Special Edition: Epic Games will provide $100,000,000 for Fortnite esports
Avi Bhuiyan & Bryce Blum•@CatalystSM
Epic Games’ $100 million commitment to Fortnite tournament prize pools is unprecedented in scope, and most coverage of the news has focused on just how massive an investment that is. To put that $100 million into perspective, the total prize pool across the top ten esports titles in 2017 was approximately $91 million. If nothing else, it’s clear that Epic is making esports a priority for the company.
The community reaction to Epic’s announcement has largely focused on the 100 million figure. Less discussed, though, is that while its esport peers Blizzard and Riot are zigging by opting for hiring large in-house teams to run publisher-controlled team leagues, Epic seems to be zagging by being less hands-on and leaving much of their competitive ecosystem open for third parties to stake a meaningful claim.
Over the last two years, the vast majority of momentum in the top echelon of the esports industry has been towards franchised leagues that take cues from traditional sports and leave little space for third parties to operate in. With their announcement yesterday, however, Epic is clearly executing on a different vision, and one that could reshape our entire industry. Bryce, any thoughts on how you think this will shake out? Obviously need to wait for firmer details, but I think we have enough to see some early trends emerging.
BRYCE: Epic is definitely zagging. We don’t know exactly how this $100 million will be deployed in the next 19 months, but I think it’s safe to say it will be spread out across events organized directly by Epic, events run by major third party competition organizers (e.g. NGE or Dreamhack), events run by influencers (e.g Ninja Vegas ’18 or Keemstar’s Friday Fortnite), and community-run events. In order to deploy that much prize money in this small of a window, we’re going to see some serious diversification of content with heavy backing, which I actually love in this context.
In stark contrast to other major esports titles, we don’t even know the best way to create Fortnite-esports content yet. Epic’s plan optimizes for innovation, as many people are going to get a shot at running a high-stakes event and they will all be heavily incentivized to distinguish their event in some way. We know Fortnite can be ridiculously entertaining, but it remains an open question whether and how it will work as an esport. Where do you come down on that one?
AVI: I think Fortnite has an amazing opportunity to blaze a new trail away from the traditional model of team-focused, single broadcast esports events. For starters, competitive Fortnite events are already happening and drawing viewership that rivals and in some cases surpasses current Tier 1 esports content.
Keemstar’s Friday Fortnite tournaments, which feature dozens of influencers and top Fortnite streamers facing off in pairs to get the most kills in the same game for a cash prize, have generated pulse-pounding competitive content. They’ve also allowed viewers to see a competitive match from the in-game perspective of the competitors themselves rather than an artificially cohesive broadcast frantically threading together the action of dozens of competitors with the help of commentators from a bird’s eye view.
Likewise, Ninja Vegas 18 showcased an event where the primary focus was on fan favorite competitors rather than trying to keep up with all the action, and it commanded concurrent viewership several times what OWL and NA LCS average. Moreover, it featured solo play, not squads, which also underscores the possibilities for a less team-centric esports model.
Given the choice between riding shotgun with my favorite players as they compete through a bracket vs. having casters jump back and forth between the field of 100 with a bird’s eye view, I would chose the former every time. That said, the ink is not dry on what the most compelling way to view competitive Fortnite is, and that’s an exciting place for an esport with the wind at its back to be. I do still think there’s a place for a more traditional broadcast, as you’ve mentioned before with your golf analogy. Want to get into that?
BRYCE: Sure, happy to. I’ve written about this at length for those who are interested, but the basic premise is that I believe Battle Royale esports can take a page out of golf’s playbook in the way in which the sport is broadcast.
Like golf, Battle Royale games feature massive fields that slowly whittle down over time; in golf, individuals play themselves out of contention as comebacks become practically impossible, whereas in Battle Royale games they simply get killed. Unlike most traditional sports, golf broadcasts don’t try to cover every shot made by every player in the field when an event begins. Instead, they feature the best and most popular players early on and shift to the leaders as the event goes on. Golf broadcasts also aren’t as wedded to showing live action, frequently flashing back to shots from a moment ago so that the viewer is able to catch the best action from around the course, even if the casters were focused on another shot when the better action took place.
I could go on and on with this analogy, but the real key here is the organizers shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with the way in which a broadcast is structured. Battle Royale is a unique genre for esports and it shouldn’t be treated like everything else.
At the end of the day, what we have here is potential. We simply don’t know how well Battle Royale esports will work. And while it seems like we’re both relatively bullish on the prospect, the jury is definitely still out on this one.
AVI: I agree we don’t know what format Fortnite esports will ultimately settle on and nothing is promised in esports, but for me it’s a great early sign that you’re seeing many different types of competitive content with varied formats all get massive engagement.
Particularly if Epic cultivates an ecosystem that allows for streamers, influencers, and aspiring amateurs to participate alongside pros, I think Fortnite’s esports scene can shine in a way that more traditional team-based esports simply can’t replicate.
One thing’s for certain: Epic Games is now in the same conversation as Riot, Blizzard, and Valve when discussing publishers who are leading the way for the esports industry.
*There will be no Meta Report next week in observance of Memorial Day*