Since its early 2019 release, Apex Legends has borrowed liberally from its predecessors: It used a hero system similar to Overwatch, took its weapons and lore from the Titanfall series, and went all-in on the battle royale format after Fortnite’s massive success in the genre. Apex has always been a potpourri of other successful ideas, but its appeal is found in the perfection of those elements. Apex Legends has become critically acknowledged as the best battle royale out there, but like all good live-service games, an evolution of those systems keeps the experience from becoming stale.
Recently, a change came in the form of a new Arenas mode, which debuted on May 4. It’s the latest savvy move by developer Respawn Entertainment, iterating on a concept already popular with millions of players worldwide. Arenas is played through multiple rounds, similar to Valorant and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The mode ditches the chaos of the 60-player, 20-team battle royale that’s defined Apex since release for a simpler 3v3 firefight, freeing players from having to deal with multiple bloodthirsty squads at once and the many other manifestations of bad luck inherent to the genre. Arenas takes place on smaller maps, too, shifting the gameplay to be organized around caches of credits, the location of healing items, and care packages that drop with extra loot.
It remains to be seen, however, whether Arenas can carve out its own niche — both from larger and more sophisticated standalone shooters like Valorant, and from the core of Apex Legends.
Fanbyte spoke with several pros in the competitive Apex Legends space to get a better idea of its potential. Zach Mazer, who is signed to Cloud9’s pro Apex roster and just netted $132,000 for a second-place finish in the ALGS Championship, the biggest Apex tournament to date, is a high-level player who thinks Arenas mode has plenty of competitive potential.
“I’m super excited for the future [of Arenas],” Mazer told Fanbyte on a Discord call. “I don’t think it will ever overtake battle royale, but I think it’s gonna be fucking awesome to grind…I think it’s an awesome environment and I think it has a very bright future.”
The release of Arenas mode comes at a high-water mark for Apex Legends. Despite a buggy launch, the release of the latest season, Apex Legacy, hit massive Twitch viewership numbers, peaking at 366,000 viewers, and also broke its record for concurrent users on Steam. Apex Mobile is coming soon, hot on the heels of Apex Legends’ release for the Nintendo Switch. This will only add to its impressive player statistics, which recently reached 100 million users.
Mazer is on a short list of players with competitive Arenas experience so far. In May, he competed in Lulu’s Throwdown, a $100,000 invitational tournament sponsored by EA in partnership with the content creator LuluLuvely that featured a day of Arenas matches. Mazer has been playing in private lobbies against other top-tier pro squads as well, and was enthusiastic about those matches in particular: “That is the most fun way to play Apex. It is just the highest level on repeat, over and over and over again. Now, we haven’t gone too deep into it…but it’s really fucking cool, and viewers love watching that because it’s the best of the best.”
Mazer also stressed that as a solo player, Arenas was a much better experience than the battle royale mode. A big part of the appeal of Arenas for many players is the controlled environment. Like all battle royales, Apex has its share of third parties, interlopers to fights who pick up easy kills on players already distracted by other enemies. Arenas simplifies the fighting encounter to duel-like simplicity, letting individual performances shine and all but eliminating the role of luck. There is no bad loot, unlucky drop spots, or other teams to worry about.
John “Hakis” Håkansson, a pro signed to the European esports team Alliance, echoes Mazer’s assessment of Arenas: “It’s a great concept of a game mode, and I look forward to how they can fine-tune it for the future…it’s awesome seeing more variety.”
Despite quibbles with the cost of some weapons and abilities in the economic calculus of the buy round, every player interviewed for this article feels that Arenas mode has the potential to be more esports-friendly than its current competitive format. With only two teams to keep track of and a simple scoring system, fans and tournament organizers might have an easier time with Arenas matches than the chaos of its established battle royale competitive circuit, the Apex Legends Global Series (ALGS). In the ALGS, hundreds of teams in each region are winnowed down to a final 20-team lobby over the course of a weekend.
Asked to comment on the advantages of Arenas over Apex’s battle royale mode, Håkansson explicitly compares Arenas to its more established brethren in the tactical shooter space: “Having a normal bracket system like Valorant, where it would be one team against another team, it allows for more stories, more rivalries and things like that — and it’s a lot easier to follow as a viewer.”
