There were three squads left as the final circle started to close before chaos started. Everyone knew mayhem would ensue as the ring slowly eclipsed every last bit of available cover. It happened quickly: Team MVP immediately engaged GamersOrigin and took out two of their members before Team SoloMid cleared house, eliminating the final members of both squads to take home the championship trophy.
That was the final electric moment of the Apex Legends Preseason Invitational, the second purely competitive event for the battle royale game. It was the eleventh straight match of a grand final that lasted nearly seven hours.
"We just wanted to end it, we just wanted to stop playing," TSM's Philip "ImperialHal" Dosen told ESPN with a laugh after TSM took the first-place trophy. "We were getting tired and annoyed."
It was part of a unique battle royale ruleset with a double-elimination bracket format that knocked the bottom half of teams in every pool into a losers' bracket. Squads would get eliminated altogether if they landed on the lower part of the scoreboard in the losers' bracket. Teams that made it to the grand final had to meet a 50-point threshold.
Other battle royales, like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds give the trophy to the team that accumulates the most points over the entire tournament. There aren't any teams eliminated leading up to the final match. This double-elimination structure is common in the fighting game community but is completely new for the competitive battle royale scene.
"I think it was the most fun for spectators, but it is the most stressful thing to play in," said TSM's Mackenzie "Albralelie" Beckwith, who had a towel around his head to help calm a fever he was running during the grand final.
"It's so hard to win multiple games in the bracket. These were the hardest 11 games I've ever played," he said.
No one could have predicted all the twists and turns that took place at Alvernia Planet, a wild production studio turned esports arena located 20 miles outside Kraków, Poland. A squad of unsigned Russians, Team 789, came from near obscurity to dominate the majority of the other 79 teams. Two Korean squads, MVP and Wyvern, also made it to the grand final, which was a surprise because the game isn't hugely popular in that region.
The only thing that everyone did predict was the first-place finisher: TSM. The three Americans, fresh off their win at the EXP Apex Legends Invitational at X Games Minneapolis last month, came from behind squads like Team 789, PENTA and Na'Vi to win the biggest event in Apex Legend's short history.
"We did the same thing we did at the X Games, this is still the meta until Wattson falls out." said TSM's Jordan "Reps" Wolfe before Albralelie jumped in. "We know that kills come to us at the end of the game if we get a good spot. That was key."
Despite the fresh format, not a lot had changed in the Apex Legends meta. The majority of teams still played with the same three classes: Wraith, Pathfinder and Wattson, and the dominant strategy was still to go for high placements rather than try to take down enemy players. There were still plenty of instances of teams getting double-digit points from kills in a single game, but that was more due to the chaos that erupts in the final circle.
"Typical battle royales can get boring when it's based on consistency. This ruleset keeps it exciting," said Gen.G general manager Nate Stanz. "I'm not sure if it's the reason some teams have been more aggressive. Things always get chaotic in the final circle, that's just battle royales."
Like the X Games in Minneapolis, the EA-hosted tournament in Kraków had it's fair share of stumbles. Spectating was lackluster and confusing, as Apex Legends doesn't have a spectator mode, and several players, like Reciprocity's Eric "Snip3down" Wrona, suffered disconnections at vital points during the competition. Current Apex Legends rules don't award any compensation for disconnects.
"Apex Legends has been known for crashing, and other games have rules and methods to address that," said Wrona, whose team finished second at the X Games. "EA can learn from that. That was a half-million dollar disconnect."
Most teams still considered the event a success, applauding the new format and the wide array of teams that competed. Issues with spectating, disconnections and the new ruleset (including the fact 20 teams had to play 11 games in the grand final) will hopefully get fixed as EA builds a competitive structure for the game. The studio announced that they would be organizing more offline and online events in the near future but didn't reveal specifics.
EA and tournament organizer ESL Gaming seemed receptive to feedback from players and fans. They have been posting in the Apex Legends competitive subreddit and had been talking to players about their experience in the new format. Even after seven hours of competition, TSM, Team 789, Team MVP and many others all confirmed that they were all in on EA's plan for the future of the game.
"We have to keep grinding Apex Legends," Reps said. "That's what we did after the X Games. We were practicing every day because we knew Poland was around the corner. We knew this was going to be so much harder with 80 teams, teams we didn't know."