competitive fortnite

The great South African Fortnite debate

“Games Journalism” is not about spitting your opinion all over the internet. In fact, the best journalists (games or otherwise) are the ones who are able to present all the facts to you, both sides, and allow you to determine how you feel or what is “right” or “wrong”. That’s the mark of a really good journalist.

Why am I telling you this?

fortnite south africa

Because it turns out I couldn’t do it this time. I wrote a piece and kept my own personal bias completely out of it. I gave you the facts on other sides and then… realised it needed a bit of me in it. The original piece, not meant for this blog (I tend to let the good stuff, and I felt this was good, go to the other publications I write for), seemed like a tournament bashing by a small group of entitled players. I KNOW these players aren’t entitled, I KNOW they aren’t bashing the tournament and I KNOW that their voices still need to be heard but, so does a little bit of understanding of the esports world.

So I’ve reworked the below article. I’ve added my own insight from working in the local industry and overseas. I’ve tried to give some context to the debate and basically I did what I hate about most gaming media locally – I added my own 2 cents (more like 20 rand) to the discussion. So I’m apologising upfront. It’s a long read. Just FYI.

As of March 2019 Fornite had 250 million registered players. The battle royale smash hit’s developers, Epic Games, are now reportedly worth 8 billion US dollars. The game has been released on PC, Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and Mobile phones – making it arguably one of the most popular game titles of recent years. With no surprise, South African companies quickly jumped on the Fortnite hype train. In recent months we’ve seen mobile phone operators host casual tournaments at malls around the country to market a new device and, what was perceived as a dying outdoor expo, dedicate an entire exhibition hall to the game and activations around it.

Why? Because the game draws crowds. Casual players flock to these tournaments. I know because I worked at one. From the moment the competition begins there are players lined up and the flow of gamers doesn’t end till the admin team close off registrations. These competitions pull the fans.

competitive fortnite

Currently the region does not have dedicated servers. This isn’t uncommon, many titles don’t release local support because regardless of passion, South Africa has a relatively small player base. But despite that hurdle we’ve still seen a mushrooming competitive community desperate to get their hands on a slice of the competitive Fortnite cake that is currently on offer world wide. Whether it be streaming or competing, players want in.

However, despite the Fortnite boom in South Africa, it still doesn’t seem to have pleased much of the competitive community. RUSH Esports, the rAge esports initiative now in its third year, recently announced that the event taking place on the 28th to the 30th of June, would be hosting a mobile Fortnite tournament. This was the community’s response:

Let me re-iterate – MOBILE TOURNAMENTS PULL NUMBERS. They can also be run on the day, which allows people who have never competed but who arrive at an event and go “that’s cool”, to sign up and play.

Understanding the attraction of mobile tournaments to sponsors is probably something every passionate esports fan should make a plan in doing. However, as local Fortnite player Tristan “Zozu” Rens points out – it would benefit the entire community to look at a multi-platform type tournament structure:

“From a business point of view, mobile is the simplest and most cost effective way of including more people in a Fortnite tournament. However, I feel the community would benefit more from multi-platform tournaments. Limiting the competition to one specific platform excludes many of the passionate players and separates the community instead of bringing everyone together. I think there are different factors each tournament organiser takes into consideration when excluding a specific platform and their players. The general consensus is that PC players have too much of an advantage when competing against other platforms. But, if Epic has created Fortnite as a multi-platform game then, in my opinion we should follow the same trend in South Africa.”

Another player, David “Omeezy_” Ouma echoes Zozu’s sentiments:

“I think the PC player base is too small to have events exclusively for PC, but events combining both console and PC have been fairly successful. However, in my opinion, another big factor is Epic Games’ approach to third party tournament organisers hosting tournaments in the current universal competitive format. They’ve chosen not to give them access to custom keys or the current spectator client regularly, if at all, which are necessary for hosting competitive events.”

PC players arguably have an advantage over other platforms. The current Fortnite World Cup, which sees close on $40 million being dropped in the prize pool, allows for entry on any platform but top players including Liquid Chap have been vocal that console players won’t be able to compete with their PC counterparts, who have far more advantages.

fortnite south africa

While we might want multi-platform events, it may still be necessary to stick to one platform in South African tournaments. More so, making that platform mobile at an event such as RUSH (which happens to be sponsored by a popular telecommunications company) allows more casual competitors to “give it a go” on the day… and an actual chance to win something, as opposed to facing off against the PC and console brigade and feeling somewhat disappointed on leaving the stage. According to Statista, there are 20 to 22 million smartphone users in South Africa, so it begs to reason that more casual players would feel comfortable competing for the first time on a phone than behind a PC (when they’ve possibly never had the opportunity to try on a computer). In a country where esports investment is slim to none, building a casual player base makes sense. And regardless of the few miserable responses regarding a mobile tournament – RUSH is doing EXACTLY that by hosting a mobile Fortnite competition. 

Some competitive Fortnite players worry that the competitive side of the game may be lost with mobile tournaments, as Konstantinos “Kosta” Haitas points out:

“While (mobile tournaments) could appeal to a more casual player-base, and could attract (it’s a possibility because of ease of access) more attention, it won’t be the same sort of fierce competitive environment we’ve seen in other games in South African esports and won’t be taken seriously.”

