By daavpuke 2 Comments
Another eventful PUBG: Battlegrounds season has come to an end and what a tumultuous year it's been for its eSports branch, in particular. For one, the unification of the regular game and eSports settings means that maps are now more varied, both in their pool as well as in the things inside of them. Sandstorms on Miramar and blizzards in the snowy Vikendi tear through the landscape, as players now also need to look to the skies for parachutes and mortars, among others. There's an actual friggin' polar bear in a competitive game. And it's getting kills!
If that's not enough, publisher Krafton also outlined a global partner program; picking a few organizations to collaborate with in each region. These squads receive automatic invites and more. This decision left unsigned teams and snubbed orgs in an awkward spot, leading to a pretty large retreat from several household names. Competitors that did remain were making wild bets with roster changes all year long. Yet, the biggest upset happened in a North American partner team. M1ME, a support player for the Soniqs who just won a global level event, was dropped for Kickstart, the star fragger from Luminosity Gaming (LG). Many felt that the former Soniqs veteran got a bum deal and an immediate revenge story emerged when LG decided that they would do a switcheroo, picking up M1ME for the open spot that Kickstart left them. With both teams going to the PUBG Global Championship (PGC) 2023, we'd all get to see who the better player is. Spoiler: It was always going to be M1ME, because star power doesn't beat work ethics. Kickstart absolutely pulled their weight too, however.
As every year, PGC is the culmination of the sport, bringing the very best together for a weeks-long tournament, filled with incredible gameplay. We had a player jump out of a window with a panzerfaust rocket launcher, to nuke an entire team out of a car. One of my favorite teams, the Vietnamese boys of Cerberus eSports, managed to win with just one player getting 11 kills; wiping multiple teams on his own. Aixleft, a star player in China, put his team on his back the entire event, racking up more than twice the impact of any of his teammates. Like I said before, PUBG eSports is the best and you should watch it.
There was, unfortunately, one incredibly sour footnote that soiled the unabated good times at the tournament this time around. Since you won't hear about it on any fancy journalism blogs or curated websites about supposed "video games," I will be the one to tell you about one of the largest pieces of drama that you didn't know happened this year! For that, we need a brief history lesson.
There is a European team called Question Mark (QM). This team, operated by their captain named Adouzie, is what's known as an open team. Until recently, the unsigned squad had to go through qualifying rounds like any player off the streets. For two years, PGC 2021 and 2022, they managed to rally from that tough spot all the way to the main event, by the skin of their teeth. If there's one thing these boys are known for, it's fighting until the last second. This year, the team added a longtime veteran of the game and former Natus Vincere player, Bestoloch, who brought some serious firepower to the team. Along with an upcoming crack shot in F1lfirst, QM made PGC 2023 a lot easier this year. This was their year!
Now, Question Mark is good, but they're probably not winning the event. We should set that perspective here. They barely pass through to their winner's bracket, which is better than losing, but they then fall down into the Last Chance qualification. In Last Chance, the top 8 teams squeak through to the grand finals, the big cheese, the one and all. That's where the majority of the $2 million prize pool is had. If you go home early, your year ends with a pittance, especially if you didn't get a big payday at one of only a few other major events that year. Four players and a coach living off twenty grand or so for several months is just not getting you very far. A lot of smaller teams combine a day job with a competing schedule. Not to mention that QM is a Russian roster and therefore has to deal with their country's tensions, as well as being ineligible to be called up for the Nations Cup. Russia, an otherwise dominant force in PUBG, no longer gets awarded a chance to compete, for very obvious reasons.
Stack all that mental load and now make sure you get that top 8 spot in Last Chance. Good luck! As usual, QM is scrapping up and down the leaderboard for the duration of the bracket. They're not quite in there yet, but they are oh so close. That is, until game 10 of 12, where one of the weirdest things to ever happen in a PUBG tournament happens. The game ends and the broadcast immediately goes to a technical issue break. Normally, these delays only appear before the start of a round, whenever a malfunction happens. Some headphones break, an unexpected Windows update scrambles someone's settings; there's an entire day that got lost in Dubai to equipment just getting fried. It happens. However, viewers quickly pick up that something occurred during that last match. It's so easy to miss, but it's a devastating error. Question Mark, all set to get into the middle of the playing field, suddenly stops existing. Poof, they're out of there.
After the break, casters quickly mention a technical difficulty and move on, but it's just not so cut and dry. Obviously, QM didn't just decide to give up halfway. What happened was that a power failure in the team's booth took out all four computers in a chain reaction; the worst case scenario possible. The lobby doesn't get a rematch, QM doesn't get compensated by a points average; nothing. The show goes on as if nothing happened. Not only that, but after all 12 rounds, Question Mark missed a spot in the finals by 3 points. Three! You can imagine where everyone thought those few kills may have been found. Everyone is furious, fans and players alike. Even competitors that made it through are upset. They know all too well what the aforementioned stakes are. Your tournament PC's are garbage and they're the ones who get punished for it? Captain Adouzie is inconsolable, stating:
"I can’t sleep today, why our booth?
Bring back 1 year of my life."
What's worse is that Krafton, notoriously bad at community management, responds in the most tacit way possible. A generic mea culpa and promises to do better later aren't helping a team that got robbed right now. Social media is on fire, with pretty much all fingers pointing to the organizers to make it right, but it doesn't happen. The speculation is that if this were to happen to a partner team, instead of some unsigned names, the PUBG gods would've moved mountains. Instead, rather than get a chance at a prize pool of hundreds of thousands, Question Mark goes home for the year with $25000 for their 18th place overall. That check is not nothing, but the air around it stinks to high heaven. If QM hadn't just performed in a previous tournament, taking home six digits with a podium finish, they'd be out of luck. Krafton doesn't even offer any monetary compensation for their catastrophic failure and they can definitely afford it. They got the Squid Game guy coming up in a short movie; they got flaunting money, even if the large majority of it is PUBG Mobile's money.
The grand finals roll around and the Twitch chat is unreadable. Endless pages spam the team name, as well as question marks. For the longest time, the outgoing support for these poor Russian boys is out in wall-to-wall messages. Every topic of conversation on social media still revolves around what happened. As people lash out, this anger also takes a toll on a few teams in the grand finals that maybe aren't playing their best, until Adouzie asks people to stop harassing others in their name. Three bewildering days of stellar games later, the Koreans of Danawa eSports take home the trophy, after already bagging another controversial win at Nations Cup this year. We don't have time to get into all that, so all that's left to say is that Danawa are now the undeniably best team in the world. Petrichor Road, a team whose player got 38 kills in this bracket by themselves, doesn't get awarded the MVP badge, despite that member having a dozen more frags over any other competitor. Krafton had just one bad decision left, I guess.
At least the future of PUBG is exciting, because you'll never know what the hell is going to happen! I hope to see you there next year.