So Daybreak has announced the very first H1Z1 tournament, and it's left us wondered... will it work? As a zombie-survival game it's not a title you'd expect to see attempt make the shift, the genre having more in line with the plodding gameplay of DayZ than the high octane plays of CS:GO. We're nothing if not open-minded, however, so we take a step back and look at exactly what the game has to offer as a competitive game, and whether it has the clout to stand-out among an increasingly crowded industry.
King Of The Kill
First things first, let's take a look at the gameplay mode. While the standard H1Z1 mode is like your typical zombie survival game - explore, loot, have your belongings stolen from a random player - the King Of The Kill version is actually more akin to the multiplayer mode we remember from shooters of the past. It used to be a popular game mode back when Quake and Unreal Tournament were the shooters to beat, but these days there are many games that use it - the closest for esports fans being, perhaps, Hardpoint in Call Of Duty. As a watchable mode, however, does King Of The Kill have what it takes? Well, perhaps. There's a single objective for players to work towards, and since multiple teams will be playing at once - at least in the first official tournament - it could be a fascinating twist on the typical one team versus one team sort of sport we usually get. Add in the fact that there are a lot of potential strategies and tactics to use - from parachuting into the objective to barrelling gung-ho in a jeep - and it could make for a very varied esport that changes from game to game.
The problem, however, is the combat might not make for especially enjoyable viewing. While Overwatch has managed to overcome that issue somewhat, it's perhaps more difficult for H1Z1. There could, potentially, be so much more to take in, and with 15 groups duking it out it'll be hard for casters to follow the action themselves, let alone narrate it successfully to an audience. The issue here is that number: 15 teams is a lot of individual components, each working separately from one another with their own strategies and tactics. They won't be taking it in turns, instead they'll be charging towards the goal and looking to score those points. Of course this is assuming a typical match of H1Z1 will play out how it does in our mind: a flailing mess. It may well end up being more considered and more tactical than the gameplay videos usually make it appear.
Esports Organisations Already On Board
There must be something here, anyway, because a handful of esports orgs have already jumped on board. The heavy hitters like Fnatic and Cloud9 are notably distant, but we've still seen Echo Fox, Rogue and Denial Gaming all form H1Z1 teams. Of course some teams like to get in on the ground floor and help to make names for themselves while there is less competition, but that doesn't make an esport any less viable. But the thing is, it doesn't need to matter. The already mentioned organisations already have footholds in other esports, too, and where fans will tune in to watch them there - say, Rogue with Overwatch - they'll likely also end up discovering their H1Z1 squad, too, either through social media or via comments from team players. That, in itself, will be enough to draw attention to H1Z1, and all any burgeoning esport team needs is attention. Once it has that, the audience will continue to grow from there. Once we see some of the bigger names get on board, and perhaps we should say 'if' there, then we'll likely see a bigger influx in fans and, ultimately, expenditure on the game as an esport.
Hard To Follow, Or Very Easy?
The only real issue we have is with the setup of the first official tournament. We've discussed how the combat might play out, but how will it be presented? The biggest problem comes from keeping track of it all. Perhaps this is because we're so used to relatively short rounds in the FPS space. Most play at least three rounds, while CS:GO needs 16 to keep things interesting. H1Z1 has one, and it's an hour long. While that's fine for the amateur players of a game to take an hour of their evening with their friends to overcome a goal, it's a tough ask for viewers. While a single, hour-long match might have more in common with sports, H1Z1 doesn't have the same rigid rulesets. A clear winner could come out on top early on in the game, and in that case what makes viewers want to stay to watch the end? Good sport stays entertaining, primarily because it's possible to turn things around. H1Z1 needs that.
Is There Interest?
H1Z1 launched primarily as a zombie survival game, but perhaps its testament to its competitive mode where that seems to have taken a backseat to its King Of The Kill mode. The Twin Galaxies server in particular acts as its Challenger League, where players can work their way up the leaderboard with the most impressive stats and stand out from the crowd. Add the fact that H1Z1 regularly gets 50,000 people or more watching the multiplayer mode, and you've a competitive game that has quite a sustainable audience. Many of these streamers are also the pro players for significant H1Z1 teams, too, and that alone should tell you something about the interest in a H1Z1 esport. It might seem like an outsider to many of us, but much like the quiet shuffling of the undead the game features, this is an esport that is sneaking up on us rather than exploding onto the scene like Overwatch did. That should give it the preparation it needs to standout when it really needs to later this year.