What’s Going On with PUBG eSports?
Many competitive games these days are built around the possibility of turning them into spectacles where professional players fight for the top positions and financial rewards while providing the viewers with interesting and entertaining content. PUBG eSports severely lack features in this aspect but the fans don’t seem to really care. They want their favorite Battle Royale game to take off in the eSports.
The success of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was as unexpected as it was record-breaking, and a game that started its life as a mod suddenly attracted millions of players while still in early access. It has also reached a whole new level of popularity when famous streamers and YouTubers picked up the game and began presenting it to an even greater audience. Its popularity rose exponentially, and to this day, PUBG is often amongst three most played titles on Twitch. People just can’t get enough of it.
However, there are many obstacles PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds must push aside if it wants to become an eSport game such as League of Legends or Starcraft 2. Even though Brendan Green, the man behind PUBG’s success and the “actual” PLAYERUNKNOWN stated that he always had PUBG eSports in mind when creating the game, there is hardly anything implemented into the game as of now to make that task easier. Greene has stated that their primary wish is to make the game more stable and improve the existing features during 2018. He added that once all of these things have been taken care of “we can look into providing more tools for proper eSports.”
But many want to see PUBG eSports now, not by 2019. In fact, the game already had its maiden voyage as an eSports game, first in Gamescom Invitational in 2017 and then in IEM Oakland. The first airing on Gamescom was a bit rough around the edges as it showed all the problematic issues PUBG had when it came to eSports, but the performance in IEM Oakland was already significantly better. The hopes are high for IEM Katowice, Poland, where sixteen teams will clash against each other by the end of February 2018. Nine of these sixteen teams have been invited; the final seven teams were decided through qualifiers where 512 (!) teams fought for these spots. Both the ESL and players are eager to get the show on the road despite the game not being truly ready for tournament broadcasts. But what exactly are those obstacles that lay in the path of PUBG eSports?
Balance in PUBG
Something that players are fully aware of and are used to is the (im)balance of the gameplay. If you imagine any given game of LoL, DOTA, HotS orStarcraft, to name just a few of eSports favorites, you will easily notice that these are balanced in terms of starting positions. All the maps are mirrored from one half to the other, meaning that all teams play under the same circumstances. If there were imbalances on these maps, this would naturally result in imbalanced and unsatisfactory games.
Randomness is very strong with PUBG. Starting off with the very plane, which trajectory can never be predicted (and, accordingly, the zones of viable landing places can never be known in advance), players are also at the mercy of the ever-contracting, random-appearing circle of death, random bombarding and, probably the most annoying issue: the random loot. A team can jump to a single location three times and each time find different amounts and types of weapons and gear – not to mention that at some point they might have opposition and not the luxury of looting a compound on their own. True, there are places with a higher chance of military grade weapons and gear, but that is sadly just what it is – a chance. There is no guarantee of an 8X scope spawning in those places.
Focus on Action
One especially painful memory from the Gamescom Invitational was how the commentators often oversaw a specific part of the action while they talked about something else happening on the map. They can’t be really blamed, with 64 players divided into 16 squads there is way too much action to be aware of and comment on. In usual eSport matches, the commentators have one or two focal points of fighting, and they are easy to cover and comment about. It is not clear how this issue will ever find a solution.
Lack of Map Diversity
The first tournaments were played on the Erangel map since the second map (Miramar) came out only when the game was fully released. Judging by the time the PUBG development team needed to release Miramar, we can hardly expect to see more than one, maximum two maps by the end of 2018. In many eSports it is a regular practice for players to vote up their favorite maps and downvote those they do not want to play on. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will see any improvement in this area in the near future since making and balancing maps for PUBG is quite a complicated affair.
Proper technical abilities and tools that are part of the game and enable commentators and observers (these roles are sometimes taken by a single commentator, but more often these are split between several people) to keep the overview of the game and stay ahead of the action. These tools enable them to perform different actions such as replay key moments or summon up important statistics for the match.
One thing that is sorely missed in PUBG is some kind of statistics screen that shows who is still alive and how the individual teams are doing, how many kills they had and how well equipped they are for the final battle.
Lack of Strategies and Tactics
If you follow any famous streamer you might quickly come to the conclusion that they are actually playing quite recklessly and base their decisions purely on “let’s go out and see what happens!” They rely on their reflexes and hundreds of hours spent in the game to survive encounters and rack up kills. To be fair, PUBG will probably never be the game to serve as a model for different strategies and tactics, but there have been significant cases of teams winning games by relying more on stealth or organized teamplay than direct confrontations. We can be certain that the Meta of this game is still in flux and that we may see a lot of changes in the upcoming months and years.
Ready or not, PUBG eSports is a fact; now all that remains is to turn this experience into a controlled, functional competition model that can entertain the audience in the right way. When that is accomplished this game can look forward to many years of popularity and participation in countless eSports tournaments.