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Original Reporting

It was an exciting time in early 2020. Everett Coleman, the director of PUBG Esports, and the rest of his crew were heading into the final stages of building a new studio in Santa Monica, California. They were working through regulations required by the city.

Then the pandemic hit. Work on the production came to a halt as everyone had to work from home. The new studio — something PUBG players, casters and tournament organizers had been eagerly waiting for — would have to wait.

Fast forward to June 2021 when the PUBG Continental Series 4 was scheduled to take place within all of the competitive battle royale’s regions. PUBG Corp had finally finished going through city regulations and testing. At last, they would be able to broadcast from their new studio.

“Coming out of that first show day, we got the entire crew together,” Coleman said. “We all got together and just looked at each other. It was just an overwhelming moment. It was an emotional first day back.”

Bouncing back after the pandemic hit

Despite the headlines that esports have prospered during the pandemic, the industry has gone through a major setback. Events have been cancelled, projects have been postponed and organizers have had to make sacrifices for the necessary switch to online play.

Many organizations folded during the last year, but PUBG Corp used the pandemic as a way to prove that it is in this game for the long run. While PUBG faces issues in China, it isn’t backing down from a challenge in North America.

“A lot of people used COVID as a way to save money. We used it as an opportunity to go back to the fundamentals of the battle royale,” Coleman said. “We’re not going anywhere and the pandemic was proof of that goal.”

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The PUBG broadcast studio in Santa Monica, California. | Provided by PUBG Corp

PUBG Corp hosted three editions of the PUBG Continental Series (including the cross-region championship) and the PUBG Global Invitational.S 2021 – with one of the biggest prize pools in battle royale history, at $7.1 million – during the pandemic.

This came as prominent organizations had been leaving PUBG Esports in late 2019 and early 2020. Teams like Spacestation Gaming and Ghost Gaming departed the scene, citing a lack of communication, some broken promises regarding branded in-game cosmetics and a lack of a sustainable ecosystem for the competitive community.

“There was minimal support from PUBG Corp. throughout. They failed to create a sustainable ecosystem that could support players and teams competing,” said co-owner of Spacestation Gaming, Shawn Pellerin, in an interview with Esports Insider. “There were some players who went the full year with no way to earn anything financial besides small amounts of prize money. Players and teams were always left in the dark.”

Players are hopeful about the state of the battle royale

It’s difficult to both organize tournaments and own a team within an esport like PUBG. There are far more teams competing in larger lobbies, and results can sometimes be dominated by randomly generated factors due to the nature of battle royales. That, in addition to games like Call of Duty: Warzone eclipsing PUBG on Twitch, has pushed one of the original battle royales out of the limelight. Things are looking up, though.

Spacestation Gaming and other organizations re-entered PUBG in 2021 by signing existing rosters. Their return, along with the return of other prominent organizations like Dignitas, are a sign that PUBG Corp is trying to right its ship.

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Spacestation Gaming left PUBG in October 2019 and returned in June 2021. | Provided by Spacestation Gaming

“Right now I feel that PUBG Esports is doing a really good job,” said Dignitas player Nolan “Shinboi” Burdick. “It had the largest prize pool of any tournament to date, and did it during COVID. Before that, they ran successful PCS tournaments.”

PUBG Corp is in the middle of the PUBG Continental Series 5 — the final, weeks-long tournament before the PUBG Global Championship in November — which ran through Oct. 1. This series, along with every series in 2021 so far, has been played with the Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner ruleset (WWCD), which prioritizes placing first over getting kills.

“It’s kind of stressful. It’s more all or nothing,” said Susquehanna Soniqs player Tristan “Shrimzy” Nowicki after “stomping” the competition at PCS4. “You’ll do well if you have good mental fortitude. Weaker teams will crumble.”

Looking towards the future of PUBG NA

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Casters were overjoyed to finally be commentating outside their homes. | Provided by PUBG Corp

This is one of many changes that PUBG Esports has gone through throughout its existence. The series itself has experienced multiple formatting and name changes as well. Despite the ruleset switching back to the standard SUPER point ruleset (which prioritizes kills and placement for the Championship), the number of changes was daunting, according to those at PUBG Corp. They hope to calm things down going forward.

“We’re not afraid to experiment,” Coleman said. “We’ve been at the forefront of battle royale esports the entire time We do want to become a little bit more stable and predictable, though.”

PUBG Corp has been making other changes to try and streamline how the Continental Series works. The ‘Americas’ region, comprised of both North and South America, started with PCS4 — and it came with an increased emphasis on betting through PUBG pick’em challenges that let players predict who will win if they purchase specific in-game cosmetics. Those are two ways the PUBG Corp has tried to make things easier for organizations within the scene.

The PUBG Global Championship is a month-long event that runs from Nov. 19 to Dec. 19, featuring 32 of the best teams from Europe, APAC, the Americas and Asia. It’ll be a hybrid event, including LAN and online competition. It’s not safe or feasible for teams to travel to one location from all over the world, but Coleman hopes to return to fully fledged LAN events soon.

“Our crown jewels are the big LAN events,” he said, despite declining to share details about what’s next after the championship. “2022 is going to be an exciting year.”

Aron Garst looks at esports from a different point of view by tackling the ways games are molded and broken by players around the world. He covers Call of Duty, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros, and everything else for Upcomer. You can read his previous work at WIRED, Rolling Stone, ESPN and elsewhere. Rise up red sea.
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