Epic v Apple trial shows Fortnite Esports unperformed, but keeps title relevant
The ongoing Epic Games v Apple trial has led to a number of internal documents becoming public. Among them are bits about a never-finished Metroid crossover, conclusive proof that Fortnite completely funds Epic’s other ventures, and the small detail of Fortnite esports underperforming by quite a margin.
Among the Epic Games Apple drama, teens screaming “free Fortnite” and Epic spending over $1 billion to secure exclusives, a key nugget of information came to light about Epic’s “overestimated esports opportunity.”
Some recent documents are suggesting that it might not have been the success that Epic expected. Epic’s big push to make Fortnite a competitive game was expensive. For a few years, they were handing out prize money as if hyperinflation was kicking in. In 2019 alone, they reportedly gave out an excess of $70 million in cash prizes to young players.
It seems this might not have yielded the results they expected though. While it does look pretty conclusively like esports wasn’t as big of a success as Epic hoped, it is hard to separate it from other fillings. Fortnite’s extreme profits might not have had the same boost from esports, but there’s a decent case to say that Fortnite esports may have done more for the game than these stats imply.
How Fortnite Esports underperformed
The documents submitted as part of the ongoing legal battle between Epic and Apple shed a bit of light on the performance of Fortnite. While it showed Fortnite earned over $9 billion for Epic, even in its early years, they were short when it came to esports income. Epic had anticipated that Fortnite esports would help the game meet a target of 4.59 billion in profit. Instead, the game earned $4.2 billion. Hardly a disappointment, but Epic specifically placed the blame on Fortnite esports underperforming. As Fortnite is a relatively young esports, it may be that Epic overestimated just how much income competitive Fortnite could generate.
These numbers would put the cutbacks into more context. Since 2019, Epic has scaled back the Fortnite prize pools. While it has flip flopped on cuts a few times, the events are smaller. They have eliminated the separate tournaments for different devices and reduced the number of major level tournaments. Further reductions in esports earnings are to be expected too, since Covid-19 has impacted all live esports.
While Fortnite esports underperforming looks bad, it might not be the disappointment that the headlines imply.
The Good and the Bad
Fortnite esports underperforming doesn’t look great. Then there the cutbacks they’ve made since. Also the overall downturn for esports since Covid-19 started (years after these numbers). In all, competitive Fortnite doesn’t look the healthiest right now. However, there is a lot more to the issue than a simple over or underestimation of revenue.
Epic is a private company, not publicly traded. This means they have no shareholders or interested parties that they have to disclose financial information too. Documents like this are only out in the open because of a court case. It is a rare glimpse inside. However, it does naturally limit how much we draw from a single internal document.
Fortnite has had incredible levels of revenue since launch. The effect of Fortnite esports might be difficult to separate out from that as a whole. Fortnite relies on its popularity and regular updates to keep generating this money. Regular players partake in more events, buy more bucks, and keep the game in the headlines. This keeps players coming back. Fortnite can make such revenue because it is still relevant. Even with challengers like Warzone, Fortnite continues to be one of the most profitable ongoing games. Esports might be vital to keeping that status, and with it Fortnite’s entire revenue.
Esports keep Fortnite relevant despite performance
People discussing and asking if Fortnite is dying is common. People love to speculate about the health of a game. It’s also true that Fortnite’s has had plenty of downturns. You only have to track when they offer cosmetics for bringing a lapsed friend back to see that. However, events like the Fortnite World Cup and the Black Hole launch of Chapter 2 still bring the game to peak attendance. More players mean more revenue.
Most games struggle to retain that size of a player base and popularity for as long as Fortnite has. That’s especially true when there’s so many copycats and competitors. What keeps Fortnite earning so much is its seemingly permanent status as a popular, living game. Esports is a major part of it. Big esports events bring stream watchers, betting doing Fortnite betting, and more people playing.
The Fortnite World Cup made instant-celebrities out of its winners, particularly Bugha. This kind of attention got Fortnite into headline news in many places as a worldwide tournament. It also got the game featured on all sorts of traditional media. All of this keeps Fortnite relevant. Esports keeps streamers playing Fortnite and competing. It puts Fortnite in the headlines without any new content. All of this helps generate income.
The lively esports scene in particular is something Fortnite really has over Warzone. There are Warzone tournaments, but mainline Call of Duty keeps the players too busy for Warzone. Fortnite’s regular competitive events that anyone can enter are a major advantage. While Epic might think Fortnite esports underperformed. Its contribution to Fortnite’s overall popularity and position in the zeitgeist is hard to measure.
The Downside – Fortnite Esports keeps underperforming
The other side of all this is the things that Fortnite esports hasn’t managed to do. Even before travel bans and lockdowns, Fortnite didn’t develop regular in-person events. It also doesn’t suit itself to teams and orgs, and there was little opportunities for Epic to get people attending in-person events. This is a major source of revenue for other esports tournaments and organizations. Fortnite doesn’t do this, which might be partially why it has less direct esports revenue.
While that’s true, its contribution to keeping the V-bucks flowing is hard to put into a dollar amount. Fortnite esports keeps the game at the top of Twitch and popularity sustains itself at a constant rate. While Epic might be underwhelmed with direct income, it isn’t going anywhere. These new developments shed a bit of light on how Epic views Fortnite’s development, but it probably isn’t a reason for concern. Fortnite esports underperforming in direct revenue doesn’t mean they aren’t a big positive for the game overall.