Kill or be killed. That’s the name of the game for the 45 million people playing Fortnite Battle Royale. Since its release in September, the free–to–play video game gained immense popularity, attracting celebrities from Chance the Rapper to Gordon Hayward, as well as seemingly every Penn student with a gaming console.
For the unenlightened, Fortnite Battle Royale, developed by Epic Games, drops 100 players from a blue flying school bus onto a deserted island. After gliding to a location, players vie for weapons and materials—constructing bases and dodging bullets, in hopes of being the last one standing.
While fighting for survival, players can pick up items from golden treasure chests like boogie bombs, disco–ball–shaped grenades which cause opponents to dance uncontrollably, or a guided rocket launcher. On rare occasions, players can even find llama piñatas stocked with materials and ammo. For many Penn students, some of whom don’t usually play video games, it is a quick, albeit incredibly addictive way to let off steam.
Devan Tierney (W, E’19), whose 40 percent win rate puts him among the very best players, has been a gamer since his grandma bought him a Nintendo 64 at four years old. He believes Fortnite had a unique appeal.
“I got into it right away…We were playing for about ten hours a week, but on certain days we could play all day,” Devan said. “It’s super easy to pick up and be decent, but very difficult to be an expert at.”
The game’s simple mechanics and cartoonish graphics make it particularly attractive with new players. Devan agrees, saying “no video game has ever been this big with average people.” Many Fortnite newbies learn from Twitch creators like Tyler Blevins, known online as Ninja, whose live stream with Drake, Travis Scott, and JuJu Smith–Shuster last month had 628,000 concurrent viewers.
While it’s incredibly difficult for most beginners to outperform the other 99 players in the lobby, Devan explained it’s best to play aggressively. He said he tends to kill around 12 different players per win. On top of that, he advises using a claw grip on Play Station, and Xbox controllers following a few basic tricks. “For a beginner, it’s really a good idea to use a smaller screen, like a computer monitor, and make sure to use a headset.”
It’ll still take a lot of practice building and shooting, but Devan said it isn’t that difficult for new players to start winning a few games. This is hopefully encouraging for newcomers like Angelo Matos (C’19), who began playing the game in late February.
“While I remember being really frustrated for a while, I liked the concept, so I started playing with my friends,” Matos said. “Everyone is playing Fortnite right now. It has taken over pop culture and college culture, which allowed it to blow up.”
Fortnite Battle Royale is the second mode of the Fortnite brand, first released in July. The game is modeled closely off of other battle royale games, like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, released earlier in the year, which also features a “battle bus” that drops players over a green island, before skydiving and escaping a shrinking circle. There’s one main difference—Fortnite is free. That, and cartoon graphics.
Nick Buckenham (W’19) interned for Fearless Media over the summer, a marketing agency that specializes in video games. Nick worked directly on Fortnite, doing data visualization for Epic Games. He explained that he didn’t hear much of the game during his internship as it hadn’t blown up yet. At the time, it was somewhat of a tower defense game that could be played by 1 to 4 players at a time.
“It’s really interesting how it grew. It was originally supposed to just be a single–player tower defense building game. It was mainly about building a fort and defending from waves of attacking zombies.”
Nick explained that the game didn’t become popular until it mimicked Battlegrounds. “They basically stole this really successful game mode, that was very easy to get into and made it more accessible to the masses by adding cartoon graphics and building.”
While Nick couldn’t share any inside tips, as he doesn’t play much, he thinks the game is so popular “partly because it has a pretty easy learning curve. It is structured so that you can get pretty far in the game pretty easily just by luck. You are always getting really close and thinking you are almost winning.”
While the gameplay is ideal for exciting new players, Nick said another attractive component is its price point. “The video game industry is moving from paying 60 dollars at a store to downloading a free game at home,” he said. “The idea is to get people in for free and then get them hooked.”