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PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG) co-director Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene was born in Ireland, but his namesake game was born in South Korea via a collaboration between Greene and studio Bluehole (since renamed PUBG Corporation). While the game has roots in Greene’s previous battle royale mods for other games, PUBG‘s own South Korean heritage seems to have helped propel its success in the country since its 2017 early access launch.
“I saw some statistic that said basically—it’s absurd—that one in two Koreans knows what PUBG is, and that’s not something you can say for many countries. They wouldn’t even come close,” Jake Sin, PUBG Corp. director of central esports, told The Esports Observer at this past weekend’s PUBG Nations Cup in Seoul.
“PUBG has been a very, very popular game here, not only because it’s a Korean game, but also because it was a good game overall,” he continued. “In Korea, when something catches fire, it spreads like wildfire—because everybody plays together with their friends, and there’s a PC bang [gaming café] culture where there are one or two dominant games that are always being played with friends. PUBG was definitely way past the critical mass of being the game to play here, and so the awareness is huge and it’s basically ingrained in every gamer here in Korea.”
The PUBG Nations Cup is the first global PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS event to be held in South Korea, with the competition featuring 16 national teams from countries such as the United States, Canada, China, Russia, Vietnam, and of course, South Korea itself.
With $500K USD up for grabs, it was an opportunity to not only put on a different kind of PUBG tournament for viewers (with national squads instead of pro teams), but also to show that Seoul has the infrastructure and fan base to support this kind of international competition. Ultimately, the Nations Cup sold out the city’s Jangchung Arena.
“When we decide which city we’re going to have a global event in, we look at multiple factors, obviously,” said Sin. “One is: Is there a big player base? Are there lots of esports fans? Is there infrastructure and a capable organizer that is able to pull off a great event? Basically, Seoul fit the bill pretty perfectly and it’s also where PUBG was born, so we definitely wanted to leverage our resources here to be able to produce a top-tier event for our fans.”
PUBG Esports in South Korea
Sarah Lim, an esports operations manager at PUBG Corp., began her career in the industry as a pro player of first-person shooter games before transitioning into operations and administration. She said that the combination of the PUBG‘s popularity and South Korean heritage paired well with the country’s established esports industry and infrastructure.
“PUBG is a game created in Korea, and it became popular at once when it was first launched,” Lim told The Esports Observer, via translator. “Korea is a place where the esports industry has grown tremendously, and a lot of Koreans are interested in esports. And Korea is a place where they have the best esports players, and I guess a lot of the people in the industry and players thought that PUBG was a game with great potential in Korea.”
Lim pointed to the prevalence of Korean esports organizations backed by sponsors, and said that due to their existing popularity and success in games such as League of Legends and Overwatch, that they were able to expand into the growing PUBG scene ahead of the formation of the PUBG Korea League (PKL). She also suggested that while some PKL viewers are fans and players of PUBG, others are simply supporting teams that they already know and love from other games.
Lotte’s Hot6 energy drink is the main sponsor of the PKL, with BenQ’s ZOWIE monitor brand and Intel also listed as sponsors. Sponsors are integrated into the broadcasts and have their logos featured around the venue, and according to Lim, PUBG Corp. has signed sponsors to annual contracts and sought ways to make the partnership appealing for them. “We try to provide as many benefits to the sponsors so they can take great interest in the league,” she said.
Headset and peripheral maker HyperX and BenQ ZOWIE are the only listed sponsors for the PUBG Nations Cup, but PUBG Corp. also worked with Hot6 to extend its sponsorship of the PKL to the event via a special-edition drink can. During the weekend, we found specially-branded Hot6 cans in convenience stores in Seoul, featuring an image of a PUBG soldier alongside a Nations Cup logo. Hot6 did not activate onsite at the event, however.
“Our partnership was quite strong, so we decided to have collaboration with them for the first time,” said Lim. “It was our first time adding our logo to the cans.”
Satisfying Seoul’s Fans
The season-ending Global Championship will take place in Oakland this November, with the earlier rounds in Los Angeles, giving North America arguably the most important PUBG tournament of 2019. However, the Nations Cup is also a highly-visible event, and one that could reach prospective viewers that might not normally tune into a competition with pro organizations. For Lim, it was also a chance to try and satisfy a key PUBG audience that was hungry for a global event.
“There were a lot of cities that we were looking at,” she said. “There are great cities other than Seoul, as well, but it was the first time to hold a global tournament in Seoul, and a lot of the fans were desperate for a global esports event to be held in Korea.”
“This is my personal opinion, but Korea is the place where the esports industry has developed the most. I think Korea has well-developed infrastructure and operations, and so we thought it was the best place to hold this event,” she continued. “The PUBG Nations Cup is very special, and we wanted to hold the Nations Cup in the best place possible. That’s why we decided to select Korea.”
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