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  • Shauna Rush


Updated: Nov 19, 2020

This article was originally published on July 31st, 2019.

There are still some eSport skeptics out there, however it seems unlikely that there is no possible scenario where it is not the future of sports entertainment.

One of the eSport games which have become a phenomenon is the battle royale game Fortnite. The free video game from developer Epic Games has generated billions of dollars and become an obsession for gamers of all ages.

That surge in popularity has brought Fortnite tournaments for eager eSports gamers to watch and compete in. The biggest of them all is the Fortnite World Cup, which has a $30 million prize pool.

Fortnite Basics

The premise of Fortnite is simple, 100 players landing on an island with only pickaxes equipped. Players have to find new weapons, grenades, and other items in order to survive and eliminate other players, the last person standing wins. It is a simple game to learn, but a difficult one to master.

What makes Fortnite unique is the building aspect of the game. Players can scavenge materials such as wood, metal, and brick to create walls, ramps, and floors to quickly build their own forts, hence the name. These structures help protect players from bullets and can provide vantage points against opponents. The best Fortnite players are not just good with a gun, but they can also build quickly to defend themselves.

Health experts have accused the games as being as addictive as heroin. David Fizdale, head coach of the New York Knicks, would go on to state "'Fortnite,' that's my competitor right now. Fortnite is tougher than the Boston Celtics. Fortnite' is undefeated," when he was explaining trying to battle his players' sleep deprivation.

Moreover, it has become the most popular video game in the world, with 250 million registered players. The game is so popular because of its free-to-play model, with the developers making their cash via V-Bucks, the in-game microtransaction currency that people can use to upgrade their characters and unlock features. In 2018, Epic Games made more than $2.4 billion from these microtransactions alone.

The Tournament

Epic Games announced that they would organize the 2019 Fortnite World Cup, in June of 2018. They would select New York City’s Arthur Ashe Stadium, home to the US Open tennis tournament.

In both the duos and solo events, players and teams compete in six matches. They earn points after each match based on how they placed and how many eliminations they accumulated. The player or team with the most points after the six matches is crowned the winner. Duos split a prize of $3 million, while the winners of the solo keep the $3 million all to themselves.

The original plans were to have weekly tournaments starting in late 2018, with the finals in 2019. However, in March the developer changed its plans, announcing qualifiers for the Fortnite World Cup starting in April.

Players earned points in either single or duos weekly tournaments to qualify for the finals. Those with the highest points total were invited to the event and play for the first prize of $3 million as well as the crown of the best Fortnite player in the world. 

Over 40 million players participated in the qualifying events for the Fortnite World Cup across six regions: NA East, NA West, Europe, Brazil, Asia, and Oceania (Austalia and New Zealand).

From those qualifiers, the field was narrowed down to 50 duos and 100 solo players.

What happened

The three-day World Cup finals consisted of a creative competition and pro-am on Friday and the duos competition on Saturday and the singles championship on Sunday.

The players would man their stations on a state-of-the-art two-story playing stage with screens depicting each player’s view in the game.

Wall-to-wall color commentary was broadcast on, YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Mixer, and Caffeine. Some of the platforms would allow viewers to focus on their preferred player.

The telecast featured all the hallmarks of a major sporting event, excitable announcers, splashy graphics, soft-focus profiles of the competitors that wouldn’t feel out of place in NBC’s Olympics coverage.

The duos tournament on Saturday and the European team of Emil "Nyhrox" Bergquist Pedersen (@nyhrox) and David "Aqua" Wang (@aquaa) took the championship, winning $3 million. The players won two of the six games giving them the most points among the 50 teams competing. 

The doors for Sunday’s solos final opened at 9.30 am, but fans were lined up as early as 6 am for limited-edition special codes redeemable for rare items that could be used in the game. 16-year-old Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf (@bugha) would come out in first-place, walking away with the $3 million prize and the title of the best Fortnite player in the world. 

Bugha’s $3m check was not the only life-changing windfall of the day. Psalm (@psalm) earned $1.8m for second, Epikwhale (@EpikWhale) won $1.2m for third and Kreo (@KreoFN) brought in $1.05m for fourth. The 25th through 100th place finishers took home the princely sum of $50,000 apiece just for showing up, roughly the same as a first-round loser at next month’s US Open.

Twitch tracking site Githyp estimated 1.3 million people watched the Sunday finals, via the video game streaming site. On YouTube, there were half a million tuning in for the event. There were also viewers on Microsoft's streaming service Mixer, and players were able to watch the finals while playing Fortnite thanks to a new service from Epic. 

Most news coverage that came out of the tournament almost entirely focused on the $3 million, the winners walked away with. However, this was the narrative that Epic Games were aiming for.

There are three things that typically make the general public aware of eSports, big money, record audience numbers, and celebrities getting in on the act. The Fortnite World Cup had all three. and a performance by Marshmello…whose market value by now is weirdly tied to the success of one battle royale videogame. 

The Fortnite World Cup is likely to cause an awakening, not just for young kids and aspiring gaming pros, but also for parents, eSports organizations, advertisers, TV networks, and more. With this much money on the line and the potential for overnight stardom so great, this moment will likely be remembered as a turning point for eSports, not because of the money itself, or even the game that’s being played.

Brands Getting Involved

One of the reasons Epic Games has seen so much success is that Fortnite has more in common with Facebook than with games such as Call of Duty. The game has emerged as a new kind of social media for younger consumers.

"Unlike other platforms and services, Fortnite uniquely combines benefits from gaming, social media, and streaming platforms, offering consumers a singular experience," according to an NRG report. "Consumers say it’s the best place to 'be my authentic self' and to 'connect to what everyone is talking about, making me feel like I’m not alone'".

This has not gone unnoticed with brands. Nike’s Jordan Brand partnered with Epic Games to launch a new range of sports shoes, that are entirely digital on the Fortnite platform. The move is the latest crossover partnership between Fortnite and other pop-culture icons.

Last year, Epic Games teamed up with the NFL to bring virtual jerseys to the game.

Epic Games would also introduce a new place on the Fortnite map modeled after the house from the 'John Wick' movie franchise. There have also been 'Avengers' crossovers.

These limited-time deals are meant to keep the game fresh while giving partners some advertising in a youth-friendly venue.


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