You don’t have to be a fan of Fortnite to have enjoyed watching the game’s celebrity pro-am at E3 in Los Angeles on Tuesday. This tournament had everything that keeps you coming back to your favorite sports.
The pro-am was on a big stage. Athletes like Paul George, Tarik Cohen, Reggie Jackson, Kenneth Faried, and many others participated, but the event would have been just as great without them. The action was tense, with high stakes and real drama.
At one point, the pro-am had over 1.7 million viewers across Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Mixer, and Facebook. Those 1.7 million people got the show they tuned in for. It felt like a big sporting event.
The stakes were real for an event that was ultimately a celebration
During the stream, the hosts of the pro-am kept talking about the event as a celebration of the game — and it was. The best Fortnite players in the world all gathered together at E3, which is the biggest gaming expo all year, and matched up with a variety of celebrities and athletes who are also Fortnite enthusiasts. Everyone was there to have a good time playing an increasingly popular game.
And with that good time, came good reason to win. There was a charity prize pool of $3 million, which was split among all participants.
There were three matches played — one was a “solo” warmup where all 100 participants played alone. There were then two “duos” matches, in which the professional gamers were paired with celebrity teammates. Again, one matched served as a warmup, with the third match determining who took home the biggest prize.
The pro-am would have been fine without the charity prize pool, but adding (virtuous!) stakes ensured that while we watched the most talented players in the world in one place, they would also put in a real effort.
The showmanship at the pro-am had a big-game feel to it
This felt like an important event, and it was. The competition was held at the Bank of California Stadium. Fans filled the stadium like they were watching a concert on the field as opposed to sitting in the stands, but the atmosphere still felt like sports.
The arena was packed, and fans even filled up suites in the stadium. There were even treats that were Fortnite-themed, like slurp juice (a form of health):
just got to the @FortniteGame PRO-AM, this is so sick! thank u @EpicGames ⛏ pic.twitter.com/OcPwSRJGEx— laura (@DarthLux) June 12, 2018
The pro-am had a complete set up. It would have been easy to throw the event in a convention center or other less appealing setting, but Epic Games and E3 gave this the right treatment that made it feel like the big deal that it was.
The thrills in Fortnite are the same thrills that keeps us addicted to sports
Watching anybody play Fortnite is fun, and you can’t say that about just any video game. Fans cheer whenever lesser players do something good, like they’re watching an upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And then when only the best players are left in the game, the tension is just as high as when you’re watching a major sport playoff semifinal.
When you pair up the best players in the world with celebrities and athletes, you get a perfect mix. Some athletes like Josh Hart of the Lakers stream the game regularly on Twitch and are pretty good, and it’s fun to root for them.
Then, there are players like Vince Staples who were new to the game:
Twitter do me a favor & teach me how to play Fortnite real quick before I do this tournament. #V3 #Norfnite— Vince Staples (@vincestaples) June 12, 2018
It’s still fun to cheer for guys like Staples, because we all love an underdog. In a game like Fortnite, anything can happen, and that holds even more true when he’s paired with somebody like Typical Gamer, who has over 7 million YouTube subscribers.
There’s suspense in watching even the casual gamers play. But as the game goes on and players are eliminated, you feel even more invested in the match because the quality of play ramps up.
During the middle of the third and final match, we got an intense battle between professional gamers CouRageJD and Kinstaar, in which two of the game’s most important skills were put to the test: building and shotgun use.
Build battle turns to shotgun showdown as @CouRageJD drops in on @Kinstaar92i for the elimination! #FortniteProAm pic.twitter.com/BDCZTmATBM— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) June 13, 2018
All of the games were entertaining, and because Epic Games was able to use multiple camera angles, and switched from player to player to enhance the viewer experience even more.
The duel between CouRageJD and Kinstaar would normally only be seen during the end of a match, but it was smack in the middle of the game. There was never a dull moment.
The pro-am also had a superstar that even first-time viewers might know
Ninja, who is essentially the LeBron James of Fortnite, was recognized early as the person to beat in the pro-am. Paired up with Marshmello, an EDM producer and DJ, the two were announced near the end of the 100 contestants participating during introductions. If you had even slightly kept up with Fortnite previously, you knew of Ninja. You may have learned of him after he played with Drake, Travis Scott, and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
In the first game, Ninja was knocked out so quickly, you could have been fooled into thinking he was new to the game. He and Marshmello fell short in the second game, but Ninja still had some of the best players in the world thinking he could pull off an improbable victory after losing his teammate early.
But in the game that counted, for the $1 million towards charity, Ninja handled business:
With high ground and high hopes @Ninja & @marshmellowmusic take the Victory Royale in Game 3 of the #FortniteProAm GGWP! ⛏️ pic.twitter.com/iblrInikKt— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) June 13, 2018
Ninja’s win brought the whole event full circle. The pro-am was essentially a Fortnite all-star game with recognizable faces from many walks of life. But ultimately, the game’s LeBron came through as expected.
We even got some NBA recruiting going on during the tournament
And if nothing of the above has convinced you that the Fortnite pro-am is sports, it turned out to be the starting point for NBA free agency recruitment. Josh Hart is already working on Paul George to Los Angeles:
Fortnite collided with sports from an athletes playing the game perspective. Now athletes are using it to recruit for their actual teams.
Fortnite is still growing. One of the great things about Fortnite is how inclusive it feels — the game is free, it can be played on any platform, and even if you aren’t an avid gamer, you can appreciate watching somebody else get after it.
Epic Games announced the 2019 Fortnite World Cup event at E3, which will give everyone a chance at competitive Fortnite play. It was a fitting announcement at an event highlighting the best players and celebrities, because now, everyone will have a chance for glory. That’s what Fortnite has been all about.