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With the launch of nine regional leagues and an upcoming $2M+ USD Global Championship to tie everything up this November, 2019 has been a critical year for PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG) esports. But it’s early days still, suggests PUBG Corporation director of central esports, Jake Sin.
As his team sees it, PUBG esports is only about a year and a half into what he describes as an ambitious five-year plan. This year’s push establishes the framework for the seasons to come, and the years ahead on the agenda aren’t expected to significantly expand the approach. Rather, they’re meant to refine and mature PUBG Corporation’s competitive ecosystem and attempt to ensure eventual sustainability and profitability for all involved parties.
The Esports Observer spoke with Sin at this month’s PUBG Nations Cup in Seoul, South Korea, to get a full breakdown of PUBG’s five-year plan and where he sees room for improvement in the seasons ahead.
Setting the Foundation
PUBG first launched in early access in 2017, and PUBG Corp. began taking significant steps towards a professional competitive culture in 2018.
The battle royale esports space was still largely unexplored at that point, and the game itself needed significant tweaking to create a more compelling experience for both players and viewers. As Sin previously detailed in a June interview with The Esports Observer, PUBG Corporation adjusted the flow of the game and experimented with the competitive format, and has since gradually discovered how best to present the competitive experience and the storylines that develop within it.
“According to our five-year-plan, last year was a year to learn and experiment, and find out what the best way was to do PUBG esports,” said Sin at the Nations Cup. “By working with a lot of our partners, a lot of tournament organizers that have hosted PUBG esports events, we were able to learn so much from these events.
“Basically, we took all of those learnings together, and tried to produce the ultimate PUBG esports experience with PGI, based on what we had learned up to that point,” he continued. “I feel that we were pretty successful—at least in some areas—of delivering great-quality content to our PUBG fans, and that’s when we were very convinced that PUBG esports has the potential to be among the greats in esports.”
PGI was July 2018’s PUBG Global Invitational Berlin, which awarded $2M across 20 teams and allowed PUBG Corporation a chance to play with format and presentation. For example, the event featured separate competitions from the first-person and third-person perspectives, respectively, while the leagues that followed have solely embraced first-person play. It was also where the company first detailed its vision for 2019’s competitive structure.
PUBG Esports Today
PUBG esports in 2019 is a vast undertaking, with nine regional leagues—including North America’s National PUBG League (NPL), the PUBG Europe League (PEL), and the PUBG Korea League (PKL)—and global events such as April’s FACEIT Global Summit: PUBG Classic in London.
“Going into 2019, we developed the next four years and tried to figure out: What is the structure that makes sense to us? We felt that a competitive structure that is built on the foundation of regional leagues and tournaments is very important,” said Sin. “The regional leagues and tournaments allow the fans to familiarize themselves with the local players and actually allow the local heroes to be born, and also leverage the local economics and market structure in order to fuel more investments into the local esports scene.”
All of those regional leagues ultimately feed into the Global Championship in Oakland this November, which will feature the sale of in-game items to expand the prize pool beyond the base $2M sum. Regions have also been vying for additional Global Championship spots via high placement at global tournaments; for example, the South Korean region earned an additional spot as its national team was the highest-placing Asian squad at the Nations Cup.
“[We’re] taking all of those local developments and basically combining that and culminating that into a global event where everything is at a higher stake,” said Sin. “That’s what we intended in our design, to create that dynamic narrative that you can see by having a regional layer and then a global layer on top of that.”
Refinement is Needed
According to Sin, the next step for PUBG esports is not to get bigger, but to be better. He pegs refinement as the key goal for 2020—to learn from the experience of this first full, expansive season and then find ways to make it run more smoothly and efficiently, and avoid repeating any missteps that might emerge along the way.
“We definitely want to refine the regional leagues so that they’re closer to each other in terms of format, structure, or schedule. Right now, although we do have a pretty rigid schedule around when the phases are supposed to begin and end, there’s still a lot of variance and a lot of diversity in terms of what each league looks like,” said Sin. “Giving some sort of uniformity in that regard is going to be very helpful for the viewers to really understand how PUBG esports actually works around the world.”
That disparity was a topic of conversation around the Nations Cup, given that players from PUBG’s various regional leagues were all congregated together. The disparity between league structure is no small matter. While the NPL finished its Phase 2 in early June and played a total of 40 matches during that part of the season, the PEL stretched on for another month and featured 96 total matches during the same phase. Establishing common ground between the formats of the various leagues is a key consideration for 2020.
“Another thing is we want to empower our PUBG Classics partners to be the best that they can be,” added Sin. “I think there’s a lot that we can do to make them achieve greater success with these PUBG Classics events, so we’re definitely looking into better technical support, marketing support, and so on.”
Sin’s comments come in the wake of the late July’s MET Asia Series: PUBG Classic, which encountered controversy before its conclusion. During the last match on the second day, a regional power outage forced players out of the competition. The entire match was replayed and the incomplete match was initially declared void, but then PUBG Corp. announced that the results from both matches would be counted.
Ultimately, seven teams between China and Chinese Taipei walked out of the event, and Chinese streaming site DouYu canceled the broadcast of the remaining rounds. PUBG Corp. eventually declared that the event would no longer award an additional regional slot for the Global Championship, due to “the inability to maintain competitive integrity at the event.”
Sin told The Esports Observer that his team’s long-term response will be to ensure that there is a clear-cut solution dictated in the rules, should another similar situation emerge in the future. He also said that they need to loop pro players into the discussion on such rules-related matters, since “these decisions matter to them because it impacts them more than anybody else.”
“Our most important next step is to refine the rules so that there’s really no room for any controversy. If something like that happened again, what we would do would have to be very clearly laid out in the rules, and that’s an area that we do intend to improve on greatly,” he said. “That’s definitely something of a wake-up call for us, the MET Asia Series that is, to make great strides in that area. That’s where we’re focused on, and we want to make sure that those kinds of decisions are reasonable, and also very well communicated to the fans and pro teams so that there’s always an advance expectation of what would happen in Scenario A or Scenario B—so there’s never a debate when that actually happens.”
What’s the Next Level?
What about 2021 and 2022, then? During a Nations Cup press day presentation, Sin described those years as “elevating [PUBG esports] to the next level,” but what does that really mean? It’s too early for concrete details at this point, but he told The Esports Observer that if the PUBG esports ecosystem is delivering on its shorter-term goal of producing strong, compelling content, then the focus for those years shifts to cementing its long-term stability for all participants.
“We want to make sure we’re accomplishing that step first before moving on to any other step, because if you don’t have a program that people love, what are you actually working on, right? I want to make sure PUBG esports is something that the PUBG fans love worldwide and that’s our main goal,” said Sin about focusing on content for now.
“If we’re able to accomplish that by 2020, then we’re shifting focus into, ‘OK, how does this all make sense in terms of financials?’ Because it’s not just for us, too,” he continued. “We have to make sure that the teams, the players, and the tournament organizers, all of them have to be profitable over the long term to keep investing at the level they’re investing at now. We want to create a virtuous cycle, a structure that makes sense, and that’s the focus going into the final phase of the five-year plan.”
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