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How ‘Fortnite’ became the winner winner, chicken dinner of the Battle Royale genre

Throughout gaming history, there seems to be a trend of the kings of a genre being a second or third major title released in that genre. It’s strange, but there is a bit of a trend. The first-person shooter genre was launched by Wolfenstein 3D, but was popularized by Doom. The real-time strategy genre as we know it now may have started with a game called Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty, but came into the popular consciousness with Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. The Japanese role-playing game was first introduced with Dragon Quest, but would become overshadowed by the more well-known Final Fantasy. Those games, however, were widely single-player genres. Now, the battle royale genre has both the major pioneer in the genre, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), and the real success, Fortnite: Battle Royale.

It’s pretty much impossible to escape Fortnite. It’s a free-to-play multiplayer shooter that is available on anything with a screen and a graphics card. Younger kids without access to their parents’ credit cards can now play a shooter like their wealthier friends, and since it can be played on any console (other than Nintendo Switch, for now), most families have access to the game. Hell, it can be played on smartphones, and almost every young adult has one of those (back in my day grumble grumble gurgle roar). Yet, my friends and I all joke about the game, calling it a Pixar game, complaining about the obnoxious young fan base, and watching League of Legends viewer numbers plummet while streamers like Ninja are raking in six-digit viewer numbers and playing with Drake. Yes, that Drake, the rapper Drake, the actually successful celebrity. He’s playing Fortnite with some pleb who was a former Halo pro player. That’s how big Fortnite is.

Image from TMZ

So, how did Fortnite find success? What makes Fortnite so much better than PUBG, despite both being very similar games? And will Fortnite continue to stay at the top, or will someone jump on them from above and one-shot them off of their podium? Well, to explain and make a prediction, I’m going to share a revelation I came to one day: Fortnite is to the battle royale genre as League of Legends was to the multiplayer online battle arena genre. And it seems to follow the same path for both games.

A League of their own

To start off, let’s talk about the MOBA genre, sometimes called the “action-RTS,” or, “DotA-like” genre. For this article, however, I’ll simply be referring to it as the MOBA genre, because that’s what it has become. If you have a problem with it, you’re the reason why Dota 2 is the less popular MOBA. The genre started with Aeon of Strife, a mod created for StarCraft. This was later converted into the Warcraft 3 engine as the game Defense of the Ancients, later called DotA: All-Stars. This game used characters both ripped from Warcraft 3 and original characters to create one of the most successful mods of all time. The game simplified and action-ified the RTS genre, which typically is about as accessible as the last bit of soda that just won’t leave the soda can. However, DotA: All-Stars, despite its success, was behind a paywall and a knowledge wall. You needed to both own Warcraft 3 AND have enough technical know-how to get the custom mode running, which sounds simple, and it probably was, but that’s a lot of work of people. Thus, a competitor rose: League of Legends.

League of Legends took DotA’s aesthetic and made it more cartoony, with colorful and expressive characters and maps. The game took the basic model of DotA and made it new, visually striking, and marketed very well. I remember, back in the day, being drawn into the game by the design of Amumu. It was also free and, being a broke child without access to their parents’ credit cards, that meant a lot to 11-year-old me. After all, I was mostly playing Tales Runner at that point. You don’t want to ever be playing Tales Runner. Plus, I was also an idiot kid, meaning a simple download and play game was perfect. On top of that, it ran on any of the computers we had at the time (and relatively smoothly). It was basically everything I could’ve wanted. At the start, the game was small. That wouldn’t last long.

League of Legends quickly became one of the most played games in the world. By 2011, the game had 11.5 million monthly players, and that number has only continued to climb up to over 100 million players. It had a massive player base, primarily of younger people, eager to battle it out and climb the ranked ladder (which didn’t exist when I first was playing). Yet, I remember people being very angry at the LoL players. Particularly, DotA players thought the game was childish, cartoony, too simple, too much for babies. Heroes of Newerth later tried to capitalize on that crowd, but couldn’t hold a candle to how massive LoL was becoming.

Image from LOL-SMURFS

Now, League of Legends is still probably the most popular MOBA in the world, but there are a number of competitors. Dota 2 is the second-most popular, with Smite and Heroes of the Stormbeing somewhere in the same range of popularity. So, now that we understand how League of Legends became popular, how can we use that knowledge to understand Fortnite? Let’s get that. After all, it is what this is supposed to be about.

Just got Fortnite, where we dropping?

