The very first thing I seen once I walked into Arthur Ashe Stadium was the sound. It wasn’t the roar of 1000’s of followers descending right into a single venue or the cacophony of dozens of individuals working diligently behind the scenes to ensure all the pieces went easily. As an alternative, I used to be greeted with the long-lasting Fortnite foyer music. It was blaring over seemingly each speaker throughout the famed tennis floor, which is finest recognized for internet hosting the US Open for greater than 20 years. Below the watchful eyes of a towering Andre Agassi poster, I saved eager about getting just a few battle royale matches in on my cellphone.
This previous weekend, developer Epic Video games placed on the most important Fortnite spectacle so far. On the world’s largest tennis stadium in New York, the corporate held the primary Fortnite World Cup Finals. It was, because the title implies, an opportunity to look at the very best gamers on this planet compete towards one another for a share of an enormous $30 million prize pool. Those that made it in went by a grueling 10-week qualification course of towards thousands and thousands of different gamers. However the weekend was additionally greater than only a competitors. Fortnite has lengthy been the biggest sport on this planet — if not by way of pure participant depend, then certainly by way of cultural affect. The Fortnite World Cup celebrated that.
There was the thrilling competitors, which was unfold throughout 4 completely different tournaments that includes enormous names like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Turner “Tfue” Tenney. However the World Cup was additionally house to a miniature Fortnite amusement park, a Marshmello live performance, a tease of the sport’s upcoming 10th season, and a number of moments that blurred the road between the sport and the actual world. It was an opportunity for Epic to point out off simply how massive Fortnite actually is.
Outdoors of Arthur Ashe Stadium had been various points of interest pulled immediately from the sport, creating what’s finest described as a miniature theme park. You may experience a zipline or roll round in an enormous ball, and there was a Lazy Hyperlinks mini-golf course and an enormous pirate ship. DJ Yonder (a robotic llama) was behind the turntables, youngsters walked round carrying plastic cups stuffed with branded Slurp Juice, and followers lazed round in beanbags subsequent to produce drop crates. The group available was pretty various, notably by way of age. There have been a whole lot of households with youthful youngsters, including to the theme park vibe, together with gaggles of youngsters and older followers decked out in e-sports jerseys representing Faze Clan, TSM, and even Overwatch League groups just like the New York Excelsior and Los Angeles Gladiators. Followers got Fortnite-branded earplugs and water skins together with their tickets to remain comfy all through the recent, noisy weekend.
Then there have been the mascots. Fortnite is understood for its ever-growing solid of characters, that are offered in-game as digital skins. There have been rather a lot of them operating — or relatively, dancing — on the World Cup. Followers had been capable of take pictures with everybody from Peely the banana to the disturbing Fishstick in addition to the dueling fast-food mascots from Durr Burger and Pizza Pit. They appeared to be continually in movement. You know the way at Disney World, the solid members can’t take off the heads of their costumes? The Fortnite World Cup felt like that, besides the mascots weren’t allowed to cease flossing. This, in flip, brought on everybody round them to start out shifting as properly, resulting in impromptu dance-offs. I’ve by no means seen so many individuals dab in my life.
There have been just a few locations the place the Fortnite fantasy fell away. On Friday, I walked previous just a few of the smaller courts and noticed folks nonetheless training tennis amid all the chaos. And if anybody wished to purchase a Durr Burger onesie or neon yellow World Cup hoodie, they needed to do it at a store labeled “US Open Assortment.” However for probably the most half, the house was a formidable evolution from previous Fortnite occasions, and it appeared to be continually crowded. Indicators outdoors of points of interest often signaled wait instances of as much as 90 minutes, and other people dutifully stood in line regardless of the sweltering situations. The road was notably enormous on day three, because of the promise of cardboard Marshmello helmets and free V-Bucks for a restricted variety of attendees.
Maybe probably the most spectacular factor concerning the World Cup was the way it blurred the road between the actual world and the digital universe Epic has created. Not solely did places and characters from the sport make their manner IRL, however so did the Battle Go. Similar to within the sport, followers had been inspired to finish a number of duties every day (on this case, that meant visiting points of interest) to be able to earn rewards together with a bodily V-Bucks coin. And whilst you may purchase all types of Fortnite World Cup merchandise on the occasion, it was additionally accessible within the sport; two restricted version World Cup skins had been on sale solely over the weekend, together with different free rewards like a wallpaper.
