New game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds sweeps over China

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/20 15:48:39

Fun for both spectators and players alike, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is currently one of the most popular multiplayer games among members of the Chinese gaming community. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Zeng Cheng's avatar was driving three of his teammates through a bombing area when someone asked whether it was too dangerous to do so. Zeng, an award-winning e-sports athlete, gave a very confident reply, "No."

"And then a bomb dropped on our car and the whole team was killed," Zeng recalled.

Both the players and the audience watching the live stream were surprised and excited. Many laughed in front of their computer screens and made comments about how the team failed to "eat the chicken."

The game Zeng was playing was PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG), a multiplayer online battle royale game developed by South Korean company Bluehole and first released in March.

Hailed as "the most popular game of the moment" in the media, PUBG overtook Defense of the Ancients (DotA) 2 for the most concurrent players on gaming platform Steam in September and broke its own record a few more times afterward.

In the game, up to 100 players parachute out of a plane and land on an island. They scavenge for weapons to kill each other while the available safe area decreases in size over time, forcing the remaining players into combat.

The last player or team standing wins the round and is greeted with a line which goes "winner winner, chicken dinner."

Chinese players have dubbed the game the "chicken eating game." Hence, those who win get to "eat the chicken."

A large number of Chinese players are hooked on the game. Chinese Internet giant Tencent announced in November that it will have the exclusive rights to PUBG in China and promised to run local servers, rework the game for a Chinese audience, and deal with cheaters, which appears to be a growing problem for the game.

PUBG has found massive success, but the concept is far from new. Several local and international companies have developed similar multiplatform last-player-standing style games, including DayZ, H1Z1 and Knives Out. However, how active each game's player community is varies from game to game.

The rise of "chicken eating" games like PUBG indicates the changing tastes of Chinese gamers. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Inclusive, more flexible play

A native of Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Zeng is one of the most popular PUBG streamers in the country. His game handle is A+.

Answering the question of why PUBG has taken off so quickly in China, Zeng said the game offers greater flexibility.

"Previous first-person shooting (FPS) games have many restrictions. They are mostly either just about shooting and bombing, like in Counter-Striker (a popular FPS game which came out in 1999) or Battlefield (2002) where people have to follow the rules of the conquest mode and fight a battle between two teams. But PUBG is different," he said.

"The only rule is that there is a map and a randomly shrinking safe area. It all depends on the player. You'll win if you survive. Every round is different; playing each round feels like watching a different war film."

Perhaps another plus for the game is its ability to attract female players. Sara Ding, 25, a social media editor,  is still a "cutie newbie," a popular phrase in the Chinese gaming community which refers to new players of a game who have no idea what they are doing. So far, she has only played for 50 hours.

She said one of the pulls of the game for her is searching the houses to get all sorts of gear, eliminating her enemies and taking their equipment.

Ding was so taken with the game that she is even considering purchasing a new computer with better performance in order to play it, a move which will cost her quite a fortune.

"I got hooked," she said. "Playing PUBG is a fun way of hanging out with my friends [as a team]."

Becoming 'chicken eaters'

The very first time Ding "ate the chicken" she was playing in a team of four.

"We were so lucky that we got dropped off at the place which turned out to be the last safe area," she said. "In the end, only six people remained, and before I realized it, the two old hands of our team had killed the remaining enemies. So for the first time in my life, I 'ate the chicken.'"

Pei Pei is a new but talented player on Zeng's team. She got a lot of attention from the player community, as it's rare to see female players competing at the top.

One useful tactic that Pei recommends is to "squat the toilet."

"Find a shotgun and just wait quietly in a toilet close to the door. Shoot anybody who gets close. Using this method promises you get to kill at least one person in every match," she said.

Another tactic would be playing alongside a very good player. "It's possible that you get to tag along with a world champion in the game if you watch their live stream and try to get on their team."

Zeng often takes newbies on his team, which his fans see as more of a troop than a video game team. He is a strict team leader and focuses on the details.

"If there are mistakes in cooperation or positioning, I will criticize them. Team spirit is much more important than technique," he said.

More Chinese players

PUBG announced in November that it sold 20 million copies of the game, and data shows that its sales have been driven by Chinese players.

According to Steam, the number of Chinese PUBG players has been climbing since July. In October, Chinese speakers accounted for 56.12 percent of the players, while English-speaking players were only 21.27 percent. The remaining 22.61 percent is spread between Russian, Korean and Spanish speakers.

Zeng's team iFTY won in the squad competition at the PUBG Asia Invitational at G-STAR 2017 in Busan, South Korea in October, beating teams from seven countries to take home the golden pan prize. The team's victory was exciting news for many e-sports fans in China.

"It was a surprise that we won the golden pan because we won the qualifying matches on a very narrow margin, and later two of our teammates were rejected because of visa issues, and we had to replace them with two less experienced alternate players," Zeng explained.

"But fortunately, everybody was united during the match, and we operated our tactics very well!"

Zeng live streams himself playing PUBG on YY Live, one of several such sites that already have PUBG game sections. Live streaming has seen rapid growth in China over the last few years, which is a great boost to the development of e-sports in the country.

Besides iFTY, two other Chinese teams also won prizes in the invitational. The Chinese teams' performance gave many Chinese gamers a new perspective, according to Zeng.

"E-sports started comparatively late in our country, but it doesn't mean we will fall behind," Zeng said.

"During a casual PUBG game, people often meet players from different countries and learn techniques from each other. But if we meet in formal contests, naturally people will feel they want to fight for the honor of their countries and become more competitive."

Survival of the fittest

Just like how fashion trends come and go, the hottest games in China are always being replaced by new ones, which makes the gaming community lively and ever-changing, according to the players.

"Everybody was playing and talking about Overwatch (a team-based multiplayer online first-person shooter game) last year. Its hotness then was just like PUBG's popularity now," Ding said. "Less than a year later, everybody has shifted to PUBG."

Ding thinks the trend shows that games are still improving, and makers need to explore them in-depth in order to keep their players loyal.

PUBG is the second FPS game Ding has ever played. She has been a game enthusiast for years. She played LOL (League of Legends) for more than three years before shifting to Overwatch.

Ding thinks the biggest obstacle for people who want to play the game is that it currently requires one's computer to meet high requirements and have an Internet accelerator.

"If Tencent can make the game more accessible for domestic players, I believe there will be more players to join the game," she said.

Pei is even more confident about the future of PUBG and other "chicken eating" games.

"I think PUBG is going to be as influential as the legendary game DOTA, more than King of Glory ever was," she said.

"LOL and King of Glory did well in the domestic market but not so much overseas yet. But PUBG opened its international market from the beginning."

Pei pointed out that PUBG and other survival and shooting games have much bigger maps than games like Overwatch and more ways to operate and have fun with.

"MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games have been dominating the market for so long that it requires new games to make a difference," she said, adding that survival of the fittest is a good thing for the gaming community.

PUBG is currently Zeng's favorite, and he is confident about the future of "chicken eating games."

"When the most popular games lose popularity, it's a challenge to all the athletes to be flexible and pluralistic. It requires the players to improve themselves all the time, and those who are not in tune with the changes will be left out. This is exactly where the charm of e-sports lies."

Newspaper headline: A battle to ‘eat the chicken’


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