PUBG NA esports lead Alex Penn: NA has ‘some really strong teams’ ahead of PUBG Nations Cup

Courtesy of PUBG Corp.
Courtesy of PUBG Corp. /

At the mid-point of its inaugural season, the National PUBG League has quickly captivated PUBG fans worldwide.

With two of three phases already in the books, the league has placed the best PUBG players throughout North America on display as they compete for a portion of the massive prize pool. The NPL is comprised of two separate leagues, the NPL and NPL Contenders.

At the conclusion of each phase, the bottom six teams from NPL face-off against the top ten teams from Contenders in a best-of-twelve tournament. At the end of this tournament, the top six teams are promoted into the NPL, North America’s premier PUBG league.

So far, Tempo Storm has dominated the league, winning three of the four individual tournaments since the league’s commencement in January. Even prior to their last-week surge to claim back-to-back titles, the team was already considered as North America’s most well-rounded and consistent team.

Stateside, the league is currently preparing for Phase 3. However, before the start of the next phase, the top five teams from Phase 2 will represent the league at the GLL Grand Slam: PUBG Classic. It’s a tournament taking place in Stockholm, Sweden which will play host to some of the best PUBG teams from around the world.

Additionally, details regarding the first-ever PUBG Nations Cup have been released, including the players that will represent the sixteen nations competing. This will be another unique tournament allowing fans to cheer for their country as they play for a portion of the $500,000 prize pool in Seoul, South Korea.

Before kicking back and watching the North American teams dominate on the global stage, particularly over the European teams, I had the chance to speak with Alex Penn, PUBG’s North American Esports Lead. He offered insight into a variety of topics throughout the NPL landscape, as well as his thoughts on the events taking place before the start of Phase 3.

Editor’s Note: This interview took places before GLL Grand Slam this past weekend.

App Trigger: For some context, if you could just elaborate on your role as the North American Esport Lead and what exactly that entails.

Alex Penn: So we have nine major regions for esports around the world. I oversee two of them currently; North America as well as Oceania. What that involves mainly is working with our key partners in both regions; OGN, in North America, and ESL in Australia, to run the programs and that comes down to everything from competition, to design, to marketing, to make sure that the players are being taken care of and have a voice to speak to you directly.

That’s kind of the duties of my team. This year has been kind of setting the ground floor for future years when it comes to not only the NPL but also our Contenders in that “path to pro,” which allows players to get into the ecosystem, learn about competitive PUBG and start competing at a higher level.

AT: In what ways has the NPL evolved throughout its first year?

AP: The biggest change I’ve seen is the growth of the teams and players, they’re taking things a bit more seriously now. After Phase 1, we saw a lot of consolidation of up and coming talent into the top teams. Spacestation Gaming picked up “JSANK,” who was on Oxymoron. As well as The Rumblers who came out of Contenders, stuck together and they’re now competing in Sweden, representing North America. That’s a great story and a testament to the system.

However, we’re still learning a lot, and we have a lot to change. In the coming years, we’re really trying to learn what not only the players like, but also what the viewers resonate with in terms of length of days, as well as the amount of content that we’re putting out on a regular basis. And all of our other regions have been given the freedom to do that as well.

AT: How has the gameplay side of SUPER (Standard and Universal PUBG Esports Ruleset) changed the way teams play the game competitively?

AP: It’s definitely created a much more aggressive mindset for the players as kills are valued much higher than they were in 2018, which has created a more dynamic play. And you see that from the start, players are willing to take bigger risks for kills, which is awesome.

So you get more exciting moments as the game gets to the, to the latest possible points that the team has to take place, right, you know, in all battle Rails is you want to play as risk-averse as possible, right? Because inherently, you want to last for as long as you can. And you’re starting to see the teams that know that they can get the killed, you know, push fights, much quicker, is every kill counts?

AT: Throughout the competitive scene, it seems like one thing everyone is able to get behind is some sort of nerf to grenades. Would you agree with that sentiment? If so, is there a method that appeals the most initially?

AP: If you’re watching the matches today, you can notice the amount of grenade usage by our pro players. It’s something I was a little worried about last year, but it was mainly because the players weren’t as good with the grenade yet. And I think that’s the most exciting thing about 2019, is watching these players learn how to play the game to the best of their ability.

They’re committing to longer-form leagues against similar teams, as well as bigger prize money when it comes to the international stage. So when it comes to, I wouldn’t say solving that issue, but moving away from grenades being a primary weapon of choice when landing all those kills. I think that there’s a couple of different routes you could take. You could either increase the weight of them, or you could create more of an arbitrary limit, like only holding two frags and only three smokes.

I’m not sure what the right move is yet, but I know that both our esports dev unit, as well as our gameplay dev unit,  are working on changes to the grenade, but we don’t have anything we can share at this time.

AT: It felt as if everyone was expecting to crown a new champion on the final day of Phase 2, but Tempo Storm surprised many and claimed back-to-back phase titles. What about Tempo Storm stands out the most to you?

AP: I think the thing that set Tempo apart during Phase 1 was, they were really good about racking up kills and recognizing when they could win the fight. I personally didn’t expect them to come out on top going into the final weekend. So, it makes for a crazy story, and I think it’s really a testament to how they show up when they have to. They were sitting in that third to fifth spot for a while during Phase 2 until they really had to turn it on. So it was exciting to see them clutch it out, and show that they can be a dominant force.

