“I’ll write a blow by blow report of the final”, I said. “That should be fun”, I said. The final match of the third-person perspective competition at the PUBG Global Invitational had too many blows for one man to report, but it turns out you can still tell a good story if you focus on the most important.
“When we are in game we are wolves”, said Sim “Simsn” Young Hoon in a press conference after the event. “But outside of the game, we are sheep.”
By the end of the first day in Berlin, neither Hoon nor his team, Gen.G Gold, had earned much attention. The South Koreans were one of 20 teams to make it to the Invitational, and had put on an impressive enough performance to qualify - but not an extraordinary one.
During the months running up to the Invitational, they hadn’t actually won a single tournament. Over six events, the best they’d managed to do was come second. Three times over.
In competitive Plunkbat, points are scored for both survival and kills, to incentivise aggressive play. The 15 points earned for each kill might seem paltry compared to the 500 snagged by the team that survives until the end, but they add up. Especially if you can bag as many as Gold’s star player, Kim “EscA” In-jae, usually does.
But not on day one. At the end of the four games played that day, Gold were far from the bottom of the leaderboard - but they’d still died early and killed little compared to the five teams placed above them. At the top of the pack? Gen.G Black, their sister team belonging to the same organisation.
The stage was set for a rivalry, and the commentators were keen to encourage it. On the second day, Black fell apart. Round after round, they were one of the first teams to be eliminated. Gold, meanwhile, ascended.
Two first place finishes, a 6th place finish and a whopping 30 kills meant that as the last game started, only Team Liquid had a real shot at usurping them from the top of the leaderboard. Gold had their fans, but Liquid were the clear crowd favourites. To advance from second place, they needed to not only put on a stellar performance of their own - but for Gold to go broke.
If Liquid could knock Gold out early, they could still snag $400,000 dollars.
The game got off to a sedate start. The plane had taken a central-ish north-south route, and Gold were one of the last teams to jump out. They’d got their eyes on the loot-rich docks of Novorepnoye, and a couple of boats and a bike delivered each team member there in peace.
A similar story played out across the map, thanks to a central starting circle that let most teams tuck into ten minutes of uninterrupted looting. Liquid got Yasnaya Polynaya to themselves. WTSG, whose performance earlier in the day had earned them fourth place, bagged Georgopol.
OMG, in third place, weren't so lucky. An appropriately aggressive ambush from Savage in Ferry Pier knocked their squad down to three, jeopardizing their shot at the upper echelons of the leaderboard.
12 minutes into the game, that was the only significant clash - until Gold and Liquid decided to head the same way at the same time. The second circle was closing around the north-west, and both teams wanted to approach it from the east. They’d kept track of where everyone else was dropping, and didn’t want to brave the crowds they knew were clustered in the south.
Liquid had split into two duos. It was nearly their undoing.
One duo was caught behind Gold and biked straight past them, prompting Gold to leap out of their own vehicles and start shooting. Their combined fire brought Jim “Jeemzz” Eliassen to a scrap of health, forcing him to ditch his bike and cower behind a tree. A single bullet might have spelled the end of both his life and Liquid’s chance at the big money, but a smoke grenade let him slip away - just.
The circle shrank further, forcing Gold to take either a risky bridge crossing or a seemingly safer, circuitous route around the north-east. They chose the latter, diving deep into the blue so they could approach from the north.
As I watched this unfold, I was sure I was seeing a cautious play from a top team that knew they’d entered the final with a significant lead. It turned out they hadn’t been told.
In the post-match press room, I asked why - and got my answer from In-jae, albeit through a stilted translation. Throughout the tournaments in Korea, they’d spent much of each competition in first place… and then the pressure would get to them.
But not this time. This time, they’d made sure they could only worry about the game in front of them.
Driving into the blue was the smart move, but still a costly one. The time they’d spent travelling was time other teams had used to establish defensive positions within the circle, leaving no safe gap for Gold. They drove past Liquid, not wanting to take a fight from a weaker position. They drove past Honey Badger Nation, in a convoy of their own headed to the space they’d just vacated.
They didn’t drive past AHQ. The blue zone had taken its toll on their health bars, necessitating a pit stop. From the superior cover of a ridge line, two members of AHQ kept Gold busy while a third crept around the side. AHQ had more cover, more health and more angles of attack.
Gold still came out on top. They had their own aim to thank for driving back the initial attack, and the capricious nature of Plunkbat for when an attack from elsewhere forced AHQ to retreat entirely.
Gold took off once more, driving across the eastern edge of the circle until again colliding with Honey Badger Nation - who were attempting the exact same thing, after escaping an earlier attack from Liquid unscathed. Gold drew first blood, leaping out of their Dacias and knocking two Badgers down - but not in time to stop one of their own from being run over.
If you’ve still got allies standing in Plunkbat, you don’t die instantly. The fight had left three players crawling around on the floor, bleeding out as they waited to be revived - but the two remaining Badgers were too far away to help. Gold finished off the crawlers, and picked up their fallen comrade.
Then Liquid reappeared. They swept in from behind the last Badgers, removing them from the running with a single grenade. With 16 teams still remaining, the two top teams squared off once again.