His comment raises another important aspect of Arenas’ potential: its broadcasts of competitive play. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for tournament broadcasts to keep track of everything interesting happening in a battle royale match. The official stream sometimes misses pivotal moments or leaves viewers in the dark as their favorite team struggles or triumphs off-screen. Many diehard fans simply tune in to watch their favorite player, an unfortunate but often necessary development that takes eyeballs off the main broadcast and correspondingly makes it less attractive to advertisers. It also takes time to tally scores from each battle royale round. Since points are awarded for both kills and placement, fans and even broadcasters often have no idea of a game’s score for minutes after its conclusion. An Arenas match, on the other hand, is much easier to watch and follow, with only two teams to spectate and a single point awarded each round to the victors.
Jon “Falloutt” Kefaloukos, a veteran broadcaster of the developer-run ALGS and a former Gears of War pro, largely disagrees that Arenas was tailor-made to be a better esport spectacle than the battle royale. “I personally think they’re just different beasts. A lot of people like to hate on battle royales for a variety of reasons … I think they’re both [Arenas and battle royale] esports-friendly and esports-ready.”
But Kefaloukos agrees that Arenas matches, at least “from a production point of view,” could be organized and broadcasted with a smaller staff than the battle royale. William “bear” Marks, who works on competitive Apex events as an observer (the members of the broadcast team directly tasked with keeping track of the unfolding action), shares Kefaloukos’ sentiments about the broadcasting advantages of an Arenas match. “It will be significantly easier,” he said, “mainly because you’ll need [fewer] observers.”
While Arenas mode may have advantages over the battle royale for both viewers and players, it’s not yet clear how Arenas will gain momentum in an ecosystem where battle royale is so entrenched in the culture of the game. Upcoming tournaments like BLAST Titans this summer will split its €40,000 prize pool between battle royale and Arenas. But not everyone feels that Arenas is ready for the big leagues. Though players seem to be enjoying Arenas as a fresh experience after two years of battle royale, many also feel that, at least in its current form, Arenas mode doesn’t offer a well of intense strategy from which players can draw.
“There’s not too much depth to it,” says Josh “Nook” Nice, a British pro. “It’s definitely good at the moment for a viewer, there’s a lot of fighting … but apart from that, it’s kind of simple.”
Håkansson compared the current Arenas scene to similar problems with casual matches in Counter-Strike. “Those types of games, they don’t really have a good causal feeling. They aren’t a good casual experience. You need to try hard, you need to sweat, for the games to be good.”
More on Fanbyte:
- Apex Legends Arena Guide – How to Earn Crafting Materials to Buy Gear
- The Unlikely Fan Remaster of Shrek SuperSlam, A Game Revived by Memes
- The Making of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart’s Most Bombastic Boss Fight
A ranked mode for Arenas is in the works. On July 8, during a live-streamed conversation with IGN’s Stella Chung, Apex game director Chad Grenier confirmed that it would be released in time for Season 10.
But for now, its casual vibe doesn’t mesh well with the spirit of other economy shooters. Players interviewed for this article almost unanimously agree that top pros in the battle royale could pull double duty in both modes without any issues, making the prospect of a separate Arenas scene unlikely.
Pontus Bengtsson, the general manager of Alliance’s Apex squad, commented via email that it was a “great way for teams to practice,” and “a good break from the frustration” normally present in the battle royale genre. The community’s enthusiasm about Arenas often seems to come more from its novelty than any innovative qualities it might have. Still, that seems to be enough for the time being.
In the future, Arenas might try to entice fans, players, and advertisers from competitive scenes in Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, and Valorant while charting its own course outside the confines of the battle royale mode. Meanwhile, it has already become an opportunity for different players to show off their skills.
Ja’ne “Peach” Reagin, for example, has seen changes in her Twitch audience since she started notching big wins in tense Arenas matches. “I see it in my chat almost every single day,” she told Fanbyte over a Discord call. “People are super engaged.”
The battle royale mode can feature minutes of looting or traveling across the map without any gunplay, but in Reagin’s Arenas matches, “It’s just nonstop fight after fight after fight. I think the esports part of this, if they actually get into it, is gonna be really interesting. I think it’ll blow up, to be honest.”