The first thing I noticed when I entered the Arthur Ashe Stadium was the sound. It wasn't the roar of thousands of fans descending to a single location or the cacophony of dozens of people working diligently behind the scenes to make sure everything went smoothly. Instead, I was greeted with the iconic Fortnite lobby music. It shone over every speaker about the famous tennis court, which is best known for hosting the US Open for more than two decades. Under the watchful eye of a towering poster by Andre Agassi, I kept thinking about getting a few Battle Royale games on my phone.
Last weekend, developer Epic Games set up the largest Fortnite spectacle to date. In the largest tennis stadium in the world in New York, the company held the first Fortnite World Cup Final. It was, as the name suggests, a chance to see the world's best players compete against each other for a share in a huge $ 30 million prize pool. Those who made it underwent a debilitating 10-week qualification against millions of other players. But the weekend was also more than just a competition. Fortnite has long been the largest game in the world – even if it is not in terms of pure player numbers, then certainly in terms of cultural influence. The Fortnite World Cup celebrated that.
There was the exciting competition, which was spread over four different tournaments with big names such as Tyler "Ninja" Blevins and Turner "Tfue" Tenney. But there was also a miniature at the World Cup Fortnite amusement park, a Marshmello concert, a scourge of the coming 10th season of the game and several moments that blur the boundary between the game and the real world. It was a chance for Epic to show how big Fortnite is real.
Outside the Arthur Ashe Stadium there were a number of attractions that were drawn directly from the game, making it best to describe a miniature theme park. You could ride a zip line or roll into a giant ball, and there was a Lazy Links mini golf course and a giant pirate ship. DJ Yonder (a robot llama) sat behind the turntables, children walked around with plastic cups filled with branded slur juice, and fans lazed in bean bags next to drop crates. The audience was fairly diverse, especially in terms of age. There were many families with younger children, which added to the atmosphere in the theme park, along with crackling teenagers and older fans decked out in e-sports jerseys representing Faze Clan, TSM and even representing Overwatch Competition teams such as the New York Excelsior and Los Angeles Gladiators. Fans were given Fortniteearplugs and water skins along with their tickets to stay comfortable during the warm, noisy weekend.
Then there were the mascots. Fortnite is known for its ever-growing cast of characters, which are sold in the game as digital skins. There were a lot of of them run – or rather dance – on the World Cup. Fans could take photos with everyone from Peely the banana to the disturbing Fishstick and the dueling fast food mascots of Durr Burger and Pizza Pit. They seemed to be constantly on the move. Do you know how the cast members at Disney World can't take the heads off their costumes? The Fortnite World Cup felt that way, except that the mascots were not allowed to stop flossing. This in turn ensured that everyone around them also started moving, which led to spontaneous dance-offs. I have never seen so many people dabble in my life.
There were a few places where the Fortnite fantasy fell away. On Friday, I walked along a few smaller courts and saw people still playing tennis in the midst of all the chaos. And if someone wanted to buy a Durr Burger onesie or neon yellow World Cup hoodie, he had to do so in a store labeled & # 39; US Open Collection & # 39 ;. But for the most part the space was an impressive evolution from the past Fortnite events, and it seemed to be constantly busy. Signs outside attractions often signaled waiting times of up to 90 minutes, and people dutifully queued despite the blistering circumstances. The line was particularly large on day three, thanks to the promise of cardboard Marshmello helmets and free V-Bucks for a limited number of attendees.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the World Cup was how it blurred the line between the real world and the digital universe that Epic created. Not only locations and characters from the game have found their way to IRL, but also the Battle Pass. As in the game, fans were encouraged to complete multiple tasks per day (in this case, that meant visiting attractions) to earn rewards, including a physical V-Bucks coin. And while you could buy all kinds of them Fortnite World Cup merchandise at the event, it was also available in the game; two limited edition World Cup skins were only for sale at the weekend, along with other free rewards such as a background.
Much has been done about how Fortnite is more a place than a game, a new type of immersive social network. The World Cup showed that this could also be translated into the real world. That is the hazy distinction between the two that when Marshmello announced that he would perform a concert on Sunday afternoon, it was not clear whether he meant on stage during the World Cup or in the game. (To further confuse matters, Marshmello played footage of his in-game concert during his set at Arthur Ashe Stadium.)
The main attraction was of course the competition. Epic has incurred considerable costs to run Fortnite in a viable competitive game. Last year, the company pledged $ 100 million for construction Fortnite e-sports, with the ultimate goal of a huge championship at the end. That path was not particularly smooth. Early tournaments were plagued by technical problems, poor production quality and problems with visibility. The first Summer Skirmish event was canceled halfway due to delays. It got better and better, but there were regular problems.
Even the World Cup qualifying competitions had problems this year, particularly with cheating: Damion "Xxif" Cook was suspended for cheating during qualifying, only to be restored with sufficient time to still reach the World Cup. (One of the loudest cheers during the World Cup was when Xxif was taken out of the duo tournament.) Similarly, Epic & # 39; s groundbreaking development pace meant that new features, such as the almighty Infinity Blade, were often introduced into the game just before major tournaments. , which prevented players from practicing.
All of these problems seemed to be largely eliminated for the World Cup. The event looked great, with an octagonal two-story stage in the middle of the stadium, covered with more than 100 displays that showed the action. It also looked great on streams and fans could even watch the World Cup in the game. As for those updates, Epic let World Cup competitors play on an older patch, so brand new items such as the recently introduced "storm scout" sniper rifle were not part of the tournament. "(Epic) don't have the best history," 15-year-old pro Benjy said "Benjyfishy" Fish at a pre-event press conference before adding, "it looks like they're improving."
