It’s no secret that Gen Xers like myself, who never quite took to the video game world as a kid, require a tutorial or two (or 10) detailing the inner workings of the myriad esports titles captivating younger generations today. So, when it came time to cover the first-ever Fortnite World Cup at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, NY, July 27-29, I took a secret weapon along with me: my 13-year-old, Fortnite-playing nephew, Jake, to serve as my consultant.
Of course, it would be unfair of me not to share. So, as I take you through what transpired over the course of the event’s three days, I’ll add in facts about the game that I was privy to, thanks to Jake, in the form of “game notes” for those of you who, like me, could use a little extra help.
*Our coverage begins with the fan festival. Be sure to check out part two of our Fortnite World Cup field report.
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INSIDE THE FORTNITE FAN FESTIVAL
Armed with media passes credentialed by Epic Games, Fortnite’s developer and publisher, Jake and I breezed past the general admission lines—which seemed to be moving pretty quickly—to the event’s entrance, which was decked out in large, colorful welcome banners. It’s worth noting that every piece of signage on the grounds, from the fan festival activities to the graphics supporting the competitions in the stadium, used Fortnite’s cartoonish block letters and bright, playful color palette. Arthur Ashe Stadium is typically used for the US Open tennis tournament, so the look and feel was quite different for this event. (More on the venue’s transformation in part two of our coverage.)
Upon entry, attendees were ushered to an area for Battle Pass wristband pickup, an RFID-enabled bracelet that records your attendance at different activities at the fan festival, engagement that then earns you prizes. Attendees also received a paper Battle Pass that would get physically stamped by staff manning the booths, and a colorful map of the festival grounds. Completing at least four activities per day earned you an exclusive Fortnite pin to be collected at a Battle Pass redemption booth. If you completed four activities each of the three days, you received a glow-in-the-dark collectible “V-Buck” coin.
Game Note: For each season of Fortnite, purchasing a Battle Pass with in-game currency, or V-Bucks, allows players to unlock rewards by meeting challenges.
The Fortnite Fan Festival was made up of more than a dozen activities related to in-game play, conceived by the festival’s creative directors, iam8bit. Fortnite events differ from other esports competitions because of their attention to fan engagement outside of competition. Each activity was designed to make attendees—young children, teenagers, families and lone adults—feel as if they were playing within the Fortnite world. Nor were there any branded experiences, which was a deliberate choice by Epic, we’re told, in order to keep the emphasis on fun.
And fun it was. Take the “Baller Obstacle Course,” where we climbed into a giant bubble ball and, using our hands and feet to move back and forth like a hamster, maneuvered through a course of in-game elements including tires, rocks and a crane operator as fast as we could. To spark competition among friends, a leader board displayed the names of attendees with the best times.
Game Note: The “Baller” is a one-seat, circular vehicle that players can use for protection while maneuvering through the Fortnite world, also known as the “map.”
Then there was the “Pickaxe Pit,” where pairs of friends tried to nudge each other off a plank using padded pickaxes, a tool used in Fortnite to gather building materials. The centrally located “Glide Zipline,” a big hit with folks, sent attendees “flying” across the grounds’ two rectangular fountain pools. As each festivalgoer cruised from one structure to the next, a “Glider,” the hang glider-like tool used in Fortnite to assist players’ drop-ins into the game, hovered above them on a separate line, creating the illusion of dropping in.
Game Note: At the start of each Battle Royale competition, 100 players ride a yellow Battle Bus across the sky, with each player jumping into the game quickly or by using a Glider.
Some activities were less physical and brainier, a choice that evened the playing field and welcomed attendees of various abilities and levels of Fortnite knowledge. At a game station dubbed “Puzzle Squad,” staffers handed out puzzles challenging attendees’ knowledge of Fortnite that could be filled out while waiting in line for activities and then returned when completed for a “Battle Pass” stamp.
At the festival’s main stage, the “You’ve Got Game Show: Fortnite Addition” challenged attendees’ Fortnite familiarity through trivia. Also on the stage was a cosplay showcase and the “Boogie Down Challenge,” for which an emcee challenged all those within earshot to dance-offs featuring different emotes in the game (characters’ dance moves). Who hasn’t heard of “The Floss,” a dance that’s permeated popular culture in the form of sports victory celebrations and beyond? Having played for all nine of Fortnite’s seasons, Jake basically killed this one.
Other activities included the “Dance Royale,” where the goal was to mimic a specific emote as closely as possible; a “Nerf Blaster Challenge” with multiple levels to unlock for the super-skilled; a face-painting station; three courses of “Lazy Links” mini-golf featuring structures from within the game, like a Durrr Burger restaurant and toilet manufacturer Flush Factory; a “Clown Toss;” and several character meet-and-greet stations.
Thanks to the Battle Pass wristband, pics with favorite characters and videos from challenges like the “Pickaxe Pit” were all sent straight to our inboxes. Meanwhile, wandering the grounds were approximately 30 different Fortnite characters in costume taking pics with attendees, engaging in dance-offs and signing autographs. We snapped a pic with Tomatohead, who suggested we frame it and place it on the living room mantle.
After accomplishing at least four activities for the day and collecting our Battle Stamps, Jake and I were ready to retreat from the blazing sun and watch the competition indoors. Needless to say, the crowd was psyched. A cool 40 million people across the globe had participated in qualifications across a 10-week period, and $30 million in prize money was about to be awarded. NBD. Agencies: Endeavor; iam8bit.