Brawlhalla recently passed a momentous landmark: 100 million lifetime players. To celebrate, the game will host a special event starting today. The 100 Million Brawlers Event will run until June 7, and while it's live, all Legends will be available to play in the free-to-play rotation for the first week, the Brawl of the Week queue will feature daily rotating game modes, and Mallhalla, the in-game store, will have daily themed sale items. In terms of new content, there's an Epic Skin for Inari Yumiko, a Color Scheme, themed login rewards, and Demon Island background animations, among others. As of today, players will also see a new logo and other visual branding updates that will remain in-game after the 100 Million Brawlers Event ends.
Brawlhalla is developed by Blue Mammoth Games, which started out as an indie studio and was acquired by Ubisoft in 2018. When Brawlhalla started with its closed beta in 2015, it had only a few hundred players. So how did it get to 100 million? Ubisoft News spoke with Managing Director Zeke Sparkes and Lead Producer Uyen-Anh Dang to learn more about the early days of Brawlhalla, how the team used community feedback to grow and change the game, and the significance of reaching 100 million players.
Sparkes has been on Brawlhalla's development team from the very beginning, ever since it was "the start of an idea." Even then, he knew that Brawlhalla had a chance to be something special, and saw that players were excited about the game as soon as its gameplay was first revealed.
According to Sparkes, the team always knew Brawlhalla would be a very community-driven game, so they decided to connect with their players through Twitch, streaming the game while they were still building it. And those early days of streaming were rough, with blurry cameras and inconsistent audio. But they knew it was imperative to Brawlhalla's success that they got feedback from the chat, because it was important to know not only where the development team wanted the game to go, but where the players wanted it to go.
"We kept saying that once we put the game out there, it belongs to the players," says Sparkes. "So we had to pay attention and listen to what the players were saying, figure out why they're saying those things, and use that to decide where the game went. We started seeing community organizers right off the bat, so we watched those players and gave them all the support that we could."
One of those early community members was Dang. She first started playing Brawlhalla during its closed beta in 2015, and quickly realized there was a need for more community tournaments, so she started organizing them alongside her husband Duc Pham, currently a video producer for Brawlhalla, and Alex "Sparky" Rahaim, who is currently a Brawlhalla commentator.
"This was before they had 2v2 with team damage, so we created a whole tournament that was technically a free for all, but you dressed in the same color as your teammate," Dang recalls. "And I swear the devs were watching, because they implemented team damage right after that community tournament."
"We kept seeing where they were having problems, and making decisions about how we could avoid those problems for them, and how we could grow the game in a way that's supported," adds Sparkes. "We just kept being connected, listening, and adding what the players really wanted, and growing as much as we could."
And grow Brawlhalla did, both in terms of the number of players and the content the game offered. During the closed beta, there were 10 Legends; now there are 58. The game also introduced new weapons for players to use, and started doing Epic Crossovers, which let the team incorporate outside brands like Shovel Knight, Rayman, and most recently Avatar: The Last Airbender into the Brawlhalla universe. The development team also added a cross-play feature in 2019, which Dang and Sparkes agree significantly contributed to Brawlhalla's growth. But there's one special milestone that signaled to Sparkes that the game had a solid community.
"We started getting more and more fan art, and the emotion we got from that caught some of us by surprise," he says. "We realized there were people hanging out in class, doodling the characters we created, just like we did when we were doodling characters of whatever our favorite game was. It created a neat moment where we realized this is something special, and something amazing is happening right now. We always love seeing the fan art that gets made, and when something gets drawn, we'll share it around the office."
As Brawlhalla scaled in playerbase and content, the development team had to work through unique challenges, both technical and in listening to a growing community. "Every time we went to a new platform, there were a whole series of unknown challenges, because the way the game works has to be identical on all platforms," says Sparkes. "We've had to shift over the years how we've handled production for that, but taking it one step at a time each way. It's a fun challenge."
"There also comes a challenge with community feedback, and making sure we're receiving the right kind of feedback and that we have all types of players represented," adds Dang. "We have people who play casually as well as competitively, and we want to listen to all their feedback, put something out there that has something for everyone, and make sure that anyone who's picking up the game, whether you're young, old, new, or pro, has something there for them."
One way the team balances meeting the needs and feedback of casual and competitive players is through Brawlhalla's updates. According to Sparkes, the team alternates between competitive and casual content.
"A concrete example is when we release new maps," Sparkes says. "You can see maps come in different categories and show up in different playlists based on the geometry of the map - there are a series of maps that are expressly for competitive play that are completely different than maps for casual play, like the free-for-all modes. So we alternate between the maps we're doing in the patches; it's rare we do five competitive maps in a row or five free-for-all maps in a row."
Now that Brawlhalla has reached 100 million lifetime players, the team is ecstatic, and is celebrating with a special in-game event and brand redesign, all designed with the players in mind.
"It's quite literally a celebration and very community focused; the content are things that players have requested for a long time. For example, during the event, we have a timed event mission where players can jump into the game, and if they win on a Legend, they unlock the black-and-purple color scheme for that Legend, which the community has been requesting for a really long time," says Dang. "There's a little bit of everything for everyone. I don't want to give away too much, but there's a sneak peek of something in the celebration for players who are keeping their eyes out. That's all I'm going to say."
Reflecting on eight years of Brawlhalla, Dang and Sparkes agree that community has been the cornerstone of the game, from the first player to the 100 millionth. "To our first player, I would say I'm so happy that you found us right at the beginning when we needed people, and thank you for helping shape where Brawlhalla went," says Sparkes. "We really did change a lot of ideas once we started having people who weren't us playing."
"We couldn't have reached literally 100 million players without our community," says Dang. "And to the 100 millionth player, I want to give them a warm welcome to Brawlhalla, and I hope you're making friends, enjoying the game, and having a fantastic time making lasting bonds that I feel like sometimes only a videogame can create."
Dive into Brawlhalla's 100 Million Brawlers celebration event today on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, PC via Ubisoft Connect, the Epic Games Store or Steam, and iOS and Android. You can learn more about the game and its team, like the Avatar: The Last Airbender Epic Crossover or the Women of Ubisoft's highlight on Uyen-Anh, and stay tuned to Ubisoft News for more updates.