There is no denying that Fortnite, the battle royale game created by Epic Games, is a pop culture phenomenon.
Schools are banning the game because kids won't stop talking about it and playing it on their phones in class. Athletes like Paul George and David Price have publicly endorsed Fortnite. The game's poster boy and the world's most famous gamer, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, even smashed online streaming records when he partnered up in-game with Drake for a night of duo action.
And after the Fortnite Pro-Am in Los Angeles last week, where celebrities and pros teamed up to play in front of a sold-out crowd at the Banc of California Stadium, the question on everyone's mind is what is next for the game as an esport. The announcement of the Fortnite World Cup in 2019 is a positive step, but with leagues such as Riot Games' North American League of Legends Championship Series and Blizzard's Overwatch League both thriving in Los Angeles, there's a feeling that Epic needs to follow in its predecessors' footsteps with its own offline league to succeed.
I'm here to tell you that feeling is wrong. While Riot and Blizzard have done well with their respective leagues, a similar recreation by Epic would take away from what makes Fortnite so successful: its blend of personality and skill. The biggest Fortnite competition going on right now is Daniel "Keemstar" Keem's Friday Fortnite event, which pits a mixture of pros, YouTube personalities and Twitch streamers against each other in a spectacle like no other right now in esports. By himself, Ninja's personal stream during the Fortnite Friday tournament, especially in the later rounds, can exceed 220,000 viewers.
A pro league, which would probably consist of 25 franchises with four players each playing in squads over a lengthy regular season with a playoff system, looks promising on paper, but I don't think that's what the fan base of Fortnite wants. For Epic Games to take Fortnite to the next level, it can't rest on the laurels of its competitors. It needs to do something different, and that's why I would propose that instead of following the traditional American sports models of leagues like the NFL and the NBA, Fortnite should take on something similar to the PGA Tour or Formula One racing, which I will dub the Fortnite World Tour.
Here is how the World Tour would work:
1. No home arena; this show is going all over
We aren't sticking this Fortnite league in Los Angeles or one spot. Like F1, the World Tour will consist of Grand Prix events that take place over the entire world. One week, the event can take place in a soccer stadium like it did at the Banc of California Stadium. The next week, it could be on a cruise ship in the Bahamas. A few weeks later, the World Tour could be in a shopping mall in Singapore with thousands pouring in to watch.
Instead of having a regular-season and playoff format, there would be a clear start and end point in the season. Let's say there are 16 Grand Prix a year, and the player with the most points at the end of the final Grand Prix will be crowned the world champion. Epic Games has shown a liking to taking an unorthodox approach to throwing events, and I think the Grand Prix model would let Epic flex its muscles while also allowing it to have an official league for esports fans to follow.
2. The 20
Having 100 people travel across the world for every event wouldn't work. And with 100 full-time competitors, it would be hard for fans to zero in and learn the personalities of the players who will be the focus of the World Tour. This is where we get to the next step of the project: the 20 players who will be in the running for the world championship.
If I were running the show, the first 10 players would be invited. This is where you try to get as much star power as possible for the first season. If you can entice Ninja to compete, he's front and center as the World Tour's face (for at least the inaugural run), and you fill out the other nine spots based on performances in events like Keemstar's Friday Fortnite tournament and other online events. Hey, if you want, you can even let fans vote a few of their favorites in. The more fan interaction, the better.
The other 10 spots are for the best players the world has to offer. Run open qualifiers, and the top 10 get into the league. When the 20 players are determined, these are the only players who have a chance at becoming world champion. Each Grand Prix, the players will be playing for points that will carry over from event to event. The player with the most points at the end of the final Grand Prix will be named world champion, and Epic Games can throw the champ a parade in Las Vegas or something. It'll be great. We can get Drake and Marshmello to perform. Let's break even more streaming records.
3. The 80
So, if there are only 20 players eligible for the World Tour championship who will be traveling across the world for the championship, how do we fill out the other 80 spots? That's where things get fun. With the 80 spots open, Epic Games can focus on celebrity and fan involvement. Open qualifiers for each Grand Prix in its host region can give people trying to qualify from those cities or countries a chance to play against their favorite pros. Also, each Grand Prix could have designated spots for celebs or personalities for when they're in those respective cities.
Toronto Grand Prix? Let's get Drake to play for a few hours on stage and see how he does.
Seoul Grand Prix? Do you know how many people would show up if one or more of the members of popular Korean Pop group BTS showed up to play in the Grand Prix? A lot. More than a lot. Let's fill a stadium.
4. Don't lose what makes Fortnite great
The key, and the reason why I feel so strongly about the Fortnite World Tour, is that it would keep the special feeling that Fortnite and its competitive scene currently possesses.
This structure would allow Epic to throw events that embody the spirit of the Fortnite Pro-Am or Keem's Friday Fortnite while also satisfying the fans who want a competitive league.
If you're a casual fan who just likes seeing celebs or fans interacting with pros, the World Tour has you. If you only care about who the best in the world is, there will be a system in which the 20 pros at each Grand Prix will not only be battling among themselves but fending off challengers who are looking for the fame and money that will be attached to taking out the known contestants.
Fortnite's trump card is its abundance of personality, and I don't want that to be lost in its pursuit of becoming the next big esport. Instead of shying away from what has made Fortnite an online and offline success, embrace it.