eSports have been gaining traction in recent years. From the Overwatch League to Call of Duty, the ability to make money and compete on a global level while playing the game you love has a special sort of appeal.
It is slowly coming out of the shadows, with more and more people looking at eSports as a legitimate way to compete on the world stage, and with non-gamers now looking to the sport as a point of pride, the time has never been better for a shakeup to push esports even further into the limelight. It is with this in mind that I went down to see the H1Z1 Pro League and got a sign of something exciting—if done right, that is.
Touching down in Las Vegas, the city of entertainment, I was interested to see how the H1Z1 Pro League would be different. How would this Battle Royale style game push eSports forward? Walking into the press conference, I heard what I wanted to hear. The team behind it want to make it about the players and the teams, not just the game.
It is so easy to get lost in the meta of a specific game. The simple back and forth can be dissected and analyzed to understand the best way to take on an opposing team. The problem with all this is that if you don’t know how the game plays at a core level, understanding why a single play or the use of a specific weapon matters to the overall experience. A league has to make things simple for new people looking to become engaged with the game while still maintaining the complexity that seasoned fans and players crave as they enjoy a match. It is a difficult balancing act, but one the H1Z1 Pro League need to take on if they want this to work.
Jumping back to the press conference, the H1Z1 Pro League had a challenge before them, but it seemed they wanted to take it head-on. They’d planned a star-studded night for the opening night match. Featuring appearances by Michelle Rodriguez and host Kristine Leahy, there was no expense spared to bring the skeptical to the screen. Combine this with a minimum prize for players of $50,000 and you have yourself the makings of an exciting league.
To facilitate this, the team behind the production made a deal with Facebook to be their exclusive broadcast partner and utilized the massive Caesars Entertainment eSports facility for one of the most impressive eSports stags I have ever seen. It all managed to build hype and expectations for what the H1Z1 Pro League can and needs to deliver.
These are lofty goals and will involve a delicate balance of parts that if handled wrong could easily fall apart. There is a lot riding on the Facebook broadcast, and the numbers of viewers needed to make this dream a reality are vast, yet I went in hopeful, excited to see if it could be delivered.
With these hopes at the forefront of my mind, I hopped on the bus to the eSports facility. Myself and a slew of other journalists filed off the bus into the parking lot of the massive facility. As the rays from the sun heated up the asphalt outside Caesars, we waited to see what the stadium would look like on the inside. The banners for the event covered the building, and we all stood in line, excited to see what level of spectacle we should expect.
The massive stage far exceeded what I was personally thinking would be possible for the league. There was enough space for all teams at once and a slew of Asus powered PCs lined the walls of the arena, with an impressive skull sitting in the centre and acting as the focal point for the broadcast. The big screens and announcer booth were placed right at the top of this skull. It was all as impressive and as expensive as one would expect from this level of show. It was a spectacle to behold, but without substance or viewers, it would simply go to waste.
With just hours to go until the official broadcast time, and having watched an awkward rehearsal segment, all the journalists moved out to grab a quick bite before things got underway. There were still plenty of concerns, but it was clear the people behind this show were putting their money where their mouth was, and wanted to put on a broadcast people will remember.
With the broadcast about to start, we filed back into the stands, prepping for what looked to be an interesting show. The show began with the level of fanfare you would expect from a spectacle of this nature, from celebrity interviews to player introduction reels; for better or worse, the Pro League got underway with a bang.
As the matches got underway, it was quickly apparent where the faults rested, and how the lofty goals needed some more work to be achieved. While the simple rule set was introduced at the start of each match, and the announcers worked hard to point the audience’s attention to key elements, with so many players taking part in each match it is hard for anyone, let alone a single broadcast to capture all the best moments of a match. There were plenty of times I would see teams walk off stage with it unclear what kill caused this outcome, or if it was even the segment the screen was currently focused on. Although Twin Galaxies told us that VODS for all players would be available after matches to see key elements, it does not take away from the fact the broadcast did miss some detail.
Another point of contention, for me at least, was the goal of putting players and teams first. It is the goal I found most compelling about the full H1Z1 Pro League and one I felt was lost a bit in the spectacle. While celebrities are fun, and we all love to see exciting stages, if they had simply focused on the players a bit more, I would have felt a bit more connection to what the teams mean to the league as a whole.
The other problem rests with the broadcast platform of choice. While I think Facebook works as a great place to connect with friends, make events, or even wish a happy birthday to your estranged uncle, it does not work as an eSports broadcast destination. It has the tools, but the elements for discovery are still lacking. With Twitch, that frontpage acts as a funnel, pushing people who love games to their respective feeds, but Facebook currently lacks this. Relying on pages to draw in viewers. I can’t help but feel the numbers could have been much higher had they looked to Twitch or Mixer, but time will tell how the broadcasts pan out.
In the end, Daybreak, and Twin Galaxies delivered on most of their goals. Despite some nitpicks with the overall structure of the event, the fans of the game sitting in Caesars enjoyed what they saw. With months of tournaments ahead for the League, this is just the beginning. If they can keep the excitement up, and the broadcasts can maintain viewers, the H1Z1 Pro League could be a force to be reckoned with.
The H1Z1 Pro League is currently broadcasting every Wednesday via their Facebook Page. Matches will be ongoing till the end of the first split on June 20. The league is expected to continue after the break starting on October 3, and running to December 5, closing with the championship.
If H1Z1 interests you, you can head over to their Steam page to download the client. There is also a PlayStation 4 version of the game with the beta launching on May 22.
Disclosure: Travel and accommodation for the H1Z1 Pro League were provided by Daybreak Games.
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