Anyone for Fortnite? The appeal of the World Cup

Next month, Arthur Ashe Stadium will be teeming with Lacoste polo shirts and tasteful chinos. Tennis fans will order $69 caviar plates (1 ounce of hackleback) and $17 signature cocktails (vodka, lemonade, raspberry liqueur and honeydew melon balls) at Lure Oyster Bar. The fortunate few will watch players like Federer, Williams and Nadal from suites paid for by credit card companies and white-shoe law firms.

That is all in the future, though. This weekend, Arthur Ashe Stadium was teeming with, well, teenagers. There were also preteens (with their attendant parents) and men in their 20s, and occasionally 30s. But there were a lot of teenagers.

They made their way to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens to watch their favourite competitors play their favorite game: Fortnite.

Fight or flight

Fortnite Battle Royale is a video game in which up to 100 competitors are dropped onto an island and must try to survive, via fight or flight. Almost all of them are killed; the lone surviving individual or squad is the champion.

If you have never heard of Fortnite, you are almost two years behind. If you think it is silly that people pay to watch strangers play video games, it is more like 10 years.

For the first Fortnite World Cup, Epic Games, the publisher, struck a deal to take over the tennis centre for three days. It was the last possible weekend to do so before the US Open build-out begins in earnest.

“If I was sane, that last weekend probably would have been about 30 days ago,” Daniel Zausner, the chief operating officer of the tennis center, said. With a limited window to host events in nice weather that do not interfere with the Open, Zausner said, the Fortnite World Cup was attractive because of its young audience. “This just breaks down a barrier for people that are not that familiar with tennis or not that familiar with the venue,” he said.

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