PUBG as a Sport

More thoughts on PGI 2018 and PUBG as an esport.

Over the last few days, I’ve watched pretty much all the matches of PGI 2018. The games I couldn’t see live I’ve caught up to via recordings on Twitch. I hadn’t planned to watch all of it initially, but it engaged me to such an degree that I simply got addicted. I never expected this, but if you think about it a bit, it isn’t that surprising that PUBG works as an esport. The game was designed after a movie in which the action is a real life sport, after all.

A match of PUBG at the skill level on display at the Global Invitational has a very steady and predictable drama curve: it’s almost completely exponential. The match starts pretty chill with most teams looting at their accustomed looting spots. One or two players may get caught out sprinting for a vehicle and run over, but generally there are very few kills or knocks this early into the match. Once most players have a gun, you will see a few scuffles and maybe a knock or two as players defend the compounds they’ve landed in.

Wtfmoses and TobiWan cast a match at PGI 2018 in Berlin

What I found most surprising, having only watched streamers and amateur players before, is that the 20 teams in the competition seem to have carved up the map very cleanly into their own little loot spots that everyone seems to respect. That means teams will generally not contest looting grounds and hot drops are not a thing. The hottest things may get are two teams landing in George or Pochinki, but even then they keep each other at a distance with warning shots. One or both teams will generally bail before risking a conflict this early into a match. These teams generally will also travel across the whole map to get to their chosen loot spot. If the plane doesn’t go close, the players will immediately drop onto the closest known vehicle spawns and then simply drive to their loot areas.

As the first circle comes in and the first rotations start, you will start to see teams that are closer to the circle shoot at rotating players (mostly in vehicles at this stage) and the first real casualties will start to hit the board. Things get more heated when a rotating team picks a compound as their new hideout in the zone which is already occupied. This might be the point where the first teams get eliminated, although that is quite rare. Usually, these firefights are just beginning to get serious and teams still disengage relatively frequently to live to fight another day.

The more the circles contract, the more frantic the firefights get. Then, 25 - 30 minutes into the game, people start getting killed in groups all over the maps and teams will leave the game quite regularly. From now on, the drama tends to steadily ramp up until only four or five teams are left. The game might end in an absolutely nerve-wracking Mexican standoff. One TPP game I watched ended with Larsen from WTSG behind one hay bale and his opponent behind another. When the final circle shrink drove them both out of hiding, the other player had to move first. He had two directions he could possibly choose, Larsen guessed the right one and… boom! He won the game. The whole thing was so much like a penalty shoot-out in football, it was uncanny. You can’t possibly get more drama from your sports – it was amazing.

Because of this gradual ramp-up of drama repeating itself throughout several games in a day, PUBG as a sport consistently delivers suspense at quite predictable levels. This contrasts nicely with the actual drama happening in game, which is not predictable at all. Even with OMG completely overpowering the FPP part of the tournament, I enjoyed watching the event immensely.

The spectacle in the Mercedes-Benz-Arena in Berlin added to this enjoyment. I’m actually thinking I might attend the next PGI in person, even though I’m suspecting it might happen in Asia. I’d love to support the Knights on the ground in the arena. They played some real good games and came fifth in TPP and eighth in FPP. There’s definitely some room for improvement there and I think the team will grow with the challenge. I’d love to be there live when it happens.

Fabian A. Scherschel Written by: Fabian A. Scherschel

Fab is a freelance tech journalist and podcaster from Hamburg, Germany. You can hire him.