PUBG Corp.’s PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS continued its big 2019 esports push this weekend with the beginning of Phase 2 of the PUBG Europe League (PEL). This extended middle phase, which spans eight weeks of league play instead just three, comes with $350K USD up for grabs, not to mention qualification for July’s GLL GRAND SLAM: PUBG Classic in Stockholm.
Despite the European branding, the PEL also covers the Middle East and Africa, with EMEA esports operations manager Atila Yeşildağ overseeing PUBG Corp.’s efforts to firmly establish the 100-player battle royale game as an esport. Yeşildağ previously spent five years with Wargaming, rising to the role of senior esports manager for Europe.
Now he has a broader region to handle, and a lot more eyes fixed on PUBG to see whether it—and battle royale shooters in general—can yield a sustainable and entertaining esport. For Yeşildağ, this first full season of PUBG esports across the regions, including North America’s National PUBG League (NPL), is all about establishing the brand and the esports scene.
It will take some time to build up that whole ecosystem to be functional by itself and self-sustaining.”
“It’s uncharted territory, even though it’s part of esports,” he said. “Battle royale is something new and battle royale esports is even newer, so it’s a learning curve for us too—but altogether for everyone. I believe that we’re doing a good job right now in general, if you look at the whole picture but also the EMEA perspective.”
Yeşildağ noted that PUBG Corp. unveiled a five-year plan for PUBG esports last summer, hoping to assuage any fears that it would be a short-lived fixation or brief marketing effort. He said that the company is looking at any and all possible revenue streams, including media rights, sponsorships, in-game tie-ins, and “anything else that comes to your mind,” he said. “We’ll look into how we can utilize this for the greater good.”
Related Article: PUBG Corp. Reports $920M Operating Revenue for 2018, Led By PC and Asian Markets
“For the initial purposes, we’re like a startup inside of a younger company,” said Yeşildağ. “[For now] our targets are more achievable and sane, I’ll put it like that. It will take some time to build up that whole ecosystem to be functional by itself and self-sustaining.”
Part of establishing that young ecosystem has been supporting teams, including financially. PUBG Corp. provides stipends for teams and players to help defray travel costs, and is looking into elements like in-game items to help benefit league organizations via revenue sharing.
“We have good contacts with all of these bigger teams, and have been listening to them closely to make sure that this is not only an enjoyable experience and a quality esport to be part of, but also commercially viable, of course. We understand this,” he said. “We have to continue to see how we can make it even more attractive for everyone to continue staying in, to play all together to hit the highest form.”
Challenges and Opportunities
Battle royale games have brought their own unique logistical challenges for esports organizers, thanks to the sheer number of players involved in a single match. Not only do you need physical space and hardware to accommodate dozens of players per game, but you also need support behind the scenes to ensure that all of that potential chaos amounts to a compelling viewer experience. Developing useful broadcasting solutions is the biggest challenge at the moment.
“I can tell you that the logistical challenges aren’t always going to be there. That’s our main thing. But for me also, from a viewer perspective but also a person being inside, the observer challenges are the main thing,” said Yeşildağ. “We’re looking at observer solutions. We have so many teams, so many players playing at the same time, showing so many great actions—we want to make sure that these are either captured and shown live or at least on replay.”
Currently, that means up to 45 observers watching the game live to ensure that the best moments make it onto the live stream, or at least are shown after the fact. That’s a huge amount of people compared to other esports, but it comes with the territory: everything’s bigger with battle royale. “That’s always going to be the challenge for battle royale esports,” he said, “and especially for PUBG esports, I would say.”
“It was like: boom, you had to be there to hear the sound. I think that’s a good highlight of how FACEIT went.”
Last month’s FACEIT Global Summit: PUBG Classic was the first significant LAN tournament of the season. While the scale of the competition surely provided behind-the-scenes challenges, at least one moment showed the immense potential of such an action-packed playground.
In that moment, Chinese player Sun “CPT” Yu-Ze from Four Angry Men (4AM) is seen slowly crawling towards a summit upon which all four members of 17 Gaming reside. Watching the Twitch highlight, you can hear the crowd grow louder and louder as they anticipate the coming skirmish—and then CPT lobs a perfectly-tossed grenade into the group, taking out the entire squad in one play. The London audience erupted into wild cheering.
“You had to be there to see that electric environment,” said Yeşildağ, who believes that the FACEIT event showed that PUBG is still commanding both commercial and fan interest. “It was like: boom, you had to be there to hear the sound. I think that’s a good highlight of how FACEIT went.”
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted by Graham Ashton.