So it’s all over: from 40,000,000 players, one emerged victorious. Bugha, a 16-year-old kid signed to Sentinels, demolished the competition to create a minor upset and take home the $3 million in the Solos event. In the Duos, the Austrian/Norwegian pairing of Aqua and Nyrox romped to a second half victory in a tight contest, but by the end of the weekend, they were sat very much in the shadow of Bugha.
Bugha is a good winner for Epic. He fits the basic profile of what they wanted from a first world champion. He comes from the NA region, which dominated the field here (for, perhaps, the first and last time), is 16 (the average age in the competition) guaranteeing press coverage, and is a known entity across competitive and streamed Fortnite. Short of Tfue or Dubs winning, he’s about the best they could’ve asked for.
As for the weekend itself, Fortnite showed itself to be the current reigning champion for stadium esports. Arthur Ashe in New York will be packed with tennis fans next month, but it managed to generate a very decent atmosphere for the FWC this weekend, and was, as ever, a superb broadcast facility. Everything went off without a hitch, and yet, at the same time, it’s hard to see exactly where the game goes now.
Not to paint myself as too much of a Cassandra, but basically all my concerns for the long-term viability of competitive Fortnite were proved prescient by the weekend’s action. Here are my main (negative) takeaways:
– Competitive competitions continue to struggle to integrate the big names of the sport. A lot of the discussion about the FWC during and after the event centred on Tfue’s 67th place finish, and even though anyone who’d been paying attention to the pro-game for the last couple of months knew he’d struggle, it was clear that Epic would’ve liked him to do a lot better. In the end, Bugha was just about the right level of winner, but it was clear that there were a lot of competitors out there doing nothing to raise the profile of epsorts.
– Fortnite is still a tricky beast to broadcast. I think the commentators at the FWC did a good job (particularly CourageJD and Goldenboy) but at times felt underproduced — you could see big elims ticking up in the kill feed and no comment on them. There is also, fundamentally, still an issue with how the broadcast travels around the map. Often it was focused in on fights that were taking several minutes to reach their conclusion and was afraid to move the transmission on before there was an elimination. So the first few minutes of every game focused in on a single challenged location (usually Westworld) and didn’t cut quickly enough between the different face-offs. This is a tricky thing to reconcile, especially in the pro-game where early kills tend to be either picked off at the snap of fingers, or incredibly fussy box fighting.
– The broadcast of the final moments of each game was a scramble. When down to the last 8 or so players, the names came up on the top of the screen, which was a huge help. But in the couple of circles before that you had 20+ people crammed into a tiny area and it was quite hard to follow. The broadcast tended to go with the POV of a major player, but then pulled up a splitscreen to show a panoptic vision of the field and then two different POVs. Sadly, this was largely unwatchable. I was following on my laptop and wasn’t getting a good enough stream to make out what was going on in the POVs. The splitscreen was simply too low quality.
– The Solos felt like a properly anticipated event, but the Duos was a bit underwhelming. It felt like the whole weekend was culminating in the Solos at the expenses of the Duos (perhaps how doubles players feel in tennis), despite the fact that the narrative of the 6-game finals was actually much more interesting in the Duos. Sandwiched between the Pro-Am (once again great fun, though a shame that Airwaks won without a VR(perhaps a question for the scoring system?)) and the Solos competition, the Duos felt a wee bit forgotten.
So what should be the next steps?
– I think Epic has to push onwards quickly with the competitive scene in order to keep this momentum and stop fatigued players switching to a different game. They need to slightly break-up the current mode of play, which is resulting in so much build battling and box fighting.
– They need to focus on a competitive version of the game that can integrate players like Bugha, Dubs, Clix and Tfue along with folk like Ninja, Courage, Lupo, Lachlan…etc. I don’t know exactly how this happens but you’ve got to allow people to stream/broadcast during competitive events, and you’ve got to incentivise teams to include players who are a tier below the competitive pros.
– 6-games just didn’t feel enough for the World Cup finals. I’d suggest a system like golf, played over two or three days, with players missing the cut for the final day of competition. Play the last day with 50 players and a faster moving storm, and suddenly you’ve got a more dynamic end to the competition that will shake up what can be quite a repetitive viewing experience.
– Fundamentally, Fortnite can’t get away with just one major competition a year. It also needs to make itself more global and stop bouncing between LA and New York. The Duos winners this time out were Europeans, and Asian players will inevitably improve in years to come and start to dominate the field. More competitions, more diverse formats, more diverse playing fields (notable that there wasn’t a single female competitor at the World Cup, outside the Pro-Am), more diverse locations; all of this will help the game grow.
With Season 10 just about to start, there’s an opportunity for Fortnite to do a fairly hard reset on some of the game’s kinks. Ultimately, they’re looking to strike a balance between their business interests creating a game that has 250m+ players worldwide, and the competitive version that sits alongside it. Epic will never make their money from ticket sales to live events, but what the World Cup represented was a grand advert for enormous commitment to the game. It was a statement that read, loud and clear over the New York skyline: Fortnite is the biggest video game in the world. Come at us.
But they’ve also put their players through a gruelling few months since the FWC qualifiers opened in April. There will be some mental exhaustion, not to mention the disappointment of a lot of players who trained every day for months only to find themselves shut out at Arthur Ashe. I don’t think they can afford for their biggest names to take too long a holiday, so they need to lure them back into streaming and competing. The next year will be critical as evidence that Fortnite is capable of being not just a game — a sub-category of video gaming — but a sport in its own right.
Drop me an email if you have any thoughts on this to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter. Add me on Fortnite if you fancy a game: I’m Nickinatwist (and I’m terrible).