Battle Royale, Battle Royale, Battle Royale. It seems like anywhere you play right now in whichever gaming platform; the mainstream audience cannot get enough of the survival shooter hype. We’ve seen so many trends in gaming blowing up faster than Octomom giving birth but not as extensive as this genre. Today we’ll be looking at the battle royale trend that became a phenomenon, starting from its humble roots to its peak this 2018 and analyzing if it will survive for at least the next 5 years in the world of gaming.
I. The Trendsetters Before Battle Royale
Sure, multiplayer gaming had several moments of reaching mainstream stardom such as the emergence of Counter-Strike and the grand blowout of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, specifically Defense of the Ancients aka DotA and League of Legends, to the never-ending yearly success of Call of Duty. Let’s look at key years in which certain multiplayer games became top trends all around the world, leading to today’s battle royale hype.
- Inspired by early FPS games such as the classic Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, the ever-pioneering game developer, id Software, sought to create a new realm of shooting; one that is faster, grittier and tested the skills of players. It was called Quake. Upon release, it received decent reviews but to the dev team, they weren’t very proud of the release, and so, 2 years later, they created Quake II, which in all perspectives, was so much better than the first one. Its main competitor, Unreal, created by Epic Games, sought to make the similar formula but better.
- 1999 was the peak of Arena Shooters, with Quake III and Unreal Tournament, the sequel to Unreal, being one of the first biggest rivalries in a multiplayer genre. Quake III was also one of the first games to exclude the single-player campaign in favor of focusing on the fan-favorite multiplayer. Both games, Quake III and Unreal Tournament, were highly-praised for their addictive gameplay, fast shooting and objective snatching.
- It was because of this game that the Unreal Engine came into existence.
- After Valve released its open-source software from their FPS phenomenon, Half-Life, one college student named Minh Le sought to use the Half-Life engine into creating a more slow-paced, team-oriented tactical shooter based on real-life weapons and actual soldiers. That game came to be known as Counter-Strike. The game needs no explanation anymore as everyone knows how mind-blowing and distinctive the game is: everything from the sounds to the very vibes of the game. It’s so popular, it could create its own languages such as de_dust2, 4-2, Rush B and Scoutsknives.
- While Counter-Strike was such a huge success, no one dared to come close and compete against its own formula. There were, however, a large influx of tactical slow-paced FPS singleplayer/coop games mainly from Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy series such as Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. Other tactical games also became popular during this period such as the SWAT series by Sierra and the Conflict series by Pivotal Games.
- This was also the period where EA Games shined with their tactical class-based multiplayer game series, Battlefield, with its first release of Battlefield 1942, the follow-up Battlefield Vietnam and the critically-acclaimed Battlefield 2 in 2005. The latter would influence modern FPS for the next decade.
- While MMORPGs has been around for quite a while already, the release of World of Warcraft in 2004 was the time when the genre became a mainstream phenomenon to the point where even non-gaming celebrities began playing it.
- As the popularity of WoW grew, other gaming companies sought to become threatening adversaries against it: Games such as MU Online, Guild Wars, Final Fantasy, Ragnarok Online and tons of Asian-based MMORPGs began to boom. While all these games may have large numbers of players, none were still worthy against Blizzard Entertainment’s behemoth online multiplayer game.
- WoW peaked in the dawn of 2010, when the whole game changed after the Cataclysm expansion, spawning over 12 million unique players.
- World of Warcraft is also the first ever MMORPG to have an esports competition.
2005-2015—Multiplayer Online Battle Arena
- In 2005, a Warcraft III mod would become one of the most unique multiplayer games that defined its own genre. It was called Defense of the Ancients or DotA for short, featuring simpler elements derived from the RTS system, with the player just focusing on one hero in a tower-defense match against 5 opponents versus his own party of 5. What was once just a gimmick multiplayer has become one of modern gaming’s most revolutionary formulas in the world of competitive gaming.