Despite all this baggage, the competitive element was the highlight of the World Cup. The tournament was divided into a series of competitions: a showcase with creative mode and celebrity Pro-Am on Friday, while a duo championship took place on Saturday, followed by the main event, with the 100 best solo players facing each other on Sunday.
The Creative World Cup – with its own prize pool of $ 3 million – was surprisingly intense and a good showcase for what is possible with Fortnite"S Minecraftstyle mode. Teams had to play a trio of different game modes, just to play them again with the rules that were slightly changed afterwards. The most stressful mode was when players had to try and collect 30 coins in one of the infamous & # 39; death runs & # 39 ;, which seemingly impossible platform stages were designed to be as challenging as possible. During the first playthrough, players were able to respond and try difficult jumps several times. But for the second time everyone only got one life. At one point a player used a crying emote to show how frightened he was about making a leap through a series of spiky deaths.
It all came down to a heartbreaking moment: with the game right, Zand was the last remaining player, and he saw two different coins, both of which could push his team forward. He took off his shoes to relax, listened to some advice from his teammates, and finally jumped to win the game – earning his team a big prize of $ 1 million.
Similarly, the third celebrity Pro-Am was a chance for some of the biggest names in it Fortnite to enter the stage. Despite their popularity, Twitch stars like Ninja, Jack "CouRage" Dunlop, Nick "Nickmercs" Kolcheff, Benjamin "DrLupo" Lupo and Soleil "Ewok" Wheeler didn't really qualify for the main championship, so the Pro-Am was a chance for them to shine during the event. (Despite not having made it to the most important World Cup events, Ninja seemed to be everywhere: he was a team during the Creative World Cup, worked with Marshmello for the Pro-Am and served as a color commentator during the duo championship.)
As in the past two editions of the competition, the Pro-Am combined well-known Twitch streamers and YouTubers with traditional celebrities such as wrestler Xavier Woods and former member of N & # 39; Sync Joey Fatone, but it was clear that the real big names of the world of gaming. When famous players such as Tfue or Ninja appeared on the screen, the audience went wild. Ultimately, producer RL Grime and former League of Legends pro Karim "Airwaks" Benghalia repeated as champions.
The core of the competition, however, were the duos & # 39; s and solo championships. Each followed the same formula: players competed in six combat-generous games with 100 players and they received points based on placement and killings. One of the most interesting things about the competition was how open it was. Epic allowed everyone to compete for a place in the World Cup and the developer says that more than 40 million people played during the 10 weeks of qualifying.
The final line-up of players was drawn from 30 countries and skewed very young; the average age was 16, with players as young as 13 fighting. The oldest player was only 24 years old. (Every qualified player was male.) The result of this open character was a line-up of largely unknown players. The duo & # 39; competition in particular lacked the power of stars, but that made it no less interesting. It felt like a wide open playing field. Five different teams won over the six games. In the end, the European duo of Emil "Nyhrox" Bergquist Pedersen and David "aqua" Wang won the grand prize of $ 3 million.
It was a similar story in the solo competition, despite bigger names like Tfue (who finished in 67th place) and Timothy "Bizzle" Miller (23rd place). Instead, a new line of young stars seized their chance. One of fans' early favorites was Thiago & # 39; King & # 39; Lapp from Argentina, who amazed the crowd with his aggressive game and ruthlessly pursued opponents until he eliminated them. In the end, the competition didn't even come close: 16-year-old American Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf won the first game and never looked back, almost twice as many points as his closest competitor. During the last few moments of the sixth game, an unmistakable grin crossed his face when Bugha realized he was about to become a millionaire.
It was a lot of nice to see. The screen-laden setup may seem exaggerated, but it made it very easy to follow the action. Multiple screens were used to display battles from different angles, and each player had a screen in front of them that would turn dark if they were eliminated. The extra viewing angles were especially important because of the high level Fortnite playing can be disorienting, with players quickly destroying and rebuilding the world around them to better meet their needs. Sometimes it can feel like they are playing a different game than the rest of us. And although everyone was attached to a computer, there was some entertaining craftsmanship. Players used abdominal emotions to mock their knocked-down opponents, and at one point Faizz Clan star Cizzorz leaned back in place in his seat and bowed, while his character triumphantly kissed a golden trophy.
Despite new competition such as Apex Legends and the continued success of PUBG, Fortnite remains the biggest game in its class, and Epic seems to keep it that way. The World Cup was a huge spectacle to show FortniteHis place. Remarkably, it happened in the middle of a very busy time for the game; the game recently had its most ambitious in-game event ever when a kaiju stood in front of a giant pink robot and was launched next week Fortnite season 10. It looks like that Fortnite never really stops, even for a $ 30 million tournament.
However, the real question is what comes next. Epic teased a competitor Fortnite Championship Series for season 10, suggesting that there will be a more organized and structured system for professional players. (That might be the work of the past Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer, who recently joined Epic.) A robust e-sport scene can be one of the keys to a lasting success of the game. That is certainly the case for titles such as League of Legends, Overwatchand Counterattack, where the competition scene is an essential part of their longevity. (PUBG maker Brendan Greene also believes that the future of the game lies in e-sports.)
Fortnite is a lot of things: a game, a social network, a sport, an ever-evolving piece of fiction. So far all these aspects are of Fornite had largely remained separate. The World Cup showed what could happen if you brought all those elements together, and it was great.