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Where does battle royale stand in esports? Apex Legends World Championship lets the genre shine

This year I was invited to the Apex Legends Global Series Finals. The biggest esports event for Respawn’s battle royale ever. Over 120 professional players were there to take home the trophy, which had been polished down to the last speck of dust.

Divided into four groups, the 40 teams, each with three players, played against each other in the group phase for two days in order to place themselves in the table. Points are awarded for kills and for the team’s placement in the match. The ten best teams go directly to the final round. The rest can compete again in two big elimination phases until the ten free places in the final are filled. There are so many matches spread over the five days. In the final, the teams then have to try to reach 50 points. The first team with 50 points that also wins wins the tournament.

The 40 teams fought for this trophy.

But how can such a tournament with 60 players per match actually work, why is the format of the Apex Legends Global Series so exciting and where does the genre currently stand in the esports scene? I kept asking myself that during the tournament. Because especially as a viewer, the experience was so much more intense and thrilling than I had imagined. The tide turned often, I saw favorites fall way too early, saw tears of joy from totally underestimated teams that made it to the final at the last second, and I was extremely excited. And guys, I last played Apex Legends last year.

I lay awake in the hotel at night wondering why this format was so much more exciting than the classic “Team A vs Team B” format, where one team advances and another is sent home. Fans then often no longer see the team in the tournament again. In Apex, every team has many chances to secure one of the coveted final places and fans can look forward to many matches of their favorite team, regardless of the player’s skill.

Where does battle royale stand in esports? Apex Legends World Championship lets the genre shine

Even though TSM won, all the other teams were able to show what they could do in several games.

A small pinch of chance creates a lot of chaos

The chaotic genre is so exciting not least because of its many random influences – where on the map does the team start, how does the ring contract, what loot does it find – and is also much more unpredictable. Good luck and bad luck play a small but important role, because this deliberate coincidence ensures that every team, not just the favorites, has a real chance – as long as they adapt well to the random circumstances.

This customization is what’s really interesting here. Sure, players certainly know every square inch of the cards by heart, have a set set of skills, and can recite the spray patterns alphabetically and backwards. But they can’t be as strategic and targeted as in other competitive shooters, allocate their resources or buy certain weapons.

It can be problematic for a tournament format if not every team has the same requirements. That’s how it works in most sports – regardless of whether it’s digital or on the real grass. But how do you determine the winner in Battle Royale? Should the team standing last win? But what if the victory was due to a lot of luck, while another team with worse cards still got the most kills? Wouldn’t that be unfair?

Where does battle royale stand in esports? Apex Legends World Championship lets the genre shine

Map and legends are fixed before the match. The rest is then left to chance.

The team behind the Apex tournament works against this through the mass of matches. The chaos can be spread over many rounds and everyone gets one chance to be blessed with a good position or good equipment immediately after falling from the plane. Apex Legends has also come up with a points system that rewards teams for persistence, but also for the number of kills. Teams can even be at the top of the table without having won a single game. There are also multiple approaches that teams can choose. Go for the points or go for the kills.

Apex Legends itself also ensures that chance does not get the upper hand. “We welcome randomness and know that it is a part of Battle Royale, and we do not want to change that aspect, but we will be cautious and considerate when adding another feature that might affect randomness,” said Eric Canavese , Lead Weapon & Loot Designer at Respawn. “We’re thinking about how it affects competition.”

“Sometimes you get really good cards, sometimes you don’t, and what you do with them is up to you,” Canavese continues. Particularly good players are good at dealing with bad situations in the best possible way. They stay calm and get the best possible points even in the worst matches. And even this year’s world champion, TSM, really didn’t look like a future champion in some games. You can not change it. But then you have to stay calm and keep focused.

Tools that make it possible to get excited

The tournament was very emotional. Even I had goosebumps at times, was close to tears and jumped back and forth in my chair. “When you look at 20 teams, it’s very easy to switch to a new favorite in the middle of the game depending on what you’re watching,” Canavese says. He describes this way of experiencing Apex Legends live as “lively”.

In the end I easily had five or six teams that I would have liked and wanted to win in the final. It’s really easy to get excited when you don’t have to choose between one of two sides, but you can simply celebrate every crazy maneuver, like the legendary 720 No-Scope, with the entire hall. The many small videos of the teams that were played during breaks and showed the players in funny challenges or friendly interviews also reinforced this harmonious sense of community. Every match winner was clapped equally, and I only rarely heard boos.

Where does battle royale stand in esports? Apex Legends World Championship lets the genre shine

A brilliant idea. The team names expire once the squad is wiped out. It would also have been great to have this feature for individual players as well.

The line-up of the 20 teams in the hall, the glowing logos and team names that went out after a squad was eliminated, the many screens that showed the action from the players’ perspective and also a minimap with the players’ movement were a big help, to keep track of how teams are proceeding on the large battle royale maps and have really shaped the viewing experience. Despite all the effort, I still noticed some weak points.

I mean, where would you point the camera if there were five fights going on at the same time? In League of Legends, for example, there are hardly more than two fights taking place at the same time, often just one. Here it is clear what is being shown to the viewers. There’s so much happening at once in Apex Legends that it’s impossible to capture everything exciting. Often I wanted to watch a completely different match, but the team decided to show different fights. Squads are often eliminated behind the scenes. That’s a shame, but hardly avoidable.

It was also sometimes difficult to tell the individual teams and players apart. If you don’t have perfect eyes, you have to squint to see the names of the professionals on the screen. The font was small and the teams were only color coded on the minimap. I was only able to orientate myself well in the first-person view of a team, which follows a specific player and shows his name in large letters. Well, except when I was trying to figure out which team they were currently in a fight with. Games with only two teams in a match are much easier here.

Where does battle royale stand in esports? Apex Legends World Championship lets the genre shine

Even with all those screens, it was a mess at times.

Josh Mohan, Lead Battle Royale Designer at Respawn, speaks of esports in free-for-all games as still quite “unexplored territory”. The genre, let alone tournaments, of these games haven’t been around that long – and Corona has certainly slowed down developments here. The spectator experience is definitely something that the organizers of the event are very concerned about. “If you look at ALGS from the beginning to today, I think that the tools that the team has created for the observers to try to capture the essence of what is going on and show the key places, have improved over time,” he says.

“We’re giving organizers these tools to present it in a way that makes sense, just like we’ve seen TV team sports for a long time,” Canavese says. But how can you capture the same drama, the same intensity on the team stage with 20 teams? That was the essential question for him. The tools should therefore continue to be improved.

Apex Legends has both feet firmly planted in esports

The finale of the Apex Legends Global Series has 1.9 million views on Twitch and almost 660,000 on YouTube. There were hardly any free seats left in the Birmingham arena. An employee estimated the number of visitors at around 3,000 spectators, the event was fully booked, it said on Twitter. With a prize pool of $2 million, it was the biggest esports event Apex fans have ever seen.

“I think there is a real appetite for competitive battle royale,” said Canavese. He doesn’t have the feeling that the hype for Apex Legends or Battle Royale is already over. For Mohan, the free-for-all nature of the game is what makes it so unique as a competitive game. Apex Legends hits “exactly the notes we want” when it comes to esports. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement.

For Canavese, watching the game on the big stage for the first time in the final was a surreal experience. “When we’re toiling away in our offices building stuff, sometimes you lose sight of the fact that there are so many players, so many fans, so many other organizations that have built careers around Apex Legends.”

“The audience, the love and the passion with which the players follow everything opened my eyes,” he says and hopes to be able to go to the tournament again next year. A hope that I share with Canavese.

Where does battle royale stand in esports? Apex Legends World Championship lets the genre shine

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