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Fortnite’s first Summer Skirmish event was bad, but Epic can fix it

Epic needs to figure out who the real star of the show is

Fortnite Season 5 header (rifts and two main characters)
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

It’s no secret that Epic’s first foray into official Fortnite tournaments has been a bit of a disaster. Last Saturday, Epic hosted the first week of a planned eight-week tournament called the Summer Skirmish. Unfortunately, the 10-round tournament was cut short, thanks to a whole host of technical issues.

Perhaps most unforgivable, on the technical side, was the debilitating lag that every player experienced. Players spent most of each game playing as safely as possible. That means there were still plenty of players left as each game got into later and later circles. With all these players building constantly to keep themselves safe, the number of structures in a small area proved to be too taxing on the servers, causing everyone in the game to lag so badly that they could barely move.

Between the bouts of unplayable lag, the tournament committed its most egregious sin: It was boring. It turns out, if you put thousands of dollars on the line for winning matches, even the most aggressive Fortnite players in the world are simply going to sit in their towers and wait things out. This left the commentators — who were still trying to find their style in this very new esport — with little to nothing to talk about.

The good news for Epic, and for viewers, is that it has a few more shots at the Summer Skirmish to figure out how to make things work. And sure, eliminating the lag — however the company manages to do that — is probably the most important step in making the event watchable. But, there are a few other improvements that can help Epic turn around its first official Fortnite tournament.

Fortnite - Drift skin in season 5 Epic Games

Make a few kills as valuable as a win

Fortnite is technically a Battle Royale game, but at its highest level it’s really not the game of survival we typically associate with the genre. Sure, the goal of each game is to be the last person standing, but winning isn’t the most impressive or difficult thing you can do in Fortnite, especially if you are playing against other top-tier professional players. If winning is everything in competitive Fortnite, there won’t be enough incentive for players to leave their own forts and attack their enemies.

This kind of gameplay loop creates two primary issues. First of all, it means that most players are likely to get to later circles attempting to play slowly, increasing the amount of large structures — and therefore the amount of lag — that those last few circles have. The second, and far more important reason, is that it’s dull, not just for the viewers but for players as well. The people competing in this event are great players and a great player in Fortnite doesn’t mean you’re the best at hiding, it means you are the best at fighting.

So, how can you fix all this? Make each kill worth one fourth of a win. If a win is 100 points, then each kill is 25. These players are the best in the world and taking down four of them in one game is at least as impressive as somehow managing to luck your way into first place. This would incentivize fighting, especially in the early game, where players won’t have great loot, but will have a good chance to pick up some early kills.

If this still doesn’t encourage aggression from teams, Epic can keep kicking the point value for kills higher and higher until teams are forced to fight. It’s just more exciting for everyone that way.

The streamers, not the game, are the star

Fortnite is a great game, but part of its greatness is how easily it acts as a conduit for the personalities of the people playing it. In a game with nearly 100 streamers, Epic should be doing everything it can to show them off. This isn’t like other esports, where most of the appeal comes from the top notch gameplay. It’s a tournament built from a group of players that are both great at the game and at entertaining fans. So, let them entertain.

TSM streamer Daequan
Epic Games via Polygon

One of the tournament’s best moments came in the middle of the first match when the broadcast crew sat with streamer TimTheTatman for a prolonged stay in a (somewhat treacherously built) tower. The stream stuck with him for something like five minutes, plenty of time for us to get a good feel for his situation, and what he and his teammate’s plan was going to be. Most importantly, we got to hear Tim talk and get a feel for his personality and sense of humor.

Rather than jumping around trying to make sense of each fight as it’s happening, the camera should stick with players for longer, letting storylines develop naturally and keeping commentary to a minimum. While the commentators for day one did a fine enough job, Epic needs to recognize that less is more when it comes to external Fortnite commentary — after all, we have streamers to listen to.

Did the player we’re watching just make a particularly exciting build, or set up a fort that’s distinctive to their play style? Great, let’s talk about that. But if they’re sitting in a tower with a sniper rifle talking to their teammate, the last thing we need to hear is the commentators’ insight.

Stick with fights and use replays to catch us up later

This is something that goes hand-in-hand when focusing the broadcast more on streamers and letting their individual personalities shine. Many esports events over the last several years have become fixated on the idea of “catching all the action;” that’s a critical mistake that Fortnite shouldn’t make. We’ll never be able to see everything that happens in a match, and that’s perfectly fine.

If the camera is constantly jumping from one kill to the next, matches will never be able to develop their own sense of narrative. Instead, observers should focus on particular players and standoffs, like they did with Tim in game one, or specific areas of the map. Rather than trying to show us the position of each and every team, why not try to give us a detailed look at what the southeast corner of the zone looks like?

Fortnite - Ragnarok skin from season 5 Epic Games

Meanwhile, during the breaks in each game’s action, when players are moving slowly or waiting to see what their opponents do, show us some replays of fights from high profile teams in the tournament. Some streamers are more popular than others, and while we wouldn’t want the broadcast to only follow Myth for an entire match, it might be nice to see the things that streamers like him have done in the match so far. So, cut in with a replay that will give the commentators time to contextualize the event.

Professional Fortnite should really be a little like golf. Not every moment needs to be filled with excitement, we can follow a player through their good holes and bad, but if a highlight comes up from a familiar face it will always be welcome.

At its best, watching 100 of the greatest Fortnite players in the world face off should be an electrifying event. Instead week one of the Summer Skirmish was an unwatchable mess. Thankfully, Epic still has seven more weeks to help make the tournament work. If the company takes the right lessons from week one, fixes the lag and focuses on the streamers, Summer Skirmish could quickly become one of esports’ most entertaining events.