The huge success witnessed at Fortnite World Cup late last month in New York is seen by many around the world as the breakout moment for eSports. Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf, the 16-year old American Solo winner who pocketed prize money of $3 million, got the kind of mainstream global media coverage that is usually reserved for basketball or Olympic legends. eSports, or competitive video gaming, has finally hit the big time.
Fortnite started out as a regular third-person shooter, with the objective of the game being pretty simple – shoot down some aliens with your buddies online. That didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and in fact, the team was about to pull the plug on supporting the game. Then came a brainwave and they launched the Battle Royale mode about two years ago.
Making the Battle Royale free-to-play proved to be a real game-changer, as it quickly skyrocketed to becoming the world’s most popular game within days of launch. The Battle Royale idea of 100 players starting out on a large map simultaneously with the habitable area decreasing every few minutes and fighting till there was only one survivor left wasn’t exactly original. A few games had tried it in the past, but it was the success of Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG) which really made big game developers sit up and take notice.
Fortnite found the right mix of fun and competition, by making the characters cartoon-like, thus appealing to a broader audience and allowing in-game transactions that didn’t alter your abilities, but simply modified the way your character looked. Almost instantly, everyone was hooked. From the serious gamer to the casual one, right from an eight-year old to a 48-year old, from a kid in his small living room to Drake in his mansion, nobody seemed to be able to put the game down. Soon, the developer Epic Games was making millions every day and reportedly recorded profits of $3 billion in 2018 alone.
Epic’s bankroll helped them create the Fortnite World Cup with an eye-watering prizepool of $30 million for the competitors, with the winners in the Solo and Duos category taking home $3million each. To put that into context, the Solo winner Bugha took home the same amount as Novak Djokovic did for winning the Australian Open at the start of the year; and this was just the first edition of the Fortnite World Cup.
Fortnite is only the latest game to make it big in the world of eSports. Games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and DOTA 2 have long been around and also conduct year-round tournaments with huge prize pools. In fact, certain Starcraft players in South Korea almost enjoyed celebrity-like status not different from how the Indian cricket team is treated here.
However, what has made Fortnite go mainstream, is its ease to play and the fact that everyone who is playing actually stands a chance in a match as opposed to being cannon fodder for the pros. Most of the other eSports until now have had a learning curve that has been exceptionally steep, preventing them from really being embraced outside of their own dedicated fanbases, but Fortnite has seemingly moved the needle on that.
Outside the world of eSports, many of the big tech companies are now looking to capitalize on the popularity of gaming. The global games market size is thought to have reached $135 billion in 2018, pulling it ahead of the global film industry. Microsoft and Sony have their own consoles, Facebook has a majority stake in Oculus Rift (a Virtual-Reality device) and now Google has announced plans to launch Stadia, which will allow people to stream games straight to their preferred device, without the need for the hardware capabilities that are often a limiting factor for games.
All signs now certainly seem to be pointing in the right direction for eSports and what was once thought to be the preserve of geeks and nerds, is set to scale new heights right in front of us, in our very homes, and we just wouldn’t be able to ignore it.