There’s never a moment of rest on the Fortnite island. One minute we’re chasing down challenges, the next minute proximity mines are introduced, along with the Llamas making a triumphant return. Epic is always doing a jitterbug dance with its users, keeping us all on our toes: one of the smarter sides of the battle royale, and very reason the game still comes (almost unbelievably) with an ‘early access’ banner. This constant rotation of items and weapons in and out of the game, and it also allows for all those patches and fixes – an omnipresent flux. So it came to nobody’s surprise that only a week after Epic announced that no competitive play would begin until it had stabilised the gameplay, it reversed that decision and screamed from the rooftops that FNCS Duos (Fortnite Champion Series) would begin soon. Very soon.
The game hasn’t seen any vast updates in the past week and many pro players, as well as casual members of the community, are still plagued with problems: framerate drops, graphical glitches, editing and building lag. In a recent game with my kids, we jumped from the Lazy Lake waterfall in a speedboat only to fall through the floor upon landing, eliminated from the game. Some players have even experienced others walking through walls where they join to one another. So why announce FNCS now? Call of Duty, that’s why. The world’s biggest battle royale game couldn’t let another be officially announced without trying to cast a shadow.
Call of Duty has always been one of the biggest shooters of the industry and, while it has dabbled with battle royale before in the mainstream entries, it fell flat, lacking any real hook for regular players of the series. Also, the new one is free-to-play. Whether this attempt will be any different only time will tell, but Warzone is off to a good start judging by the trailer and the roster of streamers playing on day one. But did Epic really need to rush out the competitive announcement?
Fortnite's viewing figures on Twitch are low compared to a year ago. In February 2019 the average viewer count was around 124k, whereas last month it was 79k. Granted, some of that drop could be attributed to the big name moves to YouTube and Mixer, but it was reported recently that revenue is slipping too – though Epic subsequently denied that report. Fortnite, even with all its updates, is seeing players switch to other games. Which is no surprise: it's been out for years, and hundreds of other games are vying for our attention.
The early portion of any year is always a little quiet but as we move through the months, the competitive scene will hopefully help to elevate those viewing figures and player stats. One would expect Call of Duty's foray into battle royale to have some degree of instant success, simply due to the size of the brand, but it will need to stand the test of time and find itself a regular audience before it troubles Epic's throne: and the FNCS tournament will certainly help keep the crown steady.
This year's competition is broken down between platforms, meaning partners will need to choose between playing on PC or consoles in order to compete. These two tracks each have the same prize money and will have their own champions. Matches kick off from March 20th, which leaves little time to pick partners, but the path has to be laid for the World Cup. Of course, pro players are still voicing concern over the lack of time to prepare and the instability of the game and whether those overpowered weapons will be seen in competitive matches. For Fortnite, that's business as usual.
On this point, it has become something of a meme that so many players are landing at The Agency, no matter the route of the Battle Bus. The Agency, found on the middle island, is home to one of the most powerful weapons in the game – the drum gun. This gun will shred anything in front of it and, if you manage to pick up the grapple gun from Skye over at the Shark, then you’re a force to be reckoned with. This possibly explains why Epic keep releasing challenges forcing players onto the mainland. But is it worth playing without starting at one of the new bases? Not really. Players who grab the Mythic weapons early have a huge advantage – Brutus’ minigun melts structures, the Boom Bow is unwieldy but great for area of effect damage and Meowcles’ rifle packs a punch.
But the new bases have at least brought with them some momentary PvE for players on a quest for those Mythics. You need to have some skill to dodge fire from those damn henchman (honestly, dudes are crackshots). And each base has heightened the worldbuilding and variety generally. Personally, I hope these POIs are a constant in the world of Fortnite, even if they don’t house amazing weapons. They spice things up and create great situations for the community, like this one from Reddit user Mattisdematti –
As with other seasons, it’s the little things Epic implements that give the community moments of glee. Some are more prominent, like the Grotto base being carved into a skull after most people picked the Shadow skin for Brutus – which hints that the Rig and Shark will get a new look soon. The missions tie-in nicely to the espionage theme, and the community's bickering over whether Ghost or Shadow win the battle overall is fun to be a part of.
The next two weeks are crucial to Fortnite: at the risk of stating the obvious, balance is key. Before FNCS begins the game needs some of the creases ironed out if it's to deliver a great competition for both players and fans alike. Duos need to feel comfortable with their play and with the battlefield around them, while casual fans still want fun and extravagant weaponry rotating through their games – will Epic keep those guns in for competitive, or 'freeze' things at some point to ensure a level competitive field? The former would certainly tip some scales, and arguably be more in-keeping with the nature of the game itself. Call of Duty is lurking. Whatever decision Epic makes, the developer is under pressure to show why Fortnite deserves to remain the king of battle royale.