Why I Hate Battle Royales

The Battle Royale genre is the latest craze in gaming and I'm pretty sure I hate it. For the uninitiated, in a Battle Royale game, a large number of players (typically 60-100) are dropped onto an island with nothing but their fists. Upon landing, there is a mad scramble to scavenge weapons, armor and equipment in order to survive. A circle contracts the play area, causing fatal damage to players who remain outside of it for too long, forcing players closer together. The number of players quickly dwindles as they kill each other in a variety of ways until just one player or team remains.

If this sounds like The Hunger Games, you're right. If the Hunger Games sounds like a rip-off of the 2000 Japanese cult film, Battle Royale, you're also right! If this sounds like a fun game to you, well... it can be. I just don't think it's for me.

A not-so-brief history of Battle Royales

The Battle Royale genre was popularized a few years ago as a mod for ARMA 2 called DayZ: Battle Royale. Its creator, Brendan "PlayerUnknown" Greene, went on to make a standalone title called PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, also known as PUBG. PUBG became a massive success, in part thanks to its popularity among streamers on Twitch — a service where people can watch other people play video games and interact with each other in real-time.

Around this time, Epic Games released a survival game called Fortnite, in which players collect resources and build bases to defend against a horde of AI monsters. They noted the success of PUBG and experimented with adding a Battle Royale mode to Fortnite that combined the gunplay of PUBG with the base-building aspect of the original Fortnite.

Fortnite, with it's more playful and cartoonish character design, free-to-play business model and paid customizations such as character/weapon skins and emotes, quickly took off and surpassed PUBG in popularity.

Tyler 'Ninja' Blevins
This kid makes more in a month than your house is worth.

How popular? Well, 27-year-old Tyler Blevins, a.k.a. Ninja, became the top streamer on Twitch and pulls down about $500k/month playing Fortnite almost exclusively. Yes, HALF A MILLION DOLLARS EACH MONTH playing a video game. I clearly made the wrong career choice.

Fortnite's popularity is so far-reaching that parents are hiring coaches to help their kids get better at the game. Colleges are getting into eSports (professional competitive gaming) and offering scholarships to Fortnite players. Children are jumping off the roofs of their houses with umbrellas in an attempt to replicate the initial jump from a flying bus in Fortnite.

Fortnite is an epidemic. It's literally being compared to heroin for its addictive nature.

Epic Games reportedly made $3 Billion in 2018 just selling cosmetic items in their free-to-play game. (I REALLY made the wrong career choice.) Now investors and executives of game companies are falling over themselves to make their own Battle Royale titles to cash in on their popularity. The latest versions of Call of Duty and Battlefield have Battle Royale modes. Fucking TETRIS has a Battle Royale mode. It's out of control.

Enter Apex Legends

Less than two weeks ago Respawn Entertainment, a studio that includes some of the original creators of Call of Duty, announced Apex Legends — a new Battle Royale set in their Titanfall universe — and released it the same day. Battle Royale fans (and streamers especially) hungry for a new take on the genre flocked to Apex Legends in droves, quickly making it the most-watched game on Twitch, hitting 25 million players in its first week.

Characters from Apex Legends pose for a selfie before brutally murdering each other

Apex Legends differs from other Battle Royales by innovating on the genre rather than just copying the success of its predecessors. It incorporates the "hero" concept of shooters like Overwatch, has a smaller player count of 60 players in teams of three, and offers a deep communication system that makes it easy to call out targets and gear and announce your intentions without requiring a headset.

Mike, you're doing that thing again where you open with a premise and then ramble on about something completely different.

Oh yeah, why I hate Battle Royale games.

Long stretches with no action

Here's how a match of Fortnite or Apex Legends goes for me comapared to how it goes for a top streamer like Ninja.

Ninja Me
Drops into a highly contested, loot-rich location. Drops into a secluded, loot-poor location.
Immediately murders 5-10 unsuspecting players before they know what hit them. Runs around like an idiot hoping to find a weapon to defend himself against people who have limitless time to devote to the game.
Gets to the middle of the circle and destroys people as they enter. Gets destroyed by the first player he encounters.
Wins the match while making more money in 20 minutes than I make in a week. Sits in the lobby waiting to queue up for more humiliation.

Unless you're highly skilled, you don't want to drop immediately next to other players during the initial scramble for loot. It's entirely possible to spend long stretches of time (5-10 minutes) without even seeing another player. And while this helps ramp up the tension, it doesn't help you get better at gunfights and it doesn't make for particularly compelling gameplay.

If you're playing in a squad and you're downed early, you could potentially spend another 10 minutes spectating your teammates, only for them to die later. And then you're all right back in the lobby waiting, waiting, waiting to do it all over again.

Compare this to a typical shooter where matches last about 10-15 minutes and you're constantly engaged in fights.

There is a huge luck factor

While traditional shooters send you into battle with a loadout of your choosing, Battle Royales require you to scavenge for weapons, armor and supplies (healing, etc.). Depending on where you drop, you might luck out and find a top-tier weapon, or you might only find a pistol before someone snipes or shotguns you for a quick kill.

Aside from that, players don't know where the final circle will end up, so there's some luck involved in where the circle contracts in relation to where you land.

You're competing with teammates

It's pretty common to "get tilted" as the kids say (that is, to become enraged) by your opponents in shooters. But Battle Royales often get me tilted by my own teammates. Since we land near each other we're often competing to collect from the same small pool of resources, which can become a source of frustration if the loot isn't distributed equitably.

Time is not on your side. Distributing loot is complicated by nearby enemies and the approaching circle of death. There's rarely time to make sure everyone has what they need to be competitive.

There can also be conflicting strategies on what to do moment to moment. The wrong decision can easily get your entire squad wiped out.

But...

There's still a lot of fun to be had in Battle Royale games. There is a unique tension that occurs when you get closer and closer to the final few players. There's no other genre of game that gives you the adrenaline rush of a kill or be killed situation. Perhaps the long times between engagements only adds to that.

Apex Legends, in particular, is a fun and unique take on the genre that looks to be the new king for the moment. I've been enjoying my time playing with friends, even though it gets me riled up. And that's really the appeal of these games. They're not just about being the last squad standing. They're about hanging out and having fun.

For kids in this era of helicopter parents, school lockdowns and general paranoia about the safety of our children, games like Fortnite serve as fun, safe places where friends can get together and express themselves even if they're not in the same room, or even the same city.

So I guess I'll keep playing them, even though I suck at them.

Photo of Mike

Thanks for reading!

I'm Mike Aparicio. I'm a Sr. UI Engineer at Groupon, where I work on our design system. I write about web design and development, video games, pop culture, basketball, and other things I find interesting. I live in the Chicago area with my wife, two sons, and two dogs.

You can find me on Twitter and most other places as @peruvianidol.