As the first battle royale game to form an esports league, the National PUBG League was forced to find its own way in creating an entertaining and balanced product that could also be sustainable on both a regional and global level.
In Phase One of the National PUBG League, Tempo Storm dominated the North American scene, but subsequently struggled at the FACEIT Global Summit: PUBG Classic championship. Tempo’s sudden troubles opened the proverbial door for North America’s fourth-place team, Shoot To Kill (now Lazarus), who shocked fans with a grand finals appearance at the championship event in April.
The NPL’s first phase help put the entire NA PUBG scene on the map, but teams are now focused on Phase Two, which begins tomorrow. Over the next two months, the best North American PUBG teams will compete for the top five spots, which will secure them spots for the GLL Grand Slam: PUBG Classic in July.
Before Phase Two kicks off, however, Dot Esports sat down with PUBG’s NA esports lead, Alex Penn, to discuss the evolution of the PUBG competitive scene, his top moments from Phase One and the PUBG Global Classic, as well as what fans have to look forward to in Phase Two.
What was your favorite moment from Phase One? Obviously, Tempo was pretty dominant for the most part, but was there a specific moment that stuck out to you?
Alex Penn: During week one, with that epic ending in Picado on the casino was pretty crazy. And I think it was a great kick-off point for the season, where we just had something that most players wouldn’t expect on a competitive level and you would probably see in clips from streamers and people more on the influencer side stuff. But at the top level, you never expect people to be on multi-level buildings and that crazy ending with someone being on top shooting down through the building to get the final kill was pretty intense.
The other moment for me would be seeing Tempo dominate. Coming into any game and seeing a team absolutely floor the rest of the competition is just a sight to be seen. It doesn’t happen in every game in esports, so it is great to see the ability and consistency, because that is one of the biggest arguments against battle royale as an esport. There is randomness, at least more so than in other games, but when you see the same teams placing at the top week in and week out, it really shows that there is a skill gap between the best and second best.
Was it a surprise that Tempo Storm jumped out to such a lead early and rode it out? There were a couple of tight moments in the middle for some teams, but Tempo asserted themselves pretty early.
It was honestly a surprise to me that any team was able to do that. Our top five teams at the end of the season were kind of our projected top five coming into the league, but having Tempo come out and kind of lead the pack for a majority of the season, including the preseason and winning the Royale event, was pretty unexpected. I did expect them to be near the top, just not that dominant. It did kind of go back and forth for a while between all the teams at the top, but Tempo jumped out in Week Three I believe, and just kinda rode that wave for the rest of the season.
As you said, you kind of had those top five teams marked from the start, but was there a specific team at the start of the phase that you picked out to probably be at least a top-three finisher?
When I was thinking about it early on, I didn’t really know who would be in those top-three positions, but I knew we would have a healthy competition. Looking back to last year and at all of the international and third-party events that occurred, I knew that those top five teams could compete at an international level and could qualify for all of those events, but I didn’t know which ones would really stand out. It was great to see the level of competition rise as the first phase went along and I expect that to happen more in Phase Two as teams consolidate talent really for the first time in the NA scene. There really wasn’t a whole lot of reason to do that in 2018 because we didn’t have a pro league, it was all one-off qualifiers or invites to get into those third-party events so everyone was really just sticking with their friends, but now things are a little more cutthroat, which I think will make Phase Two even more exciting in the top eight for sure.
Which team caught you the most by surprise during the initial phase?
I mean, the Shoot To Kill guys, now Lazarus, those guys. Unfortunately, [they] got dropped by Dignitas coming into the preseason, so they were dealing with not having an organization and coming into LA. They barely made it into FACEIT by taking fourth place, just beating out Why Tempt Fate and then performing insanely well on the global stage, placing second, just one fight away from winning the tournament in a pretty epic final match, which is probably my favorite match of all time from any PUBG tournament. Seeing them prove that money isn’t everything, I mean they just came in, they didn’t have a salary, were living in the hotel provided by PUBG for the seven weeks they were here in LA, and using the practice PCs we had given them, and then not just showing up, but showing the rest of the world that NA is here to stay and is going to be a powerhouse in PUBG esports.