Fortnite was originally released by Epic Games as a sort of “action-tower defense” game, in line with Dungeon Defenders and Sanctum 2. I remember being excited for it based on the original teaser trailer back during the 2012 Video Game Awards. Yet, a tough development cycle and the years of interest in that type of game passed, and Fortnite released to the excitement of… no one. So, the triple-A giant of Epic Games was left with two options: fix the game and continue trying to market it, or try a new game. The style was there with Fortnite, so it would be a waste to abandon all those valuable art assets. Eventually, they found inspiration in one of the biggest titles of 2017, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is a realistically designed battle royale shooter, where 100 players are dropped onto a deserted island littered with weapons, and everyone battles to be the last one standing. It’s kind of ugly, filled with store bought assets, has janky physics, and really doesn’t have anything that visually stands out. And it became a massive success, due to both the addictive nature of the gameplay and the brand new genre it was introducing. Okay, it wasn’t that new, it’s ripped from an Arma 3 gamemode and DayZ, sort of. Yet, it was the first one to really bring the genre to the masses. Everyone was watching this game grow, and among those watching was Epic Games.

Epic Games, being a smart triple-A company with assets lying around, got to work quickly building their own competitor. They took the Fortnite art style and buildy-shooty gameplay, slapped that on the battle royale formula, and added their own flavor and spice with custom emotes and costumes. On top of that, they heavily marketed the game into the world that didn’t have many options. Finally, they made a bold choice to make the game free-to-play. Despite the losses they had from Fortniteclassic, they figured Fortnite: Battle Royale could bring back that dollar dollar if it was successful. It was a huge risk, but since they not only had the ability to easily port to consoles, they figured it would pay off. To figure out if it was a good idea, just remember that Bluehole considered suing Epic Games for jumping on “their genre”. Bluehole was scared. And they had a reason to be.

Fortnite: Battle Royale quickly rose in popularity, both on social media and with the playerbase. According to an article on Engadget, Fortnite: Battle Royale managed to gain 45 million players in under a year. It’s cartoony art-style, smaller map, and more stable gameplay led players to a much smoother experience. On top of that, it was free, and could be played on console. PUBG only recently came to Xbox One, but that release was a bit… well… less than perfect. Now that PUBG had a direct competitor, the smaller company floundered in dealing with their slowly dwindling playerbase. There’s already been immense criticism lobbied against Bluehole for their handling of the game, and that resulted in loss. In February, the game suffered the first loss in players it had ever had. Fortnitegrows, and takes away players from the pioneer game. Just like how League of Legends managed to steal away DotA: All-Stars players and crush Heroes of Newerth. At the very least, Fortnite is a good game because of quality memes like these:

The future of Fortnite and Battle Royale

By comparing the two games and their growth in popularity (LoL and Fortnite), it makes sense to me that battle royale has become the new MOBA. A new genre that came from a small niche game, now played by millions of people. With every success comes the copycats and people jumping on trends. Companies like Activision and Ubisoft are already looking at battle royale, salivating at the thought of more money. Hi-Rez, the perpetual trend-jumpers that they are, have already released Paladins: Battlegrounds (which looks exactly like Fortnite). Finally, possibly the saddest attempt at the genre that will ever exist minus terrible mobile rip-offs, Boss Key games have released their second billion dollar franchise Radical Heights in XTREME Early Access. And, well, just look at it.

Battle royale has a lot of room to grow, though. People thought the MOBA genre was done to death, but Hi-Rez still managed to innovate on it (for once) with Smite. Heroes of the Storm also carved a comfortable niche for people who like faster games and Blizzard characters. And, of course, Dota 2challenges LoL for the top spot. League of Legends may be at the top, but it has competitors. Fortnitewill likely be the same way. I imagine that, if Bluehole can manage to pull their heads out of their A-holes, it will release some big, new version to be the more hardcore alternative to Fortnite’s Pixar game. Though, I will say that if we follow the MOBA genre, triple-A studios will abandon their projects once they realize they aren’t making all them money immediately. Rest in peace Dawngate, you were gone far too soon. I’d like to see a battle royale that plays with the idea of loot being carried between rounds, sort of like a rogue-lite multiplayer game. That could be an interesting concept if done well.

For now, Fortnite is at the top, and not only threatens to keep battle royale for itself, but possibly even multiplayer gaming. I realized at some point that I was the jealous competitor I once mocked, playing League of Legends while Fortnite becomes massive. Now I know how the StarCraft players felt when League of Legends took their spotlight in the competitive scene. Will League of Legends be next? I sure hope not. I’ll be out of a job writing NA LCS recaps!

Sources: YouTube, Twitter, The Verge, LOL-SMURFS, Polygon, Business Insider, Engadget, VG 24/7PC Gamer, GameRantRock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku

Images: YouTube, Twitter, TMZLOL-SMURFS

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