How the Fortnite World Cup could inspire the next Ninja or Tfue

The Fortnite World Cup Final ended last weekend with a spectacular finish, awarding a total of $ 30 million to dozens of young players, some only 13 years old, in the second largest payout in the history of competitive gaming. The star of the tournament was 16-year-old Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf from Pennsylvania, who took home $ 3 million by beating 99 of the most capable planet Fortnite pros in six rounds of battle royale competitions.


Bugha, a professional gamer signed with the American e-sport organization Sentinels, has seen his stardom rise in the last 48 hours, with an appearance on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon and hundreds of thousands of new followers on social media. But for many people, including many die-hard Fortnite fans, this is the first time they have heard the boy's name. Apart from the huge prize pool and slick production at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City, the biggest pick-up opportunity from the developer Epic Games tournament was the relatively low profile of the most successful participants – and how quickly they became famous.

Fortnite is perhaps the most popular game in the world, which launched the Battle Royale mode in September 2017 and has since overshadowed almost every other online multiplayer title. But the competitive circuit is only slightly less than 12 months active. The World Cup feels very much like the end of the first era of the game and the start of a new chapter. Epic proved that it can set up a show to compete with the biggest tournaments in the world for games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends. The Fortnite community has responded by turning a new generation of teenage players into the next superstars.

Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, the 28-year-old face of the game so far that has helped strengthen his popularity with players worldwide, was not eligible for the World Cup. And yet he was seen there at the event Bugha embraces after his victory in what feels like a symbolic passing on of the torch. Turner "Tfue" Tenney, the 21-year-old streamer in Florida who is easily the most popular competition Fortnite player in the world, did qualify, but did not manage to reach a top position and landed himself in a gloomy 67th place in Sunday's solo tournament. (He still earned $ 50,000 for his show.)

What is interesting about the current dynamic of competition Fortnite is not that Ninja and Tfue have to make way for a new generation of better, younger players by disappearing from the spotlight. On the contrary, Epic has created an ecosystem that can support hugely popular, regular internet celebrities and relatively unknown competitive prodigies. And it can change the latter into the first by orchestrating large-scale stages where young professionals can perform.

In many ways, Bugha and the other winners, such as duo champions Emil "Nyhrox" Bergquist Pedersen and David "Aqua" Wang, do not accept the mantle of Ninja and Tfue. Instead, they join in with what could be universally called Fortnite Hall of fame. This is the Fortnite universe expand, not turn around.

That is what Epic & # 39; s battle generous hit unlike other e-sports: it now contains a unique funnel from its competitive scene to the world of unprecedentedly large online celebrities who help promote the game to the regular audience.

Fortnite World Cup champion Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf holds the first place in the trophy during the solo competition on Sunday, July 28.
Photo: Epic games


Typically, a game with the right recipe for design and community to become a good e-sport tends to become smaller until there is only a niche community that serves that professional ecosystem. The players who participate at that stage are often too focused on the game to have strong streaming careers.

As a result, they maintain relatively low profiles in the broader world of Twitch, YouTube and the stardom of social media. To retire, for example Brandon "Seagull" Larned did last year when he resigned Overwatch Dallas Fuel Competition Team, is usually because a player is burned out by the competition and wants to stream full time, where they can earn more money and draw up their own schedules.

Fortnite is different. It became the most popular game in the world without a professional circuit for a number of reasons, ranging from the way it is distributed on all platforms to the cartoon-like art style. It is a game where the most popular players are not the most skilled professionals, but instead talented entertainers, some of whom, like Ninja, were much more competitive in their youth. It is unthinkable for most traditional sports, where the performance of a player is usually the reason why they become and remain popular.

This created a unique dynamic for Fortnite when his competitive scene began to form early last summer. Although Ninja won the very first officially sanctioned Fortnite tournament at the E3 Pro-Am in June 2018, it became very fast, very fast, that there was a growing delta between the most popular and the most experienced players. This does not even exist in other e-sports, where the best players are often raised within an existing infrastructure designed to place them in a team of other equally skilled professionals, all with the intention of winning tournaments, winning prize money, and sponsors.

Slowly but surely, the Fortnite leaderboards began to fill with unrecognizable names from all over the world. The competing Discord servers, where top players come together to practice and be scouted by e-sports organizations, became a breeding ground for strategies and playing styles that were miles ahead of the kind of game you could see Ninja on its Twitch channel.

Some of the most popular players, such as Ali "Myth" Kabbani and Jack "CouRage" Dunlop, established themselves in a very successful streaming career as part of the wider Fortnite entertainment machine. Many of the players we now know as the best in the world, such as Bugha and the 13-year-old Argentinian phenomenon Thiago & # 39; King & # 39; Lapp practiced quietly in the background of Fortnite& # 39; s ever-increasing profile, relatively unknown to the wider community.

The only outlier here is Tfue. everywhere Fortnite& # 39; s rise, Tfue has crossed the line between Twitch personality and successful competitive player like no other. He became the most earning professional in the scene last year he and his duo & # 39; s partner Dennis "Cloakzy" Lepore won $ 400,000 in the Fall Skirmish series. That achievement earned him a reputation as a true e-sports unicorn: someone who could both gain huge popularity online and demonstrably maintain his position as one of the best players in the scene.


