Join us for a look through Fortnite's storied three-year history and the importance of substantial prize payouts.
Fortnite Battle Royale caught the entire gaming world by surprise in 2017 when Epic Games dropped the game in 'early access'. Eventually, it became a phenomenon, unlike anything anyone had ever seen before, and an experience that gamers across the globe could not miss. Fortnite's first ten seasons reached peak levels of popularity as the developers introduced in-game events, implemented seasonal item and weapon changes and altered the game's expansive landscape. Fortnite's hype accelerated significantly with exposure from popular content creators like Tyler "Ninja" Blevins and Turner "Tfue" Tenney. They helped bring Fortnite into the mainstream through the Twitch and YouTube platforms. Fortnite's natural progression soon followed the same path as most highly touted shooters; the quest to become an esport.
Competitive Beginnings - Fortnite Pro-Am 2018
Despite the rhetoric that Battle Royale titles can not be competitive, Fortnite began its journey in June of 2018 with the Fortnite Pro-Am tournament. Disregarding Ninja's own 'Ninja Vegas 2018' offline tournament, the Pro-Am was Epic's first venture into Fortnite Esports. Ninja, CouRageJD, Marshmello, Ali-A and several other personalities competed for a $3M USD charity prize pool at E3, the most notable gaming convention. The event pulled over 700K viewers, which came as no surprise, considering Fortnite's popularity at the time. It didn't take long before the competitive scene ramped up to unthinkable popularity levels as the summer season continued.
It was indeed a humble beginning, considering no real rule set or structure existed for the competitive Fortnite. Nonetheless, a $3M USD tournament including some of Fortnite's most notable names had people talking. It was only the start of what ballooned into an unstoppable force.
Fortnite Gains More Ground as a Competitive Esport
The Summer, Fall and Secret Skirmish effectively kicked off real competitive Fortnite events with multi-million dollar prize pools. ESTNN recently revisited the 'Skirmish' days, so be sure to check that article for more of the finer details. These were not Pro-Am events, but rather invitationals where Epic Games hand-selected creators and competitors to include. The developer put up nearly $20M USD in prizes across the Summer, Fall and Secret Skirmish. These three tournaments officially set a precedent for competitive Fortnite events moving forward, and Epic Games soon announced that they would commit $100M USD to the game's tournament scene in 2019.
Fortnite World Cup
Fortnite's popularity continued to rise through 2018 into 2019. The competitive scene was thriving with household names such as Tfue, Cloakzy, Aydan, NICKMERCS, Zayt and Saf. The game began evolving to include building and editing as fundamental mechanics to master alongside aim and movement. Before long, Epic Games revealed that $30M USD of their allotted $100M USD commitment would go to Fortnite's inaugural World Cup. Several players across the game's many regions competed for a spot in New York City at the World Cup Finals.
Some would say the Fortnite World Cup was the absolute height for its competitive scene. The younger players began to take over. Clix, benjyfishy, MrSavage, aqua, nyhrox and of course, the Solo World Cup winner Bugha were just a few of many who made a name for themselves in the scene. No other game outside of Dota 2 offered such a massive prize pool for its players, and many believed that Epic Games would continue to follow that same model as Fortnite evolved. That notion would ring true as the developer announced the first-ever Fortnite Champion Series (FNCS) competition, which featured another considerable prize pool.
FNCS Season X to Chapter 2 - Season 4
Season X marked the debut of Fortnite's seasonal Fortnite Champion Series tournament. Epic followed the World Cup with another massive $10M USD prize pool in the game's tenth season. The expectation moving forward revolved around these flashy cash commitments from the developers to keep Fortnite's competitive scene afloat. That would remain the case through the Winter Royale 2019, FNCS Chapter 2 - Season 1, Season 2, Chapter 3 and Season 4. Tournaments consistently bolstered multi-million dollar prize pools, and each FNCS hovered between $3M USD and $5M USD.