- 2009 was the year long-time DotA fans witnessed a worthy opponent against DotA called League of Legends—a game made by Riot Games wherein some of the creators of the original DotA helped establish. The opposing MOBA game had simpler controls, faster matches, easier key bindings and a more cartoony style of graphics, complete with cel-shading and colorful cast of characters. It would later peak in 2014 as the game would grow even further and make esports into an influential type of competition that caught the eyes of mainstream sports channels such as ESPN into broadcasting it.
- Due to the global phenomenon of League of Legends, other game developers sought to compete against it: Heroes of Newerth, Titans, DC Infinite Crisis and Guardians of Middle-Earth are one of the few examples. HoN became the close second to LoL while some still played the original DotA. This was the era of the MOBA genre—a trend that quite a handful of players thought would die out soon but ended up eating their own words as the genre has kept on growing and kept up with modern day video gaming.
- 2013 was the release of the sequel to the original MOBA, DotA 2, which was now owned, published and developed by Valve themselves, with the support of the Source engine. This became the biggest rival of LoL, setting up a huge faction of gamers between the two titles. Loyal fans since 2005 cried for joy for the sequel, vowing their allegiance to the original MOBA title.
- In 2014, no one saw another MOBA coming that would become a cult-hit on Steam: Hi-Rez Studios’ SMITE—a unique take on the MOBA genre with the action of 3rd person games. Its playerbase may not have blown into tens of millions but it is certainly regarded as a very successful MOBA game.
- Also that same year was Vainglory, a MOBA game exclusive for the iOS and Android which was claimed as “MOBA perfected to the touch.” It became a smash hit and has then been an evergreen competitive game for smartphones even to this day.
- MOBA was the first genre of its kind to turn from a huge free-to-play hype trend into a steady evergreen type of multiplayer game for a decade and counting.
2007-2012 Modern Class-Based FPS
- Not to be confused with other modern-themed shooter games such as CS and Battlefield 2, 2007 became a big year for 2 beloved games of the decade: Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare and Team Fortress 2 (Which was part of the Orange Box)
- The popularity of CoD4 brought in mainstream stardom where big media outlets such as CNN, NBC, BBC and NY Times note them as “Violent video games that will affect your children.”
- While Battlefield 2 may have started custom classes, CoD4 was a lot faster, simpler and easy to pick up, with lots of inspirations coming from the aforementioned FPS hit from EA Games.
- CoD4 was the first of its kind to add mods to weapons, perks to choose from for your class as well as your whole loadout.
- In that same year, Team Fortress would make a huge come back with a large makeover following its predecessor, Team Fortress Classic.
- Team Fortress 2 is dubbed as the “king of class-based shooters”, complemented with its own identity, characters that are both memorable and funny and an unbelievably addictive gameplay that caters to both new and veteran players of the series. It was the pioneer of fixed loadout class/hero-based FPS with a little touch of arena shooter schematics.
- While both games were distant from each other in terms of gameplay and aesthetics, both became huge success in the genre; Activision capitalized on Call of Duty 4’s mainstream success by releasing the same title every year, repeating the same formula but on different timelines and stories. In 2010, with the release of CoD Black Ops, the multiplayer daily activity finally peaked to 2 million players, making it the most successful multiplayer game in the franchise.
- Team Fortress 2’s player base would soon double in 2011 after Valve announced it to be a free-to-play game, reaching up to 1.5 million players on a daily basis.
- Call of Duty’s last stop with its modern-day era warfare was with Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, wherein that same year of 2011 became a large adversary to EA Games’ most hyped game of that year, Battlefield 3.
2009-2016 Crafting and Survival Games
- While this genre was never a competitive multiplayer at all, its system did manage to attract a large sum of players, particularly with Minecraft, developed by Mojang.
- Minecraft was the first of its kind—an 8-bit yet 3D world wherein there is no story but letting the world create the story for the player.
- What turned out to be a niche video game title became one of the most mainstream titles to ever be released.
