too bad, however quite like the aforementioned Overwatch, there is very little information available to spectators.
There’s a minimap (sometimes), and a small counter in the top corner indicating how many players are still alive. Of course, this could have developed into something a little better by the time the Fight For The Crown tournament airs next month.
Battlegrounds will likely follow a similar style, though there’s certainly space for a heads up display, showing how well equipped a player is, or even just a scoreboard indicating how many kills competitors have. Surprisingly, H1Z1 has yet to implement in-game spectating for players who die early on in team based game modes. Battlegrounds has enabled the feature in closed beta.
H1Z1 takes this one, by virtue of Battlegrounds not having announced or demonstrated it’s spectating plans, but it won’t be difficult to top what we’ve seen so far.
It’s difficult to have a good competition without good gameplay, and the debate regarding whether or not H1Z1 is a ‘good’ game has been raging ever since it’s initial release. It’s undoubtedly riddled with bugs and counter-intuitive features, however it is simply the best publicly available battle royale game, and did somewhat ‘pioneer’ the way as the most known game of it’s genre.
Battlegrounds, on the other hand, seems to have learned from the mistakes of H1Z1. Most noticeably, the combat and gunplay have been made much more fluid and predictable. One of the more frustrating aspects of H1Z1 is flying round a corner, pointing your shotgun at at enemies head, and having the ensuing shot vanish into nowhere. Fortunately this is not the case with Battlegrounds, with it’s superior bullet registration and hitboxes.
Driving is a little more consistent in Battlegrounds, though sometimes you may still find your vehicle flipping through the air after hitting a small pebble, or even nothing at all. For some reason, neither game has been able to overcome this issue. Movement outside of vehicles is extremely similar, and it’s hard to see any clear distinctions between the two.
It’s still early days for Battlegrounds, but even so, the smooth feel of the game along with some much needed improvements from H1Z1 gives it the edge in this aspect.
Both games really take the L here. At the very least Battlegrounds is honest in it’s minimum requirements, meanwhile H1Z1 offers glimmers of hope to anyone running an older, outdated PC. In reality, both games are going to swallow your FPS and test your CPU to the limit unless you’re running a dedicated gaming rig. There’s nothing more annoying than dying to a bug, especially a known one. H1Z1 has plenty of those, some have been in the game for months. It’s too early to tell if Player Unknown will stay on top of issues brought up on Battlegrounds.
Of which there are also many. Texture loading issues, FPS drops in certain areas of the map, buildings and foliage failing to load, the common battle royale issues. Things have improved a little over the course of the beta, but it’s during the early access phase where we’ll really get a sense of how complete this game will be. Developer Player Unknown has stated that he hopes to completely finish the game in within 6-7 months of release.
H1Z1 has been listed under ‘Early Access’ since February 2016. While updates are still flowing in every month or so, the list of bugs just continues to grow, and players still report performance issues.
Ultimately, both games could do with a lot of work. Neither can completely claim to ‘win’ this point, however Battlegrounds has the opportunity to set a new precedent, assuming the developer lives up to his claim.
Is there room for two?
H1Z1 may already take the crown for battle royale esports. It’s $300,000 tournament is sure to draw eyes to the game, and if successful will no doubt spawn other events. However, it really is the playerbase that decides which games become popular. Almost every top streamer on Twitch has spent the last few weekends on Battlegrounds, and anyone who did manage to get one of the thousands of beta keys handed out would know that games were running constantly, at every time of day.
Both have their merits, and as we’ve seen before, multiple games of the same genre can co-exist in the same industry. However the similarities between the two could mean that they end up battling for space.
It’s likely that neither will end up being a top dog in the esports industry, simply due to the style of the game, and the logistics of hosting an offline event for 100 players competing at the same time. However the genre certainly has a place. How much of a space, and which game takes that space, seems largely up to Player Unknown and Battlegrounds. With some fixes, it could draw the H1Z1 player base in. On the other hand, the fresh competition may spawn a new attitude in H1Z1 developers Daybreak Games, prompting them to work a little harder on going from ‘Early Access’ to completed game.
H1Z1 is available on the Steam store for $20, while Battlegrounds will be available to purchase on March 23 for $30.