POPULARITY, STREAMING, ESPORTS: PUBG CONTINUES UNPRECEDENTED RUN OF SUCCESS
This past week continued an unprecedented run of success for Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) as the breakout title reached #1 on the Steam platform, beating out dual Valve juggernauts DOTA2 and CS:GO. Perhaps not coincidentally, PUBG also held its first publisher-sanctioned esports event earlier this past week: the PUBG Gamescom Invitational. Finally, PUBG has continued its meteoric growth in viewership and streaming on Twitch, beating out every other game on the platform during the past week, and staying neck-and-neck with market leader League of Legends over the past month.
For a game which is still in Early Access and isn’t expected to be fully released before the end of Q4, this kind of success is unprecedented. Combined with news that players of other popular shooters such as Overwatch and CS:GO are significantly cutting down their playtime in those games in favor of putting more time into PUBG, the PUBG hype train shows no signs of slowing down.
On the streaming front, PUBG was the most watched game on Twitch over the past week and has been running neck-and-neck with platform leader League of Legends over the past month. As far as hours streamed, PUBG is streamed more than twice as much as Overwatch and more than triple as much as CS:GO, both Tier 1 shooter esports titles.
Rounding out this exceptional week for Bluehole, the PUBG Gamescom Invitational was held this past week in Cologne, Germany by ESL and Bluehole and was generally considered to be a resounding success, particularly for a first-ever official esports event. There hasn’t been a Tier 1 free-for-all title, much less one with 100 competing players, in the modern era of esports. Most top esports titles fall into tried-and-true categories such as MOBAs, shooters, and fighting games, making PUBG’s success all the more impressive. It’s certainly too early to crown PUBG a top tier esport, but the viewership, player base, and product potential are all there.
It was clear from the event that in-game spectating and certain aspects of PUBG as an esport have a long way to go, but the event showed clear glimpses of the title’s bright competitive future and more than a few incredibly entertaining matches. In fact, many aspects including casting, gameplay, and creative production flourishes were praised by fans and industry veterans alike as high quality for an esports event of any caliber, much less a first attempt.
One particularly nice touch was the event’s trophies: gold, silver, and bronze frying pans. Frying pans are a quirky and surprisingly useful (if hilarious) weapon in PUBG, as they can deflect bullets and even shotgun blasts when holstered over a player’s backside. The tongue-in-cheek trophies won many kudos from fans on social media, and while a small detail, reflected self-awareness and a sense of humor by tournament organizers.
It’s easy to point to this past week as the best ever in the history of PUBG, but for a title that’s barely 6 months old and still in Early Access, “history” is a relative term.
The main obstacle on the horizon for PUBG appears to be the inevitable avalanche of clones and imitation games/modes in the wake of its success, e.g. Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: Motor Wars update (h/t: @ZhugeEX) and Tencent’s PUBG clone for mobile. That said, PUBG itself out-competed predecessor H1Z1 and as League of Legends fans can attest, once a quality game has become a genre leader so long as it continues innovating it is easier said than done to dethrone it.
The sky is the limit for PUBG, and the team at Bluehole deserves kudos for a week unlike any we’ve seen before.
PUBG IS LURING AWAY CS:GO AND OVERWATCH PLAYERS, BUT DOES IT HAVE STAYING POWER?
A couple weeks ago, Venturebeat released an article that contended a significant portion of the Overwatch player-base is migrating over to this year’s hottest title: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). The article relied on a recent report from Newzoo, which gets it data from the popular gaming app Overwolf, showing that nearly 25% of PC Overwatch players have also played PUBG, and many of them aren’t going back. While Overwatch maintains a slightly larger monthly active player base than PUBG, the gap is closing rapidly as Overwatch is experiencing a slight decline while PUBG continues to explode.
Then, just yesterday, a similar dialogue was started in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) community, as Steam data revealed that 55% percent of people who own PUBG also play CS:GO. These converts came from some of the more heavy CS:GO players – they used to play 50% more than the average CS:GO player, but now they play 30% less.
In the wake of these narratives and fresh off an incredibly successful competitive event at Gamescon, PUBG is undoubtedly the belle of the esports ball right now. But as many people overreact to these data points, I find myself wondering what this data actually shows. PUBG is popular and gaining momentum, to be sure. But the measure of an esport has far more to do with longevity and sustained growth than it does immediate success. In fact, this same dialogue was prominent a year ago as Overwatch rose in prominence, sold tens of millions of copies, and surpassed League of Legends in PC Bang play rates in Korea. Gamers like experiencing something new – and while it’s not easy to attract the kind of player base PUBG has acquired in its short life, it’s far harder to sustain that devotion over time.
Will PUBG ultimately prove to stand the test of time? Maybe. But it will have far more to do with the game’s ability to remain sticky, iterate over time, and develop a product that is readily available and compelling globally than it will with the year one player base trends. Personally, I’m a believer in the game. I love the new take on the genre, and I think there is a large gap in the esports marketplace that it is poised to fill. But I also think people are taking that same optimism and overreacting to early data that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.