- It tested the creativity of players on how they develop shelters and mold worlds to their own liking as well as surviving as much as they can in an unknown random world.
- Minecraft was supposed to be just a simple survival game but turned out to even become a canvas for artists to design on.
- It peaked to over 74 million players as of 2017
- Its main adversary all this time was Terraria—while its concept is similar to Minecraft, this one was a sidescroller but with double the RNG as well as accompanied with lavish environment designs, creative boss battles, and ear-candy music.
- It may not have the same number of unique players but it did become one of modern gaming’s most beloved titles as it offered everything great about video games from past to present.
- Terraria is regarded as one of the most highly reviewed games on Steam.
- Following the success of Minecraft and Terraria, just like other trends before it, other game development companies wanted a slice of the survival success.
- Games such as ARK, Rust, Conan, and tons of other 8-bit 3D games suddenly burst into the Steam store, with the majority of them being on Early Access.
- It was pretty much the Battle Royale trend back then with so many oversaturated survival/crafting games.
- In the end, only a few were left successful. Minecraft, Terraria, and Rust being the best ones out there.
- Due to the creative potential of the genre, some schools even implanted Minecraft to be an art simulator for students aged 8-15 years old.
- Majority of the population was filled with pre-teens and teenagers.
- The crafting/survival genre would later influence the Battle Royale genre, particularly with Fortnite.
2016-2017 Class-Based FPS Part 2
- While Team Fortress Classic and Team Fortress 2 originated the class-based FPS, Blizzard Entertainment sought to make the very first FPS in their lineup of successful games. In 2014, they announced Overwatch—a game that was similar to TF2 but with a more mainstream vibe.
- In 2016, Overwatch was launched and it was already a success before it even released.
- On the first week, the game hit 7 million players, marking it the biggest player count in a multiplay game within the first 7 days.
- Its success marked hero/class-based FPS into mainstream fame, with the characters being very pleasing to every person of all walks of life.
- Naturally, other game studios wanted in on the hero-based FPS hype. Games such as Paladins by Hi-Rez Studios and LawBreakers by Bosskey Productions wanted in on the action too.
- Because of this occurrence, it marked a comeback to classic arena shooter titles such as Quake Champions and Unreal Tournament 2016 to compete with the now-revived fast arena-like class-based shooters.
- Overwatch peaked at 35 million players the following year.
II. The Rise of Battle Royale
It all started from a Japanese thriller back in the year 2000 called Battle Royale, which was directed by legendary director Kinji Fukasaku. The movie shocked everyone with its inhumane plot and horrific storyline while blending good character building and a tragic conclusion. Here is the summary of the movie, courtesy of Prissy Panda Princess from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0266308/:
Forty-two students, three days, one deserted Island: welcome to Battle Royale. A group of ninth-grade students from a Japanese high school has been forced by legislation to compete in a Battle Royale. The students are each given a bag with a randomly selected weapon and a few rations of food and water and sent off to kill each other in a no-holds-barred (with a few minor rules) game to the death, which means that the students have three days to kill each other until one survives–or they all die. The movie focuses on a few of the students and how they cope. Some decide to play the game like the psychotic Kiriyama or the sexual Mitsuko, while others like the heroes of the movie–Shuya, Noriko, and Kawada–are trying to find a way to get off the Island without violence. However, as the numbers dwell down lower and lower on an hourly basis, is there any way for Shuya and his classmates to survive?
After such a phenomenon, it is natural for the video game community to think, “I wonder if there would be a game just like that movie? That would be totally awesome.” Alas, fast forward 18 years later, those thoughts were answered. But there were several games back then before the whole BR genre blew out of proportions and turned mainstream.
If you weren’t aware, Battle Royale has been in existence in video games as early as 2012 to 2015, starting from a gimmick Minecraft server called Minecraft Hunger Games to an ARMA mod called DayZ.
