Fortnite's second celebrity tournament was a spectacular preview of next month's World Cup

In many ways, Fortnite still has much to prove as an e-sport. But exactly one year after the first officially sanctioned tournament and just one month earlier than the $ 30 million World Cup event in New York, the Battle Royale hit starts its own way as a competitive game. Developer Epic Games organized the second annual Pro-Am celebrity tournament in Los Angeles last weekend, which took place at the end of the E3 and closed a fanfest of the weekend, the Fortnite Summer Block Party.

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It felt like a preamble to the World Cup, if only because the charity event highlighted the key elements FortniteThe competitive community and live production chops. They will appear on the full screen and determine the popularity and success of what & # 39; the world's largest e-sports competition with prize money will be, come in July.

This year the Pro-Am event was organized at the Forum, a gigantic round stadium in Inglewood, California that is known for hosting music actors with big names. Outside, Epic established an amusement park where participants could compete to fill a challenge card, taken directly from the game itself, which could be exchanged for exclusive prizes.

There was too Fortnite "s distinctive selection of mascots roaming the grounds and taking photos with fans, all popular in-game skins such as Peely the banana, the rainbow-decorated Brite Bomber and the Durr Burger burger man. Walk around and look at the faces of the eager boy Fortnite fans who must have felt like they were entering the video game themselves were enough to illustrate why Epic is spending the money it does to host these real extravaganzas.

But once you entered the 17,500-seat forum, the event turned into a high production affair with a spectacular light show, sound system and stage arrangement. To demonstrate his production and live event skills before the World Championship, Epic debuted a new, customized structure the size of a large house with a staggering number of screens that could be viewed from every angle and designed to hold 100 players at the same time . It was split into two sides, each with screens of different sizes intended for sending a variety of information. One showed the players who were alive at the moment, the other kept track of the points and rankings, and the other was a narrow, ticker-like screen with a steady stream of in-game happenings that didn't happen through the camera & # 39; s were caught.

In the meantime, several large screens switched between player display points and cameras floating in the virtual air to capture battles from different angles to give the audience a unique view of the action. The vast breadth of technology and living talent that Epic is now using to follow this fast-moving game mode, where half a dozen critical events can occur simultaneously, has come a long way from last year's Pro-Am.

It is even many steps above the recent season tournaments. I never felt that I was missing something that I would have liked to see, and the cyclists have somehow managed to keep up with events that have understandably become much more chaotic and faster since the competitive year. Fortnite first in high gear.


Photo by Nick Statt

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But the most important thing is that you were just present at the second Pro-Am Fortnite& # 39; s mainstream popularity with young, influenceable game fans, many of whom were ecstatic to view their favorite game, played by their favorite streamers in such a glamorous way. Epic made sure that each duo in the 50-team event was introduced one by one, so fans could stand up for their favorites.

The selection included Fortnite stars such as Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, Turner "Tfue" Tenney and Dennis "Cloakzy" Lepore, in addition to dozens of other streamers that are each associated with a celebrity, athlete, musician or popular internet personality. (The list of celebrities was not so dotted with stars, but it did have Marshawn Lynch, Brendie Urie, Joel McHale, and Hannibal Buress, along with a host of other recognizable names.)

There were also a number of serious competitive players who, although not aware of the influence and popularity of Twitch's larger streamers, qualified for the World Cup and were present to demonstrate their skills. That used to include League of Legends pro Karim "Airwaks" Benghalia from Switzerland who is currently registered with the European e-sports team Solary. Together with his partner, electronic music producer RL Grime, Airwaks won the entire tournament, largely thanks to a stunning 16-kill victory in the first of the four rounds with which the pair earned 26 points. RL Grime, to his name, was responsible for two of those murders, and he played shockingly well in the circumstances.

But it was clear that watching these players was a dream come true for an entire generation of young game fans growing up with a competitive attitude Fortnite as their very first e-sport. These are fans that over time will become the lifelong e-sports viewers that will boost the influence and popularity of the market in the coming years, and Epic is actually winning them when they are in primary school . Some of these fans are young enough to continue with streamers and even become competitive Fortnite players themselves, something that is older Overwatch, League of Legends, and Dota 2 fans cannot reasonably say it for themselves.

The Pro-Am also stressed how the competition Fortnite community now has a large number of well-known superstars to wear out, many of which were virtually unknown a year ago. Ninja has not yet qualified for the World Cup and some of the most popular Fortnite entertainers, such as Jack "Courage" Dunlop and Ben "Dr. Lupo" Lupo, have lost their ambitions to become competitive pros in favor of building of careers with streaming. But that still leaves hundreds of highly competitive players eager to earn the title of best in the world.

For example the largest Fortnite player at the moment is Tfue, who finished third in the tournament and goes to the World Cup next month after a controversial contract dispute with his employer Faze Clan. There is also controller player Aydan Conrad, another qualifier who won the spotlight by spectacularly winning one of the four Pro-Am games and almost winning his next game until he was eliminated by Mason "Symfunny" Lanier, who became sixth.

There are even players who, although not yet world champions, become rising stars in the scene, and the Pro-Am was a great opportunity to see them shine. One of the best moments in the tournament was from such a player, the 13-year-old Soleil "Ewok" Wheeler. Ewok, a deaf gamer, plays without sound and uses the built-in visual synthesizer from Epic to compete. She was associated with Atlanta Falcons as back-up quarterback Kurt Benkert, a friend of Ewok and her family who got to know American Sign Language specifically to communicate with her.


Photo by Nick Statt

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In a moment when Epic & # 39; s production team were lucky enough to appear on the big screen, Ewok worked with Benkert to bring Dr. Lupo off. When his teammate, musician and actor Jordan Fisher (who happens to be a huge gamer), bravely tried to escape, Ewok followed him through two gorges and multiple wind tunnels to chase him with cold, calculated precision. The chase was performed live during the event and the crowd burst out with cheers and laughs. Ewok then communicated her position to Benkert with sign language, unaware that her achievements had been broadcast to hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world. In a later game, Ewok claimed a top 10 win against some of the best players on the planet.

Ewok was later brought on stage by Epic & # 39; s casting talent on camera for a short interview with ASL, and she has unmistakably become one of the faces of FortniteThe younger competitive community. Her infectious optimism, combined with her amazing skills and her activism for gamers with disabilities, also gives her a rapid rise in the wider Twitch community.

Her Twitter stream over the weekend was full of viral moments when she was her biggest role models in the Fornite scene, and she was profiled by last week ESPN. It is clear that Ewok is the kind of organic, teenage star Fortnite is cultivating and it is proof that the younger audience of the game is able to produce talented players who can grow up to be the next generation Ninja & # 39; s and Tfue & # 39; s.

Now, Fortnite is the only game that can do all of this realistically: it can produce stars like Ewok and give them a huge stage to play on, while also being home to Twitch & # 39; s most popular streamers and some of the most competitive players in the scene.

So although it might not have been a real e-sports event like you would find in the Blizzard Arena Overwatch League, the second Fortnite Pro-Am saw, sounded and felt as one of all the ways that will be important next month, when Epic is organizing two finals of 100 players at the Arthur Ashe Stadium with tens of millions of dollars on the line. That will mark the end of the first year Fortnite e-sports, but it's just the beginning.

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