A lot has been made about how Fortnite is extra of a spot than a sport, a brand new sort of immersive social community. The World Cup confirmed that this might translate into the actual world as properly. Such is the blurry distinction between the 2 that when Marshmello introduced that he could be performing a live performance on Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t clear whether or not he meant onstage on the World Cup or within the sport. (To confuse issues even additional, Marshmello performed footage from his in-game live performance throughout his set at Arthur Ashe Stadium.)
After all, the primary attraction was the competitors. Epic has gone to appreciable expense to show Fortnite right into a viable aggressive sport. Final 12 months, the corporate pledged $100 million towards constructing out Fortnite e-sports, with the last word purpose being an enormous championship on the finish. That path wasn’t particularly easy. Early tournaments had been stricken by technical issues, lackluster manufacturing high quality, and viewability points. In reality, the very first Summer time Skirmish occasion was canceled midway by attributable to lag. Issues steadily obtained higher, however issues commonly arose.
Even the World Cup qualifiers this 12 months had points, notably with dishonest: Damion “Xxif” Prepare dinner was suspended for dishonest throughout qualifying, solely to be reinstated with sufficient time to make it into the World Cup anyway. (One of many loudest cheers through the World Cup was when Xxif was taken out of the duos match.) Likewise, Epic’s breakneck improvement tempo meant that new options just like the omnipotent Infinity Blade had been typically launched to the sport proper earlier than main tournaments, which didn’t give gamers an opportunity to apply.
All of those issues appeared to have been largely eradicated for the World Cup. The occasion regarded wonderful, with a two-story octagonal stage on the middle of the stadium, coated in additional than 100 shows that had been displaying off the motion. It additionally regarded nice on streams, and followers may even watch the World Cup within the sport. As for these updates, Epic had World Cup opponents taking part in on an older patch in order that brand-new objects just like the just lately launched “storm scout” sniper rifle weren’t a part of the match. “[Epic] haven’t had the very best historical past,” 15-year-old professional Benjy “Benjyfishy” Fish mentioned throughout a pre-event press convention, earlier than including that “it looks like they’re enhancing.”
Regardless of all of this baggage, the aggressive factor was the spotlight of the World Cup. The match was divided right into a sequence of competitions: Friday featured a inventive mode showcase and superstar Professional-Am, whereas a duos championship happened on Saturday, adopted by the primary occasion, with the 100 finest solo gamers dealing with off on Sunday.
The Inventive World Cup — which featured its personal $three million prize pool — was surprisingly intense and a great showcase for what’s potential with Fortnite’s Minecraft-style mode. Groups needed to play by a trio of various sport modes, solely to play by them once more with the principles barely modified afterward. Probably the most anxious mode was when gamers needed to try to gather 30 cash in one of many sport’s notorious “dying runs,” that are seemingly unattainable platforming levels designed to be as difficult as potential. Throughout the first playthrough, gamers may respawn and check out tough jumps a number of instances. However for the second go, everybody was given only one life. At one level, a participant used a crying emote to point out simply how anxious he felt about making a soar by a sequence of spiked dying traps.
All of it got here down to at least one heart-pounding second: with the sport tied, Zand was the final remaining participant, and he was in sight of two completely different cash, each of which may push his squad forward. He took off his footwear to calm down, listened to some recommendation from his teammates, and finally made a soar to win the sport — incomes his group a $1 million grand prize within the course of.
Equally, the third superstar Professional-Am was an opportunity for a number of the largest names in Fortnite to take the stage. Regardless of their reputation, Twitch stars like Ninja, Jack “CouRage” Dunlop, Nick “Nickmercs” Kolcheff, Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo, and Soleil “Ewok” Wheeler didn’t truly qualify for the primary World Cup, so the Professional-Am was an opportunity for them to shine through the occasion. (In reality, regardless of not making it into the primary World Cup occasions, Ninja appeared to be in all places: he captained a group through the Inventive World Cup, partnered with Marshmello for the Professional-Am, and served as a coloration commentator through the duos championship.)
