Fortnite is two years old this weekend and has been the most popular game in the world for at least the last year of its existence. My friends and I started playing last summer as it exploded in popularity; we saw the game disappear from its roots as a good addition to Epic's player-against-environment shooting game to its current status as an intercultural social space that happens to have a battle royale mode. And although I have definitely become better at playing the game, I am still bad at it.
That's fine! Really. For me, the pleasure of it Fortnite is when I play well with my teammates and suddenly am fluent – suddenly my builds are solid and my goal is true. It is a joyous thing for me, because at those moments I realize that I will never be a professional (or anything in the neighborhood). It's free to know that even if I spent all my time grinding on getting better at the game, I would never be good enough to make money with it. I'm just there to hang out with my friends. I am constantly being smoked by teenagers.
The other week, a friend and Verge colleague invited me to play Fortnite with some of his childhood friends. They played a free-for-all mode in the custom map section of the game; you spawn with a random assortment of weapons and items and the point was to be the last person to stand. I became property. Simply completely destroyed. These children built as if they had grown up, what they had; I have never felt older in my life than when I saw myself at the bottom of the ranking. (I didn't lose each time. Sometimes I was lucky.) It was humiliating. But it was also nice as hell, because I had nothing to lose as a rando.
More often than not, being professionally good at something means that when it's time to act – especially for an audience – you sometimes enjoy it less than in a vacuum; because there is a good chance that the reason you were attracted to it was not the fact that you might be able to earn money with it. The second Fortnite World Cup is going on this entire weekend, and I can't help but feel a bit sorry for how busy the pros have to be. It is clearly exciting to play under the light on the largest stage in the world for a chance of $ 30 million. But at the same time you do have to perform.
There is a real attraction to be an amateur – with everything, not just Fortnite. If you want to go back to etymology, "amateur" comes from French for "lover of"; the pursuit of an interest for oneself is liberating. Amateurs were so highly regarded that the modern Olympic games were explicitly for amateur competitors for most of the 20th century. Only in the 90s were professionals allowed to participate in every sport. (Apart from wrestling, because professional wrestling is a bit of a wrong name.)
I played Fortnite with some friends after work last week; we played squadrons one player down, with three people instead of the usual four, so we decided to fill the place with a random person. We met this guy who I think was called Jay, who was incredible. The kind of man who can take out ten percent of the people on the island on a good day. With us he had an eight-kill game – which is impressive when you consider that only a hundred people fall on the island at all. I realized that again; no matter how much i practice, i will never be as good as him. But the thing was that he was just as enthusiastic that we had microphones and a pretty competent team as we were when we realized how good he was. We didn't win any games that day.
Afterwards Jay added us as friends. We play again and maybe we even get a big victory. But that is not the point. Or the pleasure.