While many people unfairly malign e-sports as something for a niche section of the population, Fortnite has become a pervasive phenomenon. It is the most beloved game among British 11-year-olds – even more popular than Minecraft and FIFA on consoles, according to data compiled by The Insights People, a Manchester-based polling company. And the Fortnite World Cup isn’t just a one-off competition: the weekend is a celebration of the world’s most popular game.
There are a number of events taking place around the World Cup, including a fan festival and celebrity pro-am tournaments, before the 100 finalists – winnowed down from 40 million players who competed in the tournament’s earliest stages – play against each other for the grand prize. “This weekend a 14- or 16-year-old might win $3 million singlehandedly,” says Breslau. “I think that’s really cool.”
This isn’t just a tournament. It’s borrowing many of the elements you see in traditional sports – and could eclipse them in scale. The tournament is as international as any other sports competition: players from 30 different countries will be competing this weekend, though they’re generally younger than most professional athletes. Some teenagers no older than 14 or 15 will be in the running, and are guaranteed to win at least $50,000 just for appearing in the final. Eleven of them are British.
And the audience for the competition is likely to be massive. Nearly one in five British children aged between three and 18 said they’d watched e-sports in the last three months, according to The Insights People, and e-sports are more popular among boys aged 10-13 than boxing, motorsport, basketball and cricket.
Four million people watched players competing at The International play DOTA 2 last year, with a combined watch time of nearly 500 million hours across the whole tournament. Fortnite isn’t as big as DOTA in China, which will reduce its viewer numbers in comparison to The International – but a pro-am competition held last year was watched by two million concurrent viewers.
While that pales in comparison with the Women’s World Cup’s billion estimated viewers worldwide, football has a decades-long head-start on e-sports. Fortnite’s name recognition among more casual gamers could stand it in good stead when it comes to viewership – especially when considering that players will be able to watch the competition through Epic’s official stream, on screens within the game itself, should they choose, or via any of the competitors’ personal streams on sites like Twitch and YouTube, allowing fans to watch the action from the perspective of their favourite player.
But Huxley is divided as to the competition’s wider impact on the world of e-sports. The casual observer might lump all e-sports into one bracket, but there’s no reason why a Fortnite fan will tune into watch an e-sports tournament for a different game.
“It’s analogous to sports in that way, in that if there’s this really successful World Cup in football, that’s not going to make more people go down to the Oval to play Test matches,” he explains. “However, the one advantage it does bring is that the marketing around it will reach a lot of people. In terms of the financial sponsorship, a rising tide floats all boats.”
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