Fortnite Summer Skirmish suffers from its spectating experience

From an alleged cheating scandal to poor a spectating experience, Fortnite's Summer Skirmish has been a work-in-progress. Provided by Epic Games

Perched high above a valley between Tilted Towers and Dusty Divot, Noah "NotVivid" Wright took a moment to collect himself.

Ammo? Check. Materials? Check. A target? At the Fortnite Summer Skirmish Series, it was only a matter of time.

After a few seconds, one of the five remaining players scurried out from under a shallow roof. NotVivid carefully drew a bead on the runner below and fired a few bursts from his blue M4 assault rifle. Most bullets connected, forcing the player to hide and heal. Sensing blood, NotVivid leapt from a Bouncer Pad to the wounded player's hut, demolishing the flimsy wooden panels and securing the kill with a few taps from his green drum gun.

NotVivid's prey? Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, the world-famous Fortnite legend who helped popularize the same diving attack that killed him.

"I should have protected myself," said Ninja, lamenting the hundreds of now-useless mats that could have helped. As Ninja ran his fingers through his neon pink hair, NotVivid scampered away, searching for his next elimination.

Week 6 of Fortnite Summer Skirmish was filled with similarly electric plays, offering glimpses of a promising competitive future despite technical difficulties in the present. Broadcast in concert with Twitch Rivals, this work-in-progress event attracted well over one hundred thousand viewers across its multitude of streams, competing against Dota 2's The International 8 and Week 9 of two western League of Legends Championship Series.

This weekend, Epic Games broke with tradition by repeating a format it had already tried: "King Pin," a ruleset for duos that rewarded aggressive tactics. Each elimination earned a point; recording seven or more as a team activated a Wrecking Ball bonus that doubled the value of eliminations in the next game. A Victory Royale tripled the value, encouraging victorious teams to play proactively and not rest on previous successes.

Epic's incentivization of positivity was underlined by its new payout structure. Duos were awarded part of $40,000 prize pool at the end of every match, a change from previous weeks that paid out based on cumulative weekend standings. With no points carrying over between matches, teams were granted a clean slate with which to achieve victory and not be demoralized by falling far behind the pack.

The schedule was adjusted as well. In a departure from past weeks, Friday and Saturday featured two five-game sets that were region-locked for either European or North American players, exposing audiences to new talent while also easing latency issues. Erikas "Fnatic_Eryc" Vaitkevicius and Tom "Tommo" Owers led all European duos with $35,850 in winnings based on 60 points and two Victory Royales. In North America, the duo of Richard "KingRichard" Nelson and Dylan "Ghost Dmo" Moore finished with a staggering 74 points without ever benefiting from a King Pin bonus, good enough to take home roughly $30,000.

The return of King Pin was no accident. To stay entertained, Fortnite fans demand sustained action through tight firefights, creative edits, and pinpoint sniping. King Pin delivered, offering an elimination-heavy product devoid of the conservative tunneling that turned early formats into bores. No game stalled, fueled by showstopping sequences like Bat9 Evelone nailing a series of headshots with a grey pistol, or Danny "DanzhizzLe" Smol emerging victorious after eliminating five out of the final six players single-handedly.

Yet, while Summer Skirmish has come a long way since Week 1, there's plenty to improve upon. Production values are a clear work in progress, the level of quality changing from stream to stream. Some players use the stretched 4:3 resolution thinking it'll widen hitboxes; others have their mouse dpi set so high it's nauseating to watch. The on-screen noise from subscriber alerts and donation notifications obscures gameplay, not to mention the small kill feed which is often the viewer's -- and frankly the commentator's -- only clue as to who is left alive.

That uncertainty is compounded by the lack of Live Spectator, the God's-Eye view debuted during June's Fortnite Pro Am. Epic has struggled to incorporate the functionality into its online tournaments, managing limited doses for the first time in Week 5. There were no Live Spectator shots in Week 6, and no explanation why. It cannot be emphasized enough how badly Live Spectator is needed for end game build-offs -- though it'd be a boon at all times -- both to identify the remaining players and add context to a confusing sprawl of structures. Imagine Overwatch League broadcast solely from the perspective of Tracer or Genji. It's borderline unwatchable for the uninitiated, and confusing for the rest. Without Live Spectator, Fortnite's potential as an esport has a low ceiling.

King Pin is an exciting mode of play, but it suffers when statistics and standings aren't clearly communicated to viewers. Wrecking Ball and King Pin bonuses deeply impact who's actually ahead on points, but there's never an indication as to which teams have the bonuses active during a game. Bonuses are determined by the stats from the previous match, but when those stats are delayed -- as was sometimes the case this weekend -- they can become irrelevant. Friday's set of European games stands as the worst offender, when stats from the previous four games trickled in only after the fourth game had concluded. A system to convey which teams have active bonuses -- perhaps with a simple bowling ball or bowling pin symbol overlaid on the appropriate stream -- must be implemented for the format to grow.

Growth is the reoccurring theme of the Fortnite Summer Skirmish Series, both in the evolution of its formats and the introduction of new personalities to the scene. NotVivid is one such fresh face, a complete unknown not two months ago. Back then, the 20-year-old was fortunate to stream for a few dozen eyeballs. Now, after earning first place finishes in Weeks 1, 4 and 5 of Summer Skirmish, he's got nearly 80,000 followers and thousands of concurrent viewers. Ninja isn't the only popular streamer NotVivid has bested, and he won't be the last. What form their next duel will take remains to be discovered.