BEST OF 2018
Game Trend of the Year: Battle Royale
Competitive gaming emerged victorious in 2018. Tap to read how.
“Battle royale” dominated 2018. With epic last-player-standing action, this exciting competitive gaming genre exploded onto the pop culture landscape.
But battle royale didn’t come out of nowhere. Part of a rich tradition of competitive games that include the likes of Clash Royale and Hearthstone, the genre first made waves in 2013 as a modification for the online game DayZ (which itself was a modification of ARMA 2). The mod’s creator, Brendan Greene, went on to perfect his formula several years later in the stand-alone PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or simply PUBG) for PC.
PUBG laid the ground rules for the genre: Your avatar is dropped onto an inescapable island, competing with 99 other combatants to become the last player standing. To keep it fair, players begin without any weapons. This turns each match into a democratic free-for-all and levels the playing field for both newcomers and vets.
Focus on finding randomly dropped loot and weapons, hole up in a shack and hope for the best, or charge Braveheart-style at other players. There’s no “right” way to play, and that uncertainty—and watchability—propelled battle royale to the top of the gaming world.
Much of Fortnite’s charm lies in its playful sandbox sensibility. You don’t just fight—you also build.
“The game mode of battle royale allows for a huge amount of agency,” says Donald Mustard, creative director of Fortnite, whose company, Epic Games, added battle royale to their existing game in 2017. “However you can make it happen, be the last one standing to win.”
Even if you didn’t play a videogame in 2018, chances are you’ve heard of Fortnite, the game that has become synonymous with the genre. Millions played every day. Pro athletes celebrated victories with Fortnite routines. Schools hosted Fortnite-theme mother-son dances.
Unlike the gritty, shoot-first style of PUBG, Fortnite’s charm lies in its playful sandbox sensibility. You don’t just fight—you also build. Crack open trees, cars, and boulders for materials, then use those goodies to create. You might cobble together an impromptu skyscraper or a ramp to scale mountaintops.
“It has no graphicness, no blood, no gore,” says Nick Bowman, an associate professor at West Virginia University who studies the cognitive and social demands of videogames. “It’s an excuse for 100 people to run around a ridiculously colorful world chasing hamburgers, clowns, and purple dinosaurs.”
Fortnite's creativity is its calling card, from its dozens of dances to its ridiculous outfits. Every match is different and every encounter unique, but one component remains the same: It’s really simple to join in.
“The word ‘egalitarian’ is key,” says Bowman. “It’s easy, kitschy, consumable, and accessible. You can binge if you want to, or you can play on the bus for five minutes.”
To be fair, you couldn’t always play on the bus. Fortnite and PUBG Mobile arrived on the App Store earlier this year, taking battle royale out of the living room and into the real world. The mobile version of Fortnite marked an impressive technical achievement: Players on mobile, console, and PC could compete in the same virtual space together, breaking down a longstanding tech wall. Gamers of all stripes could at last share a stage.
It was easy to spend time in Fortnite without playing at all. Millions logged on to the video-streaming service Twitch just to see other people battle.
In fact, it was easy to spend time in Fortnite without playing at all. Millions logged in to the videogame-streaming app Twitch just to watch other people battle. Superstar gamers like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Ali “Myth” Kabbani became overnight sensations. In March, Ninja’s match against rapper Drake smashed Twitch viewership records.
“Fortnite found a niche about camaraderie and the social experiences in videogames,” says Marcus Carter, a lecturer in digital cultures at the University of Sydney. “And I think that’s what battle royale games really give us: a digitally mediated hangout.”
Bringing people together—that’s videogaming at its best. Battle royale supersized gaming and, in the process, expanded what it means to be a player. In 2018, for the first time in a long time, we were all in on the fun.