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Epic still doesn’t know how competitive play fits into Fortnite

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How does Epic view Fortnite as an esport?

Fortnite - player with gunsight helmet Epic Games

On Tuesday, two distinct but closely related things happened in Fortnite. The first is that a new item was added, the Infinity Blade. The item, a sword, is a brand-new type of weapon that was added as a part of the v7.01 patch. The other major thing that happened that day was the semifinals for the North American section of Epic’s official Fortnite Winter Royale tournament. These two events combined to prove that Epic still hasn’t quite figured out how to make competitive Fortnite fit into the life cycle of the rest of the game.

In order to understand why these things are related, let’s take a look at what the Infinity Blade actually does in the game. First of all, it spawns every single game, always in the same spot — at the top of Polar Peak — and there’s only one. It gives players extra health and shields, and does 75 damage per hit. But more importantly, it also gives players the ability to tear through structures with ease, rendering other players’ construction efforts almost completely useless.

Fortnite sword Epic Games

In most competitive matches of Fortnite, especially in official tournaments like this one, there’s nothing more important than building. It protects you from opponents’ bullets and prying eyes, and acts as a way to stake your claim to a piece of ground. But the addition of the Infinity Blade suddenly turned all of that upside down overnight. Now, whoever ended up with the sword — and in most games, someone did — could simply run around the map tearing through cover and structures.

This isn’t to say that the addition of the Infinity Blade is inherently unacceptable for competitive play; these players are ridiculously talented and will adapt to whatever changes get added to the game. (As many players have pointed out, though, the best option would probably have been to confine the weapon to its own limited time mode, just like with Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.)

Sure, some players might have been better off before the sword and others in a better spot because of it, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still pros. Even with the issues that the weapon presents to Fortnite as a whole, the bigger problem is the way the Infinity Blade entered the game.

As usual, Epic didn’t do much in the lead-up to patch v7.01. A simple tweet teasing the existence of a sword in the game, and nothing else until the patch notes (and the patch itself) were released on the morning of the semifinals. While the first patch of season 7 added planes to the game — another controversial decision — Epic at least gave players a week to adjust to the game after their addition before the tournament.

Fortnite Epic Games

From the perspective of Fortnite’s larger player base, it makes perfect sense why Epic wouldn’t mind lining up a major patch with the Winter Royale tournament. After all, a tiny population of the game will be competing, and for everyone else, one moment is as good as any other to add a new weapon to the game. Plus, watching your favorite streamer use a new weapon is always exciting, and perhaps Epic thinks that excitement is only amplified by the tournament setting.

For the pros, though, what’s on the line is a chance to advance in a tournament where the prize pool is $1 million. This makes the Winter Royale a massive opportunity for any streamer or serious player who has the chance to compete. And while they may all be great at the game and champions of adaptation, it’s unfair to expect these players to play at the same level when the primary method of keeping yourself safe in these games was just yanked out from under them.

This leaves us, and pro Fortnite players, with a difficult question: Where exactly does the competitive scene fit into Fortnite as a whole? If these tournaments are just meant to be fun exhibitions with big prizes, then I suppose things are going exactly the way they should be. Randomness, change and chance are all important parts of battle royale games, and their esports will always reward the benefactors of that randomness.

But if Epic wants to present Fortnite as a serious esport, then it’s going to have to do a better job of rewarding players that have invested their time in becoming the best — and that means not releasing game-changing patches the same day as a major competition.

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