Fortnite needs more than $100M in prize money to find success in esports

SuperData analyst Bethany Lyons discusses Fortnite’s foray into competitive esports – and why a large prize pool may not guarantee success.

In a single announcement, Epic Games more than doubled the prize money in esports by injecting $100M into their first season of Fortnite Battle Royale esports. The nine-digit prize pool overshadows the $75M in esports money doled out in 2017 across the top 11 esports franchises, which include popular games like League of Legends and Dota 2. No matter how you slice it, it will be the largest prize pool in esports history for one game in a single season.

But the size of the prize pool alone does not guarantee success for the game.

With 44.5M monthly active players (across PC and console) and over 500M hours of content watched in April, Fortnite Battle Royale has all the makings of a successful esports title — even before the $100M announcement. Now, with the promise of the largest prize pool in all of esports, Fortnite Battle Royale has established itself as a major esports contender, despite the glaring absence of a proof of concept, namely a publisher-backed tournament. The fact of the matter is Fortnite Battle Royale remains an untested esports experience.

The announcement gave no details as to what the 2018-2019 esports season would look like and gave no indication of how the games would be played. Will players team up in squads or compete by themselves? We also do not know when the season is set to begin or where the games will be broadcast.

Amid these unanswered questions, there is one that stands above the rest: what will the spectating experience for Fortnite Battle Royale be like?

Capturing all the action in a battle royale game like Fortnite Battle Royale is difficult, if not impossible. The early game can have little to no action because players are more incentivized to search for gear than fighting each other. Conversely, the mid-game often has too much going on, making it hard for in-game observers to decide where to focus. With up to 100 players on the map, it is difficult to build a coherent narrative for that viewers can follow from start to finish.

The viability of Fortnite Battle Royale as an esports title will ultimately be determined by how fun and easy it will be to watch. The $100M put toward the prize pool is certainly a great way to generate buzz, but until the spectating concerns are resolved, it will have been nothing more than a headline.