Gaming

What—and Why—Is the Fortnite World Cup?

Your questions about one of the biggest video game tournaments ever, answered.

The Fortnite llama wearing a blue ribbon medal.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Epic Games and Altayb/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Friday marks the start of the inaugural Fortnite World Cup—yes, Fortnite is still a thing, and yes, it has a world cup. The weekendlong event takes place at a sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City, and it could be viewed by millions livestreaming at home. $30 million is up for grabs, with the top winners in each category taking home $3 million. That’s a big haul—especially considering this game barely existed two years ago. If you have questions, you can bet your battle bus we have answers.

I know I should know by now, but what is Fortnite? Something to do with building and Drake and a ninja?

For one thing, there are two versions of the game. The one we don’t care about is Fortnite: Save the World, which involves killing zombie-like creatures. The one that’s responsible for your 12-year-old cousin knowing how to floss is Fortnite: Battle Royale. It’s a colorful, easy-to-play third-person shooter game that you can play solo, in duos, or in four-person squads. *(There are also other special modes.) As the name indicates, the game is a battle royale, a popular format in which a large number of players—in Fortnite’s case, about 100—drop onto an island map and then fight to the death as the playable area shrinks. Fortnite players can also build structures at rapid speeds, kind of like in Minecraft, so you have to be good at building and shooting. The ninja dude is Ninja, aka Tyler Blevins, one of the most popular video game streamers in the world, who’s played the game with celebrities like Drake, Travis Scott, and Pittsburgh Steeler JuJu Smith-Schuster. Surprisingly, Ninja didn’t qualify for the Fortnite World Cup.

So, this game is still really popular?

Definitely. The last time Fortnite studio Epic Games shared official numbers was in March, when the game had about 250 million registered players. One thing that makes this game different from others is it’s what’s called a “service-as-a-game.” Although Fortnite is free to play, Epic sells a “Battle Pass” each season, allowing players to compete for extra rewards (cosmetic items, like skins, that don’t affect gameplay) and complete challenges each week. Each 10-or-so-week season also brings significant changes to the game’s map—like a new frozen biome or a volcano. There are also events within the game that players can experience live, like a Marshmello concert earlier this year. If the game has a “story” or “lore,” it’s the ways its island is constantly evolving.

But also, people like the game because it’s easy to learn yet hard to master, visually silly, packed with goofy dances and rando skins (like a human-size banana) and, if your friends are also into it, effectively a social network. And it’s very, very intentionally addictive.

I heard there was a big monster fight in Fortnite. What was that??

Yes, there was a huge kaiju-vs.-mecha fight that players could watch live within the game this past weekend. Like Fortnite at its best, it was extremely bonkers and technically quite impressive.

OK, so who is playing in this World Cup?

Players 13 years old and up are allowed to compete, and many of the more than 150 people who qualified aren’t pros. (Yes, there are pro Fortnite players! A lot of them.) Everyone will walk home with some cash. Second-place players and teams in each category will nab $2.25 million each. Those who come in third will receive $1.8 million, and fourth-place contestants will get $1.5 million. Even those who score dead last will still walk away with $50,000.

The qualifying tournaments for the World Cup went down back in the spring and early summer, giving players in solo or duo matches a chance to earn themselves a slot.

But $30 million??? That seems like a ton!

It is, but esports have been pretty big for a while in terms of prize purses and audience.
Tournaments for games like StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and League of Legends have been major events, as was China’s recent World Cyber Games.

What can audiences expect to see?

Llamas.

Llamas?

Just kidding. But there will be llamas. There will also be fans dressed in their favorite teams’ gear cheering in a stadium with giant screens focused on players and their gameplay, while announcers give play-by-play commentary. You know, like a sports tournament.

Are there any competitors I should know about? Who’s going to win?

A lot of people are watching Turner “Tfue” Tenney, a 21-year-old pro who’s now one of the biggest Fortnite streamers in the world. Earlier this year, he sued the pro esports organization he had signed with, FaZe Clan—a window into how sketchy, or at least messy, the middle tier of professional gaming can be.

But I don’t care about video games. Why does any of this matter?

Because, right now, everything Fortnite is doing matters. In addition to being a social platform, it’s an advertising platform. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers: Endgame, Netflix’s Stranger Things, and Nike’s Air Jordan brand have all partnered with Fortnite to be included in the game. (Like, actually in the game. For about a week, the portals to the Upside Down from Stranger Things appeared inside the shopping mall on Fortnite’s map.) And Epic is basically minting money, earning $3 billion in profits in 2018. A lot of that is powered by in-app purchases within the game.

OK, it matters! How do I watch the World Cup?

Not in person, unless you want to buy scalped tickets. But you can stream it on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, or the Fortnite website. Epic is also enabling a feature to allow gamers to watch the World Cup inside Fortnite while playing their own matches. Why not?

The action starts each day at 12:30 p.m. The first day of the event features a Creative World Cup—with players who make their own Fortnite levels in its creative mode—and a celebrity pro-am for charity. (Ninja is competing in this event, paired with Marshmello. Other “celebrities” include Joey Fatone of NSYNC and electronic music producer RL Grime.) The duos tournament takes place on Saturday, and Sunday is the solo tournament.

Should I watch???

If you watch any of those other World Cups and don’t follow soccer, consider this a comparable experience. It might be exciting, but it will definitely be interesting since—for now—it’s a major node of pop culture. Also, llamas.

Correction, July 29, 2019: An earlier version of this article misstated that Fortnite was a first-person shooter. It is a third-person shooter.