Ask a dozen different people when the first battle royale emerged, and chances are, you’ll get a dozen different answers. Some will say it was DayZ: Battle Royale, others will highlight earlier deathmatch games like Dyna Blaster. A true pedant could technically point to the use of “battel royal” to describe cockfights and fistfights in 17th century England – although even here, the jury seems to be out on whether the term originates from cockfighting or fistfighting. Now that’s a chicken and egg situation.
It’s a tricky thing to pin down, as there’s plenty of debate over what constitutes a battle royale, with many of the rules overlapping with other game modes. If you take the strictest possible approach to tracing current-day popular battle royales to their roots, however, you’ll probably land at Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene’s mod for DayZ in 2013. Essentially a mod of a mod, DayZ: Battle Royale led to Daybreak’s H1Z1 and Greene’s standalone title PUBG, with the latter exploding in popularity and launching battle royales into the mainstream. Then, of course, came Fortnite: which recently celebrated reaching 350m registered players.
Yet before all of these, there was a smaller – but not insignificant – battle royale boom elsewhere. And it came in the form of the Minecraft Survival Games.
First emerging in early 2012, the Minecraft Survival Games (or “Hunger Games”) was more of a community movement than a single title. Coinciding with an increase in Minecraft’s popularity on YouTube, MSG has since been credited with helping start the Minecraft PvP server boom – and even launching entire companies. At its height, MSG pulled in thousands of players on third-party servers, and millions of views on YouTube. But perhaps most intriguing is the way the Minecraft community grappled with the challenges of designing a battle royale long before bigger studios tried their hand. Although some game balance issues were never truly resolved, the community came up with dozens…