H1Z1: King of the Kill, the popular arena shooter and among the first to make a name for itself in the burgeoning battle royale genre, is launching a professional esports league. The H1Z1 Pro League will include 15 teams competing in a 20-week season, followed by the first-ever league championship in late 2018.
Developer Daybreak Games is launching the league in partnership with video game statistics and record keeping organization Twin Galaxies. The two companies worked together to bring H1Z1 to primetime television for the first time earlier this year. Their invitational tournament, called H1Z1: Fight for the Crown, had an estimated 390,000 viewers when it aired on the CW Network in April.
H1Z1’s general manager Anthony Castoro told Polygon that the success of that event helped make this league possible.
“We were the first to do a battle royale esports [event] with the H1Z1 Invitational in 2015,” Castoro said. “Over the past couple of years, we've really started to develop best practices and learned how to run this kind of large scale event. ... We had really great success with the commercial broadcast of Fight for the Crown on the CW. I think our ratings were right up there with the NHL, the playoff game that was happening the same night.”
H1Z1: King of the Kill is a fast-paced, last-man-standing game where 150 players parachute onto a deserted map, scavenge for weapons and vehicles and then fight to the death. It began life as a game mode inside of H1Z1, a zombie-themed early access title released in 2015. The included battle royale mode was created with the help of Brendan “Playerunknown” Greene, who would go on to design Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.
One year after the release of H1Z1, Daybreak split the game into two different products. The first was called H1Z1: Just Survive (later renamed Just Survive). The other game became H1Z1: King of the Kill. That game has remained a top-seller on Steam and has consistently ranked among the top five most-played games on that platform. Both titles remain in early access.
The H1Z1 Pro League will have 15 teams, none of which have been announced. Negotiations are expected to begin at TwitchCon later this month. However, organizers tell Polygon that there will be no fee required to secure a team. Compared to the rumored $20 million price tag for a slot in the Overwatch League, that makes H1Z1 a comparative steal. A generous revenue-sharing structure is also on the table.
Professional H1Z1 teams already exist for the purpose of competing in the regular invitational events, and league organizers tell Polygon many of them are expected to participate.
Twin Galaxies’ Jace Hall (no relation) said that the main goal in starting up the H1Z1 League was to put its players first. As such, there will be a clear path to becoming a member of the professional caste, including vetting and validation by Twin Galaxies. Once ranked, players will become eligible for the league’s first draft. They will also be guaranteed a minimum salary after they’re signed.
Right now, that minimum salary is estimated at around $50,000, but the league’s governing body — which will include a player representative — will have to agree on the final amount.
The season will be structured with two 10-week splits, with as much as an additional 10 weeks between them to practice, promote and retool. The competitive structure will most closely resemble NASCAR, with individual teams accruing points as the season goes on.
“That'll create some really interesting dynamics as the season proceeds,” Hall said. “As different teams line up in the season standings, they’ll have to decide how they're going to play this week based on who the points leaders are and who's behind in the standings.”
The goal is to discourage camping, and force players to fight it out in the open to earn the most points. Combined with the length of the season and the winner-take-all format, the season will give teams time to develop their own personalities.
“This sort of format will allow for the development of team reputation,” Castoro said, “with team and player rivalries, individual player stories and variety.”
One thing that has dogged H1Z1 since its launch is its early access status. The game is technically unfinished, and major changes are expected to its pacing and structure in the near future. League organizers say that regardless of the game’s state of development, they have already proven that they can handle the rigour or organized play.
“We've invested heavily in this,” said Hall. “We believe the audience is ready. We know the players are ready. The game is ready. We're ready to do this. H1Z1 is a fun game and whether it's an early access title or not, those are things we'll deal with independently.”