PUBG may not be esports-ready, but it has a future in esports

07 August 2018


By now, it’s fair to say that games that exist within the Battle Royale genre are popular among casual gamers – but how are they faring in the competitive realm?

Well, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is going from strength to strength as of late, but PlayerUnknown himself – Brendan Greene – isn’t satisfied just yet.

The PUBG Global Invitational 2018 was the biggest event to date for the title and the very first from developer PUBG Corp. Before the action kicked off in Berlin at the Mercedes Benz Arena on July 25th, a media conference yielded some news: a five-year esports plan is being implemented.

“It’s something I’ve always said – we’re not esports ready, and we’ve never said we’re esports ready”

During the span of the five-day event, Greene took part in an interview with PCGamesN to discuss the game, the event, esports, and everything in between. The hottest topic he touched on was whether the title, which is often acronised as PUBG, was esports-ready or not, in which he explained that “It’s something I’ve always said – we’re not esports ready, and we’ve never said we’re esports ready. This year is all about getting the game to be esports ready.”

With this comment in mind, we wanted to look at how far away PUBG is from being ready for esports, and how PGI 2018 was a key indicator that there’s an audience for competitive play.


The current state of PUBG

It’s true, PUBG isn’t perfect.

Plagued with bugs and a drop off in popularity due to Fortnite, there’s a long road ahead for PUBG Corp. if it wants the game to return to its former glory. With that said, the last two events – WSOE’s PUBG Pan-Continental and PGI – proved that people want to see the best teams battle it out after numerous rounds to see who’s the best.

It was only August 1st when the developer pushed out a new, substantial update to PUBG’s test server. The update included quality of life updates, dynamic weather to add another challenging element to the game, and limb penetration to make combat situations a little fairer. Changes like this, if they’re executed properly, will all go towards creating a more pleasant experience for players.

Steve “Toffees” Pierce, an analyst who worked at PGI’s European and North American qualifiers, told Esports Insider: “PGI was an amazing showcase for both our community and the game. It was a world-class event that really reinforced PUBG Corp.’s commitment to growing PUBG esports. PUBG has worked hard over the last year to communicate with both Pro players as well as tournament organizers from every region to work towards establishing a unified ruleset and format. The progression towards a unified ruleset combined with the opening of offices and hiring of community and esports managers around the world shows me PUBG Corp. is strapping in for the long haul.”

The last day of PGI showed us a stadium Battle Royale event packed to the gills with people there to watch pros, not streamers or celebrities

The spectating experience, however, is already improving at an impressive rate. PGI’s API usage allowed for live kill-counters and score tracking, addressing a huge criticism and flaw in Battle Royale esports as a whole. In the past, it’s been underwhelming when a tournament finishes as the winner isn’t immediately known – this is due to events using a point-based system and overall scores needing to be calculated. This was drastically improved at the recent event and meant that things were a little smoother and clearer for spectators. Another celebrated addition was the ability to control which team you spectate during each round, allowing viewers to observe their favourite team instead of only catching glimpses of them through the mainstream – this was a necessary development for the esport as it enables fans to follow their chosen team, which is a big part of watching competitive play for many.

According to Esports Charts, PGI had an average of 17.2 million concurrent viewers – with 16.9 million of those coming from China.

The platform also states the overall peak viewership eclipsed 60 million, with 59 million coming from China. These statistics haven’t been verified so it’d be naive to take them as gospel, but even if you discount a lot of the numbers, it still had an incredibly good showing. This, if nothing else, proves that while PUBG isn’t in a perfect state, people still enjoy watching the game as an esport.

Toffees added: “I think until this point it was undeniable that Battle Royale was a great format for CelebriteSports [tournaments involving celebrities and personalities] but there were a lot of doubters when it came to its viability as a stadium-level esport. The last day of PGI showed us a stadium Battle Royale event packed to the gills with people there to watch pros, not streamers or celebrities, but dyed in the cloth pros. I believe the future is bright for PUBG esports.”

Oh My God celebrate
Oh My God celebrate

The five-year plan

The aforementioned five-year plan could well thrust PUBG onto another level of popularity and credibility. Starting in 2019, four regional Pro Leagues will be established: housing talent from Europe, North America, Korea, and China. This may expand when 2020 comes around, but for now, these are the four locations in which PUBG Corp. will create leagues for.

“This is a good move in silencing critics of not having a solidified, consistent ruleset that all teams have to abide by”

This is a good move in silencing critics of not having a solidified, consistent ruleset that all teams have to abide by. Creating a uniformed format for in-game settings, points, and other aspects of competitive PUBG makes overwhelming sense – especially when going into international tournaments. If regions are competing with different rules, then practice going into a tournament can be unfair and put teams at a disadvantage. A level playing field is essential in sports and esports as a whole.

PUBG Corp. also wants to support professional players and teams financially, and they began doing this alongside PGI by introducing branded hoodies in-game. This is part of a new revenue-sharing system that sees a portion of the sales generated from these items going directly to the team.

If all of this sounds similar to what Ubisoft did with Rainbow Six Siege prior to its surge in popularity, then it’s because it is similar. Siege has regional pro leagues that lead into Major tournaments, and a revenue-sharing system based on in-game items that are branded with different teams’ logos and colours.

All in all, PUBG isn’t quite esports ready, but it’s well on its way.

By somewhat remedying the most common complaint of spectating the game, Battle Royale esports is firmly on an upwards trajectory and has a promising future. As Greene said, 2018 is the year of ironing out these creases so PUBG Corp. can continue to give the game a big push into esports popularity.