In January 2015, the world of video games discovered a new game mode with H1Z1. A hundred players are deployed on a map with the goal of being the only survivor. The area shrinks progressively, forcing players to face each other until only one is left standing, This game mode is more commonly known as Battle Royale, as per Kinji Fukasaku’s movie.
In March 2017, the South Korean publisher Krafton Game Union presents PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, commonly known as PUBG. The success is dazzling and streamers get more and more popular. Battle Royale games reach esports as small tournaments emerge.
Only a few months later, the American developer Epic Games launches Fortnite Battle Royale. Fortnite quickly became a social phenomenon by attracting more than 125 million players in less than a year and generating hundreds of millions of dollars each month. Epic Games announces in 2019 that Fortnite has 250 million players, twice as many as in June 2018.
In February 2019, EA and Respawn Entertainment attempted to take a piece of Epic Games’ success by releasing a new Battle Royale game, called Apex Legends. To stand out from its competitors, Apex Legends opts for squads of three players as well as reappearance beacons, which allow to resuscitate a fallen ally in the fight. The success is immediate, and Apex Legends quickly becomes one of the most streamed game of 2019.
Several franchises are beginning to take an interest in the phenomenon. Call of Duty and Battlefield have developed their own Battle Royale mode on their next games. The Battle Royale is perfectly adapted to streaming, especially thanks to the concept of a deadly zone, which forces players to get closer over the game. Streamers, like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and his 14 million followers, democratize the game with the general public and showcase how a game like Fortnite can be interesting in the esports scene.
The Battle Royale play mode found its public and is now one of the most popular esports gaming mode. It is the random aspect of the royal battle that excites the players: when a game starts, anything can happen. This randomness is also the most difficult part to control for the players. The battle zone is never the same twice in a row, is defined once everyone on the ground, and can thus benefit a formation that decided – unwittingly – to be dropped in the right place. This suspense is perfect for the esports scene, as fans can support each player and believe in them, but it is also complicated to follow scattered players across a large map.
Battle Royale games largely call into question the traditional competitions of esport. With this mode of play, the best player of a game can lose quickly in another. In other words, each game is different, all players leave without weapons, on equal terms. The least we can say is that the audience seems conquered. In the same year as the Fortnite release, the game was watched by nearly 335 million people. This year, it reaches nearly 454 million people. The Battle Royale mode, whether we like it or not, has largely helped to democratize esport. Many streamers now attract big sponsors just like a traditional sportsman. Nike even became this year the partner of the Chinese esport league.
For now, Battle Royale games show no slowdown, however it is difficult to predict how long the most popular games like Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Apex Legends will stay on top. Before that, MOBA games were very trendy with games like League of Legends or Dota 2. Even before, first-person shooters like Counter-Strike were the only one available on the major esports scenes. How will the esports scene look like in five years? No one knows yet, but chances are Battle Royale are not going to disappear anytime soon.