US-based Everett Coleman, Head of Esports, Americas at game publisher KRAFTON, Inc., is on a quest to take PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG), already one of the world’s most popular multi-platform video games, to world-domination status in esports.
In an exclusive Esports BAR interview, Coleman explains his plans to establish the PUBG brand as an international force in esports business for its offline and online events. He discusses the company’s relationship with professional players and fans; the significance of in-game tech for fan engagement; lessons learned from surviving the Covid pandemic; and overcoming other industry-wide challenges.
This is in addition to enjoying his core responsibilities of melding the PUBG businesses in North America and Latin America into one enlarged Americas region.
“Our mission is to continue innovating and exploring the uncharted territory of battle-royale esports,” Coleman says. “We’ve been a trendsetter for both massive global offline championships as well as regional competitions.”
What is PUBG?
With its last-man-standing survival theme, PUBG is an online multiplayer battle-royale game that can have up to 100 participators. The action, thrill and suspense of battling to be the last player standing has made it a global hit; it is acknowledged as one of the most-played video games worldwide.
It had sold more than 70 million units sold for PC and consoles by 2020, despite being released only in 2017. And the mobile version, launched only in 2018, has been downloaded in a record-breaking 1 billion-plus times.
Enter the international esports arena and PUBG is already making similar waves, despite the challenge of entertaining viewers with a narrative seen from the points of view of up to 64 different players.
“We want to continue pushing the boundaries of broadcast and viewer experience while building a tournament structure that identifies, promotes, and celebrates the best teams and players around the world,” Coleman says.
PUBG Esports wins offline and online battles
With his 13 years’ experience in esports, including a stint at ESL Gaming, Coleman brought significant “holistic understanding” of competitive gaming when he joined KRAFTON (formerly PUBG Corporation) in December 2018.
In a short space of time, he had written SUPER (the Standard and Universal PUBG Esports Ruleset), effectively the playbook that governs PUBG esports tournaments worldwide.
The high production standards established have led to positive media coverage of PUBG competitions, which this year will include the PUBG Global Invitational.S (PGI.S) at the start of 2021. It will be followed by the online regional PUBG Continental Series (PCS4 and PCS5) in the Americas (North America and Latin America), Europe, Asia and Asia-Pacific. The tournaments culminate in the PUBG Global Championship (PGC) in November.
To ensure fans remain engaged during and between the core competitions, there are other events and activities such as the ESL PUBG Masters and the Pick’Em Challenge. The last comprises special add-ons within the game for fans to play to win “Esports Points” and the chance to purchase event merchandise or in-game items. KRAFTON shares the sales’ proceeds with the professional players and teams.
PUBG Esports tournament strategy
For all PUBG competitions, Coleman explains: “Our approach to esports includes a variety of large-scale first-party events like the PUBG Continental Series, large-scale third-party events like the ESL PUBG Masters, and smaller grassroots events led by some of our amazing community members. This enables us to fill our annual calendar with high-quality tournaments and broadcasts while ensuring there are frequent competitions for every skill level.”
Additionally, Coleman says it is important to collaborate with like-minded outside partners like ESL Gaming.
“The partnership with ESL on our ESL PUBG Masters programme was a natural fit for many reasons, and it was a continuation of a successful online DreamHack event at the end of 2020,” he says. “We anxiously look forward to our next ESL PUBG Masters event in July and are excited to see what the future holds beyond that.”
Supporting esports professionals
As well as its well-documented efforts to assist professional players travelling internationally (Covid-permitting) to participate in offline competitions, KRAFTON has hiked the size of its esports prize pool.There is more.
“PUBG Esports prize pools are continuing to grow,” Coleman declares. “Our PGI.S in-game esports item sales and revenue share programme grew the prize pool to exceed $7,000,000 – one of the largest in esports history. For PGI.S, 30% of the revenue generated by sales of PGI.S branded items was awarded to the teams and players.” says Coleman.
Engaging esports fans
KRAFTON has turned to in-game technology to interact directly with fans, followers, and broadcast viewers.
A prime example is the Pick’Em Challenge mentioned earlier. “Through initiatives like the in-game esports tab, Pick’Em Challenge, we can continue raising awareness, driving interest, and generating engagement to the programme,” Coleman explains. “We cannot wait to reveal more of what these plans will look like in the future.”
He expands on the vital role played by in-game features. “The in-game activity is the best way to connect directly with the wider PUBG player base in a natural and nondisruptive way. Without these touchpoints, a smaller subset of the audience would be connecting with esports because players would need to leave the game client and venture out to other platforms to consume esports content,” he points out.
“For example, by purchasing in-game esports items and participating in the Pick’Em Challenge, fans can preserve the legacy of major events and support their favourite teams and players with revenue sharing.”
The esports show goes on during Covid
Like the global esports community, PUBG fans were deeply disappointed when offline tournaments were cancelled because of Covid pandemic restrictions on out-of-home, venues-based entertainment.
Determined to keep fans hooked during such a frustrating period, KRAFTON responded swiftly by shifting the experience online as seamlessly as possible.
“We have worked tirelessly to minimise the impact of Covid by building remote broadcast solutions and doubling down on our commitment to create memorable competitions during what has been an extremely difficult time,” Coleman states.
“Our broadcast teams pull in audio and video signals from all over the world to combine in-game observer feeds, API-driven motion graphics, and our favourite PUBG Esports broadcast talent. Additionally, we have built a brand-new esports production studio in our office in Santa Monica to ramp up the quality of our online productions.”
He adds: “The Santa Monica studio is still subject to Covid compliance and precautions, but it will be another great way to ramp up the scale of online events even though players will still be competing from home.”
Esports continues to spell post-Covid optimism
Hunkering down during the unsettling pandemic has forced the company’s management and production teams to raise their game even higher by developing innovative production and communications techniques.
“Producing live broadcasts outside of the convenience of a studio or live event environment forces everyone to be much more efficient,” Coleman asserts.
And new techniques learned as a result will feed into the constantly improving standards KRAFTON is determined to maintain as the crisis is contained and lockdown easing kicks in.
“I believe that even after Covid settles, many publishers and organisers will still be interested in including larger-scale online tournaments in their ecosystem. In most cases pre-Covid, online events were generally smaller-scale qualifiers while the bigger moments were reserved for offline events. With the new approach, more big event moments can be added throughout the year for a fraction of the cost of an offline event.”
The future of esports at PUBG
Of course, other challenges remain, such as not allowing esports cheaters to spoil the fun for its fans and the esports business at large.
For Coleman, however, the only way is up at KRAFTON and the whole esports sector. Moreover, the North American-Latin American merger to create PUBG’s Americas region augurs well.
“We want to scale up every aspect of the programme from marketing, broadcast, and creative to the way we engage our community.” He adds: “Last year was pivotal for PUBG Esports. Now that we have the new foundation set, the improvements and innovations will follow.”