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Battlefield 2042’s new mode is the opposite of esports, and that rules

Battlefield is built well for competition, and Portal’s opposing approach is something to celebrate

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Battlefield Portal is a new game mode in Battlefield 2042 that lets players mash up their favorite Battlefield time periods into a single game. An army of World War II soldiers against a handful of 2042 grunts; one tank against 100 tiny robots. It’s very ... FPS by way of Looney Tunes. Seemingly taking inspiration from Halo Forge, custom map creators, and other level editors, the mode promises something rare for the 20-year-old franchise: comedy.

But don’t expect Battlefield 2042’s Portal mode to be balanced for competitive play. Its focus is fun — the kind you can’t help but clip and share with friends.

What is Battlefield Portal?

Battlefield Portal logic tool
Beyond just changing where vehicles spawn, players can build modes with the logic tool.
Image: DICE, Ripple Effect Studios/Electronic Arts

Battlefield Portal is a game mode creator in Battlefield 2042, which will debut this fall. Players can use it to combine vehicles, weapons, gadgets, and even soldier classes from 2042, along with those from Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3, and Battlefield 1942, into a single mode. But Portal isn’t limited to dropping old toys into familiar maps.

Skilled players can also use some logic-based visual coding to create new rule sets for their game modes. If you want to create a game mode where an entire team’s weapon sets change once they reach a certain kill threshold, you can do that. Or you can create a mode far weirder, like a zombies mode where “dead” players run at triple speed wielding only a knife.

Most Battlefield Portal creations won’t be carefully balanced by professional game designers, nor is that the intention. A soldier from Battlefield 1942 isn’t going to stand much of a chance against a modern soldier from Battlefield 3. It’s up to players to try and balance their creations. Or, even better, it will be up to creators to build something fun regardless of how fair it is.

Players can upload all of these changes, including their custom rule sets, to Battlefield 2042’s servers for other players to use and enjoy. So it will be the audience — and presumably, a thumb on the scale at EA — deciding which modes get championed and become popular.

Why would Battlefield Portal’s creators intentionally allow players to break the balance of the game?

Soldiers follow behind tanks in Battlefield Portal
Players can create more standard modes with tanks and soldiers, or go off the rails with experiences like zombie modes.
Image: DICE, Ripple Effect Studios/Electronic Arts

Yes, there’s something annoying and regressive about someone swinging their leg up on a stump, resting their forearm on their knee, and saying, “Remember when video games were just for fun?” With that said, forgive me just this once for saying: Sometimes, video games can just be fun.

A rise in competition — around both esports and high-skill streamers — has led the makers of first-person games to take their modes more and more seriously. This emphasis on balance and precision can be a good thing, as it pushes players to focus on building skill. But it can also become a barrier to entry.

Battlefield has felt this pull acutely, getting further from the silliness of the Bad Company games and deeper into the competitive play of more recent entries. Battlefield is a big esports title now, and is multiple seasons into being a competition-first kind of series. There are surely thousands of fans out there that appreciate that new direction. But for me, Bad Company 2 was always a massive-scale, goofy military operation with defibrillator melee kills and LMGs that acted like sniper rifles. Battlefield has since gone from “silly moments” to “epic moments,” and I miss the former.

For those reasons, Battlefield developer DICE going for creative play in addition to competitive play is a lovely surprise. Battlefield 2042’s core modes will offer the balance players expect and the chance for glory that comes with it, so why not get loose in Battlefield Portal?

Fun to play or fun to watch? Why not both?

A propeller plane flies in Battlefield Portal
Battlefield Portal lets players mash old with new, like adding propeller-based airplanes to modern maps.
Image: DICE, Ripple Effect Studios/Electronic Arts

When I was a kid, my friends and I would set Super Smash Bros. Melee to no items and 3 stock. It was a competition, and my preferred way to play the game 99% of the time. But just as I remember our strict tournaments, I also remember turning on Poké Balls only and setting the item drop rate to “very high.” It was unfair and it was chaotic, but it was fun. Reader, Battlefield Portal has the potential to be the “very high Poké Balls” of first-person shooters.

Portal looks built to generate YouTube thumbnails and viral TikToks. A game mode created intentionally for kids to text their friends about in class, making plans to play when they get home. It’s an experience all about coming together to build something unexpected or download some bizarre level that their favorite streamer made. It’s a really fancy potato gun — a sophisticated tool created purely for hijinks.

Balance is normally the great equalizer, making sure that players feel like they’re on equal footing whether they win or lose. Victory is in your hands, and to blame the balanced game is to be a bad sport. But Portal is about creating a scenario where no one loses, because regardless of which team gets the most points, you just played a 10-minute match of knife-versus-defibrillator. When the rules are so obviously surreal, the game becomes more of a performance. The pleasure is in participating, not conquering.

To put it another way: Does an actor playing a villain, set up to fail, lose at the end of the movie? Or does everyone laugh and hug when the cameras stop rolling?

Portal is Battlefield theater, a way for everyone to wallow in silly possibilities before jumping back into the world of competition. But for players who only ever want to play with streamers, watch clips, and build maps with friends, Portal is everything.

That’s the true potential of Battlefield Portal. It’s for the creative players, but it’s also for the viewers. The new generation that not only plays games, but also consumes content about them at a ridiculous rate, can watch their favorite streamer for hours and pick up just a handful of modes to download at home. Or it’s a way for viewers — those who will never play Battlefield 2042 — to engage with a community purely through the joy of watching chaos unfold on YouTube and Twitch.

Portal is for the competitors, the viewers, the original players, the next generation, and everything in between. Portal is for everyone.