Whether it be in Greek housing, dorms or even on the Northwestern memes page, Fortnite Battle Royale is gaining popularity across campus. Even those who don’t play many video games find themselves drawn into Fortnite’s hype and play for free with friends on PCs, consoles and iPhones.
Fortnite joins a new game genre called Battle Royale. In these games, players are often spread around a map and fight it out to be the last person, or team, standing. In this Hunger Games-style combat, it’s not about who gets the most kills, but who can outlive the other players. Fortnite lets players choose where to drop around the map, and once they land, the race to find the best guns and resources begins.
“It’s not like other shooting games where you die and can respawn,” McCormick sophomore Shu Han said. “You get one shot and you gotta do it. It’s high risk but high reward, which gets addicting.”
To keep people constantly engaged, Fortnite allows players to customize their characters with skins, which are different character and weapon designs, emotes and dance moves. Some can be unlocked through playing the game, but most can only be purchased, and the store changes every 24 hours.
The uncertainty of what will be available at the store causes players to heavily invest either money or time, because they don’t want to miss out out on a good skin that may never reappear. These in-game purchases, which don’t give players any competitive advantage, have earned the company over $100 million a month since February. Han said he has spent $35 on the game so far, $20 of which went to a Lunar New Year dragon-themed parachute.
McCormick sophomore William Reinhardt shares an account with his roomate on their PS4. He really enjoys playing with friends and will play a game or two every day with them. While skins and leveling up are big selling points for Fortnite, players like him don’t want to spend money, especially not on a free game.
“It’s fun to have a cool skin, but I would never spend money on a skin,” Reinhardt said.
Instead, it seems the main attraction for Northwestern students is the ability to quickly jump on and play a game for 10 or 15 minutes with a squad of friends.
“I got into it from watching people play at the [Delta Chi] house, then I started playing myself. I mostly play with my friends; I think it's much more enjoyable that way,” McCormick sophomore Zack Aslan said. “My play time heavily depends on how much work I have. If I have lots to do, I won’t play at all, but if I have downtime during the night and I don't have any other plans, I'll hop on for a couple hours and play.”
Students who can’t commit tons of time to a game can still enjoy Fortnite because of its less serious nature. Many students enjoy the mix of randomness, skill and fast-paced gameplay that constantly makes them feel they could win any round.
“I keep playing because I enjoy the fact that no two games are alike,” Aslan said. “Every game, something different happens, which keeps it exciting.”
Even without putting in the hours to practice things like aiming and general game mechanics, casual players can stumble upon a good gun or find a good hiding spot that allows them to beat out 99 other players.
“I think people find it addictive because it’s fast-paced. The battle royale concept is easy to learn, but like most shooters, is hard to master. It keeps both new and experienced players interested,” said Shane Stockall, a recent McCormick graduate who took many game development classes. “I think it’s erring on the side of casual play, but I think there’s a good chance a competitive scene will develop.”
Beyond just hooking Northwestern students, the game has attracted a player base of over 45 million. Fortnite has become a cultural phenomenon with both casual and serious gamers worldwide. Even popular celebrities outside the gaming world have joined in on the craze.
Last month, Drake joined the most popular Fortnite streamer who goes by the nickname Ninja, and the two had a peak viewership of over 600 thousand, even before Travis Scott joined them. Ninja makes over $500,000 a month playing Fortnite for his viewers – that monthly income is about 10 times what a recent Northwestern graduate makes in a year. With such high potential salaries for Fortnite players, it’s no wonder Northwestern students spend so much time playing it.