‘H1Z1’ goes free-to-play, start of battle royale esports league announced

Developer Daybreak Games is looking to make some esports moves in the battle royale genre, starting by making its multiplayer survival title H1Z1 free-to-play.

Daybreak’s new monetization model for H1Z1 goes into effect immediately, the company announced on Thursday, March 8. That move comes as the battle royale space continues to become more crowded, with titles like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite drawing huge numbers of players. Other games, like The Darwin Project and SOS, are finding their own niches in the battle royale formula — which sees players trying to survive to be the last standing in Hunger Games-like multiplayer battles.

H1Z1 is looking to differentiate itself through a focus on competitive play and esports. Along with the decision to go free-to-play, Daybreak announced new additions to its H1Z1 pro league, which it first laid out back in October. The developer is partnering with Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas to provide the venue for the league, and with Facebook to broadcast games. Daybreak has also signed 15 teams to compete.

The inaugural season of the H1Z1 pro league, the first esports league to focus on the battle royale genre, starts on April 21.

“All of our partners are very serious about a new way to do esports and bring it to the masses,” H1Z1 General Manager Anthony Castoro told Digital Trends. “Facebook is a mass market opportunity, a mass market play. Caesars Entertainment is mass market. Las Vegas, the venue, is mass market. And all of these companies are investing in large ways in this kind of content, and they see H1Z1 and battle royale as a way to blaze a new path for eSports.”

The free-to-play and esports announcements come on the heels of another big milestone for H1Z1. The game saw it’s official release at the end of February, after three years in “early access,” during which the game was for sale but still in active development. Along with the exit from early access came a new game mode, “Auto Royale,” in which teams of players compete in battle royale matches from the seats of in-game vehicles.

“This (the H1Z1 pro league) is also a huge opportunity for us to introduce millions of new players and fans to H1Z1 as we exit early access and go free-to-play,” Castoro said. “The combination of those two things I think are going to be huge for H1Z1.”

Daybreak’s esports push and free price tag might be what the game needs to regain its former stature in the battle royale genre. H1Z1 was among the first games and mods to popularize the genre, spinning off a battle royale mode called “King of the Kill” from its original, zombie-survival-focused gameplay. That mode became so popular that Daybreak broke King of the Kill off into its own separate release. The H1Z1 name — which originally referred to a fictional zombie virus, a riff on the H1N1 virus in the real world — went to the battle royale version of the game. The zombie-survival side took on the new title Just Survive.

Despite H1Z1‘s former popularity, though, it has struggled in the face of increased battle royale competition. The game reportedly lost 90 percent of its player base over the last seven months to powerhouse titles PUBG and Fortnite. With even more battle royale titles on the way, it’s going to be up to developers like Daybreak to provide players with a compelling reason to choose their game over so many competitors.

H1Z1 is available now for PC.

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