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Is Battlerite the next smash-hit MOBA?

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Steam is obsessed with this MOBA, now in Early Access

Battlerite Battlerite/Stunlock Studios

From its name and logo alone, Battlerite seems like one of those dime-a-dozen multiplayer games on Steam. But other League of Legends-like brawlers haven’t popped up on Steam’s top sellers chart within days of their launch on Early Access, as Battlerite has. With overwhelmingly positive reviews and the power of word of mouth, developer Stunlock Studios looks like it has a bona fide hit on its hands.

Although its name may be unfamiliar to most, Battlerite’s beginnings actually reach back to 2011. Stunlock Studios, an indie team out of Sweden, released the multiplayer online battle arena game Bloodline Champions in January 2011, a free-to-play fantasy title that became a quick cult favorite. Bloodline Champions was a team-based beat-em-up, where up to 10 people used weapons and skills to knock out the other side in a short timespan.

Reviews were kind to the game, with players finding it more accessible than the average MOBA. In its review, Eurogamer wrote that Bloodline Champions was "egalitarian" where the massive League of Legends was not; characters don’t level up, and there are no items to separate the haves from the have-nots. This helped the game build up an audience, one made up of those who weren’t already in love with team-based action titles, and the game appeared in the popular DreamHack tournament that summer, bolstered by its dedicated, if small, fanbase.

But Stunlock Studios eventually moved on from Bloodline Champions, which launched prior to the esports boom and was unable to draw in a crowd through much more than word of mouth. Steam reviews from 2014 onward are written by players longing for others to discover the MOBA and Stunlock Studios to continue production. Instead, the game’s last news update from the developer came in summer 2015.

The player base moved on after a while, and Stunlock Studios released other games. But a little more than four years after Bloodline Champions launched, the developer announced a spiritual successor of sorts: Battlerite. Both the PvP action game and a forthcoming closed beta were announced this past March by way of a short trailer.

Fond memories of Bloodline Champions re-emerged as Stunlock described Battlerite as "the next chapter in the Bloodline Champions saga." That meant a revamp of the original core gameplay, preserving the elements that players exalted most: ease of use, intense action and quick fights. Stunlock would later reveal some key differences, however: Battlerite supports just two-versus-two and three-versus-three battles, each of which lasts no more than 15 minutes. There’s also a bullet time mode that lets players slow down for more thoughtful attacks. But like Bloodline Champions, the top-down MOBA is balanced so that even the most veteran fighter can be toppled by a newcomer.

Viewers were into the first teaser, although most of the eyes Battlerite caught belonged to lapsed Bloodline Champions players. Still, word of mouth worked for the earlier game. It helped that the closed beta was well received by testers when it opened over this past Labor Day weekend.

"My friends and I, all 4 of us got beta keys and haven't stopped playing for the past 2 days, other than to eat and use the bathroom, and take a nap," wrote one beta tester on Reddit. "I'm not going to lie, I am addicted to Battlerite."

Although the beta was fist covered by a non-disclosure agreement, Stunlock Studios lifted it and extended the three-day session a little longer. The move let players livestream Battlerite and upload gameplay footage — and it took off from there. Battlerite isn’t the biggest hit on Twitch quite yet, but it’s already attracted nearly 3,000 viewers to live gameplay videos.

Talk of its potential continued until its launch this week, on Sept. 20. In its Early Access build, Battlerite costs $19.99, although it will go free-to-play on full release. That hasn’t proven to be a barrier to curious players, though; data-tracking service SteamSpy shows a huge jump in Twitch and YouTube views since the Early Access servers went open.

SteamSpy has Battlerite sitting at a peak of 7,843 concurrent players, with more than 18,000 having bought the game. That’s after the Early Access build’s first two days on the market, making it a smash success in relative terms. It’s no League of Legends by any measure. Yet considering it’s the follow-up to a niche favorite, Battlerite’s front-page appearances on the Games subreddit and Steam are big wins for Stunlock Studios.

Most importantly, though, both new players and Bloodline Champions fans are really digging the game.

"I had never heard of Battlerite until I saw it on Steam's Top Sellers," reads one review. "Grabbed it outta [curiosity] and damn I've had a total blast with it."

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