When “Apex Legends” exploded onto the gaming landscape in February its rapid rise caught the attention of esports investors who saw potential for the game to become the next big property in competitive gaming. Esports organizations around the globe rushed to field rosters and sign top competitors. The only problem? There was no established competitive circuit and there still isn’t.
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Five months after the game’s release just a handful of one-off tournaments have been announced and no overarching framework exists to govern the Apex scene as there is around “League of Legends,” “Overwatch” or “Fortnite.” The teams have players but, largely, nowhere for them to play.
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“[Apex Legends’ current events] are mainly invite-only tournaments that are hard to get into, so it is currently not healthy for the scene,” Sentinels “Apex Legends” player Jared “zombs” Gitlin said. “These events are also kill races, which involve a lot of luck and you aren’t going head-to-head against other teams. I believe these events are meant to hold us off ’til bigger tournaments start to happen in the coming months.”
A pair of Twitch Rivals events launched the competitive scene around Apex but it has gone mostly dormant since. In May, esports tournament organizer FACEIT announced the FACEIT Pro Series: Apex Legends, the “first officially-licensed” “Apex Legends” tournament with a prize pool of $50,000. On June 5, Respawn announced a few stand-alone “Apex Legends” events hosted by ESPN at the 2019 ESPYS on July 11 and the X Games Minneapolis in early August. It’s part of a larger series from ESPN, called EXP, which will host tournaments from a number of different games — not just “Apex Legends.” Aside from those events, teams and players have mainly been left to scrimmage one another.
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Pittsburgh Knights president James O’Connor told The Post last month that Respawn has been keeping esports organizations in the loop as the official competitive scene develops. But in the interim, the game publisher has faced criticism from some players who were hungry for new content in and around the game. Respawn said in May that its focused on creating a sustainable environment for its developers and slowly building up a foundation to support that massive growth .
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But that deliberate pace has largely halted the momentum the game accumulated from its smashing debut. With the help of a marketing plan that included top Twitch streamers like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins the game shoved “Fortnite” right out of the top streaming slot. But once streamers started transitioning back to “Fortnite” and other game titles, Twitch numbers for “Apex Legends” started to decline . In late May, market research firm SuperData reported that “Apex Legends’” revenue numbers were down by a whopping 74 percent. Most recently, EA’s stock dropped more than 5 percent “after initial viewership numbers for a new release failed to reach previous highs” following the game’s season two launch, according to CNBC . Now, teams are harboring players in an esports scene for a game that may never recapture the magic of its debut
[ From May: ‘Fortnite’ competitor ‘Apex Legends’ is losing steam, highlighting questions of content and crunch ]
“There’s always worry that the hype will die down, but it’s more of an expectation than an actual worry,” O’Connor said. “A movie that comes out and opens number one at the box office won’t stay at number one for the whole year. That doesn’t mean it’s not an amazing film and an instant classic. Entertainment always shifts but we believe if Apex is supported as an esport, that fan base will solidify and grow.”
The launch or development of an esports scene concurrent with or shortly after the release of a game isn’t normal in the industry. Traditionally, titles that have long-standing success inspire growing, grass roots scene. But “Apex Legends” has felt different due to its attention-grabbing launch, which drew investors’ attention and triggered competition to sign the best available players
Tim “dummy” Olson, Christopher “GrimReality” Schaefer and Ted “silkthread” Wang were previously successful “Overwatch” pros before signing with Sentinels . Some teams snapped up talent that quickly rose to the top of Twitch Rivals’ events, like NRG Esports’ Coby “Dizzy” Meadows
Even with a dearth of events, Dizzy isn’t sitting on his hands. He’s streaming on Twitch to a couple thousand viewers each time he goes live. The viewership isn’t on par with Blevins’s audience numbers, but he’s still making money
Though early, the investment by teams has not been overly costly, according to a number of team representatives. P1 Esports founder Rob Moore, who owns the Sentinels and its “Apex Legends” team, said the investment for “Apex Legends” is relatively low compared to games where players are competing locally and need housing, like “Overwatch” and “League of Legends.”
“Fortunately with games like Apex and ‘Fortnite,’ the players are completely remote so the expenses are much lower,” Moore said. “We are only investing in travel once the tournaments are announced.”
This low investment means teams aren’t desperate for their “Apex Legends” players to begin chasing prize money on a more regular basis. And there is risk involved with Respawn rolling out a poor league or tournament structure. Battle royal games — even the most-popular ones, like “Fortnite” and “Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds” — are still struggling to find the right dynamic for their competitions. “Apex Legends,” naturally, has already been compared to those two titles, and success will be measured against them as well. But should Respawn wait too long to truly invest in its esports scene, teams and their players will move on as the next big thing comes along
“Every game goes through a cycle as people explore the game and develop an expertise in the game and an initial curiosity from fans,” Moore said. “The true test is how many people are playing and watching six months later or two years later.”
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