The Fortnite Summer Skirmish Series was supposed to be Epic Games' kickoff to its $100 million investment in its massively popular game as an esport. Over a two-month period, Epic's plan was to award $8 million in all, with each week having a tournament with a different format.
Things were supposed to start off Saturday with a duos tournament; Epic invited 35 teams to the event consisting of pros and personalities, and the rest of the field was filled by top performers in Showdown.
But Saturday's tournament left more questions than answers for Epic and its players, including where the prize pool is going and what the game developer can do to shore up its online tournaments for the rest of the series.
The rules for Saturday were simple: All teams would play together in 10 separate matches, and if a team could grab two victories, it would automatically win the first-place prize of $50,000. If no team could win twice and every match resulted in a unique winner, the team with the most kills would take home the top prize. To try to incentivize action, Epic also announced the team with the most eliminations at the end of each game would be awarded $6,500, with the money being split if teams tied for eliminations.
Everything made this look on paper like it would be a strong follow-up to the Fortnite Pro-Am live event Epic Games put on in June at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. Other than a delay to the beginning of that event and some erratic observing, the Pro-Am itself was heralded as a major success, as Fortnite poster boy Tyler "Ninja" Blevins and duos partner Marshmello won the grand prize for charity in front of a packed crowd.
This was not the Fortnite Pro-Am.
In Saturday's online event, hosted on North American servers with an international field of players, the game's servers lagged. Players seemed stuck in proverbial quicksand with how bad the delay was, and teams were eliminated without even having a chance to participate because they were not able to move in-game. Although the event had over 120,000 viewers on the main Fortnite channel and even more on the personal streams of the contestants, fans rebelled against the faulty setup, bothered by the fact the entire tournament felt like it was an uneven playground.
Beyond that, the gameplay was dulled to a snail's pace due to the fact that winning and being the last team alive outweighed the risk of going for a ton of kills in the off chance of winning the $6,500 bounty. This defensive style of play mixed with the server issues led to an event that was unattractive to the die-hard and casual fan alike.
One poor event with issues isn't going to derail Epic Games. Back in 2012, Riot Games had to delay its League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals because of server issues, forcing one of the oddest situations in esports history. The failure led to Riot getting better at hosting events and strengthening its hold on the gaming world in the coming years. In comparison, the first week of Summer Skirmish being a failure is nowhere as big a debacle as Riot's, and if it can be a learning experience for Epic, it can only result in positives.
What has made Daniel "Keemstar" Keem's breakout weekly Fortnite tournament, Friday Fortnite, one of the biggest esports successes in recent history has been not only the fusion of pro players and personalities but the aggro games it produces. In Keem's tournaments, the field is broken up into a double-elimination bracket format, with opposing teams being grouped into squads and the team with the most kills after two separate games being named the victor. It doesn't matter if you see "Victory Royale" at the end. While it obviously benefits you to get to the end to have the chance of racking up the most eliminations, being proactive is awarded more so than hiding, leading to games where teams will strategically put themselves in difficult situations to start with the hope of grabbing an early advantage.
In this week's edition of the Summer Skirmish, winning at the game's version of hide-and-seek can award you the title, which, while definitely a playable strategy, doesn't lead to the best viewer experience. Neither does a lack of actual gameplay. The opening tournament of the event was cut short after four matches because of the server's being unwilling to continue with the heavy load it was under from all the international connections. Kevin "Kevie1" Bed and his partner, NotVivid, were awarded the first-place prize after winning the second of the four matches played.
"Thanks to all the participants we had out in the first week of #SummerSkirmish!" posted Epic Games on its official Fortnite Twitter. "We'll be using different formats each week. We're looking into improving server performance and ironing out issues as well."
Is it the end of the world for Epic Games? Of course not. The game is still a phenomenon and picking up steam by the day. Even with a less exciting format and massive server issues, the tournament was far and away the most watched thing on Twitch of the day, the viewership far outdoing Riot Games' European and North American League Championship Series and Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch League, which is currently in its playoff stage.
But let this be a lesson. Sometimes even the most popular game in the world supported by mega-celebrities and backed by millions and millions of dollars can fail, and not even Drake himself can save Fortnite from some growing pains in its quest to become the world's top esport.