Is Apex Legends the title to topple Fortnite?
Apex Legends has entered the esports arena with a bang. Published by EA, this Overwatch meets Call of Duty battle royale lovechild amassed over 10 million players in its first 72 hours and has since gone from strength to strength.
Having become a fixture at the top of the Twitch most streamed games, questions are now being raised as to whether Apex has the potential to strip its competitor, Fortnite, of its 200 million strong playerbase.
Apex Vs Fortnite: A Comparison
Since the release of H1Z1, and more recently, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), the battle royale genre has exploded to capture hundreds of millions of players. The genre itself is still in its early stages, and the opportunity to carve out a franchise in this space is wide open. The result has been a dozen BR games hitting online stores in the past 3 years, each with their own unique - but often unsuccessful - spin on the genre.
This rush of games has led to fierce competition with Apex and Fortnite now leading the pack. The question is, are these two games different enough to co-exist or will we see a “winner take all” play out?
In May 2018 Fortnite developers, Epic Games, announced that it would be putting up $100M in tournament prize money over the 2018-2019 season to kick start its esports scene, although given the absence of any multi-million dollar tournaments it would seem those promised funds were never deployed. That said, Fortnite took in over $3B in profit during the course of 2018 alone, giving Epic Games an unprecedented bankroll for future investments in the space.
Apex, on the other hand, has made no such announcements and the game is still rushing to get to its feet. However, with a similar business model to Fortnite, the opportunity for stacking up equally dizzying profits seems likely, opening the door to major investment in the esports scene. Given EA’s success with FIFA 19 and - more recently - its partnership with the UK Premier League’s esports branch, the ePremier League, the ability for the publisher to successfully deliver such an investment is no doubt far greater.
But investment alone does not an esport make. Battle Royale games have notoriously struggled with an awkward viewing experience as a result of the fast-paced action and often long-range fights. PUBG has had the most success as a spectator sport thanks to its slower gameplay and development effort which introduced a number of features including “view-in-view”.
Fortnite has not had the same success and the list of tournaments each year is conspicuously short. While watching a streamer wipe a squad after taking a ride on a rocket launcher (warning headphone users) can be hugely entertaining, big money tournaments are not conducive to high risk plays and the inevitable long distance tower-vs-tower fights lack a certain wow factor.
Competitive Apex is currently an unknown beast. However the current meta seems to be geared towards closer-range fights and introduction of jump towers rapidly increase the speed in which entire squads can engage fights.
An entirely new concept - revival - also has the potential to make for far more exciting underdog stories, allowing entire squads to come back from the brink with a successful respawn of their teammates.
That said, the ability for any of these games to carve out a truly awesome viewing experience may remain elusive. Sickodds co-founder, Nick Pateman, said “while the appetite for streaming and playing BR games might be through the roof, the spectator interest as an esport is still negligible - something needs to change. We’re holding out some hope that Apex will disrupt this narrative, but with so much profit to be made away from the esports scene, the incentive to invest properly may be too weak.”
First Person Vs Third Person
The most glaring difference between Apex and Fortnite is the player’s perspective. As has been seen in PUBG, which offers both first and third person, players are most likely to choose one perspective and stick with it. This mutual exclusivity of first and third person perspectives would suggest that players are naturally more likely to stick to the game that offers their preferred style.
If Apex is to attract third person players, it needs to offer something else to force them to switch to first person.
That something else could well be in Apex’s carefully crafted class system. While class systems are nothing new in the battle royale genre (see Realm Royale), the execution of the 8 different classes in Apex is surprisingly polished and conducive to more interesting team fights. This list of classes is planned to be increased, adding entirely new facets to the all-important meta and helping to keep game mechanics and player strategy fresh.
Apex has attracted a number of Fortnite players thanks to its similar pacing and style. Fortnite’s biggest streamer, Ninja, recently gave the esport credit for being a “great game” and exciting because it’s still “fresh”. Another Fortnite streamer, TimTheTatMan, has recently started streaming Apex full-time and is regularly topping Apex’s most watched list. Other major influencers including Shroud and DrDisrespect have also been stacking up copious hours on the game and there’s no sign that any of these streamers plan to slow down.
Battle Royale Dilution
While Apex and Fortnite may not be directly competing on mechanics, there will undoubtedly still be a large overlap in the playerbase. PUBG, which saw its 24 hour active players peak at 3.2m in January 2018, has since plummeted to around 900,000 today. This drop in player count has been largely attributed to a migration of players to Fortnite, whose gameplay and style is - aside from the battle royale element - entirely different. Apex will no doubt follow the same trend, harvesting players from the incumbent games and diluting their lead that little bit more.
While it seems certain that Fortnite, despite the success of its rivals, will continue to be a force of a game, its hopes of becoming an esport look to have been set back with the launch of Apex. The real question is not whether these games will continue to attract new players, but whether either will be successful in garnering the elusive recognition as an esport in this popular genre.