Following the trend after the Hollywood blockbuster, The Hunger Games, which borrowed heavily from Battle Royale’s story, some gamers sought to replicate the same formula as the movie. Hence, Minecraft Hunger Games was born and it was eerily similar to the movie and even borrowed some soundboards too.
During this period, a fraction of the gaming community could not get enough of the slow but steady reputation of the crafting and survival genre.
From the constant popularity of Minecraft and Terraria, lots of game developers created their own version of the “survival” genre: Rust, Ark and, Conan are to name a few.
As the interest of a large number of gamers that seem to be still quite interested in such gameplay, another development team would create a different kind of survival mode modded from the military shooter, Arma 2. Dean Hall, the lead designer of Bohemia Interactive, brought a new kind of survival multiplayer that featured zombies, player necessities, and permadeath. The game is now known today as Dayz—a game that went from an ARMA 2 back in 2009 and into a standalone title in 2013, as Early Access on Steam.
The game was given mixed reviews based on the Steam community—some call it “buggy as hell”, some are just sick from all the hackers while some do enjoy the realistic survival aspect of it. However, as the game was in Early Access hell for 5 years now, people have grown weary of it and wanted a new kind of survival—one that had minimal bugs, faster gameplay and intense firefights.
In 2015, a new game went out as Early Access too in the Steam platform—it was called “H1Z1” (formerly “H1Z1: King of the Kill”) by Daybreak Game Company, a multiplayer experience where 100 players squared off against each other in an island. Death was permanent in a match so that meant you either kill or be killed. It was a much faster pace than DayZ, however, there were lots of times when it was just plain boring until you found your enemy. The safe circle for players shrinks as the game goes on until it becomes so small that no cover will ever make the remaining few safe. H1Z1, just like DayZ, had its ups and downs in the reviews. The survival game had its full release just last February 2018.
In 2016, a team called Xaviant established a new form of survival game called The Culling—a first-person game that featured creating your own weapons and items while killing off the others on the island. It had the same safe zone system and permadeath as H1Z1, however, the game had constant bad reviews due to excessive bugs. It was released as a full game in October 2017.
On March 2017, PUBG—PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was released on Steam. What happens next would redefine the face of multiplayer throughout all gaming platforms. In the wake of PUBG, tons of Twitch streamers began broadcasting it, introducing a new line of competitive multiplayer to the table. It had a mix of everything—nerve-racking shootouts, low to midkey paranoia of present danger of enemies within the field, fast-paced gunplay, and even stories to tell. The goal of PUBG is very similar to H1Z1 and The Culling: Be #1 or die trying. Unlike the other two, this one had a more realistic take on both graphics, bullet physics, recoil and gun sounds. Because of the influence of Twitch streamers, the game blew out of proportions to become the #1 most played multiplayer game on Steam for months, starting from July that same year.
Amidst the now-called “Battle Royale” type of survival game, Epic Games conducted their own version for just a few months, despite all their hard work on Save the World. On September 2017, Fortnite Battle Royale was released on their Epic Game Launcher as Free to Play Early Access. Ever since the deployment of it, Fortnite has become the #1 highest player activity since the 3rd quarter of 2018. The game receives tons of update almost every week.
III. The Future of Battle Royale on Twitch
I won’t sugarcoat this one. If you’re an aspiring Twitch live streamer who wants to showcase his/her battle royale skills to the public eye, specifically PUBG or Fortnite, you’re going to have a hard time. Out of 2 million active streamers on the platform, almost half of them are either streaming Fortnite or PUBG. It doesn’t matter how good you are in the game. What matters is the exposure you’re getting and if you really want to get famous much quicker, you will need to network with other known live streamers. But until then, being a successful Fortnite or PUBG streamer is going be difficult work. I’m not saying you should give up, but I’m saying it’s going to take a lot of determination to get to the top and outshine the rest of the streamers who already have a decent number of followers.
