Epic Games, the developer behind the hit Battle Royale title Fortnite, has just announced its intentions to invest a ridiculously-large sum - $100,000,000 to be exact - towards a huge esports push. This is a move many have been anticipating (though maybe not involving a sum this big) with top tier organizations such as Team SoloMid and FaZe Clan recruiting players should the game take a turn towards competitive play.
This is an unprecedented move in esports. $100,000,000 is just short of the total amount of money distributed as tournament winnings across all games in 2017 - including titles such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Despite this announcement, Epic Games still has its work cut out to turn Fortnite into a fully-fledged esports title.
Here’s what it can do to help transition to game into esports gold:
Establish a Competitive Format
Saying you’ll put $100,000,000 into winnings for tournaments is great, but there’s no established way of playing Fortnite in a competitive capacity as of yet. Ninja - former esports competitor turned streamer - hosted a charity event at the Esports Arena Las Vegas and it saw players face off with hopes of winning games, and subsequently, healthy sums of money. On the other hand, internet personality Keemstar has recently kicked off his own Friday Fortnite series featuring some of the biggest names in online entertainment and esports.
These are the two biggest examples of competitive Fortnite, and while both have proved successful in their own ways, there’s a distinct lack of consistency in terms of how they are played. Epic Games should establish a definitive structure and format to how the game is played at events so players, organizations, and event organizers are on the same page.
Establishing a format could encourage more organizations to get involved since they will know exactly what they need to do to enter the scene. Should teams consist of two players? Perhaps four players? It’s a big decision as team sizes drastically change the dynamics of the game.
The aforementioned organizations recruited four players for their professional Fortnite teams, let’s imagine a 2-versus-2 structure is decided upon. Can organizations house more than one team? TSM has a stacked roster of four, but if that was to be cut in half then it would beg some questions. Would the two players who didn’t make the cut represent the organization still, or would they be available to be recruited by another organization altogether?
Find an established partner
The best bet for Fortnite tournaments going forward is perhaps for Epic Games to find a trusted, established event organizer to develop and host official tournaments. The likes of ESL and MLG have years and years of experience and expansive teams prepared for running such events, so they’re automatically likely candidates for such a partnership should the developer lean that way.
"An experienced partner will know what it’s doing from the get-go."
Take Intel Extreme Masters, for example. A series of international esports tournaments held on a frequent basis, IEM is an initiative from both ESL and Intel, and always provide some of the hottest competition in titles that are played there (typically they involve Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a top tier title with fierce competitors and a loyal fanbase.)
Epic Games could, and probably should work alongside the likes of ESL to create its own series of tournaments to distribute the $100,000,000 prize pool it’s planning to put up. This doesn’t mean that lower-level, smaller events can’t be held, of course. Amateur and lower league tournaments are a big part of developing talent in titles, and it’s not like that amount of money can’t be dipped into a little for such events - Epic Games isn’t going to miss $500,000, for example.
I’m not saying that Epic Games can’t go down the same route of Riot Games with League of Legends or Blizzard with the Overwatch League, but partnering with the likes of ESL will ensure there’s less chance of teething problems occurring - an experienced partner will know what it’s doing from the get-go.
The spectating conundrum
If one thing has been proven by Battle Royale esports, it’s that the spectator experience desperately needs revising and improving upon - there have been complaints for as long as the genre has been played regarding the difficulty of following particular teams and all of the action.
For example, there can be sixteen teams in a single lobby. With the potential of having up to 25 teams in a lobby at once, it’s hard for fans to follow their favorite teams - and straight away that’s a problem. Of course, viewership will be high, Fortnite’s popularity can't be questioned, but it’d undeniably benefit from allowing fans to root and spectate their beloved team
Not only that, it’s hard for casters and observers to home in on the action when it’s taking place on a huge map with so many teams battling it out. This is a problem that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds have been suffering from and attempting to work on, but no solid solution has been discovered as of yet.
"It’s hard for fans to follow their favorite teams - and straight away that’s a problem."
One option is to have multiple streams on the go at any one time. If every team that’s competing had its own dedicated stream then it’d allow fans to decide on a perspective to watch the match from, but it severely divides the viewership count and somewhat complicates the experience for casual watchers.
So, what else can be done? Another option is for it to continue as it is now; casters simply watching the game and flitting through different players and teams as they so wish. This causes a lot of work for the casters, who need to concentrate on commentating on the action, narratives, and other factors of the game. An instant playback feature that allows the action to be highlighted in a matter of seconds would help to alleviate the pressure of constantly capturing team battles or impressive plays, but it doesn’t act as a complete fix for the experience.
Epic Games has its work cut out for itself in this aspect, but that leads to the next point.
Continue to cater to the players
Part of the reason Fortnite has been such a success is due to the level of engagement, response, and proactivity from the developers. If there’s a bug highlighted by players, then it typically takes a matter of hours for it to be dealt with. If there’s a huge demand for a gun patch, then that’s usually acknowledged and often addressed, too. The recent Boogie Down challenge from Epic Games was another example of getting the community directly involved with what happens in-game, and that’s how esports needs to be handled, too.
Unchartered territory - such as finding the perfect spectator experience - will be much easier if Epic Games listens to the people who are actually watching and playing in these games. This could, and definitely should, extend to the format of the game, too. The future of Fortnite esports is with the community.
Ultimately, Fortnite official embracing esports is an exciting prospect in many ways. Esports is a rapidly-growing industry and investments of any kind - never mind $100,000,000 - is a solid contribution to its growth. I’m excited for the future of Fortnite in esports, especially as the Battle Royale genre continues to grow, and I sincerely hope Epic games does more than merely pump money into the scene it’s hoping to create.