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H1Z1’s prime-time premiere was outstanding television

The adrenaline-fueled survival shooter translates well to the small screen

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Let me be honest: The concept behind the CW Network’s prime-time special H1Z1: Fight for the Crown seemed like a really bad idea. But watching the action last night, television felt like the natural home for such a singular, action-packed event.

The premise sounds simple: Take 75 professional H1Z1: King of the Kill players, divide them into 15 teams of five, and pit them against each other in one of the most popular survival shooters on the planet. But consider the logistics of it all! First you have to find 15 pro teams willing to participate in a high-stakes competition in an unfinished early access game. Then you actually have to build out a venue with 75 high-end rigs, and wire the place up for television. Then you need to actually run the game, flawlessly, while you record the action inside and outside of the game world. Finally, you have to provide viewers with a combination of live commentary and high-end graphics so it all makes sense.

There was so much that could have gone wrong. But in practice — and, no doubt, after being heavily edited for television — it looked seamless.

H1Z1: Fight for the Crown
Production went light on the graphical elements, sticking with a simple map showing where each faction was at a given time. I would have liked to see more Madden-style telestration work, but whether it would track well with a mainstream audience is questionable.
Daybreak Game Company

The night began with the 15 teams parachuting out across H1Z1’s massive map with nothing but the clothes on their virtual backs. Players had to scavenge weapons and ammunition, body armor, and vehicles, and then scout the area for potential avenues of advance. All the while, a cloud of poisonous gas was filling in around the edges of the map, pressing players closer and closer together.

I was amazed at how long it took for the first firefights to break out. The amount of restraint and strategy that went into the early game was remarkable to watch. One team, Counter Logic Gaming, hid on the top of a building, completely out of sight of the competition. Then, when the gas cloud got close, they piled into a waiting car and gently stepped off. They kept the gas at their backs the whole time, minimizing the chance that someone could get around a flank.

In a particularly tense showdown, team Echo Fox had another group pinned inside a log cabin and decided to make an assault. The other team abandoned their cover and fled to a nearby patch of rocks, using smoke to cover their retreat. They organized themselves and fought off Echo Fox’s attack, wounding and killing several of them in the process. Then, they pinned down the attackers long enough for the gas to overtake the rest. It was a masterfully improvised defense, and made for a great spectacle.

What really impressed me was the range at which players were engaging each other. At 300 meters or more, the competition is no more than a few pixels high, but the best players were taking those shots — and landing them — regularly.

In the end, the final battle took place in the foothills between two small patches of trees. All five members of Obey Alliance were engaged with two members each of World Best Gaming and Luminosity. The only cover left was the micro terrain of the rugged green hills and a few trees. That’s when both sides went to work with underslung grenade launchers and hand-tossed explosives, whittling each other down.

You can watch the final moments in the video above, courtesy of the team at Daybreak Game Company.

The top four teams, and their payouts, are as follows:

  1. Obey Alliance: $180,000
  2. World Best Gaming: $60,000
  3. Luminosity Gaming: $30,000
  4. Counter Logic Gaming: $18,000

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