Epic Games has released new details about its $100-million investment in fund pools for competitive Fortnite Battle Royale. Qualifiers for the Fortnite World Cup will begin sometime in the second half of the year, and will be open to gamers anywhere. The first Fortnite World Cup was also announced for “late 2019.”
The news came the day of Fortnite’s first Celebrity Pro-Am Tournament, in which Twitch superstar Ninja pulled off a victory with his celebrity partner, the EDM DJ Marshmello. Fortnite’s first big step into competitive events featured non-professional gaming celebrities as half of the competing players. This made for a greater air of frivolity than in most high-stakes esports events.
One of Fortnite’s greatest strengths has been its fun-loving meme culture and the inclusive nature of its fandom. While the game still definitely contains examples of toxic behavior, its player base is also noticeably less toxic than most online multiplayer games. Fortnite players frequently leave voice chat on so they can converse with strangers as they play the game, often on topics outside of gameplay. Fortnite’s bright, colorful aesthetic is more inviting to a broader range of players than the gritty styles of its competition. Its wide-scale free access across platforms—from PC to PS4 and Xbox to iPhone, Switch, and, coming soon, Android—means a greater diversity of players beyond the usual PC crowd. Epic Games’ devotion to providing resources toward non-competitive elements, like dancing and greenscreen meme-making, also adds to the game’s appeal.
But as Fortnite Battle Royale prepares to spend $100 million and countless hours pivoting toward structured competitive play, it’s not hard to imagine losing some of the game’s light-hearted, easygoing nature.
Organic, fan-driven growth has catapulted Fortnite to global success. Serious competition will split players and fans into factions who support specific pro teams or gamers. Serious competition also carries the weight of big money and lucrative corporate sponsorship. Fortnite subreddits, Twitch chats, and YouTube comments may slide inexorably toward endless Ninja vs Myth fights and away from fun GIFs, creative memes, and overall silliness.
It’s unclear if Fortnite can maintain its popularity after such a shift. One moment from last night’s tournament suggests a possible answer.
Muselk, the Australian pro-gaming YouTuber with nearly 5.5 million subscribers, managed to come in sixth in the Celebrity Pro-Am solo practice round. Even more impressively, he managed to snag a kill on Myth, considered by many to be one of the world’s best Fortnite players. Muselk’s presence in the Fortnite community leans heavily toward memes, comedy, and low-stakes play. That he is skilled enough to rank so highly in Fortnite’s first big competitive event while also maintaining his persona offers hope for Fortnite’s chances of staying fun. And for fans to continue to thrive in the semi-serious, semi-silly space that Fortnite has so successfully blocked off for itself.