Apex Legends is a monster.
On February 11, Respawn Entertainment announced the game had surpassed 25 million players and more than two million concurrent. It also continues to dominate Twitch. Streamers playing Apex have averaged a total of over 250,000 viewers over the past 7 days. That’s twice as many as Fortnite, and almost ten times more than PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
It’s not an exaggeration to say Apex came from nowhere. While anyone paying attention to Respawn knew the studio had a title planned for 2019, few thought it’d arrive so early in the year. Now, it stands tall as the game everyone must beat, and proves the ‘battle royale’ genre is far from tapped out.
The sudden popularity of Apex Legends might seem strange at a glance. The ‘battle royale’ genre hardly lacks for entries, and many of them are extremely popular. Fortnite has taken the world by storm, of course, but there’s also Call of Duty: Blackout, Realm Royale, Unturned, Ring of Elysium and, of course, the original – PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
That sounds like a lot of games if you believe all ‘battle royale’ games are the same. Of course, they’re not. The games above all fit a niche and with their own unique twist. Realm Royale may look like Fortnite, but the two games don’t have much in common. The same can be said of Call of Duty: Blackout and Apex Legends.
If anything – and this is a little terrifying to think about – the battle royale genre is lacking games. The massive popularity of top-tier games has sucked variety from the genre. Games that can’t hit critical mass founder, and even if they don’t fail outright, they aren’t part of the genre’s public image.
Even I started to wonder if it was time to move on. Then Apex arrived.
Yea, there’s a ton of little battle royale projects in early access. Even Cyanide and Happiness has a battle royale game in the works. Seriously! Yet most of these titles are, for better or worse, off the radar. Many gamers haven’t heard of them, and never will.
Paul Tassi, Senior Contributor at Forbes, expressed a similar concern in an article about Call of Duty: Blackout he wrote in October. “Blackout feels like it’s about to suck the remaining oxygen out of the room when it comes to the Battle Royale trend,” he said, going on to worry it’d be the last game of “any real significance” in the genre.
At the time, it felt as if Tassi’s prediction might become true. Fortnite and Blackout dueled throughout the holiday, while PUBG maintained a slipping but stubborn grip. Other battle royale games received little attention as the genre began to slip out of mainstream headlines.
Perhaps the bubble had burst. 2019 was a new year. The genre’s founder, PUBG, is fast approaching its two-year anniversary. Even I started to wonder if it was time to move on. Maybe Anthem would be the next big thing.
Then Apex arrived. It immediately tapped into a fat vein of excitement by offering an alternative option at the low, low price of free. Mixing the pseudo-realistic grit of Call of Duty with hero-shooter mechanics like Overwatch, Apex gave gamers a new twist to enjoy. Players flocked to it not just because it’s great (the best battle royale yet, if you ask me), but also because it’s different.
The success of Apex shocked everyone, from gamers to stock market investors who, having abandoned Electronic Arts just days before, suddenly came rushing back to scream “take my money!” Suddenly, the battle royale genre seems to have plenty of oxygen. An excess of oxygen. So much, in fact, that the genre is again blazing red-hot.
But the implications are much deeper than that. In a day, Respawn Entertainment took the table on gaming’s 2019 release schedule. Anthem? The Division 2? Seikiro? Days Gone? They’ll be popular, I’m sure, but there’s zero chance they’ll leap the hurdle set by Apex Legends. We’re already playing the biggest game of the year, and we didn’t even know to anticipate it.
There’s a risk, of course, that Apex has completed what Tassi thought Call of Duty: Blackout would manage. Respawn Entertainment is already gearing up for regular content drops to keep the game alive, and it’ll be serious competition for anyone else looking to enter the battle royale genre with a copycat release.
Luckily, there’s no big copycats on the schedule aside from Battlefield V’s Firestorm, which likely won’t gain traction given the base game’s struggles. There’s room for more surprises in the battle royale genre this year. Maybe Ubisoft’s Skull & Bones will shock us with a 50-player mosh pit galleons and frigates. Or – more likely – the next big game come from project no one has heard of yet.
You thought 2018 was the year of battle royale? Pffft. The genre is just getting started.
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