All video games decline in popularity eventually; the process is inevitable. For nearly a decade no company rivaled League of Legends’ success until Epic Games unveiled Fortnite.
Since its battle royale mode was released in September 2017, Fortnite has kept League of Legends out of the spotlight and is revolutionizing the way video games are thought of.
When Riot Games released League of Legends in 2009 it provided gamers with a refreshing multiplayer online battle arena game with a high skill-cap and no cost. League exploded in the following years, tallying over 100 million players each month in 2016. Last year’s League of Legends World Championship tallied 57 million concurrent viewers, an increase of 14 million from 2016.
Fortnite saw an equally meteoric rise to success, but unlike League of Legends, the battle royale immediately turned into a mainstream form of entertainment. Epic Games recently announced that Fortnite has 125 million registered accounts with 40 million of those playing the game at least once a month.
It’s mind-boggling to think about how quickly Fortnite managed to dethrone League of Legends as the most popular game in the world, but I’m going to try to break it down.
The Battle Royale Transformation
Epic Games never planned for Fortnite to be a battle royale. The game was originally revealed at the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards as a co-op sandbox survival game.
After the success of the 2017 battle royale title PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, popularly known as PUBG, Epic quickly developed a very similar game type for Fortnite. So similar that PUBG’s developers, Bluehole Studio Inc. and Tencent Games, filed a lawsuit against Epic for ‘asset flipping’.
“Fortnite does everything that PUBG does, only better. It’s free-to-play for starters,” said streamer Bailey Borengasser. “The game runs smoothly on any platform, including mobile devices. It is updated on an almost daily basis and the developers are known for listening to community feedback.”
While the game is based around 100 people dropping into a map to murder one another, Fortnite’s cartoonish art-style caters directly to children whose parents don’t want them playing ‘violent’ video games. This aspect alone makes the game entirely more marketable and opens up a player demographic no shooter has been able to reach in the past.
Variety keeps games interesting and so far, Epic has released an endless stream of in-game cosmetics that can be purchased for real-world money. Fortnite also offers players a free option that revolves around an EXP-based leveling system that unlocks skins, emotes, and keeps them addicted.
The game is currently in its fourth season and the map is continuing to change. Whether it’s the addition of new guns, jetpacks, or drivable shopping carts, Epic has made it a point to switch things up on a weekly basis.
All of these attributes work together and have sent Fortnite skyrocketing in popularity. At some point, a flip was switched. Highly influential figures such as superstar athletes and musicians started to promote the fact that they play the game.
In an age where social media allows information to be shared faster and further than ever before, Fortnite’s influence on society is unprecedented. Players who stream themselves playing on platforms such as Twitch.tv are generating an unbelievable amount of views and revenue.
During a stint in March 2018, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins streamed himself playing the game with Aubrey “Drake” Graham, one of the most famous musicians alive, in front of over 500,000 people. The duo also played with rapper Travis Scott and professional football player JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Blevins has stated that he makes around $500,000 per month streaming Fortnite.
Video games have always been thought of, for the most part, as nerdy and counterproductive. Epic Games and prominent figures in society have managed to flip that mindset upside down.
It hasn’t been all about Fortnite doing the right things; they’ve also gotten relatively lucky. Since its release, there hasn’t been a game launched that could realistically compete.
League of Legends was so appealing because it was extremely competitive. There were so many aspects that separated good players from bad players and seeing your individual improvements translate into victory screens was always exhilarating.
Throughout the League seasons I saw my skills improve, every game I had a goal and I channeled all of my focus into achieving those goals. After thousands of games, I reached the top one-percent of ranked players. I had never had more fun playing a game.
Then at some point, Riot Games began to place more focus on the professional aspect of its game. Who could blame ’em? The competitive scene, or the League Championship Series, was generating huge profit margins and giving the title even more popularity.
Unintentionally or not, Riot slowly transitioned the game into being so team-focused that it was no longer about the individual player. I found myself losing more and more because of poor teammates who I could have carried in previous seasons. Doing well in the game started to mean less and less and eventually, that exhilarating feeling was gone.
Then I finally decided to take the leap and download Fortnite. I had played PUBG and it was fun, but my computer made it impossible to fully enjoy the experience. I went into my first Fortnite game expecting an easy experience against a bunch of 12-year old kids who couldn’t aim worth a lick. I quickly learned what building was and got absolutely bodied.
After a hundred games or so I saw that first bold yellow “#1” followed by the text, “Victory Royale!” That feeling was back. All it took for League to start to crumble was a game that gave us hardcore gamers a chance to chase that again.
I’ll admit that I’m not being completely fair to League of Legends. Despite what Internet memes say or Reddit users scream into their keyboards, the game isn’t dying. In fact, Tencent, Riot Games’ parent company, has reported growth in viewer counts and profits.
Other games have made waves in the past. Overwatch took over Twitch’s most popular spot and PUBG was extremely popular for a stint, but League has always been resilient.
Fortnite is repetitive. Players drop in to essentially the same map over and over again and eventually, like all games, the player base will get bored. The question is how long it will be before that happens and when it does, will players go back to League? Or will there be another game that knocks both titles off of their respective thrones?
Let us know what you think in the comments!