AT: Six teams escaped NPL Relegations, but only one of them is a returning NPL team. What are your expectations for these new teams and how do you think they’ll play under the bright lights inside OGN Super Arena?

AP: I think we’ll see more consolidation of talent, as some of those players that aren’t relegated get picked up by teams that did advance. So, I believe inherently everything’s going to get more even moving forward. We definitely had some criticism around the number of teams we were sending to relegation, but having five teams drop out really justifies that towards the bottom of the league there’s still a lot of growth happening. So having five new teams able to come in and prove themselves is fantastic.

AT: As an important part of the NPL structure, why should fans tune in and watch these up and coming teams in the NPL Contenders?

AP: I think that Contenders is much more relevant to the everyday player. Because that’s something where I see a lot of aspirational goals coming out. Do you think you could beat these guys? I mean all it takes is for you to sign up for the open qualifier, and play in the NPL Contenders Relegation and you could be in their spot. So I think there’s a lot of cool learnings about the first steps to becoming a pro PUBG player. Plus it’s really cool to scout some of that talent and see who’s going to be the upcoming pros competing against the top dogs of Tempo Storm and Cloud 9 in the likes.

AT: During Phase 2, one of those teams that burst onto our radar was the Soniqs. Now with plenty of expectations surrounding them for Phase 3, do you think we’ll witness another climb similar to that of The Rumblers?

AP: I think that Soniqs did a really good job of building their team. They picked and chose a bunch of players that were either relegated or dropped off teams during Phase 1. And I think that’s the biggest thing they did, just building a full four-man squad which really did pay off for them.

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  • When it comes to the results, it’s so difficult to predict. I don’t think anybody had the expectations of The Rumblers doing as well as they did going into the phase. So hopefully, those expectations aren’t too high, and the nerves don’t get to them. But it’ll be exciting to see how that plays out, and maybe be a Rumblers 2.0.

    AT: Already one day in the books, the GLL Grand Slam features five of the best teams from NPL, how are you expecting the NPL teams to perform during the tournament?

    AP: It’s the always present EU versus NA debate. So really looking for a strong performance from NA, who started off a little slow today. After four matches, the top four teams were a team from all four of the regions that were participating. So that’s really cool to see that sort of parody happening across the regions. Especially coming from Latin America and Oceania, because you never really know when they all come together. I’m looking for NA to come out big because the top team of the tournament earns their region an extra spot at our global championship. So rooting for the guys to earn NPL and NA an extra spot.

    AT: Less than a month away, the rosters have been announced for the first-ever PUBG Nations Cup. First, what’s your initial reaction to the USA and Canada rosters? Secondly, does LosHD deserve a revote for Team Finland?

    AP: I think that for the US and Canada, we have some really strong teams. The way that teams were chosen this time around were all the NPL and NPLC players, from those specific countries, voted for who will represent them, which was super exciting and really cool to see the players campaigning to their peers about why they should vote for them. For something that doesn’t really affect the overall ecosystem.

    The US team winning is all about pride more than anything; I thought it was cool to see them vote for who they felt would best represent their country. When it comes to any of the European players in NPL, it’s going to be tough to garner those votes, right? You’re not playing with those guys over in Europe, week in and week out. So, you know The Rumblers didn’t have LosHD to represent Finland, but we have our Tempo Storm coach going to coach the UK team, which is exciting.

    AT: How do you think the PUBG Nations Cup helps grow the esport in each region?

    AP: I think it creates another dynamic for fans to get involved. They may not always want to root for Tempo Storm players, for example, but they may want to root for them when it comes to Team USA. So it just gives more limelight to these players and their personalities, and the relationship to the fan. Seeing the Canadian fans really rally behind the Canadian team just highlights that part of the identity. So it’s another reason for you to grasp on and those players come NPL time.

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  • AT: Now I know it’s mainly speculation at this point, but what are your thoughts on the Erangel visual update being applied for Phase 3 of the NPL?

    AP: Yeah, we don’t have anything on when it will be implemented, but I’m super excited to get it into the esports ruleset. I think the changes are fantastic; I’m excited for it to come out next week on live servers. But so far what we’ve been getting from player feedback is the changes aren’t too big. It’s more visual, so it’ll be interesting to see how it does affect the gameplay. Players are excited about some of the coastal changes, especially when it comes to cover and getting onto the different islands from boats.

    AT: Speaking to the NPL fans, what should they keep an eye out for during Phase 3 and the second half of the year?

    AP: There’s going to be a ton of roster changes that haven’t even started to begin. So follow your favorite player, follow your favorite team, and there’s still a lot of time to qualify for the global championship at the end of the year. But if you’re looking for a team, Tempo Storm and Cloud 9 both got first and second for both phases.

    AT: Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview? Any high-profile news we can break for you? 

    AP: If you’re in LA, come and check out the arena! We start back up on September 7, and tune in on; It’s going to be exciting to watch Phase 3. But before then we PUBG Nations Cup, which will also be on our main PUBG Twitch channel, and that is August 9-11, so come root on the US and Canadian teams.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.