In a shock and awe moment, Epic Games has announced that they will be contributing $100,000,000 USD for Fortnite Esports tournament prize pools for the first year of competitive play.
“We’re getting behind competitive play in a big way, but our approach will be different - we plan to be more inclusive, and focused on the joy of playing and watching the game.”
Esports are often be made or broken around the developer’s willingness to pour money into the scene. Valve launched Dota 2 with a record breaking $1.6 million tournament and Blizzard has invested massive resources into OWL promotion to push franchising in esports. Other games that receive little developer support can struggle as a result. Epic Games epicly failed in their promotion of Paragon while Nintendo’s continued refusal to really step into the Smash scene has been an obstacle for growth.
Epic are doing things differently this time around with Fortnite, and this might be one of the most defining moments for esports that we have seen yet.
Fortnite has achieved something that no other game has - general appeal and acceptance. The mobile game industry has broken a long time barrier of entry into gaming. Everyone has a smartphone, and everyone is playing Fortnite. Drake’s cameo on Ninja’s stream broke just about every record on Twitch. Ninja went from tens of thousands of Twitter followers to over 2 million. Reese Witherspoon is even tweeting about the game.
Celebrities talking about games isn’t completely new. Farmville and Candy Crush had their day in the spotlight - and let’s not forget about the Words with Friends popularity.
Fortnite is different. Fortnite has the potential to be an esport - an arena that the “mainstream” has yet to really accept. Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets invested in esports for personal interests and to expand their sports portfolio. However until now, mainstream entertainment have been fairly removed from the scene aside from the occasional ESPN 2 or Disney XD feature. Even if Fortnite has half of that prize pool invested into celebrity show matches as tournaments, this will be the biggest arena esports has entered, and this time, they will be staking a permanent claim in the spotlight.
This announcement will have some organizations scrambling to pick up the best team they can find. Teams Team Secret, who have recently invested into Fortnite (pre announcement) are well poised to take advantage of this announcement. Other major brands will be head hunting immediately - and hopefully the “best” players know how valuable they are. Best will be incredibly subjective here - Fortnite esports could easily become a series of show matches and celebrity appearances rather than a truly competitive arena.
Without more information from Epic Games, we will have to wait and see how they plan to structure their competitive scene.
Money is a great way to support a scene, but if the developer thinks that prize pools alone with build an esport, Fortnite will struggle the moment some new gaming sensation comes along. Battle Royale modes suffer from spectator friendly observing. PUBG has shown us how hard it is to follow so many teams across a map. These games can also be underwhelming, especially when professional teams tend to move at a slow and careful place.
Celebrity interest and mobile popularity have Fortnite poised to break every viewing record and esports convention. Epic Games will need to carefully design a tournament system that builds a strong competitive foundation that is appealing for fans of all backgrounds to consume. Fortnite has a very unique opportunity to use this staggering season prize pool to engage the world, but it will take more than prize pools alone for Fortnite to have a lasting hold in esports.
Money alone can’t guarantee success, but it’s a great place to start.