As one of the younger esports game genres, Battle Royale has seen mass adoption and continuous innovation in a relatively short span of time.
It’s this history that we’re going to dive into in this post, covering both the genre itself as well as how it’s doing in the esports scene.
The history of battle royale genre
As is the case with many game genres, battle royale games first started as mods of other popular games. This is a common occurrence in the industry, as popular mods clearly indicate interest to game developers, that later use this to create standalone games.
Battle royale is a game genre that combines both survival elements with a last-man-standing game format, creating unique, fast-paced gameplay. Various elements of the genre were already widely adopted in games released pre-2010, but it wasn’t till the early 2010’s when the first mods were created. It took many more years for the true standalone battle royale games to gain mainstream popularity.
Where its origins lie is hard to tell, but many point to past books and films like the Japanese film battle royale and the more recent Hunger Games, where the same concept is seen. This concept was recreated in the form of mods on various games, including Minecraft in the form of Survival Mode and ARMA2 in the form of DayZ, before standalone titles like Fortnite battle royale and PUBG were released.
The first battle royale mods
As we just mentioned, some of the first mods were seen on games like Minecraft and ARMA 2 between 2012 and 2014. The Minecraft server plugin named “Survival Games” featured one of the first true battle royal games. It was released shortly after the Hunger Games movie in 2012, with a map layout that was very similar to that seen in the movie.
In the game, players started in a circle in the center of the map, with various items placed in the middle of the circle. The goal was to eliminate other players, with the last player left standing being crowned the winner. The free-for-all game style combined with the ability to forage and a large-sized map made for gameplay that was great fun to play, as well as fun to watch. This led to large numbers of streamers and YouTubers recording their games, further promoting the game mode.
DayZ & PlayerUnknown
DayZ was a mod created for the popular game ARMA 2 which was also released in 2012. However, it was the battle royale mod for DayZ released by “PlayerUnknown,” now known to be battle royal-pioneer Brendan Greene, in 2013 that influenced the battle royal genre in a big way. This mod moved away from the Hunger Games structure, with items and weapons that were randomly spread across the map.
PlayerUnknown is a name often mentioned when talking about the history of battle royale due to the vast number of games he was involved in. Following the same structure as his DayZ mod, Brendan created a similar mod for ARMA 3 just one year later. He was also heavily involved in the launch of a standalone game titled PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds a few years later.
Halo was one of the first hugely popular console FPS games, with mass adoption on Xbox starting upon its release. From then on, various games made the transition from PC to Xbox, but developers also started catering solely to PlayStation and Xbox consoles as more and more players started using them.
From Counter-Strike and Halo to Rainbow Six, Battlefield, and Call of Duty, many of the FPS games that were released around this time are still vastly popular today, be it their original version or new releases of the game.
Between 2012 and 2016, various mods and battle royale game modes were introduced for both new and existing games.
Although there were some minor esports tournaments featuring these games as well as a good amount of coverage from streamers, YouTubers, and other professional gamers, the golden age of battle royale esports was still to come.
With the genre starting to pick up steam, it wasn’t long before the first standalone titles were launched.
From late 2016 onwards, various standalone battle royale games were launched.
It was around this time when the genre really took off, leading to mass adoption as well as various esports competitions within the next few years.
It all started with the launch of PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG) in 2017, which was one of the first battle royale games that went mainstream.
Within a year, over twenty million copies were sold, with many more copies sold in 2018. PUBG remained one of the most played battle royal games in Asia for the next few years, although its adoption in the west wasn’t quite as impressive as they soon moved on to a new kid on the block…
Fortnite Battle Royale
This game was closely followed by Fortnite battle royale, which was a game that was free to play and one that gained mass adoption within a very short time span.
It was released about half a year after PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and became one of the most played games of 2018. Fortnite Battle Grounds set a streaming record on Twitch in the first few months of its launch and has been played by various celebrities.
Professional players and streamers alike played Fortnite battle royale, helping it to gain traction at an astounding rate. It was the most played battle royale game in the west, although it couldn’t surpass PUBG as the most played game in the genre in Asia.
2018 to present day
From 2018 onwards, new games were announced on an almost monthly basis with nearly every new release either being a battle royale game or incorporating battle royale game modes in the game. GTA Online, Battlefield V, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, and Dota 2 are just some of the titles released in the following few years, each of which incorporated some kind of battle royal gameplay.
Most games launched after 2018 had large spikes in player numbers, but most couldn’t maintain a solid player base. The original Fortnite and PUBG games maintained their popularity, keeping the genre alive.
Call of Duty: Warzone and Apex Legend, which were released in 2020 and 2019 respectively, hit player counts of over fifty million. Both of these games managed to maintain a good player base, in contrast to many of the other games launched in 2019 and 2020.
Battle royale esports today
When it comes to professional gaming and streaming, games like Fortnite Battle Royale, PUBG, and Apex Legends are dominant. Although there have been many titles released in the short time span that the genre has existed, few have managed to maintain their player base to the extent that these two battle royal-behemoths have.
Fortnite esports features some of the most-watched games in the industry, with various tournaments being hosted over the past few years. The 2019 World Cup was one of the largest esports competitions in history, with a total prize pool of 30 million dollars!
The Fortnite Champion Series is considered the competition featuring the best players in the world. It’s hosted by Epic, Fortnite’s developer, and featured a seven-million-dollar prize pool in 2020.
For 2021, this same competition has a prize pool of twenty million dollars spread over a range of different prizes. The competition consists of multiple tournaments, each attracting large viewer numbers.
The PUBG Global Invitational S is the largest PUGB esports competition. Although it’s quite a bit smaller than the largest Fortnite esports competitions, the PUBG Global Invitational features 32 of the best PUBG teams and a prize pool of $3.5 million dollars!
Before its launch, there were multiple smaller tournaments in 2017. These tournaments featured smaller prize pools under $250.000. There were some growing pains as the genre hadn’t seen many esports games to date, which mainly consisted of logistical issues due to the fact the genre requires a large number of players to play at the same time, on the same map.
The PUBG Mobile Global Championship is another one of the larger PUBG esports competitions, although it attracts fewer viewers than the Global Invitational does.
With the first esports tournaments launched in 2019, Apex Legends is one of the youngest battle royal games to have seen a large esports coverage. The EXP invitational was the first Apex Legends competition to be hosted, with a prize pool of $150.000.
At the end of 2019, the Apex Legends Global Series was announced, which would be held in 2020 and have a prize pool of three million dollars. The Global Series consists of various different tournaments, each with its own prize pool.
The future of battle royale
Given the genre’s action-packed gameplay that’s easy to follow along with as a viewer, the battle royale genre is expected to continue growing well into the future. Battle royale esports is still in its infancy, so it’s reasonable to expect more competitions and larger prize pools going into the future. With both PUBG and Fortnite competitions announced for 2021, it’s set to be a big year for the genre.
Battle royale is one of the youngest game genres that exists and has seen mass adoption in just a small span of time. With battle royal esports being just a few years old, larger competitions and wider coverage of matches are likely to propel the genre into the future. We expect the trend to continue for at least another few years, hopefully with some new games being launched in the coming few years.