Epic Games hosted its first real official Fortnite tournament this past weekend, and it didn’t go exactly as planned.
Extensive lag problems and rules that made for boring play created a less than enjoyable viewing experience that everyone chimed in on. People didn’t necessarily expect more from Epic Games, the official developer and publisher behind the game, but they expected the same level of entertainment that unofficial tournaments have provided for weeks. Tournaments like Fortnite Friday, organized and hosted by controversial YouTube Daniel “Keemstar” Keem in partnership with UMG Gaming, have proven that Fortnite competitions can work extremely well.
Here’s what Epic needs to learn
Epic’s official Fortnite tournament failed to capitalize on the qualities that make Fortnite Fridays such an intriguing, good time: a WWE-approach to competition and an aggressive, eye-catching play style. The focus is on the personalities of those involved in the match, not necessarily the match itself.
Summer Skirmish found teams competing as duos, a pretty standard form of competitive play, and the event ended after one team secured two Victory Royales. If no single team wins two Victory Royales, the tournament comes to an end after 10 matches are played. A leadership board based on certain criteria keeps track of what position teams are in, and awards cash prizes based on those results at the end of the event.
It’s a more convoluted than it needs to be, and makes for an incredibly boring game to watch. As Polygon’s Ben Kuchera wrote:
The rules themselves led to ridiculously conservative play. Everyone seemed scared to get into a firefight, which meant that many of the players were content to hide and wait for other people to attack. It was like watching a football game where there’s a large incentive to stay in the huddle and avoid tackling members of the other team.
Friday Fortnite escaped this problem by going in the opposite direction. Instead of creating an environment where meticulous gameplay strategies and ridiculous skill sets are needed to survive, Friday Fortnite went a simpler route. Whichever team collects the most kills during their match moves on until there are only two teams left.
The result is an aggressive play style that’s ridiculously fun. It’s exactly what I want from a Fortnite tournament. Keem and his team figured it out pretty early on, which is obvious from the YouTube numbers alone. They learned that people just want an easy in to watch Fortnite. Most people don’t want to be bogged down by rules. By going for a simple numbers game — think soccer — it allows the most people to enjoy the tournament.
Keem’s tournaments have quickly become the must-watch tournament for Fortnite fiends in recent weeks, and for good reason. Friday Fortnite combines skilled, professional players, like Ninja and Myth, with YouTube personalities to balance out the skill level of players. The focus isn’t necessarily tied into the game, but in bringing together different streamers and personalities who wouldn’t normally play together. Friday Fortnite, like Epic’s Summer Skirmish, is a tournament with a prize pool, but combining pro players with non-expert YouTubers creates a sillier, fun vibe for viewers.
Here’s what Keem and his fellow competitors discovered pretty early on: Give the entire tournament a WWE vibe, and let the dramatics speak for themselves. Keem is basically acting like Vince McMahon for these tournaments, creating tournaments filled with strong personalities, matched against the general populace who will provide most of the evening’s kills, and controlling who is in or out with a focus on creating the best show possible.
Like WWE events, the combination of top notch personalities and professional players leads to amazing trash talk, and hilarious moments. It doesn’t feel like tuning into a major sporting event, but acts as a worthy replacement for a trash reality TV series you can’t stop watching. Whether you’re into a specific streamer, like Myth, or just want to spend a couple of hours a week watching Fortnite, Friday Fortnite has quickly become the best way to get your fill.
Streamers are the main catch
Unlike Epic’s main tournament this past weekend, Friday Fortnite is extremely streamer focused. Keem and his friends know what the main draw is — that’s part of the reason Keem tries to keep the competition at a certain threshold, looking for creators or streamers with a certain number of subscribers before they can drop onto the island. Here are the rules, according to UMG’s website:
For this tournament you will play two games. Each game you must keep track of your kills for each game played. The combined amount of kills for each game will determine which team will win the match. If out of the two games played the kills are tied a third map will be played to determine a winner for the match.
It works. The tournament feels less like a sporting event that requires a certain amount of knowledge to understand, and instead becomes an ultimate YouTube collaboration that’s focused on entertainment. That matters when trying to pull in as many viewers as possible. Keem announced in early June that a Friday Fortnite tournament pulled in approximately 8.8 million viewers, spread out across a series of various YouTube and Twitch channels. Ninja pulled in the most viewers, with 1.9 million people on his Twitch channel, and Myth coming in second with 1.1 million viewers on his Twitch channel.
Everything went according to plan. There were no lag issues because it was hosted through independent streams; the games never got boring because they were filled with just the right balance of pro-players, entertaining amateurs and servers filled with cannon fodder; and the rules were conceived with entertainment in mind.
Kill or be killed
The good news is that Epic can still learn from Friday Fortnite’s success. This isn’t a format Keem and his team own, nor is it particularly difficult to take inspiration from. Epic wants to treat Fortnite like it’s an esports tournament in the same vein as Dota 2’s invitational or League of Legends’ Championships; but that’s not what makes Fortnite fun. Epic needs to embrace what Keem did — Fortnite is the WWE of esports and that’s what makes it so damn entertaining.