The PUBG potential – will it make it as an esport?

02 August 2017


PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (“PUBG”) has had unprecedented success since its early-access release. The game has now sold over 6,000,000 copies and is immensely popular on Twitch amongst streamers and viewers alike. Spend an evening on Twitter and countless images of chicken dinners will appear.

ESL and PUBG announced the PUBG Gamescom Invitational which will take place late August in Cologne. There’s set to be $350,000 on the line and PUBG has revealed a monetised cosmetic crate where proceeds would go towards the esports event and excess to charity and the best PUBG players competing.

Ignoring the debate around whether an early-access game should be monetising crates, PUBG certainly presents an interesting prospect as an esports title. At the moment, with the game in early access there’s still glitches that need to be ironed out, server stability remains an issue but we still see even the most established of games in full release (cough, FIFA, cough) experiencing all aforementioned issues.

There’s been certain esports initiatives already — although they’ve more been as fun initiatives. Dota 2 studio Moonduck have run small invitationals, inviting players and talent to compete and be cast and it’s gone down a treat.

I decided to cast the question out to the community and find out just whether or not people believe that PUBG will make it as a competitive esports title.

My two cents: 

Initially going into the conversation, my opinion was simply that games such as H1Z1 and PUBG don’t particularly make compelling spectator esports. From my perspective I’ve watched countless hours of streamers playing PUBG and it’s always fun to watch streamers hunt for kills and play the game in the most active manner possible.

The more competitive you get, the more conservative gameplay becomes. Having read about the recent competitive H1Z1 at DreamHack, one player from a squad sat in a police car for a good 10/15 minutes without moving to secure higher placement. That’s the kind of gameplay that is not particularly fun to watch but I can understand from a strategic perspective that it’s wholly necessary at times. Not every esport has to be frenetic in play, and there’s a lot of games where things aren’t the most exciting for patches so that’s more of a by-the-by point. Also the spectator tool and sheer size of map makes it tough to get on board with. Then again, the developers have time to try and create the best possible tool to broadcast the game. It’s still very early on in as the game is still in early access. 

To those claiming it’s too based on RNG, many consider Hearthstone an esport so I don’t really buy the “luck factor” as a big issue here. 

Without further ado, here’s some of the opinions gathered from folk on Twitter: 

Yes, it will make it: 

Steve “Toffees” Pierce – Caster and talk-show host

Steve Toffees Pierce
Credit: Steve “Toffees” Pierce

I think it has potential as an esport but much of that potential rides on his presentation. If it’s treated like just another shooter I don’t think it can work as there’s simply not enough action and too much RNG.

I see it as a sort of a crossover. It’s not just a shooter there’s a farming phase, a positioning phase and a pushing phase. There’s loadouts that are ideal, and some not ideal but within PUBG you still have traditional FPS roles — i.e. sniper, AR, Scout, pusher that you might see in a traditional shooter.

I believe sports benefit from storylines. They create viewer buy-in and foster an interest and a loyalty that extends beyond just a highlight play. The format of a PUBG game provides the perfect opportunity to juxtapose storyline and action gameplay into a seamless and engaging viewer experience.

Luke Cotton – Code Red Esports

We are very bullish about PUBG’s potential as an esport, and through our talent agency, Code Red, are actively looking to represent PUBG commentators, which is unusual for a new title in its formative stages. Firstly, PUBG has gained a huge and dedicated playerbase, which is a prerequisite. However, of equal importance is that when a casual player watches a highly skilled player, they can both appreciate the difference in ability and style but also feel like they are learning something from watching. This will keep players engaged and watching professional matches.

“The most difficult thing will be to ensure broadcasters and commentators do not miss key looting moments.”

In a PUBG match, every moment is critical. This is why games like CS:GO work so well as esports: if you are a hardcore fan, you can feel the importance of what would appear to casual viewers as minor plays, but it also has its “wow” moments. PUBG has this too, as a player being spotted puts the viewer on edge, as they realise that should mean “game over” shortly, but a single player can also take down a four-man squad – but it is difficult and rare enough to be impressive when it does happen.

PUBG can be a slow paced, yet tense, game to play, but that won’t be problematic from a broadcast POV given that there only needs to be a single interesting moment going on at a particular time on the map: and there always is. Observing will be critical and possibly even more important than commentary.

“What is unique about PUBG (and other battle royale games) is the potential for multiple storylines throughout a match.”

The most difficult thing will be to ensure broadcasters and commentators do not miss key looting moments (sniper rifles, 8x’s and suppressors) and thus miss players who are likely to have a significant impact on the end game. It is a concern that someone could win a major tournament but viewers might not see much – if anything – of how they do it. However, this is something that could be built into the spectator client or fed into a second screen in production through an API, if the developer, Bluehole, wants to.

The main issue that PUBG will face is its randomness. Luck in looting and in the zone contractions will play a hugely significant role in matches between players on a professional level, more-so than any minor differences in skill. What is unique about PUBG (and other battle royale games) is the potential for multiple storylines throughout a match.

It also helps that in Bluehole, PUBG has a developer which appears to be dedicated to making people enjoy their game. I expect that they will do everything possible within the game to give it every chance of success – which is not always the case.


My 3 day old opinion on PUBG is that if this many people are playing it in Alpha, I feel like it is here to stay. That being said very lacklustre spectator wise at the moment but in the age of Twitch you can watch the best players. 

David Duffy – Feature Writer, exceL Esports

Personally, I think it will, but it will more than likely be a niche esport along the lines.

There’s definitely a space for an esport title that is not the typical moba/fps type. And what I love about watching PUBG is that it is absolutely watchable, and that each round creates its own storylines.

Form is essentially irrelevant, being at the mercy of the map and the loot spawns, but there’s more than enough strategy in team games for it to be dynamic.

I think their biggest challenge is the format – I do like what they did with the Invitational, and what they will do with the Gamescom event – having different types of rounds then a points ranking system, but also how many teams (assuming 4 players) will form a round.

It’s certainly an interesting time, and I do think the viewership will translate into the esports side – especially if it continues to attract personalities rather than just players (if you get what I mean).


Then there’s Matt who sits perched beautifully on the fence: