With just a minute left on the clock, the battle for Hossin is a dead-heat. The jungle-continent is split almost straight down the middle, between shades of red and blue. The heavyweight New Conglomerate faction are just a single point ahead of their lighter, more agile Terran Republic opponents, who are throwing everything they've got right across the NC's front-line. A single captured base would swing it for the Terrans, who dominated the battlefield for almost an hour-and-a-half.
Despite the best efforts of the Terrans, the New Conglomerate line holds, and as the clock ticks down to zero, the entire continent of Hossin flashes blue, heralding their victory. Moments later, another victory is announced, even more significant than the New Conglomerate's own triumph.
On Saturday night, Planetside 2 became the new world record holder for the largest battle to take place in an FPS game. The 1158 players who took part in the Server Smash organised specifically for the attempt officially exceeded the previous record of 999 players, held by the multiplayer shooter Man vs Machine. It was also a stellar example of Planetside 2's eSports potential. Broadcast on Twitch with thousands of spectators, it saw some of the very best Planetside players and outfits partake in a thrilling battle in which the lead changed multiple times, and the ultimate victory went down to the wire.
The event was organised by the website PlanetsideBattles.org, a player-driven site run by representatives from various corners of the Planetside community. For the staff at PlanetsideBattles, the world record attempt has been a long time coming. "It had always been in the back of the minds of a few on the team, but as a pipedream," says Scott Goodwin, communications director for PSB. "Once we were able to utilise the Jaeger server, that possibility became attainable. We brought the idea to SOE and offered to organise the event, and they agreed."
With the official go-ahead, the team at PlanetsideBattles spent several months putting together the event, aided by SOE. "SOE has offered support in many ways," Goodwin explains. "One such way is supplying over 1200 accounts for us to utilize in the World Record attempt. Thanks to a close relationship between various members of our admin team and SOE staff members, we have been able to make sure that all of the accounts have the proper certification points and battle ranks in order to be effective in combat."
In addition, SOE gave PlanesideBattles administrative access to their Jaeger server, which allowed them to set up the map as they liked, and host a private match so that the event could be effectively monitored and coordinated. "This was our largest problem when we were on the PTS (Public Test Servers)," Goodwin says "[For] which we had to form a "Fun Police" team to support the event." Unlike standard Planetside 2, where the world is persistent, the world record attempt was designated as a "Server Smash", a separate instance where the players are given a time-limit to achieve whatever objectives that specific Server Smash dictates.
In this case, the Smash was a straightforward "point capture" affair, given the main event was the record itself. To that end, PSB had to ensure their event fell within the guidelines for what counts as an online "battle." Guinness defines this as "The greatest number of players simultaneously (in one single instance) in one server of an online FPS videogame".
"For the purposes of this record, all players must be on one battlefield simultaneously," PSB team-member Justicia clarifies. "For Planetside 2, this is satisfied by having the participating players on a single continent. In the case of our attempt, Hossin."
The final part of PSB's preparations was ensuring they had enough players to attend the event. In the end, this proved to be the easiest obstacle to overcome, as over 4,000 players signed up for the event, and those applications were whittled down by 15 faction "representatives", from the game's various servers. "We were never in fear of not having enough players," Goodwin remarks.
The Smash itself kicked off at 22:00 UTC on Saturday, and although the main event was of course the world record, the resulting battle proved to be a stunning demonstration of Planetside 2 at its very best. Because PS2 is a three-way fight, this can result in one faction being crushed into paste before they have a chance to get organised. Not so here. All three factions gave as good as they got, and each seemed within easy reach of victory at some point during the battle.
This didn't appear to be the case initially. The opening half hour of the battle was all about the Terran Republic, who catapulted into the lead by pushing South against the high-tech laser-rifles of the Vanu Sovereignty. They were aided by the New Conglomerate adopting a similar tactic, battering the purple-suited Vanu into third place.
By the half-hour mark the Terran Republic were dominant with a population percentage of 38, which proved to be the largest lead of all factions at any point during the battle. They looked likely to expand even further when a Sunderer troop transport was deployed right next to the capture point at the New-Conglomerate held Construction Site Beta, allowing players to spawn within feet of the objective. But with seconds to spare, the NC managed to destroy the Sunderer and pick off the remaining Terrans to hold the capture point.
For the next 30 minutes the NC and TR continued to snatch territory from the Vanu, who by this point trailed both factions with a mere 28 points to the NC's 34 and the TR's 37. However, at the halfway stage the Vanu finally began to find their feet, holding back the Terrans at Nettlemire Gardens to the Southeast, and making a huge 200-player assault on the NC-held Fort Drexler. The air was filled with Vanu Lasher fire, a heavy machinegun which fires balls of bright-blue plasma, dealing splash damage to any nearby enemies.
The increasing use of Lashers proved crucial to the Vanu Sovereignty's revival. At 23:20, the Vanu captured Hurakan Service Station from the Conglomerate, pushing back toward the centre of the map and snatching second place with 32 points to the NC's 29. Despite this, the Terran Republic remained comfortably in the lead with 37.
Having forced the Conglomerate into a retreat, the Vanu turned their attention to the Terran Republic, pushing north through Gourney Dam. Meanwhile, despite taking heavy losses against the Vanu, the New Conglomerate began making headway against the Terrans as well, recapturing the Offal Pit far in the North of Hossin. With just over half an hour to go, the Vanu Sovereignty swept into the lead after securing Hurakan Amp Station, lifting their population to 35 over the TR's 34. The New Conglomerate trailed in last place with 30.
Now it was the Terran Republic on the defensive, as both the Vanu and the Conglomerate made strong offensives into their territory. The Vanu and the Terrans played hot potato over Ixtab Southern Pass, while the NC made assaults against both the Terrans and Vanu respectively at Kessel's Crossing to the North and Hurakan Amp Station to the South. With half an hour to go, the VS and NC were on an even population of 34, while in a sudden reversal of fortune, the TR found themselves in last place with 31.
With a quarter-hour left on the clock, a successful assault by the New Conglomerate at Gourney Dam sprung them into the lead for the first time, ahead of the Vanu Sovereignty 35 to 32. What's more, despite making a valiant assault at Ixtab, the Vanu lost the capture point to the Terran Republic with just eight minutes to go, reducing their population to 30 and pretty much putting them out of the fight.
This meant the last 10 minutes was a straight up boxing match between TR and the NC, as they traded blows along on a front running down the centre of the continent. In the end, the New Conglomerate held fast against the Terrans' assault, ending the match on a population of 36 against the TR's 32.
The world record was officially announced shortly afterward, with 1158 players making a total of 53,729 kills. But I hope the event is remembered for more than that number. Perhaps because of the sheer number of players its battles demand, Planetside 2 isn't often considered for its eSports potential. But the world record attempt revealed both the quality of the game's spectacle and its layers of tactical depth, how both tactical teamwork and moments of individual brilliance can turn the tide of a battle, and how well balanced its factions are for a staged competition as well as a persistent war.