If nothing else, money kept competitive Fortnite players content. Although many in-game requests went unfulfilled, Epic's willingness to throw money at the tournament scene kept the ship afloat. Fortnite's first-ever World Cup was undoubtedly the peak. Since then, prize pools have remained decent, but nothing similar to the $30M USD spread across two days. That timeline brings us to the present-day, where reduced Cash Cup prize pools temporarily sent competitive Fortnite into a frenzy.
Chapter 2 - Season 5 Reduce Prize Pools and Questionable FNCS
Fortnite's 15th season started with the $5M USD Frosty Frenzy tournament before the developers went on a break for the holiday season. At that point, the only information that Epic Games divulged was that there would be no Fortnite World Cup in 2021. However, FNCS tournaments would continue and remain with the trios format. After the calendar turned to the new year, Epic announced a slew of competitions on the docket for Chapter 2 - Season 5. The developers revealed plans to revisit Limited Time Mode (LTM) tournaments and a new weekly competition dubbed 'Bragging Rights', where players competed for Twitter shoutouts.
The most jarring news of all was the reduced prize pools for Cash Cup tournaments. Several top-tier players, including benjyfishy, took issue with the lower cash payouts. For such a long time, money carried competitive Fortnite through some of the lower points. Now, professional players felt overlooked and ultimately expected the worst. It all begs the question; What does competitive Fortnite have to offer without millions on the line?
Organization Involvement and Lack of Stability
A few aspects surrounding Fortnite are worth discussing before strictly prize pools. Esports organization support in the game has been shoddy at best throughout history. For every FaZe Clan that stands behind its players, hundreds of other brands put stock in Fortnite only to fizzle out over time. For every mitr0, who reportedly makes $100K USD a year under Team Liquid, there are promising talents who sign with organizations for $500 USD a week. Unfortunately, Fortnite offers no stability from a purely competitive standpoint.
Players can gain exposure through open tournaments, but Epic never implemented a structured competition for prospects to rise and solidify a reliable income. Instead, the Fortnite World Cup, Fortnite Champion Series, Cash Cups and DreamHack all operate within an 'open' model. Any player 13 years or older can grind their way through Arena and qualify for these tournaments. Although highly touted organizations represent some top players, Fortnite's competitive environment offers little to no incentive. These esports teams tend not to benefit from their players' winnings and rely on content to pay the bills. Contracts in esports are the best-kept secret, so there's no way of determining whether brands like FaZe Clan and Team Liquid make or lose money on their Fortnite players.
Situations like that of pro players Vivid and Chap, formerly of Cloud9, show just how unpredictable the scene can be. As previously stated, the game's competitive side has remained steady due to the massive amount of money involved, but the future looks a tad murky without large sums of cash.
More Money, but an Uncertain Future
Epic Games has not provided anything of substance regarding the long-term outlook on competitive Fortnite beyond 2021. The game itself continues to thrive, with millions tuning in for live events and skin reveals. It remains a cash cow to this day. The Fortnite World Cup set an unrealistic precedent with its considerable prize pool. Realistically, Epic Games could never sustain $100M USD per year for tournaments because it's not an ideal business decision. It's not surprising to see players lash out over low prize pools, but Epic's recent announcement changed the narrative.
The sky isn't falling just yet, despite what some may think. Epic Games just unleashed a massive $20M USD commitment to the Fortnite Champion Series in 2021. The first of four anticipated FNCS competitions is in the books for February 4. Fortnite remains one of the most viewed and played games, meaning it will be around for a while. However, the money might not always be there.
Epic's monetary investment in the scene for 2021 is reassuring for those who rely purely on prize pools. Flashy cash payouts are the competitive scene's lifeblood. There's a reason that the big money winners tout "earnings check" all over Twitter. Securing cash is a tremendous driving force in Fortnite, and that won't likely change any time soon.
Stay tuned to ESTNN for more Fortnite news and updates!