Fortnite has been a year-long success story almost since the initial release of its battle royale mode in September 2017. The ever-changing game has become arguably the biggest pop culture phenomenon at least in my lifetime, with it being a regular topic of discussion even outside the realms of gaming and esports.
However, esports is where this game is starting to lose its audience. Upon their announcement of $100m prize money across one year, Epic Games were heralded for supporting esports with such financial capacity, the number unheard of in our industry.
There have been numerous counts of Epic messing up in their venture into esports – one which they were likely unprepared for when making their announcement.
Going against the grain
Fortnite is a title that is unapologetically fun. It wasn’t really, at any point, destined to be a top-tier, hyper-competitive esport. Yet, the competitive scene grew naturally and was finally supported by Epic Games, with players like Turner “Tfue” Tenney and Ali “Myth” Kabbani leading the charge for aspiring professional players.
However, what Epic failed to realise is that the game they had created, which emphasised fun over anything else, has all the potential in the world to become a “serious esport” – a phrase I use begrudgingly. The disappointment stems mainly from the fact that no matter how fun a game, there are certain expectations from competitive fans and players. Allowing pros to use their own equipment, or not allowing game-breaking bugs to persist, for example.
The latest drama is a result of the introduction of the Infinity Blade and aircraft in Season 7. For those not aware, the inclusion of planes makes destroying player’s bases and raining fire on them all too easy, with little to no counter. This lack of counter is often an issue across multiple titles and something that most competitive-focused game developers consider all the time – but is something that Epic aren’t really against implementing.
On a similar note, the Infinity Blade is perhaps my biggest grievance with Fortnite – though this may be the result of a multitude of grievances adding up.
Picking up the Infinity Blade – which spawns at Polar Peak and is heavily contested in every match – grants the user 400 health (double the standard maximum) which heals incrementally as well as allowing for random, huge movement across the map to quickly destroy structures and, of course, enemy players.
This may be acceptable if it was introduced in a Limited Time Mode (LTM) similar to Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet in season 4, but to have such an overpowered feature in general public matches is a huge mistake on Epic’s part.
What’s worse is when you see the Infinity Blade in a competitive setting, with players competing for $500,000.
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) December 11, 2018
This, to put it bluntly, is unacceptable. Players should not have to face this in a competitive setting since it is almost impossible to counter, bar hitting some great shots whilst your opponent does the exact opposite.
In a statement regarding the Cube Monsters in Season 6, in particular, Epic said the following prior to the start of the Fall Skirmish finals at TwitchCon.
“It’s important to note that we consider Fortnite a dynamic, evolving game that is not restricted by competition. We feel that a player’s ability to adapt is a skill set we wish to highlight for an entertaining product.”
Whilst they’re not wrong – changing up the game to force the best players to adapt in differing circumstances is definitely interesting – there is a limit to how far this should be allowed, and an uncounterable sword that makes players a God amongst men crosses the line. It doesn’t gift the better player, but the one to wield the Blade. This isn’t simply a measure that players can adapt to.
Not to mention, this wasn’t even available when players qualified for the Winter Royale finals, and they’re essentially playing a completely different game.
Fixing the broken features
The solution to Fortnite’s issues is fairly simple – don’t keep adding things to the game that are clearly going to garner a negative reaction, or at least things that make the game less fun for the majority of the player base.
The Infinity Blade and the planes together have made for a very rough start to season 7. I see planes becoming a permanent feature in the game, in which case they need to be seriously nerfed (though I’d prefer they be removed altogether) and the blade will likely be removed after a certain amount of time, but this doesn’t excuse its implementation into the game, forcing everybody to play with it actively on the map.
This is the same for the Cube Monsters, the original Guided Missile, the drum gun, items that were either overpowered or had no place being in the game. However, the season 7 updates may be the worst yet.
If Fortnite wants to be taken seriously as an esport with any kind of longevity, Epic need to seriously consider their strategy of feature implementation and tournament structure. The base game is so enjoyable and makes for the best battle royale available right now, there is no need to dilute it with poorly-considered weapons and vehicles of mass destruction.