Is Fortnite An Esport?

By Mike Barnes

December 13, 2018

Is Fornite’s popularity enough? Or is there something missing? Or is it just… different?

So there has been a lot of talk on this issue and, with the recent Winter Royale, opinions seem to have become even more divided. So let’s start by answering the question outright.

Yes. Yes it can be.

I’m sure some of you have just applauded me and I’m sure a lot of others are rolling their eyes right now. We’ve heard a lot of arguments from both sides and a lot of those arguments (again on both sides) are valid. So why did we come to the conclusion that Fortnite can indeed be an esport?

Let’s start with two clear positives of Fortnite.

It’s accessible

We talked in a previous article about what makes a good esports game in general, one of the key things being accessibility. That’s certainly true for Fortnite. It’s available on multiple platforms and is free. You don’t have to invest in a new console, it doesn’t require a particularly high-end PC and you don’t even have to pay for it. This alone doesn’t make a game a good esport but it certainly helps. Take League of Legends, for example.

It’s fun

Again, many are divided on this, but it’s clear from the number of people playing each month and the online viewership that people are enjoying playing, streaming and watching the game. It’s also not a standard battle royale. Adding the building mechanics into the game makes for some interesting gameplay and tactical choices. Sure, some people may hide in a bush and wait for the opportune moment to strike, but most of the best players out there get involved quickly. The fast shrinking circles means the game is also faster than some of the other battle royale games out there and it keeps the games exciting.

So why do people disagree that it can be an esport?

The nature of battle royale and the… updates…

Okay this may have to be a point to concede and it’s something we are sure Epic are working on. Battle royale titles are great to watch from home. However, when it comes to an arena setting, there are so many players and screens and the action is much more difficult to watch. This presents a real challenge to overcome, but with the amount of money being thrown at making Fortnite an esports title we’re sure there could be a solution to this. If not, then Fortnite may struggle to be as intuitive to watch as titles like CSGO.

Fortnite also suffers slightly from its constant updates to gameplay. It is admirable that Epic are adding new features and trying to work out the best balance, but the regular updates mean players have to constantly update their playstyle too, especially as there is not currently a beta server to test out these ideas before applying them to the main game. A recent issue has been the Winter Royale. The patch for this was released very soon before the actual tournament. Not only did this give players limited time to practice, it also introduced swords and planes, the former of which gave a massive advantage to the wielder. Some pro players were not happy with its inclusion and others saying even using it caused them to lose the finals due to a bug. The timing is unfortunate and it will be interesting to hear Epic’s reaction. It’s certainly something that needs to be addressed.

But let’s move on to the big one. What is the main argument for not seeing Fortnite as an esport, and why I disagree.

A lack of competitiveness

Fortnite is certainly a competitive game but the big complaint seems to be the RNG (random number generator). A pro player can open their first loot chest as they land and get unlucky with the drop, whereas a weaker player could get very lucky and then have a huge advantage. People often argue this in itself means it can’t be an esport, as it prevents a level playing field. However, you could argue that randomness exists in the real world. In football, players can get randomly injured in training or even tripping over the ball during the match. This can certainly be a reason for a team losing their next match, but it doesn’t make the game any less competitive.

The counter argument to the above point would be that in Fortnite the randomness is built into the game. Agreed. But that’s kind of the point. The digital world is at an advantage in that it doesn’t have that randomness without being programmed in. Esports can be precise and truly competitive and fair. That is great for some games, again like CSGO, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t space for games that introduce an element of randomness, as in real life, and as long as that randomness is applied equally to all players. Indeed it creates excitement and moments of the unexpected. It gives weaker players a chance to get noticed and it forces the best players to prove themselves even more. There is still the competitive element that is necessary for an esports title, but this also brings some extra drama to the table.

We should embrace the new, the different and not focus on the terminology

People are constantly arguing how one esport is better than another. That is not something unique to esports. I remember my friends in the school playground having arguments over whether rugby or football was better. Or whether pool is a sport or not. What came next of course was whether competitive video gaming was allowed to call itself esports. We don’t want to go through all that again!

Fortnite may not be the same as a traditional esports title, but should we not be more open to the idea that there can be different things that still work in the same space? Is pool a game or a sport and does it really matter? Fortnite ticks all the boxes that it needs to. It requires skill, tactics, quick reactions and a lot of practice to become truly competitive. It’s also accessible and fun. It may be different and there are some fixes that need to be applied, but it can absolutely be an esport and potentially a very successful one.