The battle royale genre has catapulted to the forefront of the games industry thanks to Player Unknown's Battleground and Fortnite trading blows. PUBG set a record for concurrent players with 3.2 million in January, only to be topped by Fortnite less than a month later with 3.4; over the past 90 days the two games have occupied the No.2 (PUBG) and No.3 (Fortnite) slots for most watched and streamed games. There's two different PUBG esports leagues in Seoul, South Korea, and a $50,000 PUBG Invitational will feature prominently at IEM Katowice this Saturday and Sunday.
But there's a more important question than which game will reign supreme as the most popular battle royale esports title: how do you broadcast an esport where 100 players drop into a massive arena to fight and the best action takes place in a highly unpredictable and uneven fashion until the last person or team is left standing?
The answer: take a few pages from the game of golf.
To date, every competition organizer that has hosted a Battle Royale tournament is approaching it like any other esport-a live casting duo covers the whole map as observers franticly bounce from player to player to try to catch pivotal moments. In order to keep viewers up to date, casters frequently comment on the kill field to reflect on action occurring off-screen. It gets better as the player base and map shrinks simultaneously, but for a large percentage of the time the viewing experience is left wanting; there are a lot of spaces where little to nothing is happening.
This may seem like a problem endemic to the genre itself, but it isn't. Battle royale esports need to take a page out of golf's spectating playbook and re-think how the esport is broadcast, and these games have the potential to become the most popular and watchable esports in the world.
For those unaware, a golf tournament is played over the span of days on the same course. The field is cut in half at the midway point based on performance, and the number of players actually in competition for the title narrows further as play continues.
Casting pairs are stationed throughout the course to focus on the action on a particular hole or set of holes, with a main broadcasting duo weaving the overall narrative of the event. In the beginning, play focuses on the most famous players in the field, though the broadcast narrows in on leaders as the event goes on. Since action occurs throughout the course in real time, the broadcast frequently flashes back to important or impressive shots that occurred off-screen.
So how does this translate into a battle royale game?
1. At the beginning of a map, don't try to follow all of the action. Hone in on the most popular/best teams to start building storylines around the competitors about which the audience cares the most.
2. Have a casting duo that is responsible for the macro event and narrative, but employ a handful of other casters who focus on a narrow portion of the map, players or teams so they are able to fully track that action and quickly update the viewer should the broadcast cut to their area. What players have the best loot? Who has the favorable terrain? Where are conflicts likely to occur as the circle narrows and players are forced to travel?
3. Remove the kill feed (or at the very least stop having casters focus on it) and don't be afraid to flash back to important action or funny moments. The beginning of a map is chaos, and action will naturally be missed. But until you get to the end, the live action is far less important than ensuring the viewer is consistently watching compelling content.
4. Use a bottom line ticker and scoreboard that focuses on the players overall positioning for the event, not just the map itself. Standing in an individual map matters, but the results of the overall tournament should always be paramount for the broadcast-no one cares that Dustin Johnson is shooting a 65 on the final day if Tiger Woods is going to win the overall event by finishing with a 68.
5. This is not in the hands of the competition organizer, but these games would also benefit from more predictability. Knowing item drops and the sequencing of the poison circles in advance would allow competitors to plan out a strategy and help broadcasters predict where action will occur in order to weave a more compelling and comprehensive narrative as the map unfolds. Different circle patterns also create different competition patterns for the same map, much like evolving hole/tee placement on a golf course.
This analogy isn't perfect, and I'm certainly not saying anyone should create the golf of esports. But if we could take cues from the broadcast philosophy, we have a recipe for some of the most engaging esports content around.