written by Phil Cooke
Fortnite has been making headlines in gaming news throughout its history, dominating the attention of gamers of all ages, all around the world. This all changed last month as Fortnite made its way to the mainstream headlines thanks to the Fortnite World Cup held in the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, which shared out $30 Million in prizes across all the competitions.
This hard-to-comprehend prize pool dwarfs any other esports event in history, except DOTA 2’s annual ‘The International’ championship series, an event which has been running annually since 2011, so the fact that the Fortnite World Cup has such a big money pot in its inaugural year is even more impressive (for comparison, the first International had a total prize pool of $1.6million).
The other astounding fact about the first Fortnite world cup is how young the winners were. It is well-known that the audience and player base for Fortnite is mainly made up of a younger generation of gamers, but for the world cup event, these future stars came out of the woodwork en masse to qualify for the legendary competition, pushing established Fortnite pros like Ninja, Tfue and TSM’s team out of the event, meaning these household names, as well as other well-regarded streamers failed to even qualify.
In the end, the champions for both the Solo and Duo events were all under 18. Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf took the Solos title at 16, and ‘Nyhrox’ (16) and ‘Aqua’ (17) took home first place in duos. British Player, 14-year-old ‘Mongraal’ and his Dutch partner took home 6th place in Duos while ‘Wolfiez’, another British player, took 2nd.
So, what does this historic event mean for Fortnite esports and esports generally? Short answer: A lot, And people are still not sure whether this is all good or bad…
The Good: Fortnite has been the focus of mainstream news articles for a while now, but previously these articles focused on the "toxic, addictive game corrupting our children" and even providing comparisons to drugs, the attitude surrounding the world cup shifted to a more positive, supportive feeling, being covered in a positive light by the BBC, The Sun, The Washington Post, NBC and even business news outlets like Yahoo Finance or the NY Times among others. Fox News even ran a positive interview with esports journalist Rod ‘Slasher’ Breslau about esports growth and parental concerns regarding gaming which you can find here.
This positivity regarding esports in mainstream media is great for the industry and hopefully the positive coverage can be kept up! It shouldn’t be too difficult, with major esports events like The International 2019, Overwatch League Season 2 Finals, Call of Duty World League Championships all happening over the next few months.
A further positive for the esports industry is the amount of young talent this competition has unearthed. The majority of the top 10 finishers in both solos and duos being under 18 and previously unheard of, this competition has brought a massive new intake of talent onto the scene, which is a great for the expansion of esports and has allowed the players themselves to make a career out of something which would previously be considered a hobby. This is at least in part due to the open online qualifier the World Cup ran.
Open Online qualifiers are something that the top level of established esports games rarely see, instead relying on qualification and invites sent to established players and teams. Epic Games decided to open the World Cup to the world, allowing anyone to qualify through the game, which played a part in making the Fortnite World Cup such a spectacle. It allowed anyone who was good at the game to take part regardless of if they were lucky enough to be discovered yet or not.
This has worked out for a few new esports titles lately. Fire Beavers, a team who got into the FACEIT Apex Pro Series through online qualifiers went onto win the series and $10,000. As both of these games have shown, albeit at different levels allowing people to qualify based on skill can bring new talent that otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to showcase their talent and potential on a world stage (and as a plus, it creates great storylines as the established pros are beaten).
The Bad: The World cup wasn’t without it’s criticisms however, as there was more than one cheating scandal on stage as one player was banned mid-game for repeatedly looking at the spectator screen in order to get an advantage, and another got booed when he appeared on stage due to ‘teaming’ in the qualifiers in order to get more points (there was also celebration when he was eliminated).
There were criticisms about the prize pool breakdown, notable streamer and ex-pro ‘Poach’ spoke out on twitter: “Imagine placing 11th today and getting the same prize money as dead last OMEGALUL” referencing the breakdown in prize money earned by last place would be the same amount as that earned by finishing just outside the top 10, with 11th through 50th places all earning $50,000.
There was also criticism regarding the stream for the world cup, with viewers on twitter complaining about the ‘cringe factor’ of some of the coverage with characters from the game dancing in every other shot and the hyper hosting style some of the hosts had. People criticised this for being too childish, but others complimented it for appealing to its audience and the obvious production value of both the stream and event as a whole.
The age of these competitors also deserves some concern. This is has not been widely discussed, and it really should be. Having this much attention, money and success at such a young age so suddenly could really mess with somebody’s mental health and wellbeing if they don’t have a support network around them, Esports Comedy podcast The Four Heads were one of the few outlets who touched on this and the pressure that performing onstage in such a way can bring to such young competitors. However, the positives of the world cup seemed to massively outweigh the negatives, and Fortnite really is an opportunity for everybody involved in esports.
The Epic: There is a particular company that has garnered a massive amount of celebration and criticism, and that is the developer and publisher: Epic Games. Despite coming under fire for decisions regarding marketing, development and updates to the game, along with the creation of their marketplace, Epic has created arguably the most popular esports title of all time, and that is no small accomplishment.
After releasing a relatively popular but not massive crafting/survival game in July 2017 titled ‘Fortnite: Save the World’, Epic decided to jump on the Battle Royale trend started by games like H1Z1, and PUBG and released Fortnite: Battle Royale in September of the same year as a free game. With a sudden burst of popularity, Epic managed to hold onto and grow their audience by continually supporting the game with regular monthly content updates and patches, coupled with hosting massively popular in-game events during and around their seasonal battle pass content.
Epic started supporting the competitive scene shortly after, and despite some hiccups where they added game changing mechanics shortly before major tournaments, Epic Games has made massive progress in a relatively short time leading to, ultimately, the biggest step towards mainstream acceptance of esports the industry has seen. I think everyone can agree, regardless of their opinions on Fortnite or Epic Games as a whole, the popularity of the Fortnite World Cup has made a great opportunity to move into the mainstream in a way that wasn’t possible before. I think we can call that a Victory (Royale).