This weekend marks a monumental yet bipolar time in the world of esports. Fortnite, a game that suffocated the rest of its competition since releasing as a battle royale, will be the featured game in a thirty million dollar esports tournament from Epic Games. The tournament will give esports a chance to follow Fortnite into the mainstream world. A result that may be inevitable in the distant future, but has not proven to form a revenue-generating industry in today’s world.
The Power of Fortnite
Fortnite is a different type of video game. The game is mainstream in a way that no video game with a competitive component has ever been. Everyone from five to fifty in the US knows about the game - whether they support it or not. Fortnite has exploded through the digital barrier to expand its universe; there are Fortnite themed Nerf Guns, custom playing cards, and even a uniquely-designed Fortnite Monopoly game.
The game opened the door for Twitch, the premier live-streaming site which has almost doubled their average concurrent viewer count since Fortnite’s release in September 2017. The platform’s user count has grown at a rate of 41.29% in the twenty-two months since the release of Fortnite; the platform grew at a rate of 18.61% in the two years prior.
Fortnite’s success on livestream platforms pushed their content creators to the front page of the new-age digital world. This social success only made the game more popular, as creators like Ninja, Dr. Lupo and the YouTube native Nick Eh 30 acted as the public face for the game. They drove engagement even further through social platforms.
Social Platform Success
The immediate success of Fortnite on social platforms was an exceptional indicator that the game would eventually go mainstream. Around the time of January 2018, many popular news media outlets, such as Barstool, began coverage on a new industry, gaming.
Barstool, which is a premier media source for Millenials and Gen Z, launched their newest initiative, Stool Gametime on Twitter. The account posts user-submitted content of games, allowing easy access for many of the best personalities of Fortnite to deepen their exposure to mainstream consumers.
When looking at a set of graphs that compare the success of Fortnite on Twitch to the followers of @StoolGametime, it becomes more evident that the success of video games on social media and the rise of Fortnite is correlated. The graphs are courtesy of Socialbade.com and TwitchTracker.com, respectively. Above is the peak monthly viewership of Fortnite and below is the follower count of @stoolgametime during the same time period.
These graphs show the immediate social following Fortnite accumulated once it became popular. Given the success of recent trends that became mainstream thanks to exposure on social media: low-cost fashion (Fashion Nova), Genetic Testing (23&Me), Gaming and Fortnite look to be the next trend to rise from the digital world.
Esports Industry Doubts
Now, Fortnite is as strong as ever. The rest of the industry, however, may not be. The most recent news to hit the community is that 100 Thieves raised a Series B at a $160,000,000 valuation. While this news is great for the industry as a whole, the unnecessary amount of capital being poured into an unproven industry is concerning for many. To note, 100T is doing more than just esports with their apparel line, however, other organizations are not.
Many feel that esports may be a bubble, inflated by hope rather than substance. The hope holding the bubble has arisen from the mainstream popularity of video games in the last year or two. This mainstream appeal that revolves around Fortnite is mistakenly considered to be a factor in the success for all esports. This assumption is very untrue, as no game (besides Minecraft) has the same level of casual engagement as Fortnite.
Giving Esports a Chance
The Fortnite World Cup means that for the first time, esports will be in the mainstream for real. The event is the chance the esports community has been waiting for. In addition, Fortnite is the perfect game to help give the extra push. This push represents more than a little bit of extra help. Rather, the idea represents a child (esports industry) on a swing needing a parent community (Fortnite) to gain momentum.
So this is where Fortnite needs to shine. If esports are going to survive and thrive and potentially turn into everything investors and gamers hope, then Fortnite must be the catalyst that ignites esports forward. This means that the event must prove to the world that esports can be a revenue-generating industry today.
Even though the game is not optimized for competitive play by any measure at all, it features a plethora of popular personalities and creators that carry an insane amount of power over the youngest generation of gamers. Tfue and Ninja reached a peak concurrent viewership count of 300,000 and 159,000 viewers alone during the final week of Duos qualifiers. This alludes to the popularity of the game through its content creators.
These numbers can be compared to the 63,000 max concurrent viewers for the Call of Duty CWL Miami stream. Many believe it will fail, but Activision expects to form a profitable league with these numbers. It is easy to understand how Fortnite represents a much bigger opportunity for esports organizations moving forward.
How many Will Watch?
The quickest and most effective way to judge the event is to look at how many people are streaming it live on Twitch. There are other important ways to look at the success, but generally speaking, the more interesting the content is the more people it will attract.
It's hard to say how many viewers the Twitch broadcast of the event will attract, but the number is important. My estimate is above a million and below a million and a half at peak times during the event.
If this many people watch the event, it would blow the 600,000 peak viewer total of the 2019 LCS Spring Split out of the water. It would show the rest of the world that under the right conditions, esports can thrive.
The Potential Effect
This event could do many things, with nothing being the most likely option. If the event is anything besides extraordinary, it will go down as the first Fortnite World Cup and nothing more.
However, if the event surpasses expectations - with the energy of twenty-five thousand fans and maybe a million or two more online inspiring a whisper towards the near future - Epic will have no choice but to turn Fortnite into something that will legitimize competitive gaming and keep the esports dream alive.