The Battle Royale genre has taken over gaming in the last year, and the developers behind the biggest titles are trying to break into esports too. From Daybreak launching a professional league for H1Z1, to Epic Games pledging $100 million in prize money for a single year, to PUBG Corp. implementing a five-year esports plan, there’s a definitive competitive push for the games industry’s hottest genre.
The H1Z1 Pro League was launched in April last year and ultimately closed its doors towards the end of the year, acting as the genre’s first structured competition and its first huge failure. Fortnite is quickly burning through the titanic amount that’s up for grab over the 2018-2019 season but its status as a legitimate esport is still questioned, especially with peculiar additions just days before major events.
PUBG, however, is in prime position to prove that Battle Royale games do have a place in the competitive side of the games industry. PUBG Corp.’s inaugural annual esports season is primed to get underway later this month, with six regions receiving their own structured league and three other regions having their own pro circuits.
Despite this structured approach to competition, a trend is emerging among the competitive landscape: organisations are backing out just weeks before the season gets underway. Initially, it’s easy to point fingers at the effort and say that these organisations simply don’t have faith in the esport, but why have they waited until now to drop out? This is the best approach the game – and frankly, Battle Royale as a whole – has had yet.
With this in mind, it’s worth taking a look into the organisations that have dropped out to see if there’s a common thread or if it’s largely a coincidence. Before getting into each particular case, it’s worth noting that the costly failure of the H1Z1 Pro League could well have stricken fear into the hearts of those behind the teams, but PUBG’s casual player base is in a much healthier position that H1Z1’s was at the time of launch, and it’s not locked into a dreaded Facebook-exclusive broadcast deal. The game isn’t the most popular in terms of competitive viewership, so sponsors aren’t particular flocking to the esport and monetisation is much harder – thus, return on investment isn’t as high in PUBG as it is in more popular and proven titles.
So, which teams have dropped out and why?
FlyQuest was the first organisation to drop out of the game ahead of the leagues, and that was largely due to housing Exko, who was uncovered as a cheater and brought in plenty of controversies and seemingly unwanted attention. If you pair this was the fact that the roster has struggled in the game through several roster iterations then it’s not hard to see that dropping out of PUBG was the easiest move to make.
OpTic Gaming had already received a direct invite to compete in the National PUBG League by the time it decided to depart the game, but was this solely down to a lack of faith in PUBG Corp. and OGN to run an entertaining, profitable competition? Multiple sources have informed us that it’s down to an organisational restructuring on OpTic Gaming’s behalf, where internally they’re revisiting the avenues that are – and aren’t – profitable. Clearly, PUBG just isn’t worth competing in for the North American organisation in its current state. The roster has stuck together and reverted back to its previous guise, Why Tempt Fate (WTF).
Evil Geniuses didn’t manage to qualify for the regional league it was eligible for: the National Pro League. Announcing its exit from PUBG on December 23rd, it’s not too hard to imagine that failing to make the most important – and only worthwhile – competition in North America was enough for the organisation to decide to drop out. On January 4, however, former Evil Geniuses player wo1f revealed in a tweet that this fate was destined to happen in the near future, regardless of qualification.
It doesn’t seem too hard to assume that organisations that didn’t qualify felt it was a pointless endeavour staying in PUBG, and that accounts for G2 Esports too. Both PENTA Sports and Excellerate managed to qualify for the PUBG Europe League but still later dropped out, and there may be a solid reason for this.
It’s – and will likely soon be – that the European League will be hosted in Berlin, and housing a team there over the course of a season won’t be cheap. Factor in that teams can be relegated from the main league and forced to compete in a Contenders league, then that’s a lot of risk for what’s already a low-ROI venture. Only the top teams such as FaZe Clan and Team Liquid can almost guarantee that they will place in the money and make it a worthwhile exercise for both organisations.
So, when you look at the overall landscape of the organisations that have backed out, it’s more nuanced than “they don’t have faith in PUBG”. Each has its own reason, and while there may be a shared thread of ROI worries, there’s not one single problem with PUBG Corp.’s new esports initiative (just yet, at least).