The Issue with Battle Royale Games as eSports
Via Kotaku, bolding is my own:
"Last weekend, Epic kicked off its $8 million Fortnite “Summer Skirmish” series with a $250,000 tournament featuring top-tier players and content creators. [...] The tournament was originally set to go for ten games, but Epic swerved the unwieldy thing into a ditch after just four. Lag was unbearable, and players spent most of their time hiding rather than seeking and destroying. The event pulled in hundreds of thousands of viewers, and they came away from it in a state of near-unanimous disappointment."
Competitive gaming is incredibly popular at the moment, and competing in front of an audience is often seen as the pinnacle of skill and success in a video game. The pervasiveness of Twitch has sky-rocketed Epic Games' Fortnite to a level of popularity unmatched by any other game in recent memory. Kids play the game in my sister's classroom for hours (until she reminds them they'll never be as good as Ninja, resulting in a few trips to the nurse for sick burns); young adults have a roster of mentors and idols they can access wherever there is a WiFi connection; and full grown adults are building online communities around Fortnite that spend hours together spamming build and pushing each other around in shopping carts. Fortnite seems to be locked into the video game zeitgeist, and doesn't appear to be leaving anytime soon.
However, unlike the world of MOBAs (Dota 2 and League of Legends being amongst the most established), the Battle Royale genre as a whole has yet to break a certain barrier that could very well determine the length of its lifespan: can it be an eSport? Some would be quick to conclude that it obviously can, but I'm not as convinced: one of the linchpins of enjoying an eSport from the perspective of a spectator is that it is easy to view and understand. Unfortunately for games like Fortnite, and for the Battle Royale genre more broadly, they are nearly impossible to watch and enjoy as a spectator.
A few months back while watching a PUBG tournament, I noticed the camera angles were a weird mix of first and third-person shots, mixed in with a few cuts to a bird's eye view when firefights broke out. Color-coded outlines of players helped define the different squads so the viewers could tell the teams apart - not bad! What was bad, though, was during every single round when there were three squads remaining. As the zone closed in, each of them picked a spot on the circle's edge to camp...and camp, and camp. This lasted until, finally, the circle started its final shrink, and all three teams moved in at once, killed each other, and the game was over in seconds. As a viewer (and one that has played countless hours of PUBG myself), it was impossible to discern what happened in those final moments. Just an incredible letdown of what was supposed to be the pinnacle of action and the climax of the tournament. Instead, it was a literal mess of five seconds. Even the commentators had a difficult time explaining the action. In contrast to the term that Dr. Joey Gawrysiak described as "painless viewing" in our eSports Podcast episode --the end of this PUBG tournament was pretty painful to watch.
It seems that Epic Games' first "Summer Skirmish" match had a bit of a mess to work through, and though I do truly believe in Epic Games as a developer and do believe they are doing a great job with Fortnite (though I don't enjoy the game myself), I also think the adaption of the Battle Royale genre into the world of eSports is not an easy move to make. They will have to overcome one hurdle that I don't think any Battle Royale developer has been able to achieve: how do we make this easy to understand for viewers?