Fortnite: Battle Royale's future in esports
Once viewed in the eyes of many as a cartoon themed knock-off of the very popular Player Unknown's Battlegrounds, Fortnite has now become the predominant game in the battle royale genre. From being the second most watched game on Twitch for the month of February to receiving the "endorsement" of celebrities such as Drake, Travis Scott, and Juju Smith, Fortnite is on track to be the most successful game of 2018. However, despite its massive and ever growing popularity, Fortnite has yet to be a player in the competitive esports sphere. While Fortnite's developer, Epic Games, has announced its interest in establishing Fortnite as an esport, they may discover that popularity doesn't always mean a successful esport. In this article, we will answer the following: what is Fortnite and can it succeed as an esport.
What is Fortnite Battle Royale?
Fortnite Battle Royale is a free-to-play 100 player PvP gamemode available on PC, console, and mobile devices. It consists of players dropping out of a flying "battle bus" to land and loot guns, grenades, and material in hopes of winning the game (known as a Victory Royale). The guns range from pistols to shotguns to assault rifles with varying stats based on the randomly generated rarity of the weapon. Virtually every structure, tree, and building is able to be destroyed and looted for materials that players can then use to build fortifications and other structures (hence the Fort in Fortnite). Players are forced to constantly move as the map will begin to shrink its available playzone by means of a growing storm that increases in size and damage done to players in the storm as the game continues. The last player standing is the winner. As of February 2018, the game is reported to have over 3.4 million concurrent players.
How Does Fortnite Compare to Player Unknown's Battlegrounds?
Few may know that Fortnite was not initially developed as a battle royale game. Fortnite was first released as a co-op sandbox survival game. This gamemode, set in contemporary Earth, has up to four players working together to complete various missions, build fortifications to defend objectives, and collect resources. Epic Games has described this gamemode a cross between Minecraft and Left 4 Dead.
Then came the early-access release of Bluehole's wildly popular Player Unknown's Battlegrounds (otherwise known as PUBG) in March 2017. Similarly to Fortnite, PUBG is a battle royale game where 100 players parachute out of a plane in hopes of being the last man standing. Developed by Brendan Greene, a veteran in the battle royale genre, the game soon saw 3 million concurrent players at the end of that same year.
Epic Games saw the opportunity to capitalize on the battle royale trend by releasing their own standalone battle royale mode for Fortnite. The result was a game that not only ran better and smoother than PUBG but was more action-packed. Fortnite was able to provide more bang for a player's buck without costing any money to buy. PUBG could not compete with Fortnite in this category as the game costs $30 USD to play.
Epic Games announced that Fortnite would have a battle royale mode did not sit well with the developers of PUBG. Along with being the developers of Fortnite, Epic Games is also the developer of the game engine (Unreal Engine 4) that both PUBG and Fortnite are built on. Bluehole worked with Epic Games to license the game engine for PUBG only for Epic Games to create their own version of the battle royal genre many months after PUBG was available for early access. The Bluehole team announced that it would consider taking "further action" but as of February 2018, no further action has been taken.
Despite these threats, Fortnite has continued to rise in popularity. Personally, I believe Fortnite has surpassed PUBG because they have delivered incredibly well in several key areas. Firstly, the game simply runs better than PUBG on both console and PC. While PUBG has to cap the speed of vehicles on the console edition to prevent too many chunks being loaded too quickly, Fortnite players rarely experience server-side latency issues. Secondly, the game has a far smaller map than PUBG which means more action and fighting per game. Because of this, a player can do less of the mundane looting process and more of the thrilling player vs. player combat. It is simply more entertaining to grab a gun and get right into the action than loot for 20 minutes only to be one shot headshotted by a player you never even saw. Such is the case in PUBG. Another chief complaint of PUBG players is the fact that the map is far too large to create action-packed gameplay throughout the game (specifically the mid-game) and in response, Bluehole's newest map for PUBG will be considerably smaller than their previous maps.
Fortnite As a Prospective Esport
Due to its action packed gameplay, Fortnite has found massive success on Twitch.tv. Just recently, Ninja (a prominent Fortnite streamer on Twitch) streamed several games with rappers Drake and Travis Scott and NFL Wide Receiver Juju Smith. The stream peaked at 650,000 viewers. Viewership achievements like this is what has amounted to a $500,000 a month paycheck for Ninja from streaming Fortnite on Twitch. There is no doubt that there is a large viewer base that loves to watch Fortnite. But does this guarantee success as an esport? Absolutely not.
To build a successful esports culture for a game, there must be proper infrastructure. Epic Games is certainly a company capable of supplying that infrastructure, but it is a time intensive process. As I see it, Epic Games has two options: they can either outsource the operations and hosting of tournaments to a third party (such as ESL or MLG) or they can host their own tournaments and events similar to Riot Games with their game, League of Legends.
How much control over the esports aspect of their game does Epic Games want to have? What will be the format and rules of a Fortnite tournament? Will it be an in-person event or an online tournament? These are all questions Epic Games must consider when building this esports infrastructure. There are those who would argue that the game's RNG makes it non-competitive in nature. But I would ask those people to also consider how often well-known players who stream the game on Twitch.tv win games or at least come in The Top 5. The games mechanics are fitting enough for it to be a competitive and fair game. I believe that its massive success as a game and as a form of entertainment for viewers is affirmation of just that.
The future of Fortnite as an esports is unclear but hopeful at best. What is clear, however, is that Fortnite continues to prove that it is the "next big thing" in the gaming industry. Perhaps its popularity will propel it to surpass the massively popular League of Legends in Twitch viewership for the month of March. This would be an incredible feat as Fortnite would achieve this without having a tournament series to generate thousands of viewers (such as League of Legends does on a weekly basis). For many video game publishers, turning their game into a popular esports is the means to a successful end. Fortnite has already achieved this success.
We're still avidly waiting for structured tournaments to be announced and for esportbooks to pick up on Fortnite, but with teams like FaZe already picking up a Fortnite esports team we're confident that we will be listing live Fortnite match betting very soon.