As prior to now two editions of the competitors, the Professional-Am partnered well-known Twitch streamers and YouTubers with conventional celebrities like wrestler Xavier Woods and former N’Sync member Joey Fatone, nevertheless it was clear that the actual massive names got here from the world of gaming. At any time when well-known gamers like Tfue or Ninja had been on-screen, the group went wild. Finally, producer RL Grime and former League of Legends professional Karim “Airwaks” Benghalia repeated as champions.
The core of the competitors, although, was the duos and solo championships. Every adopted the identical method: gamers competed throughout six 100-player battle royale matches, they usually had been awarded factors based mostly on placement and kills. Some of the fascinating issues concerning the competitors was how open it was. Epic allowed anybody to compete for a spot within the World Cup, and the developer says that greater than 40 million folks performed through the 10 weeks of qualifying.
The ultimate lineup of gamers was drawn from 30 nations and skewed very younger; the common age was 16, with gamers as younger as 13 competing. The oldest participant was simply 24 years previous. (Each certified participant was male.) The results of this open nature was a lineup of largely unknown gamers. The duos competitors, specifically, was missing in star energy, however that didn’t make it any much less fascinating. It felt like a wide-open taking part in area. Over the six matches, 5 completely different groups gained. Finally, the European duo of Emil “Nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen and David “aqua” Wang gained the $three million grand prize.
It was an identical story within the solo competitors, regardless of greater names like Tfue (who completed in 67th place) and Timothy “Bizzle” Miller (23rd place). Of their place, a brand new line of younger stars took their alternative. One of many early fan favorites was Thiago “King” Lapp from Argentina who wowed the group together with his aggressive play, relentlessly pursuing opponents till he eradicated them. Finally, the competitors wasn’t even shut: 16-year-old American Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf gained the primary match and by no means regarded again, racking up practically twice as many factors as his closest competitor. Throughout the closing few moments of the sixth match, an unmistakable grin crossed his face as Bugha realized he was about to be a millionaire.
It was rather a lot of enjoyable to look at. The screen-laden setup might sound extreme, nevertheless it made it very simple to observe the motion. A number of screens had been used to show fights from completely different angles, and every participant had a display screen in entrance of them that will go darkish after they had been eradicated. The additional viewing angles had been particularly vital as a result of high-level Fortnite play might be disorienting, with gamers quickly destroying and rebuilding the world round them to higher swimsuit their wants. At instances, it could possibly really feel like they’re taking part in a distinct sport than the remainder of us. And regardless of everybody being caught to a pc, there was some entertaining showmanship. Gamers used stomach snort emotes to mock their downed opponents, and at one level, through the Inventive World Cup, Faze Clan star Cizzorz leaned again in his chair and flexed, whereas his character kissed a gold trophy in triumph.
Regardless of new competitors like Apex Legends and the continuing success of PUBG, Fortnite stays the most important sport in its class, and Epic appears intent on conserving it that manner. The World Cup was an enormous spectacle designed to point out Fortnite’s place. Remarkably, it occurred in the course of a really busy time for the sport; the sport just lately had its most bold in-game occasion ever when a kaiju confronted off towards an enormous pink robotic, and subsequent week will kick off Fortnite season 10. Evidently Fortnite by no means actually stops, even to accommodate a $30 million match.
The true query, although, is what comes subsequent. Epic teased a aggressive Fortnite Championship Sequence for season 10, which suggests a extra organized and structured system might be in place for professional gamers. (That would properly be the work of former Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer, who just lately joined Epic.) A sturdy e-sports scene could also be one of many keys to the sport having enduring success. That’s definitely been the case for titles like League of Legends, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike, the place the aggressive scene is a crucial element of their lengthy lifespans. (PUBG creator Brendan Greene equally believes that the sport’s future lies in e-sports.)
Fortnite is a whole lot of issues: a sport, a social community, a sport, an ever-evolving piece of fiction. Up till now, all of those points of Fornite had remained largely separate. The World Cup confirmed what may occur in the event you introduced all of these parts collectively, and it was wonderful.