Are Epic Games trying to buy back the top spot in esports?
Epic Games' leviathan title Fortnite has been one of the biggest games in streaming, and the world at large, pretty much since its release in July 2017. The shooter has just launched its 8th season, with Epic hoping that continuous updates and tweaks will keep the game feeling fresh, and help prevent fans from switching to emerging competitors in the Battle Royale arena, such as Apex Legends and Battlefield V's upcoming Firestorm mode.
Epic Games announced this week the specifics of their very first contest, the 2019 Fortnite World Cup, the details released included how you can qualify, dates of the qualifiers, and how the prize money would be split between winners and runners-up.
First, 10 weekly online open qualifiers will be held, starting April 13th and running until June 16th. Each qualifying match will have a pool of $1 Million, with payouts being split widely within the games.
This culminates in the World Cup Final held in New York on July 26-28. In attendance will be the top-qualifying 100 Solo players and 50 Duo teams. Here the remaining $30 Million pool is distributed further, with every qualifying player walking away with at least $50 Thousand, and the Solo Champion taking $3 Million.
The announcement was initially made in May last year during their Pro Tournament at E3 in Los Angeles' Banc of California Stadium. Epic would be hosting their own event, titled the Fortnite World Cup, and the prize pool would be a staggering $100 Million - The biggest prize pool in competitive gaming history.
Fortnite Pro AM 2018 Photo: Inverse
It's important to state here that Epic knew exactly what they were doing with this. A major gauntlet has been thrown in the face of competitive esports. The current reigning monarch of esports prize pools is Dota 2, whose International 2018 Tournament in Canada boasted just over $25 Million up for the taking.
The Long Game
So what is the reasoning behind this? Epic's massive deposit has been seen by some as an attempt to head off a potential fall in player numbers as competent rivals emerge. Any game that rose to prominence in such meteoric fashion must always be concerned that interest will drop off with similar suddenness. The game is of course aimed at 11-18 year olds, a notoriously fickle group, whose attention holding on one game for this long can be viewed as miraculous in itself. No-one can be top dog forever, are Epic refusing to go down without a fight?
Or could it be the opposite - a title at the peak of its powers and popularity, paying back into the community, trying to make real connections with fans worldwide, and giving them the opportunity and platform to establish themselves as new Ninjas?
And what does this mean for competitive gaming in general? Could this be the shot in the arm and wave of the wallet that is needed to push esports further into the public consciousness? A niche gaming community raising a few million for a prize pool through fan crowdfunding hasn't been enough to make many headlines internationally, but the biggest title on Twitch hosting a star-studded tournament full of celebrity guests and making it rain with the biggest pool in history is already pulling in major media attention. No-one even knows where the tournament is going to be held yet.
Regardless of the intent, the ramifications of this event have the potential to be huge, and the amount of attention & interest it could bring to the esports scene can only be a good thing. Exactly how strong and far-reaching the effect will be? That's the 100 Million Dollar question.
Photo: Epic Games