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H1Z1 struggling to keep players in the face of competition

Decline in player count calls into question its viability as an esport

Daybreak Game Company
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.

In September, we reported on how the battle royale-style game H1Z1 had managed to hold its own in an increasingly crowded space, which grew to include major hits like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. But, as analysts at data aggregator GitHyp point out in an article published this morning, the tide seems to have turned. According to GitHyp’s data and similar figures available on SteamDB and SteamCharts, H1Z1 is hemorrhaging players.

“During its best months, H1Z1: King of the Kill was holding strong as the #3 most played game on Steam with an all-time peak of 150k players and average of 86k players per hour,” said GitHyp. “Today, you’ll find it struggling to crack the top 50 with less than 10k concurrent players most days and a peak of only 14k players so far this month.”

On Sept. 4, I remarked how, despite the explosive growth of Battlegrounds since its March 2017 Early Access release, H1Z1 had “barely lost any players at all.” The game, which at the time was already nearly two years old, still had over 105,000 concurrent players each day, according to SteamCharts. Yesterday, that number barely crested 8,500. That’s more than 90 percent fewer players in less than six months.

In that same period of time, the battle-royale genre has exploded. Epic Games’ Fortnite expanded into the free-to-play space with its own battle royale-style mode, rivaling the popularity of Battlegrounds thanks to its availability on consoles. Then, in December, Battlegrounds left Early Access, achieving an all-time high for concurrent players. It likewise arrived on Xbox One, where it found millions of new potential players.

H1Z1, by contrast, has yet to make the transition to free-to-play that developer Daybreak Game Company first promised back in 2015. It’s also still not on consoles, and the team has no firm date for when the game will leave Steam Early Access.

The decline in daily players calls into question H1Z1’s viability as a professional esport. In October, Daybreak Game Comany announced a partnership with record keeping organization Twin Galaxies. The goal was to create the H1Z1 Pro League, with a 20-week, NASCAR-style tournament.

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.

But with the player base dwindling, getting an established esports team to pay even a handful of H1Z1 players may not be the slam dunk that it sounded like in October.

The H1Z1 Pro League is set to reveal its slate of 15 teams in the first quarter of 2018, with matches kicking off in the spring. We’ve reached out to Daybreak about when its announcements will be made.

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