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Tfue’s surprising performance at the Fortnite World Cup makes way for new stars

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After this weekend, new Fortnite celebrities have been minted

Epic Games via Twitch

Turner “Tfue” Tenney is undoubtedly the most famous Fortnite player in the world — to wit, he is consistently one of the fastest-growing and most popular channels on Twitch. All eyes were on the blond star this weekend, as he qualified several times for the solo portion of the tournament.

You could say that he fed into the hype. Unlike his jersey-wearing competitors, the Floridian pro was wearing a daring leopard-print outfit. He talked his game up, too. When asked by a commentator how he prepared for the tournament, Tenney boasted that he was well-acquainted with playing under pressure.

“I stream to all of my beautiful viewers, and you know, they stream snipe me, and I get rushed by like 30 people every game,” he said. “And if I can handle that, I can handle anything, right?”

But Tenney didn’t make much of a dent this weekend.

Actually, Tenney kept getting eliminated early on in matches, and only managed to put some points on the board after several games. Tenney seemed frustrated by all of this, based on his reactions in the official broadcast. Social media, meanwhile, tore into the man for his performance.

Part of what fueled the fire was that viewers watched as comparatively low-profile players made easy work of Tfue. One particularly infamous moment had King, a 13-year-old hailing from Argentina, eliminating Tfue in a way that made Tenney look like a novice at the game. It was gruesome. It also helped King elevate his status at the tournament tremendously, with one viral Tweet stating that he had “humbled” Tfue.

“Who would have thought that King would have been the man to show up today?” said a commentator on the official Fortnite livestream. “He had one of the wildest moments here.”

King ended up coming in fifth place in the overall solos tournament, netting him $900,000 in earnings. But he wasn’t the only player that rose in prominence at the event.

Bugha, a 16-year-old hailing from Pennsylvania, took home the gold today after landing in first place at the tournament. Bugha’s performance was something else — while he only outright won one match, it was done through a bold shockwave grenade play. He went on to retain the top spot throughout most of the competition with a combination of good placement and a high number of kills. All things told, Bugha eliminated 23 people over the course of six games — which means that he’ll be cashing in $3 million in prize money. Bugha had won a previous Friday Fortnite competition, but prior to this point, he was hardly a household name. Now he’s going to be known as the best Fortnite player in the world. The attention has been immediate: Since yesterday, he’s gained well over 100,000 followers on Twitter alone. Also, that account was almost immediately hacked by someone who used it to shout someone else out.

What’s curious about the final leaderboard is that many players on the upper echelon hadn’t made an international splash before the tournament.

“Alright, who the hell is KING” read a top-voted thread on the Competitive Fortnite subreddit, a community dedicated to following pro play. “AND WHY IS HE SO DAMN GOOD,” it continued. Epic tried answering this question last week, noting that “K1ng’s use of patience and timing, especially in box fights and endgame, messes up the traditional rhythm most players are used to following allowing him to take shots and drop down on players when they are at their most vulnerable” on the official Fortnite blog. “k1ng shreds the player count,” the post continued.

Really, the weekend was full of surprises — yesterday’s duos tournament saw the rise of top European players dominating the top three spots, such as Nyhrox and Aqua. Some players were expecting North America to make a better showing this weekend, with contestants like Benjyfishy, Mongraal, and Dubs hailed as crowd favorites. While these participants had their moments, none cracked the top 10 during solos. The powerful international presence this weekend prompted commentators broadcasting through the action to note that clout didn’t matter in the face of skill. Notably, this conversation was happening as the camera looked over Tenney’s shoulder.

“You can have millions of subscribers on YouTube, you can have all the Twitch prime subs, you can have all the fame and the fortune, but at the end of the day, everyone that’s in that game, they are all equal,” the broadcaster said. “There is no upper hand depending on how popular you are, and you should be treated that way.”

As things heated up, Tenney took off his leopard print vest.
Epic Games via Twitch

In Tenney’s defense, he never claimed to be the best player in the world. But his gigantic social media presence does mean that he has a large fanbase of viewers who treat him that way. As ESPN tells it, Epic Games doesn’t just know this, it’s counting on it — the battle royale developer has been making a point to downplay esports organizations over the reach of individual players. Jerseys, for instance, had to be custom made for the event, and team logos couldn’t take up too much real estate when on camera. And all throughout last week, Epic Games made a point to highlight individual players with good storylines, all without putting much attention on what team each member belonged to. Hell, after that big Faze spat earlier this year, Tfue went into the big event without any team attached to his name. It didn’t matter.

“Tfue doesn’t necessarily need competitive Fortnite, competitive Fortnite might need him,” ESPN wrote. Which is to say, Tfue may not be the top pick for leaderboard points, but as long as he’s good enough and brings in the viewership, he’s still going to be a part of the Fortnite ecosystem.

And, to be fair to Tenney, his performance wasn’t a foregone conclusion. There were too many factors that influenced what happened Sunday night. To enter, players had to enter online qualifiers, while the finals were held in a LAN tournament. Players also had to use Epic-issued gear, and were equipped with random skins. Everyone was a little out of their element here, and that undoubtedly wasn’t helped by having thousands of people screaming in an arena. Then, of course, there’s the whole random element to battle royale games. You can have all the skill in the world, but RNG might still mean that you end up with a crappy loadout, while someone else might be gifted an amazing gear drop. Everyone on the stage deserved to be there, but nobody was completely in control of the situation.

Tenney is an immensely talented player, otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten in the door for the World Cup. He’s also won a number of tournaments in the past, and has earned good money doing so. But he also rose up through the power of Twitch, a social network that prioritizes personality just as much as skill. Case in point: Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is also one of the most famous Fortnite players alive, and he didn’t even qualify for the tournament. Fortnite’s identity thus far has largely been dictated largely by talented social media stars, but might start shifting soon to include the cream of the competitive Fortnite crop. And when the spotlight shines on names like Bugha and King, they’ll undoubtedly have to start learning to play out of Tenney’s social media playbook to keep the attention.

Millions of people reportedly tuned in this weekend, and with the leaderboard absence of celebrities like Tfue, viewers got to see fresh, new faces who will undoubtedly go on to define the Fortnite’s competitive future. With Tenney already declaring in advance that he’s giving up competitive Fortnite after the World Cup, this time next year, everyone will know who King and Bugha are — and the constellation of esports will shift once more.

Additional reporting by Austen Goslin.