As you spawn, you catch a glimpse of Stalber’s peak from afar. On the small island where you start, you may find yourself dodging punches from fellow players dressed in dinosaur costumes, or dodging speeding McLarens. Alternatively, you can dive into the sea to evade the chaos, or head over to the plane wreckage to perform a unique jump from the plane’s wing into the ocean. Everyone has their own way of beginning the game.
And then the real adventure starts. You board a plane with 99 other players who all have the same goal: to eliminate you. You mark a spot on the map where you’ll parachute down, rush into a nearby building, and start gathering weapons. Even if you always drop off at the school – the hot spot for the best loot since Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds hit Steam Early Access in March 2017 – no two matches are ever alike.
That’s the magic of Erangel – it feels like an old friend, yet it always manages to surprise you with new challenges every time you play. Even after the game hit 1.0 in December 2017, marking the end of its Early Access phase, Erangel still had a certain familiarity that kept players coming back for more. Back in 2017, battle royale games like PUBG and Fortnite were all the rage, and everyone was talking about them.
Before we even thought about getting the Christmas lights out that year, we had already played hundreds of rounds of PUBG. Erangel was the only official map available until Miramar was added in 2018. We searched endlessly online for the “best PUBG drop locations,” and we eventually came to the conclusion that Sosnovka Military Base was the top landing spot. But then we debated whether it was better to drop at the Hospital or the Prison instead. However, we all agreed that only absolute lunatics would start the match at the school.
To be honest, I didn’t even consider dropping at the school during the first few months of PUBG’s Early Access phase. The horror stories about that place were enough to make me avoid it altogether. I could hear the sounds of gunfire coming from the nondescript houses where I chose to land instead. By the time I was geared up and ready to move closer to the school, the shooting had stopped, and I could see that seven people had already been killed. All that remained were wooden boxes marking where my enemies had fallen. School always gave me the creeps.
During the first six months of playing on Erangel, there were many rumors and superstitions floating around. One such tale was that bridges were the most dangerous places on the map because people would camp there, waiting to shoot out your tires and ambush you, knowing that you had to cross the bridge to avoid the blue zone.
But do you want to know how many times that has happened to me in the six years since PUBG was released? Zero. Not even once. Bridges are, in fact, statistically (probably) the safest places on the entire map because everyone avoids them due to those early myths about the ambushes. Swimming across any body of water became the norm whenever the playzone dictated it, which meant that anyone using the bridge ambush technique would eventually become bored and stop doing it. This allowed us to start driving over bridges again.
That psychological game of cat and mouse really defined life on Erangel in the early days. Seeing an open door was enough to cause a full-on existential crisis:
The doors open! That means someone has been in that building. There’ll be no good loot left in there, and oh god maybe they’re still inside! Maybe they can see me through one of the windows! But wait, why would they leave the door open like that? Unless they wanted me to think someone had gone inside when, in fact, they hadn’t at all… There’s probably some great loot in there that nobody has thought to look for. Unless that’s what the people inside the building want me to think, and that’s why they left the door open!
Erangel’s map has a special place in everyone’s heart, a spot that holds particular significance. It’s the location where you and your friends bunkered down during that memorable match, known as “The Game”. The details of The Game differ from player to player. It might be the hills to the west of Lipovka where a team-mate secured the squad’s first-ever Chicken Dinner, or the sharp descent just west of Prison where someone pulled off an incredible motorbike stunt and landed on another player, killing them before they even realized it.
For me and my buddies, the site of The Game is a cluster of farmhouses on the west coast, around Gatka’s level. It was one of the first matches we all played together, and we decided to hunker down upstairs in one of the houses. We each took a window, had decent guns and scopes, and with the zone on our side, we just sat and waited. It was a glorious feeling, sharing that space together, chatting about nothing in particular, and keeping vigil on a different angle. At that moment, I realized that Erangel was more than just a multiplayer map; it was a hangout space.
Rob caught sight of an enemy squad through his window, and we all sprang into action, flinging grenades in every direction, running about in a frenzy, and alerting everyone to our whereabouts. However, this was back in 2017, when the standard of play was lower than the level of play of a four-year-old who was allowed to win a game of FIFA out of courtesy every Christmas. Nonetheless, we managed to shoot and kill all four of them.
But a new problem emerged: someone nearby had heard the commotion and knew we were still holed up in the farmhouse. Trapped without any grenades, we reloaded our weapons and prepared for the next attack. I wish I could say that we fought our way out and went on to claim a delectable chicken dinner, but that would be a lie. They overwhelmed us. Smoke grenade. Fragmentation grenade. Two of us went down. A barrage of AK-47 fire (remember when that was popular?) left only Rob standing. Rob never was one to risk his life to revive us then, and he hasn’t changed that stance in the years that have followed.
We could only watch as he traded 7.62 rounds with an attacker in the midst of all the smoke and emerged from the encounter worse for wear. We didn’t win; we didn’t even come in second place. But that farmhouse took on a kind of sacred significance to me after that. It was the precise location on Erangel where I came to appreciate the profound impact of battle royale games.
One could argue that Fortnite outshone PUBG in many ways. Epic’s battle royale might have taken cues from Brendan Greene’s wildly successful mod-turned-standalone game, but it also took it much further into different directions. For some, that made it a superior place to hang out with friends. You could lounge in the Moisty Mire, practicing your building skills, or hide in the Wailing Woods without any intention of killing anyone. That was fun too.
Fortnite’s map has undergone a significant transformation since 2017, with the scars of its topography telling the story of the last six years. It has been on an epic journey, hosting record-breaking virtual concerts and fashion collaborations. In contrast, Erangel, with its simple, somber, almost always overcast terrain, has hardly changed at all in six years. Even as the world around us has transformed, and virtual hangouts became the norm, it held steady, making only minor tweaks to a particular doorway or the placement of a ditch.
This adds to its cultural significance. We all have special memories here, and despite being a location where we do nothing other than fight for our lives while strangers hunt us ruthlessly until none are left standing, it’s a strangely comforting island. Erangel should stay just the way it is, unchanging.