With over a million tuning in online and the hundreds attending in person, Epic Games’ Fortnite Celebrity Pro Am was a quite a debut for the company as it begins building spectator events around its massive hit game. Celebrities like Paul George paired up with popular streamers like Ali “Myth” Kabban to compete for a $3 million prize pool for charity. In the end, it was Fortnite‘s most popular personality, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, and his partner, EDM artist Marshmello, who were the last standing.
So, looking forward to Fortnite competitions to come, what were some takeaways from Epic’s broadcast? Good question. Here are answers.
Good: Fortnite Is Thankfully Fun And Easy To Watch
Just because a competitive game is popular doesn’t guarantee its success as a spectator event.
Broadcasters have found it difficult to catch the action in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds before it occurs. I mean, even if there is action. Teams wisely keep away from one another during the early goings of matches. And when the circle closes and the shots start flying, gameplay remains subtle and not visually appealing. Teams lie down in grass and patiently wait before firing shots across the map. If you’re listening in on comms, it’s far more interesting, but that likely won’t be the route competitive PUBG goes down.
Another example: Overwatch. Despite heavy investment into the league and its successes early on, questions still abound over whether it’ll sustain and capture a mainstream audience given its chaotic gameplay. With 12 players on the map, constant respawning and no significant break points like a goal in hockey or a touchdown in American football, it’s simply difficult to follow.
Fortnite, on the other hand, has a lot going for it. With build battles, dynamic items like impulse grenades and its cartoony style, Fortnite is far more visually stimulating. With a smaller map, players end up meeting each other often, and randomness actually works in the game’s favor, forcing players to potentially run into dangerous areas to either grab loot or to get into the circle. And the broadcasters have an easier job on their hands catching the action. With very distinct locations and elongated fights, the camera can shift to engagements before they end in a single well-placed shot.
Like many sports and esports, the mid-game can be a toss-up, with either lots of battles or lots of camping. But it’s all on a timer, as the circle constantly shrinks and forces fights. There are still questions to be answered—how a competitive meta and team play will influence movement and pacing—but this is a great test case for Fortnite moving forward. Also, seeing people dance on downed opponents will never not be entertaining.
Bad: The Arena Set-Up Needs Some Work
Seeing “Fortnite” written across the seats of the Banc of California Stadium is quite a sight. The staging also benefited by leaning toward the intimacy of League of Legends, forgoing booths and simply plopping everyone down elbow-to-elbow.
But while bringing esports outdoors is visually amazing, it also present some drawbacks. The heat received on-air complaints, with the sun beating down on the crowd and gaming equipment. And though hundreds of fans were in attendance, the empty seats around the 22,000-capacity arena may not look so hot when rebroadcasted on mainstream channels. Yes, it’s a petty matter of optics, but there’s a reason the Florida Panthers chose to put a curtain around its upper levels during low-turnout games. It’s why teams still announce “sell outs” at arenas despite not filling every seat with a person. The more people, the cooler it feels for non-fans and sponsors.
If anything, though, Epic has shown it wants to be versatile with its competitions, so it’ll be interesting to see where else they decide to hold these events. A darkened “sold out” sports arena is assuredly on the agenda.
Good: The Commentator Crew Was Great—Especially DrLupo
In esports, the shoutcasters are a huge part of the experience and often become just as big as the players. Overwatch‘s Erik “DoA” Lonnquist and League of Legends‘ Sam “Kobe” Hartman-Kenzler are cherished by the community, both for their knowledge and playful communication. Fortnite perhaps already has someone like that in Ben “DrLupo” Lupo.
Lupo previously provided commentary at Ninja’s Las Vegas event that broke the Twitch concurrent record for an individual streamer. And it was a good move by Epic to bring him back to commentate the event. Despite his self-effacing only claim to fame being Ninja’s good friend, Lupo himself is a popular streamer, with 570,000 subs on YouTube and 1.5 million followers on Twitch. His ability to clearly communicate his thoughts while mayhem ensues translates seamlessly to the caster seat. He at once analyzes plays as an expert while translating it for a more casual audience.
The rest of the crew did an excellent job, as well. Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez, Justine “ijustine” Ezarik and Kassie “Gloom” Isabelle all had great chemistry with one another, but Lupo’s know-how, on-the-feet quips and popularity on Twitch should make him a mainstay Fortnite shoutcaster.
Bad: There Were Some Broadcasting Issues
Growing pains are to be expected in these early tournaments. While nothing disastrous happened, the broadcast itself hit a few speed bumps.
For one, the late start. Despite a 3:30 p.m. PST start time, the stream didn’t really get going until after 4 p.m., and even then, there was a lot of downtime before the games started. Sure, you want to spend time building anticipation, prepping the audience for what’s to come, but it felt a little dead. One fumbled segment encouraged the audience to dance along to Fortnite characters on screen. Goading fans to dance may be a common occurrence at an NBA game, but it usually doesn’t make the television broadcast. It was a bit of a fumble, and more time could have been spent interviewing the players and investing in the personalities, who looked like they belonged on the big stage. Myth seemed to have ice in his veins interviewing next to Paul George and Ninja’s personality can very obviously command a room.
Another unfortunate misstep: technical errors. Players were adjusting options on stream, something that should theoretically be taken care of before walking on stage. Others were hitting glitches during the match. Equipment failings are par for the course in competitive gaming. Players in League of Legends pause the action to work through bugs, but sometimes it’s only after a death that said bugs are discovered and dealt with. But in the game of Fortnite, you either win or you die. No respawns plus 100 people simultaneously playing makes equipment failures that much more devastating.
But outside those hiccups, the stream was smooth during the matches and the post-game interviews were fun. The whole presentation toes the line between esport and streamer culture, which should help boost its already impressive viewership.
Good: There’s Not Just One Way To Play
While teams like TSM are signing four-person squads in anticipation of traditional team-based esports, this event shows the many potential formats of a Fortnite tournament. The unpredictable free-for-all of solos. The playfulness of celebrity duos. With the sort of money Fortnite is generating, Epic can hold a whole host of different tournaments—which it intends to do.
The company finally shed some light on what it expects moving toward with what’s now dubbed the Fortnite World Cup.
We’ll be supporting community organized events, online events, and major organized competitions all over the world, where anyone can participate, and anyone can win. Fortnite World Cup Qualifiers begin in Fall 2018, and culminate in the first Fortnite World Cup in late 2019. Whether you’re in the competition or watching at home, we want this to be fun for everyone.
What about the specifics? The $100,000,000 will be split between many events at different levels of competition around the globe. Fortnite World Cup play will focus on Solos and Duos, but there’ll be plenty of opportunities to squad-up in competition, too.
This is for you, the players. Qualifications for the Fortnite World Cup will be based on merit. Epic will not be selling teams or franchises, and won’t allow third-party leagues to do so either.
Rules, Player Code of Conduct, specifics about platforms and Fall 2018 schedule are on the way.
Solo tournaments means you might see someone like Ninja play competitively, as he won’t need to commit to a regimented team schedule. It means you could see celebrities like Vince Staples jump in, as they do during the World Cup of Poker. Given its accessibility and the different controller options, the breadth of competition is wide. It’s easy to let your imagination run a little wild, but simply put, it’s in an extremely unique position in comparison to other esports, and it’ll be exciting to see how it develops. With this event, though, Epic shows it can successfully pull those feats off.
So, yeah, it was cool, I guess.