Turner "Tfue" Tenney takes part in the Fortnite World Cup solo tournament on Sunday, July 28.
Photo by Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images


So much of the disappointment in Tfue & # 39; s performance on Sunday came from the conviction that he really was the best, although all the evidence suggested otherwise. His vlogs, meteoric streaming rise, calm competitive attitude and glamorous offline life all gave the impression of an effortless talent. Fans wanted him to win so badly because of how sympathetic he is, which is first and foremost a direct catalyst for his popularity. But the Tfue fans not only like him because he is the best in the game; they like him because of the persona he has built online.

When Tfue could not live up to that persona in the face of a crushing reality – that there are thousands of people, some as young as 13, who are just as good if not better than the best streamers – the illusion of him was shattered as unbeatable. Nowhere was this clearer than when Tfue was played live by King for millions. Optically, this was the equivalent of a LeBron James in eighth grade, even technically that is far from true.

& # 39; Okay, who the hell is king? And why is he so good? & # 39; read a top message about the competition Fortnite reddit after the excellent performance of the young boy. (King finished fourth in the solo cup and earned $ 900,000. A heart-warming video of him who then embraced his father with tears in his eyes has since become viral on Twitter.)

Tfue is still a top player. The fact that he was not only one of the most popular Twitch makers in the world, but was also able to qualify for the World Cup against players who were much more deeply rooted and committed to the competition scene, is proof of his unmistakable skill .

Virtually every top 10 player in the solo and duo tournaments was part of lesser-known but nevertheless serious e-sport organizations such as Cooler and Sentinels, in which they practiced for months every day for mind-killing stretching exercises. On the stream, where he attracts 30,000 to 100,000 viewers (and sometimes more), Tfue often seems to have just rolled out of bed after a night of partying and accidentally started Fortnite for fun.


Tfue, who still has a dispute over his Faze Clan contract, is now also his own brand, one of the few participants in the e-sport world who can perform such a balancing act. “In a previous incarnation, the games were bigger than the players; but now the players themselves are brands, public personalities with their own merchandise and streams without being tied to a single game or e-sports team, " wrote TPNer Erzberger from ESPN of Tfue & # 39; s achievements and how his huge popularity led fans to unrealistically but understandably put their hope in his victory.

The poor performance of Tfue is by no means the end of his gaming career. He announced earlier this year that he thinks the World Cup would be the end of his match Fortnite anyway, and his popularity as an online influencer will not fade quickly. In many ways, the fact that he was such a fixture at the tournament will only be a blessing to matches Fortnite.

Even players like Aqua, who won the duo tournament, gloated about turning off Tfue in the solo cup, a good example of how even the best Fortnite players still respect his reputation. Many other players are likely to see the appeal of trying to become better than their idols and, like Aqua, perhaps even the best in battle.

Emil "Nyhrox" Bergquist Pedersen (left) and David "Aqua" Wang (right) hold the Fortnite World Cup duo & # 39; s trophies after the victory on Saturday, July 27.
Photo: Epic games

It is reminiscent of the Texas Hold & # 39; em poker boom of the early & # 39; 00 when online poker and a more accessible tournament qualification structure exploded the game in popularity and subsequently destroyed the illusion that professional players were untouchable. Suddenly a man like Chris Moneymaker (his real name), an accountant from Springville, Tennessee, who qualified through an online poker website, could win the top prize in the game: the World Series of Poker Main Event championship. He was the first to do this after qualifying through the internet.

In that year, 2002, there were 631 applicants in the Main Event. The following year the number of registered players tripled to 2,576. (The entry fee is typically $ 10,000 per person.) The main prize then doubled to $ 5 million. Apparently from one day to the next, countless people from around the world were convinced that they also had a chance to win the grand prize, and poker was changed forever, with ripple effects felt in popular culture and the many industries that emerged to the explosive interest in the game.


I predict the outcome of the Fortnite World Cup will cause a similar awakening, not only for young children and aspiring gaming professionals, but also for parents, e-sports organizations, advertisers, TV networks and more. With so much money on the line and the potential for a star day so great, this moment will probably be remembered as a turning point for e-sports, not because of the money itself, or even the game being played.

Instead, the biggest impact will come from the fact that a 16-year-old child and dozens of other teens his age or even younger have proven that you don't have to be as popular as Ninja or Tfue to succeed and the next big thing . (Now, in order to maintain that popularity and turn it into a career, the young teenagers on the other hand need to take some clues from the big Twitch stars, as PolygonPatricia Hernandez notes.)

Many people in the Fortnite community, including Ninja and Tfue, already knew this. The battle for big streamers to qualify for the World Cup made it clear that there was a whole series of superhuman competitors that few had ever heard about the ranking. But players like Bugha, King, Aqua and Nyhrox, all under the age of 16, really made it for millions of viewers. We can only imagine what that means for a young, ambitious person Fortnite player at home.

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