Bobby “BobbyPoff” Poffenbarger will tell you that nobody grinds like him. There are Warzone players who are better, but Poffenbarger prides himself on entertaining his community of over 200,000 Twitch followers.
But at heart, he’s still a competitor despite his bread and butter being content creation. Poffenbarger competes in Warzone tournaments almost daily, and will shoot for the ultimate $3 million prize in the World Series of Warzone, which starts Wednesday in North America.
Poffenbarger, who signed with North Texas’ Envy Gaming on Feb. 19, has played multiple battle royale titles, starting with streaming Fortnite on his Xbox before transitioning to Blackout and now Warzone.
Several of the most popular video games in the world right now are battle royales. Don’t know what a battle royale is yet? You and your squad against everyone else, all dropping into the same map with an equal opportunity to win. Last one standing takes it all.
The competition attracts large audiences with growing prize pools — and of course the clout of being the best player in the lobby. The action is incomparable, and the genre is dominating the streaming scene so much so that Twitch giants like Nick “Nickmercs“ Kolcheff can garner 60,000 spectators on a Thursday afternoon — that’s just about triple the people who could go watch Luka Doncic play live at American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas.
But the esports scene for battle royales is still a work in progress. Titles like Warzone, Apex Legends and Fortnite — all free to play — are never perfect. There’s cheating, pros feeling unheard and a luck factor to competition. But these games can give an experience that other games like Overwatch or Counter-Strike can’t.
It’s you and your team against everyone else. That’s fun to watch, especially when the best players in the world all drop into the same match for large prize purses. The tournaments keep upping the stakes, with players competing for millions of dollars.
“I know there will still be some people out there that do prefer multiplayer over Battle Royale, but for me, I just don’t get what I’m looking for in video games unless it’s a big battle royale game,” Poffenbarger said.
Envy and Complexity Gaming, both esports powerhouses located in North Texas, are in the business of fielding battle royale teams. Envy has signed Warzone content creators, including Poffenbarger. Complexity has had Fortnite players like Vincent “Punisher” Valtancoli on board since February 2019, and fields an Apex Legends team that recently competed in a global tournament for over $2.5 million.
These games, and the esports connected, learn from each other while connected to the massive casual player bases. That’s why they could be around for a while, Complexity COO Kyle Bautista said.
“I don’t think that Warzone or Apex are going anywhere. Fortnite is gonna continue to break the mold however it can. But these games are going to be around for a long time,” Bautista said. “I wouldn’t be surprised that that 15-year-old in your lobby is still going to be playing when he’s 22.”
Why battle royales?
Why a battle royale? Call of Duty was already popular. There’s a new Halo game coming later in 2021. League of Legends remains an esports staple and Valorant continues to rise after its first live tournament since the game’s release.
What about a battle royale draws attention and new talent? Poffenbarger had his own personal answer. Warzone was life-changing for him, and because of the 150-person lobbies and enormous player-base, more insane players rise to the occasion weekly.
“If you make a good run of those tournaments, make a couple good plays, you’re just on-screen all day,” Poffenbarger said. “I mean, you’re gonna get hundreds if not thousands of followers in a day, so now it’s just good exposure.”
Battle royale games haven’t even been around for a decade, making it one of the youngest genres in an already youthful subsection of gaming. Arma 3 came around in 2012, Bautista noted, followed by H1Z1 and Public Battlegrounds.
Fortnite capitalized on the rising popularity, and Valtancoli got in on the next big game.
“They came into the world with a huge salary and a big vision that they were going to change the game,” Valtancoli said. “Now we’re seeing other companies increase everything.”
Fortnite set the precedent for esports, but were unable to follow through on the pace they set. The 2019 World Cup had a $30 million prize pool, with Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf winning the first-place, $3 million prize.
Valtancoli won $100,000 for finishing 30th in the duos competition of the World Cup, but is disappointed at the lack of worthy competition in Fortnite since. More on that later.
Apex Legends followed suit, with a recent Global Series wrapping up and awarding over $2.5 million. That was something Complexity was looking for when building a team. An esport that offers growth, a league or talent available.
