Fortnite Summer Skirmish: Report Card

So the Summer Skirmish is over! Fortnite’s first dip into the world of esports has been a bumpy ride. The last 8 weeks has seen a number of tournaments held culminating in the first major LAN event held at PAX West.

This series has been used as a test bed to refine formats, squash bugs and shape the meta. And that means it’s not been without its issues with problems popping up in a number of key areas from the overall presentation to its core competitiveness. At it’s best its been a highly thrilling esport and at it’s worst its been frankly embarrassing.

With the series over and some time until the Fortnite World Cup kicks off we thought it would be time to look back over the series at the key issues and see what was done right and where there is room for improvement.

Network Performance

Fortnite Network performance

A scene like this used to bring the game to a halt.

It makes sense to start here because it had the potential to derail the entire series. Week 1 will go down in history as one of the worst tournaments ever hosted, official or otherwise.

The problem was that participants in a competitive game tend to play differently especially when there are huge amounts of money on the line. This led to players playing safe and “turtling” which meant there was many more alive in the final circles than the servers could handle.

As viewers watched on players were visibly lagging and entire lobbies died to the storm – their avatars unable to move due to the lag. The commentators said nothing. By game 4 it was called off.

They can’t say they were not warned though, custom keys had been given to Pro European players in the weeks running up to the tournament and they all reported back the issues with the final circles.

Even with that warning, it seemed to catch Epic off guard, as they hurriedly worked to improve the net code. This meant Week 2 changed to the pub stomping format previously seen in the Keemstar events. Effectively sidestepping the server issues by playing in public lobbies. It did buy the Epic dev’s some time and by Week 3 the scheduled programming continued with an improved netcode and incentives to kill to reduce the lobby size faster.

And as much to the surprise of everyone it’s worked. The netcode has visibly improved week on week. A combination of factors is at work here – incentives to kill, reduced reliance on building, players are asked to leave the lobby on death and ultimately improvements in the baseline netcode. Let’s be clear it’s not without its problems. Check out this clip from Week 7 to see what can still happen.

It has nowhere near the stability and tickrate of say, CS:GO but what seemed like an event stopping problem became one of Epic’s biggest achievements.

Grade: B-

Presentation

Summer Skirmish Map

The Summer Skirmish has become more watchable as the production values have increased.

Quality of life and Presentation is an aspect of Fortnite that was always top tier but such was the rush to fill the appetite for competitive Fortnite a lot of vital features were left by the wayside.

There was hilarious bad casters from Week 1. The lack of spectator view which led to production using participants Twitch streams for the POV of the players(!). Not every player was able to stream which led to the crazy situation in Week 2 where Idropzz_bodies put up insane numbers and nobody could watch it. Idropzz_bodies has never been invited back and controversy lingers over that result to this day.

But Epic took note and the results are there for all to see. The casters from Week 1 were quickly vaulted to be replaced by Zeke. And while he hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea he has at least played the game. On top of that, they have brought in a rotating cast of co-commentators. All of these guys are major personalities who play at a high level and the added insight they have provide has made the viewing experience more enjoyable. Particular props must go to week 7’s Monster D, well-known for his interviews with Fortnite Pro’s. He looks a natural as a commentator and has set the standard going forward.

The spectator view finally made an appearance in Week 6. And we saw a feature rich version unveiled at PAX West in Week 8.

Anyone who tuned in would have noted how far Epic has come. Not only was there a spectator view allowing the casters to follow the action. We also had live in-game stats that included players health, eliminations, distance to the storm, the current weapon equipped, the number of mats collected and “builds” made. All of this is very welcome though some of these stats are more important than others. “Builds” made is too vague. The current weapon would be better replaced by showing any special items in their inventory such as the port-a-rift or campfires. Mats could also be broken down to type and by those collected by farming or kills.

The picture-in-picture and the all-seeing map are welcome additions. One point of criticism would be the frequent replays of past eliminations. They often come at awkward times and can take away rather than add to the action.

Grade: B

Competitiveness

The caliber of player at PAX West was the highest we’ve seen.