Gold might have been in the dark about the leaderboard, but Liquid knew exactly what was at stake. If they managed to eliminate Gold now, the path to first place would be clear.
Shots rang out, but for a long time none of them landed. Until Liquid started drying up.
Liquid’s “Sambty” was knocked down by Gold, then killed by a member of 4AM from near the centre of the circle. A similar fate befell “Jeemzz”, shot by Gold then polished off by Knights. Liquid’s two remaining players settled down in the middle of the circle, both too exposed and too separated to revive each other should they get knocked down.
In an audacious play, two of Gold rode up to a rock within the circle while two remained at its edge. A member of 4AM, one of seven teams vying for space in the south, opened fire on the bikers. Between his shots from the south and shots from the Knights to the north, it looked like the bike ride had been a one way trip to elimination.
But Gold were ready. A smoke grenade provided the rock raiders with a temporary reprieve, while those shots had exposed 4AM’s position to Kim "Chelator" Min-ki. In that post-match press conference, Min-ki described himself as a sneaky hyena - and I bet I’m not the only one whose mind went back to this moment. In the seconds before the smoke cleared, he landed a headshot on the 4AM assailant using his SKS.
If he’d missed, Gold would have been in dire straits: despite the attention grabbing bike play, those who’d stayed behind were the first to die. Park “Loki” Jung-young was sniped by 4AM, then finished off by a member of WTSG. Min-ki died to the same two teams, facing an inescapable pincer from opposite sides of the map.
Liquid were suffering, too. Jord “Ibiza” van Geldere lost a fight to the west, ganged up on by the two remaining members of AHQ. That left Keiron “Scoom” Prescott to fend for himself. With Gold still in the game, it seemed certain that this was now a battle for second place.
Prescott didn’t need to win. He just needed to survive a little longer.
The past few minutes had seen a dozen battles unfold simultaneously, and the remaining playercount plummet from 26 to 13. Only 6 teams remained. The gunfire abated as every team sat still, gathered intel and waited for the circle gods to dictate their fate.
The next circle appeared around the middle, but that mattered little for 4AM. In-jae had them in his sights. Another player might have hesitated to start a 2v1 fight, but he didn’t seem to care.
He didn’t need to. He fired eight shots, and landed every single one. Before they knew what had happened, 4AM had been eliminated. Without pausing for breath, In-jae turned and opened fire on WTSG - on all four of them, who all responded to the threat.
In-jae still came out on top. His remaining teammate, Sim “Simsn” Young Hoon, chipped in - but the killfeed belonged to “EscA”. He knocked one down, then two, then three. Two of WTSG managed to scuttle behind the safety of a rock, while the other was killed outright.
When Min-ki called himself a hyena, that comparison didn’t come out of the blue. One journalist, the clear MVP of the press conference, had asked every player to come up with an animal that matched their playstyle. In-jae? He picked a tiger.
But there’s more than one way to skin a Plunkbat. While In-jae tackled his foes head on, Liquid’s sole survivor was playing a more patient game. First place was no longer on the cards, but Liquid’s shot at second place still depended on Prescott’s survival.
While teams AVG and AHQ traded shots, he waited. Prescott would later call himself a dolphin, defining his playstyle via smarts rather than aggression. When one of AVG was knocked down, he waited some more.
When the final member of AVG thought he was safe enough to go in for a revive, he struck. AVG didn't stand a chance, and a second later the killfeed announced their elimination.
Later, I found out that this was when Liquid had secured themselves second place - and they knew it. When I asked Prescott about his favourite moment from the final round, this was the moment he pointed to. “WTSG were still alive in that game, and we knew they were the only team that could contest us for second place. So me wiping out AVG and controlling that side of the map kinda guaranteed us to come second place”.
In-jae finally fell to WTSG, leaving Hoon as Gold’s sole survivor. With WTSG sitting as a peachy three man squad inside the circle, it seemed certain they’d locked down third place. Especially when everyone else started killing each other for them.
After two minutes of silence and stillness, the enclosing arena forced Hoon and AHQ’s “W1nner” to sprint towards safety. A bloodbath ensued.
Prescott knocked down “W1nner”, moments before he could fire at Hoon. Hoon thanked Prescott by killing him, then bagged “W1nner” for himself. Li “K3” Kuan-Hsien, the last member of AHQ, avenged his teammate by killing a severely weakened Hoon.
In Plunkbat though, revenge is a dish that’s sometimes best unserved. WTSG advanced on Kuan-Hsien, leaving him nowhere to hide. They earned their chicken dinner, along with third place in the third-person perspective tournament.
Gold were indeed crowned the winners, though at that point I could only think of them as names and a logo. Even as the players emerged on stage, their arms around each other as they jumped with glee, I can’t say I felt pleased for them.
I would have done though, if I’d met them at that point. If I’d known that when asked to assign his plastyle to an animal, the 19 year old Jung-young compares himself to a lion cub and the teammates to his pack.
“When we are in game we are wolves”, said Hoon, “But outside of the game, we are sheep. We’re happy with each other and don’t fight”.
How could I have rooted for anyone else?