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Adstoppi Blog | Fortnite's next tournament will also be its most controversial

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The future of competitive Fortnite kicks off tomorrow with the Champion Series, and it’s proving to be the most controversial e-sports contest developer Epic Games has ever embarked on. The issue is not prize money or who’s allowed to participate. Instead, the furor is over an in-game mech suit, ripped straight from the pages of classic Japanese manga. And it’s poised to boil over when pro players start competing for an eye-popping $10 million in prize money over the next 30 days.

Epic launched its most recent Fortnite season — the 10th one, dubbed Season X — a few days after the conclusion of its wildly successful World Cup event in New York City, where a 16-year-old was crowned the solo winner and took home $3 million in prize money. It also moved quickly to start planning for its next big tournament series, which is now called the Champion Series, featuring a handful of tournaments every week that culminate in a three-day contest in late September. Everything was looking up for competitive Fortnite.

But with the launch of Season X, it became clear very quickly that something was amiss. The season, like most others during the game’s meteoric rise to the top of the gaming zeitgeist these past two years, came with one giant, headline-grabbing addition. In the past, it’s been game-changing elements like pilotable airplanes and sometimes drastic map changes, like a floating island or an enormous volcano. This time around, it was mech suits, referred to as B.R.U.T.E.s in the game. They require two-people to pilot them, but they’re devastating in the hands of even a moderately skilled pair of players, granting 1,000 health (or five times the max of a human player) and an array of weaponry that can shred even the most talented of builders in seconds.

Many players have taken issue primarily with how unfair the mech suit can be to play against, with piloting enemies able to fire off 10 heat-seeking missiles every few seconds. Combined with the suit’s high health, stomp ability, and fast-firing combat shotgun, facing off against one is all but a death sentence, save for rare situations in which a group of players can shred enough of its health fast enough to avoid defeat.

On top of all that, Epic initially had the chance of numerous mech suits spawning at the beginning of matches set to 100 percent, effectively ensuring every match would involve a race to see who could grab the pilot seat first. The result has been an unprecedented level of community backlash over what’s seen as a game-breaking addition and a serious headache for Epic going into its next big tournament series.

At first glance, the uproar is another example of the inevitable tensions between Fortnite as a massively successful commercial product enjoyed by millions of more casual players and Fortnite as a high-profile, competitive title taken seriously by popular pro gamers and e-sports organizations. Epic seems to adamantly refuse to splinter its game between a casual version and a competitive one. So every item, vehicle, or map peculiarity present in the normal game becomes available even when millions of dollars are on the line.

We’ve seen this play out before with the Infinity Blade item during the Winter Skirmish, an anti-gravity glitch during the finals of the Fall Skirmish, and countless other instances of the game’s mainstream features interfering with its competitive scene. Whether it’s airplanes you can fly high and out of sight or mechanical balls equipped with slingshots that make you hard to hit, Epic has always added, and then tweaked, elements of its game designed to make it more fun, approachable, and unpredictable so that it didn’t totally throw off the competitive balance. And those additions are typically “vaulted” — the community term for sent to virtual purgatory — after the current season ends, where they sit like unwanted toys waiting to be brought back for a limited time mode or seasonal celebration event.

But season X has been different, partly because Epic’s decisions, and the lengths to which it’s going to stick to its guns, feel more inexplicable this time around. It’s also partly because people are just plain pissed.

Not only are the mech suits running rampant over tried-and-true strategy, but the Fortnite map now features a temporal vortex around one of its most popular drop spots, in the center of the island, that prevents players from building any type of structure or even farming materials. That makes it particularly contentious among competitive players, who worry a final circle could inadvertently trap players inside a zone that removes the most prominently competitive aspect of the game. More recently, Mega Mall has reverted back into classic location Retail Row — only this time, it’s infested with zombies.

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