It is now two years since teenager Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf hit headlines around the world after winning $3 million in the Fortnite World Cup. The 16-year-old gamer won the solo event in the high-profile tournament, which carried a total prize pool of $30 million.
It represented the pinnacle of Fortnite producer Epic Games’ ambitious foray into the wonderful world of esports. In 2019, the company invested $100 million in prize money for a string of new Fortnite esports tournaments, capped by the World Cup at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.
It was a masterstroke, as the potential to learn life-changing prizes stopped gamers from drifting over to rival titles like Apex Legends, and PUBG, while it also provided Fortnite with a great deal of publicity. Professional teams emerged, a trend for Fortnite betting developed, sponsorship deals rolled in, and Fortnite seemed destined to become the world’s number one esport by a comfortable margin.
However, two years later, the Fortnite esports scene is on the rocks. Epic Games decided to cancel the Fortnite World Cup last year due to the limitations of cross-region online competition. Players hoped it would return in a blaze of glory in 2021, but those hopes were dashed with the announcement that it would not take place this year either.
A Shadow of Its Former Self
There is still a Fortnite esports scene, but it is vastly diminished. Fans can watch some relatively low-key online tournaments, but the pomp, glitz and glamor of the 2019 Fortnite World Cup is now a distant memory,
So far this year, 327 players have shared a total of $2.6 million in prize funds by competing in Fortnite tournaments. That leaves Fortnite firmly behind rival battle royale title PUBG, which has already dished out more than $10 million.
The three highest earning esports teams of 2021 so far all play PUBG, and the ambition shown by organizers of that scene stands in stark contrast to Epic Games’ stance.
Last year, Fortnite was the fifth most lucrative esport, behind CS:GO, Arena of Valor, Dota 2 and League of Legends. A total of $8.3 million was handed out, but it was shared between 1,523 players at 109 different tournaments.
Plummeting Prize Pools
Players are no longer earning life changing sums, and they may not be able to sustain professional careers within the Fortnite scene for much longer. Only three players – Chapix, Hen and JannisZ – have earned $100k this year, while just nine players have earned more than $50k.
In 2020, only eight players earned six figure sums, with TaySon finishing top of the pile on $208,000. Bugha, who dazzled with his exploits in 2019, made $86,470 last year, and he has only earned $18,200 so far in 2021.
Right now, PUBG looks like a far more attractive option for aspiring pro gamers. The 10 highest esports earners so far this year all play PUBG.
FCNS Still Going Strong
Yet Fortnite is still the third most watched game on Twitch right now, behind only Grand Theft Auto V and League of Legends. There is still huge demand among Fortnite fans to watch superb players in action.
The esports scene may be vastly diminished compared to its 2019 heyday, with some Twitter users making disparaging comments, but there is still plenty of action to look forward to.
The Fortnite Champion Series has continued to run throughout 2021. Qualifying is now underway for the latest competition. The next FNCS semi-finals take place on May 22, and then the finals will be held on May 28-30 to determine the Chapter 2 Season 6 Champions in each region.
Epic Games has pledged to invest $20 million in Fortnite prize pools this year, so the biggest events are still to come. Each of the four FNCS tournaments should carry $3 million in prize funds. Epic has planned to launch mid-year and end-of-year competitions to bring together the top performing FNCS players in each region, with the remaining $8 million up for grabs.
Cash Cups and Solo Saturdays
Outside of the FNCS competition, Epic Games offers events like Solo Saturdays, providing champion level players with the opportunity to show off their skills and generate some cash. We have seen Bragging Right Cups and LTM Tournaments, with plenty of intriguing battles taking place across these events.
Next month, Fortnite fans will be able to enjoy a series of FNCS qualifier events, a Trios Cash Cup, a Solo Cash Cup, Friday Nite Bragging Rights events, Cash Cup Extra Presented by DreamHack, and Hype Cup+, followed by the FNCS semi-finals and finals.
Epic Games also holds console exclusive tournaments on an intermittent basis, so the competitive scene is still alive and kicking, just on a more modest basis than everyone expected a couple of years ago
The Fortnite World Cup could even return next year. “Our intent is to eventually hold global in-person tournaments again, but our priority for any such event is the health and safety of our players and staff,” said Epic Games when revealing its plans for 2021. As the world emerges from coronavirus lockdowns, that dream could become a reality for Fortnite players and fans alike.