You’ve said it is going to be more cutthroat and maybe a more traditional style of esports moving forward, so what are you most excited about for Phase Two?
Looking at what has happened between Phases One and Two, organizations were able to change all four of their players coming into the new phase. What we saw was 10 teams making only one roster change and one team making two roster changes, so it was actually very refreshing to see that most of the organizations are sticking with their core team, working out the kinks and trying to make upgrades one player at a time, which you don’t always see. Especially in early esports days, drastic changes tend to happen all the time, but we are really seeing a lot of the top teams really stick together and make that small, incremental upgrade. With teams like Why Tempt Fate, who are now Spacestation Gaming, and Cloud9 making some changes, it will really be a test to see if any of these upgraded teams topple Tempo or Lazarus, who have kept their core four together. Because I would say that those two and specifically Tempo are the two giants in NA-centric competitions.
Outside of Tempo and Lazarus, who would be one of your early picks to be in that top tier with them in the upcoming phase?
Man, I think Spacestation after barely missing the FACEIT Classic under Why Tempt Fate’s banner, I think they’re the team to watch. I think they missed it by like three points, which is like three kills so they got a little bit of a sore ending last phase. They need to come out strong. The top five of Phase Two will make it to our GLL Classic in July, which will be a Western only event for NA, EMA, Oceania, and Latin America will be participating in that 16 team event. I think they are the team to watch though, but they do have a lot to prove after that roster change with one of their players stepping down to become a full-time content creator.
What is the best part of Phase One that you want to make sure transitions over to Phase Two?
I really do think that best thing about Phase One was watching that middle of the pack and how close it was from like second place all the way to around 12th. There were teams fighting to avoid relegation coming into the last week, as well as teams still trying to get a top-four spot to make it into the FACEIT Classic going into the very last matches. I think that is a testament to the amount of matches we are playing, especially when you are looking at a battle royale league in general, which is something that hasn’t really been done much before. So we are working to find that sweet spot between the amount of matches we need to play to make the game a competitive and fair environment where the randomness of the circle and plane paths aren’t affecting the best teams from making it to the top, but also creating that feeling of suspense for who will be there at the end.
We kind of have cutoff points in our standings. For example, top five go to GLL, top eight get prize money, and top 10 avoid relegation. So there are these natural dropoff points that all of these teams know and it pushes a team who might be in 14th heading into the last week to try and get top 10. I think that gives us a lot of different angles to cover and makes sure all the teams are fighting for something going into the last week. That is a huge benefit of starting with a promotion and relegation system because it allows us to come up with more interesting storylines for something like Battle Royale where you have 16 teams in every match.
What would be your elevator pitch to someone who didn’t watch Phase One now that Phase Two here?
A big part of this year is setting the foundation and starting to find those stars and teams that can become stars. Really I would just say pay attention to our website, pubgesports.com. We are starting to pump out more and more content on there when it comes to editorial, but also on YouTube, we are really leveling up our content creation to try and highlight these players and teams. So look out for that because we are going to be following those top four teams from the FACEIT Classic this season and create more content around them to try and show their personality, what really makes a PUBG pro tick, and how people can relate to them.
A big part of Phase Two for us is ramping up our revenue share opportunities for our teams. We launched the MPL Phase Two jacket in the PUBG store and that will be up throughout the entire phase, with 25 percent of the proceeds going directly to the teams. I’m a huge fan of getting that stuff in early and growing on it from the dev team all the way to the marketing team as we start working so that the players see a return for being a part of the NPL.
We have a five-year plan for esports. This is just year one, so there is still a lot to learn and improve on and we are working with our partners over at OGN to create the best possible product this year and continue on into next year.