But another question still remains, “Is battle royale going to stay popular for a long time?” Only time will tell. However, just like Rome back in the ancient times, as much as it has risen, it will fall down at some point. But at the moment, it seems like the genre isn’t going anywhere, especially for the big two, Fortnite and PUBG.
According to Newzoo, Fortnite’s daily active players take up one-third of PC players every day since February. (https://resources.newzoo.com/hubfs/Reports/Newzoo_The_Rise_of_the_Battle_Royale_Genre.pdf)
Here is what www.pcgamesn.com had to say about the statistics:
“Those data indicate that 30.1% of PC players spent time in February enjoying the genre. Fortnite has a 16.3% share of all PC players according to the data, while PUBG has 14.6%. Other games including DayZ, H1Z1, and Ark: Survival of the Fittest are all much lower on the list, with far less than 5% each. Though it seems a chunk of players are enjoying multiple battle royales, since those numbers add up to more than the 30.1% total.
Most of PUBG’s success remains centered in Asia, with 52% of players in China playing the game in February versus Fortnite’s 1% share of the market in the same period. PUBG’s apparently even outdoing League of Legends in China, with Riot’s MOBA holding “only” a 23.3% player share.
Fortnite’s pulling ahead worldwide, however, and that’s reflected in part on video services like Twitch and YouTube. Fortnite holds 17.9% of daily viewership hours while PUBG has 11.8%. Fortnite’s set multiple new streaming records, breaking Twitch’s individual streamer record and stretching for new concurrent viewer records on YouTube’s gaming side.”
Fortnite alone boasts a huge scale of players as well as streamers, following that up with PUBG’s daily million players. Combined, battle royale is definitely dominating the multiplayer scene with concurrent active players and it doesn’t seem to stop anytime soon.
The debacle if battle royale games are going to decline soon has been a huge discussion among gamers for a very long time now. While some say it’s here to stay just like the rise of the MOBA era, others just believe it’s only a gimmicky trend similar to hoverboards and fidget spinners. Even that debate is carried on over to Twitch where the constant overall majority viewership goes to Fortnite, spanning from 100,000 to up to 600,000 even by just a solo streamer.
Love it or hate it, battle royale is still currently a major powerhouse.
Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite and popularly known for their Unreal Tournament and Gears of War series, have even made an all-in bet to putting all the resources and support to their battle royale game, sacrificing their other titles, such as Paragon and Unreal Tournament 2016, in favor of their #1 multiplayer game. They do believe that battle royale is an evergreen genre of competitive gaming.
So many other carbon copies started to surface especially after the worldwide popularity of both PUBG and Fortnite. In fact, you could make a country song with lyrics that are just composed of various battle royale games right now: Radical Heights, Dying Light: Bad Blood, Islands of Nyne, Rules of Survival, Ring of Elysium, Darwin Project, Surviv.io, SOS, Paladins Realm Royale, Battlerite Royale, Knives Out, Mavericks: Proving Grounds and so many more unannounced titles that might come from even AAA game publishers like EA Games, Ubisoft and Activision.
Right now, everyone, especially on Twitch, cannot get enough of the battle royale hype. You can see it in the numbers, especially when the likes of Ninja, Shroud, Summit1G, Myth and Dr. DisRespect are online. While Ninja, Shroud and Summit1G havefortnite been around for so long, they did receive double the followers and subscribers ever since PUBG became a blowout success in the 2nd to 3rd quarter of 2017.
While some say battle royale is going to “kill” other multiplayer games, there is no doubt that the genre could self-destruct itself—if Epic Games manages to ruin their own game just like what happened to RuneScape in 2012, history is definitely going to repeat itself. Currently, Fortnite is in a good condition while PUBG is still trying to fix their own problems and doing their best not to lose its playerbase to its main competition.
Battle Royale is not definitely going to kill the likes of League of Legends or Counter-Strike but it’s undoubtedly a very active multiplayer community. However, just because it became popular so fast doesn’t mean it’s going to stay there. One of these days, people would just get sick and tired of the genre altogether.