Esports is a multibillion-dollar juggernaut and many leading developers are desperate to crack this hugely lucrative market. Right now it is dominated by multiplayer online battle arena titles like LoL and Dota 2 and team-based first person shooters such as CS:GO.
However, battle royale games are now beginning to muscle in, as PUBG paved the way and then Fortnite developer Epic Games started throwing prize money around like Marie Antoinette. Apex Legends is the latest outrageously popular game in this booming genre, displacing Fortnite as the most prominent game on Twitch, and esports teams are taking its rise very seriously indeed.
The game was only released on February 4, but its player count topped 50 million within a month of launch and a nascent competitive scene has already sprung up. Almost $1 million in prize money has already been awarded and an early superstar has emerged from the pack. Leading team NRG Esports announced on Twitter that it has signed Coby “Dizzy” Meadows as an official Apex Legends player. He has already made $25,000 in prize money by playing the game at tournaments, making him the highest earning player in the early stages of the pro scene.
Dizzy has already amassed a significant following as a result of his exploits, but several rivals are already emerging in a bid to seize the crown. This week Dizzy and his NRG team could only finish second at the $500,000 Twitch Rivals: Apex Legends TwitchCon Europe contest, as Rogue – a team featuring Jordan “HusKers” Thomas, Chris “Sweetdreams” Sexton, and Mark “Dropped” Thees – secured the top prize of just under $75,000, while NRG made off with $41,000 to share between them. Apex Legends esports is obviously in its infancy, but tournaments should continue to develop throughout the year.
Team SoloMid is also launching an Apex team, as is North. It is not even a fully-fledged esport yet, and already big teams are manoeuvring in a bid to gain an early advantage. Korean multi-gaming team Gen.G, which is owned by Sentinels and competes in Overwatch, LoL, Fortnite and PUBG, has put together an Apex Legends side. It has selected three former Overwatch stars – Chris “Grimreality” Schaefer, Ted “silkthread” Wang, and Tim “Dummy” Olson – to form the team, and they already have fan bases from their past exploits. That sort of activity should help Apex gain traction. Gen.G appears to be in it for the long haul too, as it is investing in a sports psychologist, housing and providing all the tools its players need to devote their full attentions towards becoming Apex superstars.
It seems like only a matter of time before an organized professional Apex Legends gaming scene springs up, as the game has been so successful this year. The big challenge for developers in the battle royale genre is translating early momentum into long-term staying power. This is particularly important for Apex developers EA and Respawn, due to the game’s free-to-play model, the need to encourage in-game purchases and the way it has piggybacked on Fortnite’s outrageous success.
Fortnite broke all manner of records last year, walked off with the Ultimate Game of the Year title at the Joystick Awards 2018 and made billions for developer Epic Games. But Epic knows how fickle and promiscuous gamers can be, so it is desperate to build and sustain a successful esports ecosystem that will maintain interest in its flagship title. Epic Games have stumped up $100 million in prize money this year in a bid to see Fortnite rival Dota 2, LoL and CS:GO as one of the world’s leading esports. The Fortnite Fall Skirmish Series carried a prize pool of $4 million, making it the ninth richest esports tournament of all time, and that is bound to attract plenty of hopefuls and whip up plenty of interest. We know that betting on esports is now a popular concept and this helps drive even higher levels of interest and engagement among fans, so Epic is determined to push Fortnite further into this sector.
Many consider Apex Legends to be a vastly superior game to Fortnite. It is polished and enjoyable to play, and it appears to be a mix between the madcap, frenetic action of Fortnite and the more strategic approach of PUBG. It boasts intriguing characters, fantastic map design and shooting mechanics that have impressed many players. Apex Legends is a battle royale game, but it also has a first-person perspective that appeals to Call of Duty and Overwatch fans. So it is easy to see why Gen.G has turned to Overwatch stars as it put together its team. It also places more emphasis on team strategy than Fortnite, as different characters have contrasting abilities and they can be used effectively to create a formidable collective.
Apex also has arguably more potential as an esport than Fortnite. It is less chaotic and it puts more emphasis on tactics, teamwork and gunplay. Yet it also provides ample opportunity for exciting, dramatic plays that look great on highlights reels. Extra features including respawn beacons, legends and finishers boosted its allure.
It also has a niche as a three-player game. Most titles, including LoL, CS:GO and Dota 2, have five or six players per squad, while StarCraft 2 and its ilk focus on one-on-one combat. Apex combines the best of both worlds, as shot calling is collaborative, but there is plenty of scope for individuals to shine. It will be fascinating to see how it develops as an esport.
Battle royale games have plenty of obstacles to overcome as they bid to attract millions of viewers. It can be difficult for spectators to follow due to the vast amount of perspectives the camera must follow. Fortnite has also upset players and fans by shattering the competitive balance and integrity of the game with inventions like the Infinity Blade. Epic has been accused of making everything far too unpredictable, resulting in an anti-competitive landscape. It has had a number of high-profile missteps, but Apex could hit the scene at the perfect time. It has the opportunity to build on the groundwork laid down by Fortnite, but also learn from its mistakes.
Various rival tournaments have already surged to prominence, and we should see a more universal rule set emerging in the not too distant future. If it builds up an infrastructure and a competitive ladder it will attract more leading teams and it could really thrive in this field.
The likes of shroud, Dr Disrespect, Ninja and summit1g are backing it, so it is hard to see Apex’s stunning momentum being dented any time soon. It carries a huge amount of hype and fans will be keen to see its finest proponents in action aginst one another, so it certainly has great potential to become a leading esport in 2019 and beyond.