After PUBG and Fortnite, Where is the Battle Royale Genre Headed?

Fortnite Battle Royale

There are two types of people in this world: those who play “Battle Royale” games and those who can’t stop hearing about them.

For a long time, I considered myself one of the latter until, after months of convincing, I’ve finally joined the former.

I have to admit, I was initially hesitant of these types of games because I knew they were an evolution of what had come before. It’s not the greatest criticism, simply noting that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds couldn’t be anything special because I had seen the mods that inspired it. That’s a reductive way of thinking. I’ll gladly own up to that, but its important to realise how uninspired these games are. It doesn’t take away from their success, but let’s be clear: the Battle Royale genre has existed for a long time and thanks to the rivalry between PUBG and Fortnite, it will most likely exist for a long while to come.

“If traditional shooters are the Olympics, Battle Royale games are the WWE”

The breaking point for me came when my friends started playing Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode regularly. I had dipped my toe in when it first had launched, but I felt that after a few games I had gotten my fill. Even now, I don’t play it all that much – but I get why people love it. It’s free, which makes it a bit too easy to hit the install button. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously, filled to the brim with goofy emotes and fun customisation options. Maybe most importantly of all, is that it realised what PUBG didn’t: if traditional shooters are the Olympics, Battle Royale games are the WWE.

For PUBG, I’m not sure that realisation will ever come. The game’s lead designer, PlayerUnknown himself Brandon Greene, has stated before that he hopes PUBG becomes an esports phenomenon. The practical realities of turning a 100-player free-for-all into a competitive esport is tough enough, but it seems like Greene is up to the challenge. At Gamescom last year the game’s developers, Bluehole Studios, partnered with the ESL to create the first ever PUBG Invitational. If the event was to be a test-run for Battle Royale’s potential as an esport, things didn’t go so well.

If anything, the PUBG Invitational proved how complicated it is to view a single Battle Royale match from an objective point-of-view. PUBG’s success on streaming platforms may have been unprecedented, but on Twitch you’re normally just watching one person play the game. You become invested in their personal journey. When you begin to look at the match from the top down, the individual stories become lost in the shuffle. One hundred players dropping in at once, slowly being whittled down over the course of an hour doesn’t make for engaging entertainment.

More competition than ever

Even still, Greene seems convinced PUBG belongs next to the likes of Overwatch and League of Legends. Time will tell his continued commitment is justified, but I feel comfortable looking at the approach Epic has taken with Fortnite. Its lighter tone seems to fit the genre, showcasing Epic’s understanding of why people seem to enjoy these types of games in the first place. But as we’ve seen with the recent reveal of BossKey Productions’ Radical Heights, there is more competition than ever. So far, PUBG and Fortnite have been the only games anyone has cared about in the space which has let them go unchallenged. Now, as more and more games vie for the Battle Royale throne, what will happen when the next big hit suddenly emerges?

There’s some ambitious-looking outliers out there, like Mavericks: Proving Grounds, which has been taking a different approach to the Battle Royale formula. Rather than simply replicating the experience found in PUBG or Fortnite, Mavericks will attempt to provide a more emergent experience where players are tracking and hunting each other down in real time using other players’ interactions with the environment to their advantage. It’s a radical shift that still has a lot more to show before it lives up to its lofty goals, but it shows that there are developers out there who are looking to revolutionise how we think of the genre as a whole.

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The Next Big Thing

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been convinced of the long-term viability of Battle Royale games, but just because I believe in them doesn’t mean they’ll be here to stay forever. There are still a lot of questions as to where the genre can go and not a lot of answers. Will PUBG be successful in its attempt at becoming a high-level esport? What will Fortnite do to keep players coming back? And will games like Radical Heights and Mavericks be able to make a name for themselves? Or are players already moving on to the next big thing?

I’m not sure what will ultimately happen to a genre that has exploded as fast as Battle Royales have, but I do know why I enjoy them. The experience they offer is unique in games – a massive multiplayer match where danger is ever-present, there is a constant sense of tension that feels inescapable. The few times I’ve been able to make it to the end of a match have been as rewarding as any fight in Dark Souls or Monster Hunter. Knowing that the triumph was against another player makes it all the more gratifying, but eventually even that sensation will fade over time. Although with as much success as PUBG and Fortnite have been receiving, I’m not even sure if that matters.

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