Daybreak Games, which Sony sold to New York investment management firm Columbus Nova in February, has thrown its hat into the competitive gaming ring.
The first H1Z1 Invitational, happening Sept. 26 at the Intel Game Lab booth at TwitchCon 2015 in San Francisco, will offer over $150,000 in cash prizes to the best players and Twitch streamers in the world.
The company’s massively multiplayer online (MMO) PC zombie game, H1Z1, has spawned a popular modified iteration, or “mod”, called Battle Royale. That version of the game, which features a “last man standing” multiplayer gameplay experience on a map that gradually shrinks over time, is the focus of the tournament.
Taking a page out of Valve’s script from its tournament The International—an event that awarded over $18 million in prizes in August—Daybreak is funding the H1Z1 prize pool through the sale of in-game items. Twenty-five percent of all H1Z1 Invitational Crate sales go directly to the pool.
According to SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreunen, the monthly active user base for H1Z1 in August was 657,000 players. That’s up from 420,000 in July.
“Daybreak is one of the few game companies that seems to be doing things in the right order: They understand that for an initiative like competitive gaming you first need to build a fan base, not the other way around,” Van Dreunen says. “Employing a model in which part of in-game spending contributes to the prize pool is a great way to build momentum and draw a crowd. It gives players an avenue to contribute to a game they enjoy and raises the stakes for participants and spectators alike.”
Laura Naviaux, chief publishing officer of Daybreak Games, says competitive play was always part of the studio’s plan from the very beginning of development—a process that involved the gaming community every step of the way.
“We always knew we wanted to have different game modes even in the earliest stages of H1Z1 development and we loved the idea of a Hunger Games-esque mode,” Naviaux says.
The studio saw what amateur game developer Brendan Greene (who goes by the screen name PLAYERUNKOWN) did with the DayZ Battle Royale mod for Arma 2 and later Arma 3. Daybreak hired Greene to work with the internal development team on Battle Royale for H1Z1.
This invitational is also the latest step in what Naviaux says has been a fruitful relationship with Twitch. Long before Amazon acquired the streaming platform for $970 million last year, Daybreak (then operating as Sony Online Entertainment) was the first game publisher to integrate Twitch’s application programming interface (API) into its games so that players could stream gameplay directly to the Twitch platform. That partnership has come full circle with Daybreak hosting its tournament at TwitchCon.
“We have an amazing streamer community, so the Invitational is an opportunity for players and Twitch personalities looking for a more competitive experience to come together and play, with the added bonus of the chance of winning real-life money,” Naviaux says.
Van Dreunen says Twitch and other channels play a key role in marketing games today.
“By all measures this phenomenon of people watching others people play is still in its early stages, but it is proving to be increasingly important in building awareness and expanding the user experience,” van Dreunen says. “Anecdotally, we’ve seen viewership on Twitch for H1Z1 streamers grow in recent months.”
Naviaux is letting the community weigh in on future tournaments, or even more structured eSports events around H1Z1.
“You can’t force a game to become an eSport—a game can have all the right components, but it is the players that decide if a game will translate into a successful eSport,” Naviaux says.
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