Apex Legends is so last month. That's what recent Twitch viewership numbers are pointing to, anyway. Fortnite is now more than doubling Apex when it comes to viewers, reclaiming its spot as top battle royale. Even on gaming sites and social media, where Apex once dominated headlines on the daily, the game is now just another thing to occasionally report on. So what happened? How did Apex Legends go from the surprise hit of 2019 to a passing fad?
The Truth Behind Apexs' Overnight Success
When Apex Legends suddenly appeared in mid-February, it made a huge impact on consumer and critic alike. A free-to-play, sqaud-based battle royale made by the Titanfall team? With a smart ping system and a respawn mechanic unlike anything seen in the leading battle royales? No overblown hype, no over-promising trailers, just a solid game that you can play now? Even the most vehement Fortnite-hater could find something to appreciate there. In fact, many seemed to jump on the bandwagon in hopes that Apex would dethrone Fortnite.
It seemed like that could actually happen. Excitement for Apex swelled as top streamers seemed to make a mass exodus to the new battle royale on the block. Even gamers who didn't stream flocked to Apex, giving it millions of players in a matter of days. A feat that took Fortnite weeks. Apex Legends' didn't just launch, it was an event. The game's rapid success was even enough to single-handedly save the plummeting stock prices of notoriously-hated publisher EA.
As with many things, however, it was too good to be true. A later article by Reuters revealed that EA paid popular streamers worldwide to play the game during its launch. The idea was to have the game be everywhere, creating its image as the new must-play experience.
“We really wanted to create a day where you couldn’t escape Apex if you cared about games and we wanted it to feel like an event was happening everywhere around the globe on that day,” said Drew McCoy, the game's lead producer.
That's not to say all these streamers didn't genuinely enjoy playing the game. It is a fun game that addressed many of the common complaints about battle royales at the time. It could very well have been successful on its merits alone. But with Twitch numbers falling so fast, one has to question how much streamers really did prop it up. And now that they've moved on, how well Apex can do without them.
The Content Problem
There will be arguments that a game doesn't need Twitch presence to survive. All it needs, many will say, is a healthy playerbase. There is truth in that. Mario Kart is iconic despite not being a Twitch favorite. However, Apex Legends is a free-to-play game in 2019. It plays by certain rules. One of those rules is that players require a steady stream of new content.
Fortnite is a perfect example of this. For all of its flaws, Fortnite keeps its momentum by introducing something new on a weekly basis. There are new weapons, vehicles, and random changes that shake up the map on the regular. Despite the fact that Fortnite Island is still the only map available, and there's no such thing as new characters to introduce, Fortnite still manages to feel fresh because Epic Games throws out new content like the game's life depends on it. It turns out, as Apex Legends is showing us, it does.
Apex Legends is arguably a more complete package than Fortnite. The character choices in Apex don't just boil down to cool skins, there is strategy to picking team comps based on abilities that compliment one another. The movement mechanics are more fluid, the revive system gives even the most inexperienced players a fighting chance. However, players have still found themselves unsatisfied with the pace at which Apex updates.
While Apex's characters do take time to master due to their various abilities, there's still only nine of them. The one map doesn't change. There was a new gun. A single new gun. While casual players probably have things they're still trying out, many full-time gamers are already talking burnout. The addition of a battle pass sparked hope, only to disappoint when it came to rewards.
Apex Legends developer Respawn has explained that this trickling of content is purposeful. The team doesn't want a situation like the one Fortnite is currently facing, where a huge overhaul with good intentions garners huge backlash. They'd rather address bugs and add content at a measured pace. The problem is, a measured pace is too slow for today's consumer. If a game doesn't keep itself relevant, another will come along to steal its thunder.
Other Stuff Happened
That brings us to today, where Apex is indeed seeing its headlines robbed by other hot topics.
The biggest of these is of course the Epic Games Store. The store, run by none other than Fortnite developer Epic, has been snatching up PC exclusives almost in spite of consumer outcry. While that might not directly damage Apex Legends, in fact you might argue it helps by fanning the flames of Fortnite hate, it does shift the conversation. Apex is no longer the event that's "happening everywhere around the globe." Especially not when Epic exclusives keep getting higher in profile, with the latest being Borderlands 3. There won't be much talk about Apex's one new character in the face of this industry-defining controversy.
There's also the fact that other big games just come out, as they always do. Jedi: Fallen Order doesn't compete with Apex Legends in any way, but it's already taking the spot of hot new title. Now there has to be tons of articles speculating over every little announcement, as Fallen Order becomes flavor of the month.
This isn't a doom and gloom prediction for Apex Legends. It still commands the kind of player base indie developers dream of as their games collect dust on Steam. However, there's no denying that, as it stands, Apex Legends is not the Fortnite-killer people once thought it was. It looks to be settling in as an alternative battle royale. It's a very good alternative. But it turns out Apex Legends is no titan.