'Fortnite' jumps from gamer obsession to cultural phenomenon

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The video game "Fortnite" is now a cultural touchstone. The musician Drake joined a gaming icon named Tyler "Ninja" Blevins for his Twitch stream, and NBA players like Josh Hart from the Los Angeles Lakers are streaming on Twitch as well. Developer Epic Games announced recently that 45 million players have signed up to play the free online shooter.

It’s reached a point where there are online petitions to shut the game down because it’s ruining relationships, a sign that something strange has truly happened.

"Fortnite" combines the building mechanics of "Minecraft" with the shooter aesthetics of the game "Overwatch." It’s fun, challenging and not very serious. You can do a happy dance with the click of a button – there are even videos of people doing a "Fortnite" dance in real life.


Duncan McMonagle, senior vice president and general manager of eSports at Minute Media and DBLTAP, told Fox News the video game has caught on because it’s totally free (you can purchase cosmetic upgrades that don’t impact gameplay) and it runs on multiple platforms including Xbox, PC and even the iPad.

“Epic reported over 3.4 million concurrent users in February and is reportedly generating $2 million per day from mobile users,” says McMonagle. “These numbers will grow as the game transcends the usual gaming communities, crossing over into general public awareness.”

Culture expert Annalisa Fernandez makes an interesting point about the game, speaking to Fox News. She says sub-cultures are like a hivemind, a collective intelligence. When everyone rushes to play "Pokemon" or a card-trading game like "Magic: The Gathering," it’s like the “mental software” is reprograming us, using its own language, norms, and identity.

“In any culture, we don’t cooperate mindlessly; we have the option to go it alone, but survival usually depends on specializing and contributing our talent to the group,” she says. “In Fortnite, there’s the ability to work in a group (the squad) or alone in communities within imposed borders (the dystopian island), where communication, leadership, and in the end, luck wins the game.”

Another part of the success is that Epic Games nurtured the community right from the start, sponsoring the most popular gamers and fueling interest on forums like Reddit, marketing expert Kristin MacLaughlin says. “Epic Games are very in tune to their audience and are regularly pushing out new skins and emotes,” she says, referring to an avatar’s appearance and moves.

Of course, any game that makes the jump into pop culture is going to come under fire.

Teachers are not happy, as students login to the game instead of doing their homework. Some professional gamers have criticized the game because it’s overly simplistic and dumbed down. It also borrows gameplay modes from competitors like "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG)."

McMonagle claims that "Fortnite" won’t join competitive games like "League of Legends" or "Overwatch" in the lucrative e-sports market – for two reasons.

One is that the game is too easy to learn and not that precise; it’s not a tactical game or that complex. And, because Fortnite Battle Royale involves 100 gamers competing for survival, it’s not suited for e-sports. “For me, some games are simply better off being fun rather than taken too seriously,” he says.

Maybe that’s why it’s setting off such a firestorm outside of hardcore gaming.