History of Battle Royale: The Road to Legends

By Ethan Johnson

Drop in, grab a gun, keep inside the circle, and fight to be the last one standing. It is a cycle that seems so familiar with the market sometimes seeming to be oversaturated with games offering “battle royale” at times, but a little over a decade ago one would be hard put to find any game with such a mode. There were such modes of course but what happened that led just one game in the genre having over 25 million players? The answer is a lot less obscure than expected and odds are that most people were a part of this genre before the recent phenomena.

One of the earliest sources of the genre is a book published in Japan in 1999 aptly named “Battle Royale”. The story of the novel follows highschool students who are dropped onto an island by an authoritative Japanese government and told to kill each other until there is only one left standing. Another popular novel that helped develop the genre is the Hunger Games (2008) and its sequels by Suzanne Collins. The popular novels along with their movie adaptations (2012-2015) depict children being sent to fight to the death in a yearly tournament.

It was not long after the release of the first Hunger Games movie that the battle royale hype came to the video game industry. Minecraft servers were soon opened under the name of “Hunger Games servers” where player would be spawned in a central circle and then had to fight the other players until only one was left. The servers were later renamed to Survival Games. All players started with nothing and could then pick up items from chests scattered throughout the map.

In 2015 a game called H1Z1 was released on for Steam early access. The game was eventually divided into two one being called H1Z1: King of the Hill which consisted of a game mode that acted in a battle royale fashion. The game suffered many bugs and a rocky launch but did still sell over a million copies.

It was in 2017 that Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds was released and sold over 20 million copies by the end of the year. Though not the first, Battlegrounds is the game that turned battle royale into the genre it is now. However, despite its success and popularity, Battlegrounds did not hold its seat as the most popular battle royale for long.

Fortnite Battle Royale eventually took the epic victory royale and took Battlegrounds place as the most popular battle royale. Originally, Fortnite was a zombie survival game developed by unreal engine creator Epic Games. However, after the success of Battlegrounds, Epic took the original game and created the free to play battle royale mode. Fortnite quickly gained popularity, reaching over 45 million players by January of 2018. Many attribute Fortnite’s success to its free to play status. Fortnite also developed an intense popularity over Twitch with hundreds of streamers most notably the one known as “Ninja” playing the game.

It wasn’t long before larger companies started to release their own battle royale games. Activision included a battle royale mode called “Blackout” in their most recent installment in the Call of Duty franchise, Black Ops 4.

Nintendo released a unique twist on the Tetris franchise by releasing Tetris 99. This game takes a different take on the battle royale genre by pitting 99 players against each other by having them all play simultaneous games of Tetris.

Most recently, a new game came into the spotlight. Apex Legends, a spinoff of the titanfall franchise was released on February 4, 2019 the same day it was announced. Despite the lack of advertising and the sudden release, the new free to play hero-based battle royale gained over a million players just eight hours after its release. After a week it had achieved over 25 million players. It is possible that Apex Legends will become the most popular battle royale to date.

In an odd turn of events, the Chinese government adopted a policy of discouraging their people from playing battle royale games. They have stated that the reasoning is that they are too violent. Fortnite and Battlegrounds have already been banned in the nation.

From books to movies to video games the battle royale genre has taken many years to grow into what it is now. It would also appear that even though each new battle royale gets abandoned whenever something new comes along, it seems that the genre is only getting more popular.