He may have a level three helmet, but he's not too geared up otherwise.
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esports

What's the Key to PUBG's Competitive Success?

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is building the foundation for an esport.
By Cass Marshall
8 min readPublished on
When it comes to economic and critical success, there’s no denying that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a smash hit. If you’ve managed to miss out on the hype, here’s the game’s elevator pitch: you and 99 other players are dropped on an island, and must fight to the death, Battle Royale style. You can play solo, duo or with a squad of four people, but the general style of gameplay remains similar. You find weapons and gear, arm up and survive as the map slowly shrinks down to a death zone. Eventually, one team is left standing to claim their victory and delicious chicken dinner.
While PUBG has been a massive success in terms of sales and streaming, there’s one frontier left for it to conquer: esports. TSM has entered the fray by picking up Colton "Viss" Visser and Austin "Smak" Haggett. Add in the upcoming Gamescom Invitational in Cologne, Germany, for a prize pool of $350,000, and the potential is obvious.
PUBG has brought in a massive new audience, with the largest playerbase of any non-Valve game. The key to keeping this interest, especially if the game translates into an esport, is to dispel a common perception. This game isn’t CS:GO; it isn’t twitch and aim that always wins the day. Instead, PUBG is a sophisticated game of sense, positioning and strategy.

Laying down stakes

Most of the clips from PUBG make it seem like a rollicking good time, an arena for japes instead of a battlefield of competition. If you check Twitter or Imgur, you’ll probably see a GIF of some ridiculous play, like a gentleman climbing off his motorcycle in mid-air to shotgun blast a guy emerging onto the balcony. The genius of PUBG isn’t in these moments (although they are absolutely hilarious, especially while playing with friends) but in the way the game rewards good choices and smart plays.
It's not always easy to tell, and every game is different.

Is the swamp a smart detour or a death trap?

© Bluehole Studio

When you’re first starting out, it can seem as though the game is a giant roulette, and the tension comes down to a few seconds of frantic firefighting between long periods of crouching in a bathtub. True enlightenment comes after you find yourself in the last death zone a few times, and realize the path that took you there. I spoke with two aspiring pros in the Top 20 of the duos ladder about how game sense is what defines PUBG, and why that can translate to esports success.
Wizwiki and Miccoy are in on the ground floor of the PUBG pro community, which so far is defined by uncertainty. “I feel it's still a little unclear if duos or squads will be the main focus for the esports scene so I'm just investing as much time as I can to try and climb in both [ladders],” Wizwiki admits.
On one hand, it’s tough to understand why people are speculating on PUBG’s viability as an esport when the eponymous PlayerUnknown has said it’s “not a priority”. The answer is simple: its developers inspire confidence. The game is still in early access, and the developers are working hard to include every feature the game will need to succeed.

Building a foundation

“I had very little interest in PUBG at first,” Wizwiki admits. “After watching how quickly PUBG's developers were pushing out patches and the level of clarity that they had while doing so I had to respect them for it and give the game a solid try.” Both players are veterans of CS:GO, League of Legends and similar Battle Royale games, but PUBG’s dev team lured them away.
PUBG already offers strong spectating options, and the developers are working on adding both 2D and 3D replays that will allow viewers to understand how a game unfolded. Admittedly, the game does require a bit of external research if you want to unlock peak performance. In addition to looking up drop rates and zones, vehicle spawn locations, and so on, Wizwiki also watches streamers who are trying to push the boundaries of the game. “At the end of each of my streams I pick someone who I respect among the community and pay attention to positions they use, new angles, rate of fire at different ranges or any other tricks I can pick up.”
It does look awesome, at least.

Was this fight really necessary?

© Bluehole Studio

Miccoy suggests that the game is less bound to a specific meta than the popular esports League and CS:GO. “Anything in this game can work if you have a certain play style. [...] Certain strategies might work better, but any strategy can work if performed correctly.”
The game will preserve its identity as a low skill floor, pick up and play shooter by organizing players by ELO. As you climb the ranks, the games get more and more competitive, until you’re in the training grounds for pro play. Here is where prospective pros hone their machetes and perfect their death zone sprints.

Brains over brawn

New players find themselves dying in short, ugly firefights in the military zones or the crater. The veterans who have sunk hundreds of hours in have figured out that it’s not aim that wins games, but good old fashioned common sense.
“I'd agree PUBG is a shooter and raw aim is definitely a factor but there are many others!” Wizwiki says. “When to move, when to stay, where to land, what to loot, what loot to take and leave, what fights to take, how long you have to take each fight before getting pinched or the circle pushes you, and lastly my favorite: should I kill everyone I can, or is that person with the sniper killing people who would have me pinned at a later time?”
The greasy games where you see a dozen chutes land on the school are satisfying, but a smart PUBG player knows that it can be more important to find a nice, quiet place to loot up. “I personally like playing the slow game and waiting out players or just outsmarting my enemy with flanks," Miccoy said. Sometimes, not taking the shot is the smart call. “Sometimes it’s even better to not take out the person that’s around you, because you know you can kill them at any moment. All they are to you is a buddy that is killing people that you can’t see, or drawing attention away from you, so you can move into the circle or to a better location in the circle.”
Managing vehicles is also key, leading to explosive fights as the zone closes, Miccoy shared. “Using cars to stay mobile and create cover is a big thing in this game simply because all the times you are in a field with no cover. You just whip your car up and boom, cover created, and it's mobile so it can keep coming with you.” It’s a tactical move that wouldn’t occur to a more innocent player burning gas to get to a bigger city to loot, but managing this resource can dramatically turn the tide of a game.
There are like, seven trees, right there!

Hey, this guy needs to find some cover!

© Bluehole Studio

Second impressions

It can take dozens of hours before a player realizes that there’s more to PUBG than early skirmishes, chaotic battles out of nowhere and getting sniped in a cornfield. The game rewards resource management, teamwork, positioning and game sense far more than it encourages you to be really good at shooting.
Of course, it’s not quite ready to take the world by storm yet. The game is still getting touched up, rebalanced and ready for its proper release. Vaulting and climbing will no doubt change the game further, giving players vertical movement and more options to maneuver around buildings, escape sticky spots and set up the perfect death zone murder trap.
While the game is an adrenaline rush for players, it can be tough to follow for a spectator. The initial fights will no doubt be difficult to follow, which is where 2D map overviews will come in handy. If you read the Hunger Games trilogy, you might get a sense of how the action will play out, with the camera following a few squads until the action dies down to just a few bodies left in a small zone. Experienced camera crews and spectators will be key for the action of a fantastic PUBG match to come across.
It’s too early to call whether PUBG will be able to make it as an esport, or whether it will fail to make that jump. However, the biggest challenge it may face is the idea that it’s a bloody game of luck, where the best way to win is to simply wander upon the biggest gun and aim it really well. As the Gamescon Invitational approaches, we will likely get a glimpse of whether the heartpounding action can translate when we’re watching pros, and not our friends, fight for that chicken dinner.
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