What is Fortnite esports? It's a question that many have asked, but nobody seems to be able to answer just yet. Like that famous philosophical cat the German dude used to torture, it exists simultaneously in two states, as the biggest esport in the world, and at the same time something a lot of people in the industry will tell you isn't an esport at all.
There is no doubt that you've seen Fortnite somewhere, even if you have no real experience of gaming. Luminosity Gaming streamer Tyler "Ninja" Blevins is the face of the franchise for many, people with almost 3.8m hours watched last month alone, but there is a strong base of players behind him streaming to thousands of fans on an almost nightly basis.
When you add up all the folk on Twitch playing the game, it becomes clear why Fortnite dominates the front page of that streaming platform at virtually any time, with the exception being during large esports events. One interesting factor to consider is the reaction from those communities when that happens, and regardless of which game dethrones Fortnite you see a similar kind of image posted and upvoted, with a title along the lines of "It's Beautiful".
That in itself is an illustration of the fact that Fortnite occupies two different states at once, just like the unlucky cat we mentioned, and at this point in time it’s impossible to know if Fortnite esports is alive or dead, at least until we open the box and have a real stab at seeing if the damn thing will chase a mouse.
How do you define an esport?
The problem often arises with the definition of an esports title, and there is no doubt that Fortnite is missing some key elements. Genuinely high level competitive events, the like of which we are used to in CSGO, Dota and many other games. A recent tweet from Scott "SirScoots" highlighted the strange situation we find ourselves in, where Fortnite is top of many viewing charts and paying out huge prizes, but struggles for recognition and acceptance while titles such as PUBG do not.
We asked Sujoy Roy, a man who has played at the pinnacle of competitive gaming and now Luckbox's Director of Esports, what the industry view of Fortnite esports is, and how it has changed the way esports are perceived.
"The incredible growth of Fortnite has put video gaming and esports in the mainstream spotlight," he said. "It's raised awareness of traditional esports, bringing a new audience to our well-established events."
The potential of the game has been recognised by many, as Sujoy was keen to point out: "Some in the industry consider Fortnite to be a stepping stone from mainstream video games into the world of esports, rather than the game that will take over from our big three: League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Dota 2. Nobody doubts that Fortnite will continue to make headlines and break records, but whether it can maintain an esports infrastructure is another question."
Fortnite as an esport - what's the problem?
Well, the first and probably largest issue facing Fortnite today is the dichotomy of game development generally. Right now, Epic Games are making money hand over fist from the casual audience, while their esports efforts are embarrassingly badly run, and being described as flat out dull, as if the tech issues aren't bad enough. There are changes they could make to improve the competitive aspect of the game, but that would massively hurt their chances of making enough money to each buy a golden toilet.
Related: Redeye's vision for Fortnite esports
First up, the main difference between Fortnite and the competition (H1Z1, PUBG) is the way the game is designed. While the others are hardcore survival simulators, Fortnite has a far more cartoony, childish feel, and the gameplay is aimed at casuals. Bigger, more forgiving hitboxes in Fortnite allow for more lucky cross map one shots, and reduce the skill gap between the great and the good, which makes for a larger player base overall.
Equally, the competition for Fortnite is already intense, and the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is only going to make that worse. Up until now, the niche inhabited by Fortnite has been more casual than the one PUBG and the rest find themselves in, but CoD games are casual kings, and early reports suggest the new Blackout game mode is far superior to many of the Battle Royale titles on the market.
Can things change?
There is no doubt that Fortnite has a massive amount of potential, but breaking into the esports scene is not easy, and Epic find themselves playing catch up with industry giants such as Valve and Riot. Luckbox CMO Vadim Soloveychik spoke on the subject at the recent ESI conference in London, and eloquently summed up some of the challenges facing a new developer in esports today.
"There’s so many benefits of scale, infrastructure, partnerships, broadcasting, knowing how to do things, which makes the cost of entry for rivals of these big three very high," he said.
"It doesn't mean they can't do so it just becomes much more expensive. Having a really great game is not enough... There is a consensus in the industry that battle royale should overcome Dota sooner or later, we will see but it will be harder to do than to say."
There are many challenges to any developer trying to break into esports today, and Fortnite esports is not there yet, but those hoping for a vibrant scene should take heart from the fact Epic have already ticked a lot of the necessary boxes. Industry hype around Fortnite is there, and the folk at Epic are set for a life of golden latrines already, but when it comes to Fortnite esports, the simplest evaluation is the one Vadim gave at ESI.