How Fortnite Shaped the Esports Industry in 2019 and Beyond

How Fortnite Shaped the Esports Industry in 2019 and Beyond

Written by 

Coleman Hamstead


4th Jan 2020 21:00

2019 was an amazing year for esports, in large part thanks to Fortnite. Let’s take a look at the impact Fortnite had on the esports industry in 2019 and what Epic Games has in store for competitive Fortnite in 2020.

One of the highlights of the 2010s was the blossoming of the esports industry. If you told someone ten years ago that your dream was to be a professional gamer they might look at you funny and say something like, “yeah...right.” Back in 2009, esports was an entirely different thing. While it certainly had a following and was on the rise, the general public did not view it as a legitimate career option. Prize pools were significantly smaller; the total prize money awarded in 2009 was just over $4M USD. Not a single competitor made over $100K USD and only three earned over $50K USD on the year. While these numbers are nothing to scoff at, they are a drop in the bucket compared to the prize money of Esports today.

Let’s compare these numbers to 2019. In 2019, esports tournaments awarded over $215M USD in prize money. Ten years ago, earning over $100K USD during a single year of competition was unheard of. In 2019 alone, 288 competitors earned over $100K USD. Those new to esports may even see $100K USD as “chump change” nowadays. 2019 saw 15 different competitors become millionaires.

It is safe to say that esports in 2019 was a completely different beast than it was a decade ago. The media and the general public have been forced to acknowledge and respect the power and influence of esports. Esports stars such as Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf have appeared on The Tonight Show and CNBC to discuss esports and their success in the industry. Colleges and universities are creating dedicated esports arenas and handing out scholarships for gaming prowess. Professional video gamers are making money that rivals that of professional football players and musical artists. An activity that was once seen as childish and simply a hobby has developed into a full-fledged sport and legitimate career.

Ninja Fortnite Adidas
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Fortnite’s Role in the Esports Boom

Epic Games and Fortnite are some of the biggest contributors to the recent growth of esports. If you include the $23M USD prize pool for the 2019 Winter Royale just a couple weeks ago, Fortnite has awarded over $107M USD in its short lifespan. While Dota 2 reigns king with $219M USD awarded, we could easily see Fornite surpass this number in the coming years. Originally released in the fall of 2017, Fortnite has already claimed the number two spot in prize money awarded.

The rise of Fortnite has been monumental, and with its massive success comes increased prize pools for Fortnite Esports. In 2018, Fortnite’s Winter Royale event had a prize pool of $1M USD in total. Just a year later, Epic Games increased that by 23x. Epic Games has made it clear that that they will not be slowing down in 2020 and while the Fortnite competitive roadmap for 2020 has not officially been announced, the prize pools for the coming year will undoubtedly be even higher. Fortnite’s success as a game and cultural phenomenon has been unprecedented and the competitive players are reaping the benefits.

Five of the top ten earners of 2019 were Fortnite players. The Fortnite World Cup held over the summer of 2019 was responsible for this. The 2019 Fortnite World Cup brought with it an insane $30M USD prize pool. The enormous prize pool was split between just the top 200 qualifying players in the solo and duos tournaments. This means each player received a life-changing amount of money — regardless of their final placement. Placing last in the Fortnite World Cup was a guaranteed $50K USD; those at the top would go on to become millionaires.

Fortnite Esports turned ten different Fortnite competitors into millionaires during the year of 2019. Many of these players were teenagers, some as young as 13-year-old Thiago “kinG” Lapp. Lapp placed fifth in the World Cup Solos Tournament and 39th in the Duos Tournament, netting him $950K USD off of one single event. Giersdorf, 16, placed first in the World Cup Solos Tournament and was awarded a whopping $3M USD. His achievement earned him mainstream recognition with features in almost every major news publication in addition to live appearances on USA Today, The Tonight Show and more. The popularity of Fortnite worldwide mixed with its cultural impact has created a unique opportunity. Fortnite has given kids as young as 13 an opportunity to make millions of dollars and essentially become a celebrity.

bugha fortnite
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Fortnite Esports in 2020

Perhaps one of the most shocking facts of all this is that the 2020 Fortnite competitive year is poised to be even bigger and better. Epic Games has shown with their actions that supporting Fortnite Esports is one of their main priorities. It is not outlandish to suggest that the $100M+ USD given away in 2019 may appear small compared to what Epic has in store for Fortnite in 2020. As we discussed before, Epic Games just gave away $23M USD for the 2019 Winter Royale event a couple of weeks ago. If Epic Games is willing to award that kind of money for a totally online event, imagine what they have in mind for the next Fortnite World Cup.

2020 is set to be an exciting year for not only competitive Fortnite but esports as a whole. From the beginning of the decade until the end, esports has evolved from infancy to a flourishing billion-dollar industry. It will be interesting to revisit this article, one, five, or ten years from now and compare the present and the past. For now, Epic Games and Fortnite continue to push the envelope and take esports to levels we have never seen before.

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