It’s hard to talk about the competitiveness of the game because so many of the “issues” we have encountered have been by design. Its obvious Epic want to open up competitive play to players in a way not previously seen in esports. Questions have to be asked though when it affects top players abilities to play at their best.

Epic’s desire to invite personalities and content creators over pro players can be unfair in a number of ways. If the game is a duo tournament they will invite a pro player and this creates unbalanced teams where you have a handicapped duo up against the likes of FaZe or TSM. If the prize money wasn’t so high it might be forgivable but with $250,000 dollars on the line each week? – it’s messed up.

Week 8 showed us what it can look like when done right. But in the typical Epic fashion, they did one thing right and two things wrong.

First, what they got right. There was 3 qualifiers that if you placed would put you into the tournament proper. This increased the skill level. It wasn’t perfect, a couple more qualifiers to reduce the RNG would be better again, but it was a step in the right direction.

Now for the hiccups. You may have heard that Epic wouldn’t allow any of the participants to bring their own equipment. That meant keyboards, mice, monitors would be left at home. On top of that players had to play on settings decided by Epic, that meant motion blur, shadows, and everything on high. This is unheard of in esports and it adversely affected players performances.

So much so that the winner of Game 1 on Day 2 called them out live on stream. When Zeke asked him why he jumped into the storm to take on the last opponent he stated, “with the settings on the monitor you can’t see people in the storm, it’s broken…” Zeke lost for words at the best of time’s just pretended he didn’t hear him.

Epic show a lack of maturity in esports and it was highlighted by what transpired on Day 3. In the last game of the day two players found themselves tied for the last qualifying place. Equal on points, games won, kills and average placement. On paper this looks like enough to separate players but really with only 3 games to gain a win and of course being equal on points those two stats become redundant.

The only time a tiebreaker would be needed was for the last qualifying place. Meaning only kills and average placement were ever really going to be taken into account. And Epic’s way of seeing who went through? A coin toss. Live on stream. Courage and Dr.Lupo struggled to stay professional as the events unfolded. It was baffling but it is something we have sadly come to expect from Epic.

It didn’t stop there. Game 5 of the Grand Finals saw the final circle center on the recently added low gravity areas. Which preceded to bug out causing players to fly high into the air. It was chaos as players were shot out of the sky while others tried to build a structure that would keep them on the ground. This led Epic to hastily schedule a match 7 with the low gravity sections removed. That might of been the best thing to do in that situation but what if you had won after game 6 and lost by game 7? Epic was lucky this wasn’t the case.

Maybe in future tournaments Epic should use an esport specific version of the map minus the season event elements.

Grade: C-

Viewership

The great success from the series is just how many people are tuning in to watch. It has been a massive success highlighting the huge appetite for Fortnite as an esport. Accurate figures are had to come by. The tournament is streamed across Youtube, Twitch, and Facebook and endlessly diced up for highlight channels.

My unscientific tally of the numbers puts the viewers for each weekend at this. Anywhere between 900k and 1.3 million unique views on the official YouTube channel and a further 400-500k watching live from Twitch with a high during PAX of 700k.

Something to be noted is the phenomenon of watching players participating in the tournaments streams rather than the official one. It wasn’t unheard of to see Ninja’s stream to be in the 100k+ plus range with the official stream trailing behind.

It’s safe to say the Fortnite has taken its place among the top esports and it isn’t going anywhere.

Grade: A+

Summer Skirmish Final Notes

Fortnite PAX West

The PAX West tournament showed that Fortnite has a future as an esport.

So the first round of competitive Fortnite is over and it has been some ride. And while this may read largely negative it comes from a place of love. We haven’t talked about the gameplay and the insane amount of fun that we all know Fortnite is. A huge part of what made the Summer Skirmish enjoyable was how much of what is good about Fortnite made it’s way into the competitive game.  At it’s best this series has showcased the potential for Fortnite to become one of the most exciting and watchable esports we have ever seen.

Overall Grade: B

 

So what did you make of the Summer Skirmish? Did Epic put on a worthwhile tournament? Where do you think they could improve most? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!