Social media users may have noticed last Easter weekend that, among the usual trends and hashtags, one stood out for battle royale aficionadoes. #RIPFortnite began doing the rounds on Good Friday and, by Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people had interacted with the hashtag in some way, whether to set a discourse, state what they want to see from the game or, of course, to meme the hell out of it. Many users were baffled as to why this phrase was even trending – had something big happened within the game or community?
My goal with these regular features is to try and report on the current state of the game: sometimes that means a community focus, sometimes looking at the pro scene. The hashtag #ripfortnite was an unusual outpouring and, as you might expect, saw a lot of frustration expressed towards Epic and the designers of Fortnite.
For a while now there has been rumbling fan unrest and, while part of this is the carping which accompanies any big online game, Epic undoubtedly made a rod for its own back with the opening season of a new chapter for Fortnite. The delays between updates led to boredom and fatigue, with many content creators looking elsewhere for something to play, some never to return. For many fans chapter one now stands as some kind of golden era, when the island was superior to what we see now.
This is a rose-tinted view for a few reasons, but mostly because chapter one evolved many times over and the island, much like now, was always in flux. Granted, when the island changed or shifted, it did so in small increments and always took into account new game mechanics – rifts are a prime example. It always changed – hell, at one point Tilted Towers became Gotham City!
With this in mind and with millions of fans to try and please, which do Epic focus on? The ones who wanted Tilted Towers in its prime? The players who loved Kevin the Cube and its jelly Loot Lake? Or the pro scene who hated Ballers but loved Rifts? Pleasing everyone will simply never occur, so Epic has had to gamble.
To be real for a moment: Fortnite Chapter Two is a sequel to Fortnite. It isn’t Fortnite, it’s Fortnite 2; new map, new tactics, new ideas. Fortnite became so bloated by season X that the devs didn’t know what to do with it anymore. With most other games, a sequel would be the obvious option, but that couldn’t happen with Fortnite. Epic tried everything – planes, Ballers and mechs. Now we have boats, helicopters and mythic bosses. The problem perhaps is that, over time, all these big changes and events diluted some of what had made Fortnite such a smash in the first place. Most of the fanbase was happy with balance patches and new weapons, with occasional mechanics changed or added to spice things up.
The #ripfortnite tag saw several complaints being levelled at Epic, and many have good reasoning behind them. The lack of patch notes with Chapter Two is making competitive Fortnite tougher for the pro players. These patch notes may not matter to everyday gamers, but pros would pore over these looking for which weapons changed and how their scenarios would play out under a new tweak. The current ‘meta’ of spy games, which was fun at first, has become a pain for many with bots who deal cracking damage and never seem to miss. Add in to this the seriously overpowered mythic weapons and it leads to unbalanced gameplay for both casual and professional players.
Another reason – one we’ve covered previously – is the crossplay matchmaking and how this favours controller players. Sure it's a funny meme for people to yell “controllerrrrr” while being sprayed with an SMG, but there's real frustration underlying it. The auto-aim aid and linear controls for controller players offer a distinct advantage over (most) players on PC mouse and keyboard. This isn’t being rectified by Epic because the plan is to have everyone play together. Deals have been done, money exchanged hands, contracts inked, and players on different systems can play with their mates. It’s a double-edged sword – crossplay helps the community, but it being forced creates imbalance. Players want an easy ability to turn it off and on, levelling the playing field.
Away from crossplay and controller schemes is perhaps the most damaging issue for the Fortnite brand. Epic stumped up millions of dollars for competitive prize pools in order to push Fortnite into the eSports scene. And players did flock to tournaments in chapter one, culminating in the World Cup in New York last year. However, since the delay of season two for the inclusion of the chaos physics engine, the servers have been a mess.
Sure, Epic can’t control the ping rates of players and, in this current climate of Covid, bandwidth is at a premium, but the instability is ruining pro games. The current FNCS season has been a shambles with players teleporting through walls, shots phasing through solid builds, guns simply not firing and lag holding back build battles.
For so many of those who used the hashtag, and for those who didn’t but have expressed concerns for a while, it seems most want Epic to listen to the community, rather than where the money is. Fortnite doesn’t need Deadpool, Kingsman or Punk’d – nobody has been asking for crossovers, they’ve been asking for reliable bloom in the pump shotgun, henchmen at bases to be nerfed and separated loot pools between competitive and casual play. This is why the hashtag seemingly hit a nerve, with people lining up to add their own complaints.
It’s not helped by the current competition either. Warzone has hit the scene and is pulling in big numbers – 50 million players and counting. Valorant is gathering hype and serious Twitch views as it gears up for full launch. Battle royales have come and gone while Fortnite held the crown, and for so long every competitor bounced off Epic's juggernaut (let's not forget, Warzone is Call of Duty's second attempt). Fortnite stayed ahead then because it did things nobody else was doing, but now every serious competitor is doing it – skins, regular updates, different modes of play. Valorant isn’t a battle royale, but both that and Warzone have something in common – the devs are listening to the playing public and being transparent about their intentions and the reasoning behind changes.
There is of course one other thing which was a minority within the hashtag – Fortnite may just be running its course. Games come and go; Halo gave way to Call of Duty, PUBG lost its crown to Fortnite, and Valorant looks likely to grab a big chunk of the venerable CS: GO's playerbase. The audience for any game eventually finds new things. Fortnite still has an enormous contingent of players, and many will carry on playing, but it's been a long time since it looked untouchable, or like the biggest game in town. It may even be that service games have a shorter shelf life nowadays, especially when many are popularised by content creators who themselves want to move on and try something new.
That's not to say that the hashtag's 'RIP' is deserved: Fortnite is not dying, nevermind dead. Looking at Twitch analytics, Fortnite's viewing figures were down by only 0.2 per cent over the past seven days. A lot of people are still watching and still playing. Are they happy? That's the more interesting question, and this year will be integral to the game's future: whether that's a second wind, and ever-higher heights, or a managed decline from the summit. Part of #RIPFortnite may well be just the usual moaning that any game gets. But Epic may well want to ask itself why so many people were willing to wade in, rather than playing squads with their mates.