In my early 20’s I had a couple of friends that worked at Video Ezy (for those under 20, you used to be able to go into a store and rent DVD’s rather than just download them on the internet. Video Ezy was a store that provided this service) and used to find hidden gems of films for me to watch. It was through this process that I found Wet Hot American Summer (which I maintain to this day is the funniest movie I have ever seen) well before Netflix revived the cult classic by making both a prequel and sequel series. It was also through this process that I found the film Battle Royale well before every video game on the planet started scrambling to make a ‘battle royale’ mode for their games.
Often imitated but never surpassed, Battle Royale is the final film by Japanese filmmaker Kinji Fukusaku in which the Japanese government has passed the "BR ACT” to try and restrain Japan's out of control youth. The Act demands that one class is chosen to participate in the annual Battle Royale where they have three days to fight to the death until a single “winner” remains. Each student is given a bag with some supplies and different weapons then they are sent out in the remote island where they have been transported and left to fend for themselves (and mostly die). This is basically the premise of the video game PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds (PUBG) and it is not by coincidence. The game’s creator, Brendan Greene, has openly stated that the game is based on the film, and while there are a few changes (players are not necessarily students, they parachute out of a plane into the game, they have to loot for weapons and supplies rather than being given them at the start) it does capture the feel of the film pretty well, even if it does seem to miss the actual point.
I have missed the PC gaming revolution that has happened over the last decade or so completely. It came at a time in my life where I was simply not in a position to have the money for a PC that could handle the top tier games, nor did I have the time to invest in doing this. While I have always been a fan of first person shooters, I have played them predominantly on console. The last first person shooter I played on a PC was the original Quake. About 20 years ago. Back when you used ONLY the keyboard for all actions, and not a combination of mouse and keyboard. Things have changed a lot since then.
So I wasn’t one of the many people who was playing the early access version of PUBG in 2017 that helped to develop it into the game that it has become today. Nor was I one of the people that was playing it on PC at its peak player numbers of 30 million worldwide. In fact I have never played the game on PC. The first time I played the game was on my mobile phone. And it was great for a phone game, but it was the fact that they hadn’t just made a cheap knock off platform version and that the maps etc were exactly the same as the PC version that I was most impressed with. Since then they have released the game on XboX and I purchased it and played it a little bit, but the truth is that I am absolutely terrible at it. So it is particularly unusual then for me to go on to become obsessed with the game as a whole, and in particular the competitive version of the game.
It all comes back to Battle Royale. To this day it is one of my favourite films ever made. So even just the IDEA of a game based on it appeals to me a WHOLE lot. Why should the fact that I am terrible at it hold me back from enjoying it? The year is (or was at the time that I got into it) 2018 and Twitch exists for just this reason. I began to wonder what the game would be like with top line players against each other. My first stop was YouTube where I found that there had been a few large scale competitions held (it was around April 2018 at this point) in Oakland, California and Katowice, Poland. As well as an initial tournament in Germany that had less comprehensive coverage (as they seemed to be figuring out how this was all going to work). I watched both the Oakland and Katowice tournaments from start to finish. In those days they were having trouble finding the best way to make it work as a broadcast event, but one thing that seemed to be settled was that play the ‘squad’ version (teams of 4) of the game was the best. There were plenty of issues, but I still couldn’t get enough. The organisers were smart enough to hire some of the best casters in the business. People like Pansy and Toffees were able to bring the matches to life for someone like me who had such little experience with both competitive gaming and playing this game in particular. Between-match analysis from Avnqr and Steel helped me figure out who was who and what to expect from the next match*. I would later find out that I was learning the “meta” of the gameplay. It was an exciting new world to learn about.
The biggest problem that PUBG has as a spectator esport is the sheer number of teams that play at once. In major esports such as League of Legends, CS:GO, Rocket League etc it is the same as most team sports. 2 teams playing against each other. It is fairly easy to follow the action because there is only so much that can happen at the one time. These days in PUBG it is relatively well understood that the game works best with 16 teams playing but there have been many major events, including last year’s first real world championship, with 20 teams. It is absolutely impossible to catch all of the action, especially live.** In the last 12 months there have been MANY adjustments made, both in game by PUBG Corp as well as by the companies that are broadcasting the events to make the experience more interesting/easy to follow, and thankfully, they seem to be at a level where they are ready to hit the ground running for the Pro Leagues that are all about to start across the globe.
Having followed the progress of PUBG while it found it’s legs as a competitive esport, I feel like I have gotten in on the ground floor and am really interested in tracking how this first official season plays out. To that end I am looking to cover the European and North American leagues where I can. Esports is an addictive pastime and I have found my gateway drug in PUBG.
*This seems like the right time to address it, so here goes. One of the biggest hurdles that you have to get over if you are going to get into esports are the self-given monikers that the players use for themselves. They are the usernames that they identify by when they are gaming and they can seem ridiculous at first. It can feel hard to take the match seriously when you hear the Casters calling names like Skadoodle, Hungrybox or Scump, but when you learn that these 3 in particular have earned a combined $1.3 million in prizemoney over their competitive careers, it helps. A bit. You just have to accept it as part of the culture and move on.
**I have often wondered if it would do better if it were not broadcast live, but if it were to have a package put together after the match for casters to commentate on as though they are watching live with all of the major action captured. But it is frankly not a realistic option with everything that makes esports great.