CW and eSports fans should brace themselves because H1Z1: King of the Kill will soon be making its big network television debut. Developer, Daybreak Games announced a partnership today with the CW, Rick Fox’s eSports team, Echo Fox and Ben Silverman’s production company, Propagate to create a multi-platform docuseries.
The unscripted five-part series, called H1Z1: Fight for the Crown, will show digitally on the CW Seed and focuses on the members of Echo Fox and their lives as they train and prepare for the King of the Kill tournament. Echo Fox has a long relationship with King of the Kill, having won first place at last year’s invitational at TwitchCon (featuring the free-for-all mode), taking home $40,000. The stakes are significantly raised in the Fight for the Crown tournament, which is expected to be televised on the CW Network in April and will feature Echo Fox competing against 14 other teams of five (75 players in total) for their share of a $300,000 prize pool. Event sponsors include Asus, Republic of Gamers and Vertagear and the tournament.
Event sponsors include Asus, Republic of Gamers and Vertagear. The game itself pits combatants against each other as they seek out weapons, armor and supplies in order to survive and fight. Additionally, the Fight for the Crown tournament marks the debut of H1Z1: King of the Kill’s five-person team mode in an eSports tournament setting.
While cable channels such as TBS and ESPN have aired eSports tournaments on television, the CW is the first broadcast network to show an interest in eSports. The network, with a young viewership demographic, similarly aired Mortal Kombat: Chasing the Cup last year, featuring the fighting game, Mortal Kombat X.
Chris Wynn, executive producer of H1Z1: King of the Kill at Daybreak Games spoke to [a]listdaily about bringing the competitive free-for-all game to the CW, where viewers can enjoy the action and drama of competition.
How did the partnership with Echo Fox and the CW come together?
We’ve had an ongoing relationship with Rick Fox and the Echo Fox team, as they were the first pro-team to get behind H1Z1. As we worked together on different ideas to continue pushing the game toward eSports, this partnership came up as a result of that. We have a unique opportunity to do something with King of the Kill that no one else can do—and that’s putting on a tournament with 15 teams of five players each all competing at the same time. It’s not a ladder-style knockout like in traditional sports. All these guys will get into one game, in one match, and all compete simultaneously. This unique experience is what appealed to the different partners.
For us, the ability to do something like this and work with great, established partners was a no-brainer. It was something we really had to jump into.
What makes King of the Kill the ideal game for a televised eSports tournament?
I think the unique element that makes King of the Kill successful is how easy it is to understand from a viewership point-of-view. It doesn’t require a ton of deep knowledge of game tactics and strategy to figure out if the player is skilled or not. Most times, the game breaks down to one person versus another, and it’s very easy to see at a glance how these opponents are trying to position themselves to gain the advantage and using particular weapons or items to succeed with. It doesn’t take a lot of explanation to see what’s going on and enjoy the experience.
How will the series be promoted?
We (Daybreak Games) and Echo Fox will have promotions going out on channels. Also, the CW has some social channel promotions and more slated as we get closer to the air date, similar to what they did with Mortal Kombat: Chasing the Cup. It’s a joint partnership.
With eSports tournaments being aired on cable channels such as TBS and ESPN, what are your thoughts on eSports growing as TV entertainment?
Yeah, TBS, ESPN and CW are all getting into this arena. It’s interesting because someone from the outside might look at it (eSports) and say, ‘I don’t know if I want to watch someone else play video games.’ But I remember people saying that when Twitch started to rise. Then you check it out and find that it’s actually thrilling and engaging. To see the skill that is applied by some of these top players can be kind of mind-blowing, especially when you play the game yourself. It’s no different than going to the backyard and trying to throw a football the way Tom Brady would.
The CW is a really cool and interesting partner, because both TBS and ESPN are cable channels. CW is the only over-the-air one that’s diving into eSports right now. If you look at their viewership and market, with how heavy they go into the superhero shows and the demographics they pull from that, there’s a ton of crossover with eSports fans and video game players in general. It’s the perfect broadcast network to take this on and expose it to more people.
Have you been dropping hints about the series before the announcement?
Not really. I did an AMA on Reddit and tried to coyly suggest that we’d be doing more eSports content soon, but no one picked up on it. Maybe after they see the announcement, they’ll link it back.
How do you think fans will take to the news?
It’s going to be great. The invitationals were hugely popular, and people really got behind them. I think during both years of TwitchCon, they were the most viewed parts of the weekends. The prize pool is going to be bigger than anything we’ve raised in previous tournaments, which will be a draw. It’s also the first time we’re doing a big event with a prize pool for team games. Everything up to now has been a solo experience with one versus everyone else. This is the first time we’re doing it with teams of five, which is a very popular way to play the game. So, players are going to be really excited by that.
How has King of the Kill grown since it launched on Early Access last year?
It’s been growing like crazy. We spent last year working on the core experience and we launched a giant update in September. Then we had our invitational at TwitchCon at the beginning of October, and the game started to see a lot of popularity grow from that. We hit a tipping point in December, and the game has been on fire.
What would you say has been the key to growing King of the Kill as an eSport since splitting off from the single player experience?
It really speaks to why we split it to begin with. It’s all about focus at the high level—being able to focus on unique experiences. If we were constantly trying to balance between the two, I don’t think we would have ever been able to satisfy the needs of either one. By splitting the team and giving dedicated resources for each one, we get that dedicated focus that you need to drive the priorities correctly for what the community is expecting.
In terms of King of the Kill and how we continue to grow it, when you look at the success of eSports and how important skill and mastery is to players when progressing to being a skilled player—it’s all about depth. Instead of taking an approach where we’re adding new content all the time to add variety to try to keep people interested, for us, it’s about going deeper and deeper. That’s what adds more skill and things to master. I think that’s what’s key to growing eSports these days.
Do you have any advice for non-endemic brands that are looking to get into eSports sponsorship?
You have to be authentic. The eSports crowd and community don’t accept people coming in and trying to make eSports more than what it is. They really appreciate authentic voices that come in and speak their language and come from the same places they do. Those are the things they get behind. The ones that come in and are distant, at more of an arm’s reach, will have a tougher time breaking through to that audience.