While competitive PC players might be less enamoured with mobile tournaments, it seems the “kill race” format is a bigger concern for many players. Keldohn “Swanniiiii” Swanepoel can see the mass appeal but feels that we need to conform to international standards in order to build a competitive Fortnite community:

“I can see why organisers are attracted to the mobile platform and kill race format. High end PCs are not readily available to the masses as mobile devices capable of running the are, especially in South Africa. Logistically PC tournaments are difficult to run with 100 PCs on a network and the required space to cater to all competitors. My opinion on the kill race format is that it caters to the casual spectator and gamer and therefore probably appeals to the masses more, but personally as a competitor I’m not a fan. No esport can be called an esport if you are not fighting against your actual competitor. The major issue is that Epic Games is only giving custom keys to content creators and not tournament organisers, which makes running a custom lobby tournament difficult. In order to be taken seriously internationally we need to host custom lobby tournaments on PC that are of an international standard.”

Dewald “Thiefking” de Lange argues that a happy medium could be met, with kill race style competitions online with custom games when on LAN. That way competitors can measure their skill against other competitors at the competition and not randoms in a public lobby.

competitive fortnite

RUSH hosting a mobile kill race tournament, as pointed out numerous times by the competitive players (and me), makes perfect sense. The casual player base has already shown, through other similar competitions that they love this style of competition and want to compete. But South African Fortnite finds itself at a crossroads whereby the casual and competitive player bases can’t see eye to eye. One of South Africa’s best Fortnite players, James “HutchieOG” Hutcheson believes the community, and tournament organisers, have to now evolve and meet the international standard set:

“Fortnite is a game like no other. The demographic trend is towards young kids but can also be enjoyed by grown ups as well. Fortnite is not yet properly structured for competitive play in that custom matchmaking and the spectator client is not accessible to the majority. The game also takes up a fairly new style of the Battle Royale format. This format means teams can’t properly go head to head against each other and makes it hard to have consistent placings. These factors make the game get overlooked as truly competitive which results in bigger organisations and esports brands not getting involved in the game. The easiest way, as they see it, is to let the casual gamers have their fun with their favourite game in an easy to run kill race tournament. Anyone can play pubs and try to get some kills so everyone can get involved. This is the focus of a lot of brands out there: get the most amount of people as they can interested in their event or brand.

However, there is a large amount of players that look at other games’ competitive play and love the thought of competing and wanting to be the best at something. This is the demographic of people that want to play Fortnite competitively in custom matches. Let’s look at the overseas scene: The game developers, Epic Games, host tournaments all the time and we see our favourite players compete in our favourite game with custom games. It looks like a dream come true for all of us to be able to do that. But then here in South Africa we only see organisations looking at the casual exposure side to the game and not trying to make it a competitive gaming tournament with customs. Custom games are not open to everyone but there are ways of getting them and we’ve seen some organisers get it right. 100 people in a gaming arena all playing against each other to become the last man standing is all the players want and, I feel, deserve. Fortnite is more than just a game of dances, kill races and showing off a phone’s potential. Let’s stop this crazy RNG format of having players go against different opponents in different lobbies to try to get more kills. Kill race is too random and so many factors make it unfair to competitors when going head to head. It shows more luck than skill. To improve competitive Fortnite in South Africa we need to think of it as a competitive games and use custom games – like every other esport.”


competitive fortnite

Competitive Fortnite players in South Africa are upset because:

Even though they can understand WHY mobile tournaments happen, they don’t like it because they predominantly play on PC

The format chosen for tournaments is far too random and we need custom games… even though these are hard, if not sometimes impossible to access, as the developer isn’t forthcoming with allowing access.

What RUSH does for the South African esports community is good. We literally get an entire weekend dedicated to showcasing what esports is all about. Surely having ONE competition there that isn’t restricted to a select few who can compete but rather offers up an opportunity for new fans to get a taste of competitive gaming is a great thing? Fortnite is the most popular game at the moment so it stands to reason that it would be the one used to “bridge the gap” between casual and competitive.

However, I get the other side. I realise competitive players want more and feel they need more. But more requires money. You need the casual mobile players to feed the numbers and ultimately move over to the other platforms. So why not pitch up at RUSH and offer to help admin on the stage, or set up your PCs nearby – kids that show impressive skill on the game can get a few minutes training with the top players. You’ll not only make those young gamers year, but you’ll be able to further light the fire from the spark RUSH set off.

This isn’t an us versus them thing. This is the perfect opportunity to build the community even more. We need to walk before we can run. Helping this casual player base get more involved in the competing side of Fortnite is going to see an incredible shift towards bigger player numbers and more interest for all platforms. So let’s change the narrative – rather than bitching on social media about mobile tournaments at RUSH, let’s start discussing how we can turn it into the best and most well supported tournament at the esports event. Offering cool training opportunities or support for up and coming players. THAT’s why casual tournaments are beneficial and THAT is how you work with tournament organisers to build a scene.

I'd love to chat to you some more.


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