“We love being a part of Apex, their roadmap has been incredible. From our tracking, they’re on pace to have eclipsed their initial launch,” Bautista said. “We always think about how big that initial launch was, and how it was like the most organic viral thing that we’ve ever seen. They’re not only back to that point, but it looks like they’re even above that initial peak again.”
Battle royales have to avoid growing pains though, and Valtancoli was worried that current smash-hits like Warzone wouldn’t learn from the mistakes of games like Fortnite.
There are several reasons why Valtancoli is more focused on content creation and playing Warzone these days, with the occasional competition sprinkled in. He lost interest in competing in Fortnite because the game caters to a younger audience and professional scene.
He turns 26 years old this year, and many Fortnite pros are still in their teens and learning about life, Valtancoli said.
But what’s made it most difficult to compete in Fortnite was the absence of worthy competition through most of 2020. There are cash cups this year, but many tournaments don’t offer a lucrative reward.
“When players are working really hard to be the best and they’re earning $600 for first, I just don’t think it’s a very good reward for a cash cup,” Valtancoli said. “That is extremely hard to stay focused on for three hours, not break mental, and I just don’t think it’s really rewarding.”
Moving from one esport to another title that’s starting to take its professional scene more seriously like Warzone, Valtancoli felt he had insight to offer. 100-player lobbies worked in Fortnite because the building and editing mechanics made for exciting and explosive endgames.
If you get a bad final zone in Warzone, you’re likely to just lose the match. Pros don’t miss shots, so a single rotation could end your tournament.
Because finding a solid formula for professional competition in Warzone has been a process, most of the prize money has gone through kill-races. Players team up to compete against other duos, trios or quads to see how many kills they can get in normal public matches.
It’s entertaining to casuals, and allows for non-stop action. A glaring issue: Warzone still doesn’t have an anti-cheat, 15 months after release. Raven Software is having to ban thousands of accounts, but that doesn’t stop the hackers.
“I’ve lost out on thousands of dollars because people are cheating,” Poffenbarger said. “I don’t want to sound bad, because I’m very fortunate to be in the position I’m in. But I’ve lost thousands of dollars because people are cheating.”
Because of that, any future esport in Warzone would have to include custom lobbies. And the number of players would have to be closer to the 60-person Apex Legends matches.
Future of BRs
Tyler “TeePee” Polchow, another Envy Warzone streamer, recently hosted a tournament that incorporated “mini royale” into the mix. 80 players, all pros, playing in the same lobby.
That helps with the hacking problem, and allows for players to have more room to operate on the map, Poffenbarger felt. The kill races are fun, but this would be how dedicated Warzone teams would be created and flourish.
The World Series of Warzone has a long description for its rules and qualifications, but a normal-sized Warzone match full of pros could be problematic.
“I think that like the big 150-person custom lobbies are a little hectic sometimes and spectating kind of sucks for the game mode,” Poffenbarger said. “But with TeeP’s trials like this being a smaller one. It was really fast-paced. It was just a lot of fun.”
Figuring out what works with these battle royales may be in the best interest of the developers. The Fortnite Champion Series, currently ongoing, has brought back former players like NIckmercs with big cash prizes again, learning from mistakes Valtancoli mentioned.
Bautista was most confident in Apex, but felt that battle royales may be hard to challenge. Halo: Infinite and Battlefield 2042, both shown at E3 earlier this month, didn’t announce a battle royale mode.
“Between Warzone, Fortnite, Apex, and even PUBG, maybe a little bit less so here in the West, those games really do have a stranglehold on that market,” Bautista said. “I think it’s probably a very difficult market to break into.”
Complexity is looking to be even more involved in the battle royale scene. The youth and inexperience of the genre don’t present limitations to the organization.
Bautista uses his limited free time playing Warzone, actually. Apex esports continue to impress Complexity, and more Warzone may be on the horizon.
“It truly is a beast when it comes to those areas. And to say that we’ve had conversations with more than one person that specializes in Warzone streaming is understating it,” Bautista said. “So I would not be at all surprised to see Warzone focused content creators or streamers in the Complexity roster soon.”
Battle Royales succeed in their scale, but this is just the beginning.