Will Apex Legends topple Fortnite?

Most battle royale titles start out the same: a group of ragtag characters jump out of a carrier ship that seemingly popped up out of nowhere, before dropping to the ground and fighting for their lives. Apex Legends, Respawn Entertainment's foray into the genre, is much like those characters.

The surprise launch was met with equal doses of confusion and excitement, and there was a bit of skepticism too. But after the game leaped out of its carrier ship, it hit the ground running, and has thus far found a great deal of success in the genre.

But the question remains, in a market with major titles like Player Unknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite Battle Royale, what kind of future does Apex Legends have? We're just over 20 days into the game's launch, and it should be obvious: Apex Legends is here to stay. It's also here to compete with the aforementioned big players. Heck, you could make the argument that in the 20+ days since it launched, Apex Legends has already cemented the #2 spot in the battle royale genre.

The coveted crown may be in the clutches of Fortnite, but it might not be for much longer.

What About PUBG?

At the risk of sounding harsh, it's important to get what can probably be considered a non-factor out of the way. It didn't take long for Fortnite to overthrow PUBG, and Apex Legends has already toppled that game in a few ways, too. As far as buzz is concerned, the PUBG hype is in the past; that's not a knock against it, but the game's been out for a few years now. While it's by no means an also-ran, no one talks about PUBG the way they did about Fortnite — the way people still talk about Fortnite, and the way they're now talking about Apex Legends.

Two Very Different Games on the Same Playing Field

Just about the only thing Apex Legends has in common with Fortnite is that they're both battle royale games. Outside of that, the two are distinctly different. Yes, the end goal is the same in both, but where Fortnite offers a lighthearted, cartoon-y, and above all else accessible experience, Apex Legends goes for a more grounded, traditional shooter experience.

Speaking of which, while Fortnite has all the fun building mechanics that people like, the gunplay is a lot stronger in Apex Legends. The controls are tight, and thanks to a really cool single-button ping mechanic, it's easy to succeed when playing with randoms, and it adds a greater level of communication if you're already using a mic to chat with your partners.

If we're looking at the two solely in terms of gameplay alone, then Apex Legends has already beat Fortnite. The precise controls make it a better shooter overall. Of course, if Titanfall 2 was any indication in 2016, unfortunately, near-perfect gameplay isn't enough to win a war in terms of which game is best in its class.

A Numbers Game

If superior gameplay doesn't mean a victory for Apex Legends, what does?

Numbers. Both Fortnite and Apex Legends are free-to-play games, so there are no unit sales to go by. Though there are microtransactions in both titles, right now the more important data is in total number of players, illustrated in the chart below.

At first glance, you'd think Apex Legends doesn't stand a chance of dethroning Fortnite. The numbers seen in this chart are a bit skewed, though, and that's due to the length of time both games have been on the market. To better analyze how well Apex Legends is doing when compared to Fortnite, it's best to break the figures down into two smaller charts with the exact same data. The chart below takes the data for concurrent players on both games and isolates it, giving a clearer picture with regard to player count.

When the number of concurrent players is isolated in this way, it allows us to see that, yes, Fortnite still has the larger number, but it doesn't look as daunting as it does in the previous chart, which contained two sets of data. On top of that, it's pivotal to specify that while 10.7 million concurrent players is the highest total for Fortnite, it reached that number earlier this month, nearly a year and a half after its launch.

Meanwhile, Apex Legends hit 2 million concurrent players in its first week, an already impressive number that could exponentially grow over time as more people play, and as Reswpawn rolls out new updates, characters, and weapons. And if trends in the battle royale genre are any indication, special limited events are a big way to rack up player count.

That brings us to total players, which again, looks ridiculous on the original chart. Here is that same data, now isolated for a clearer idea of how both games are faring overall.

Once again, without the proper information, you'd think Apex Legends was struggling to gain traction just by looking at this chart, especially since those numbers are in the millions. Proper analysis of the date, however, indicates otherwise. Fortnite has racked up over 200 million overall players across multiple platforms in a year and a half. Apex Legends has 25 million total players, and even that data may be slightly outdated as those were first-week numbers. The total number of Apex Legends players may well be significantly higher by now.

Also, take into account that in just one week, the total people playing Apex Legends reached one-eighth of Fortnite and its player base. In one week. Obviously we can't expect Apex Legends to hit 200 million total players in eight weeks, but those first-week figures indicate that Respawn's battle royal FPS is off to a massively strong start.

That player base is growing, and there’s every reason to believe it’s going to keep growing.

Enough with the Numbers

Now that numerical data is out of the way, let's circle back around to the fun stuff.

The gameplay in Apex Legends is superior to the gameplay in Fortnite, but in order to keep players engaged, and in order to bring in waves of new players, EA and Respawn need to go all-in with post-release content for the game. Not only would that most likely keep existing players involved, but it would also theoretically (because nothing is certain) expand the player base.

Apex Legends has already mapped out its full content release schedule for the year. In that time, we're getting new weapons, new characters, and a battle pass. New weapons and characters are great ways to keep folks revisiting the game, and adding hours upon hours to their playtime, but there needs to be more. The game is fun, no doubt, and it will remain fun for a long time, but exciting post-release content such as daily challenges and limited time events will keep the game interesting.

The Biggest Factor of All: Time

Can Apex Legends topple Fortnite? Absolutely.

Will it? Probably, but only time will tell.

Time is actually the biggest factor here. Fortnite has been out for nearly a year and a half, and in that time, it's continued to be a giant in the battle royale genre. That said, even that game's feeling the effects of its time on the market, with sales revenue for microtransactions seeing a 50 percent dip in January. There was no distinct reason for this drop — it just happened, as is the case with games that are out for longer than 365 calendar days.

You'd think a surprise launch would hinder a game like Apex Legends, but in a weird way, it's almost like that out-of-nowhere debut worked in the game's favor. There was a “hey, the Titanfall people made a battle royale game!” reaction that helped to create instant buzz, and people's interest was piqued right from the get-go. Here we are almost one month since launch, and people are still playing and talking about it.

Maybe Apex Legends was released out of thin air (a lot sooner than it likely would've been) to offset the negativity inevitably geared toward Anthem. Well, if that's the case — and let's be real here, it probably is - it's the best thing that could've happened to Respawn's latest endeavor.

Apex Legends arrived with a bang, and in under a month, the excitement has yet to subside. It's likely only a matter of time before the game surpasses the behemoth that is Fortnite, and claims its rightful spot atop the battle royale mountain.