Fortnite is a Tier 1 Esport, Whether You Like it Or Not

The inaugural Fortnite World Cup took place last weekend and created new champions and a tier 1 esport.
Luke Croft

Luke Croft

Luke will run up the score on you in Madden and instalock D.Va 98% of the time. Proud purchaser of 3 Vitas.
Image Credit: USA Today

Last weekend at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, NY, Epic Games hosted the inaugural Fortnite World Cup. The three-day blowout was the culmination of 10 weeks of open qualifiers that saw 40 million people battle it out for a spot and the instant minting of six new millionaires, including 16-year-old solo champion, Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf..

During the solo finals on the final day of competition, esports consultant Rod “Slasher” Breslau published the tweet below: 

Slasher’s tweet quickly proved that the event didn’t just crown Fortnite champions but a whole new generation of gatekeeping fist-shakers who bemoan even the slightest suggestion that Fortnite could encroach on whatever game they consider to be more worthy of the title. 

A slew of reasons were thrown out as to why Fortnite couldn’t possibly be a top tier esport: RNG, the youth of the scene, Epic’s injection of cash, the idea that Fortnite is somehow a “baby game.” Yet, every reason missed a simple objective truth within Slasher’s tweet. 


The Numbers Don’t Lie

Looking strictly at the numbers, the notion that Fortnite doesn’t deserve the moniker seems a bit inane. A few days after the event, Epic Games released a blog post outlining participation and engagement numbers for the inaugural World Cup. Here are the highlights: 40 million participants, over $30 million in prize money and 2.3 million concurrent viewers across Twitch and Youtube. That makes it the largest esports event in history (if you exclude China). 

An overwhelming success by every measurable metric that leaves only one reasonable conclusion about Fortnite’s position in the esports world.

Fortnite is without a doubt a tier 1 esport. Full stop. 

A Massive Audience and Emerging Fanbase

Bugha Fortnite World Cup Champion

Image Credit: NYR103/AP

You may argue that one successful weekend does not a tier 1 esport make, but it isn’t just the three days at Arthur Ashe Stadium that speak to Fortnite’s status in esports writ large. 

It’s the media coverage that followed. It’s the fact that after the main stage was torn down, people outside of the world of esports were left abuzz over the event. 

CNN and CNBC covered the tournament – and its winner – as they would any other event.  USA Today published an article about Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf. The champ popped up on talk shows normally reserved for movie stars, making appearances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Today Show

I could go on, but you get the point. People who have never heard of esports, suddenly care! And if you are a fan of any esport — the LEC/LCS, Overwatch League, the Rocket League Championship Series, etc — seeing coverage of our little corner of the world should excite you. 

I often share the story of how I got engrossed in the world of esports. I opened Twitch one day to catch a livestream for a small creator that I regularly tune into (shouout to variety streamer Bag O’ Trix), when I caught ten minutes of the Overwatch League’s Watchpoint mid-week show. 

Ten minutes … of a preview show. Not a game, a preview show. But in that 10 minutes I was hooked. It took just 10 minutes of exposure to the Overwatch League to fall in love with esports. Since then I’ve watched every single Overwatch League game that has ever aired (including that abysmal 2019 preseason) and I’ve become a fan of professional League of Legends, DOTA and Rainbow Six: Siege. 

Recent Video: Is Fortnite a Tier 1 Esport

Turning Outsiders into Insiders

I have no doubt that this event will mean the same to budding esports fans around the world. It exposed new groups of people to a world that was completely unknown or obfuscated by gatekeepers, jargon and cultural stigma.

Understanding many of the large esports can be difficult and for people who don’t actively play the game, they can feel unapproachable. League of Legends has 10 years of meta and nearly 150 champions with different abilities and situational uses. Overwatch devolves into messy, particle effect-ridden team fights just before a player switches what character they are using. DOTA has such a rich history that Liquipedia has the digital equivalent of a college textbook to “summarize” its history.

Image Credit: Valve

Fortnite’s player base and potential competitive fanbase represents the next generation of esports fans who were late to the party on the traditional stable of highly-viewed esports. Hell, some weren’t even born when DOTA’s very first International tournament took place in 2011. For many people, Fortnite represents an entry point, a game they are familiar with that they can tune in to and understand. A game that will hopefully create lifelong esports fans as the scene continues to grow. 

For those who don’t play Fortnite, but still find themselves outside of the esports world, the event confirmed a few things. First, there is a massive group of people who show up for these events and care about them. Second, there are real dollars on the line, and people can make actual careers out of playing games professionally. Third, these events draw huge sponsors. 

Sure, there will always be people who see individuals sitting on a stage playing a game and scoff at “what the world has come to.” The Fortnite World Cup certainly didn’t bring an end to the existence of curmudgeons. But the recognition of each of these facts goes a long way in legitimizing esports as an industry beyond its own circle. The people who watched the Fortnite World Cup might not become active fans of the competitive Fortnite scene, but they may be drawn to another game or, at the very least, not turn up their noses when they see esports events while channel surfing. 

A Fruitless Conversation

The elitism and cultural gatekeeping that reared their heads in the replies to Slasher’s tweet are not productive during esports’ relative infancy. As fans try to tear down one game’s fanbase and success, they undermine their own efforts to legitimize the concept as a whole. We become the old men who long for the days when football players strapped on their leather helmets. 

It’s perfectly fine if you don’t particularly enjoy the Fortnite competitive scene. If I’m being totally honest, it isn’t really my thing either. But what I can enjoy is that Fortnite is going to do for esports what it did for games in general. It will inspire conversations that go beyond our bubble. It will turn esports outsiders into insiders. And that is nothing but good for all of us.

Player vs. All ©2018