It’s Pretty Wild that I’m watching other people play a video game, more than I’m logging on to bag noobs myself. Now, considering the basement brawls waged over Player 1 honors in Mario Kart were hardly a decade ago, what’s very wild, is that, today, it’s actually normal to “game” without a controller in hand at all. The video game industry is undergoing a metamorphosis that has either occurred, or is occurring, in a myriad of other disciplines and activities in today’s day and age. The trend I’m seeing? People prefer spectating to actual hands on involvement. While we need not label that a problem, we must note it as a discernible shift in preference. Now, in the scaling world of video games and amidst it’s transition to the preferred agnomen, eSports, the catalyst of this societal change, goes by the name, Fortnite.
If chug jugs, Tilted Towers, gold SCARS, and a blue-haired man by the name of Ninja are hieroglyphs to your lexicon, then you my friend, are missing the renaissance. Fortnite is a Multimass Online Player Sand Box Style Shooter, and the latest installment of lesser-known video game developer Epic Games. What was a simple “early access” beta test for the South Carolina based company, has quickly amassed video game accolades unheard of and seemingly inconceivable considering the amount of options we are privy to. But, as of the July 2017 release, Fortnite (which is available on Play Station, XBox, and PC) is being lauded as the largest, most mass consumed, and social media/pop culture prone video game of all time. The best part about it? It’s completely free. If I were you, I’d join the other 3.4M people who are concurrently playing at any one time and see what the fuss is all about.
Now, the record smashing reports, front page press coverage, and viral video fanfare would make it seem like 99.999% of players, just play, but that couldn’t be erroneous. While the game is designed to keep people playing forever – delayed gratification, positive feedback loops, dopamine schedules, and assortment of other in-game systems make Fortnite a schedule-1 drug, by any other names, as intended by the developers – millions upon millions are simply watching others fall victim to the Fortnite Effect. Are we all going crazy? Or is our shifting preference to spectating, or streaming as its correctly called, a grander, more pandemic, sign of the times?
I think we can use a good old fashion anecdote to prove todays point. Once upon a time, in my testo-fueled adolescence, I had what I thought to be a somewhat prolific realization. The scene is set in the shower, where I proudly do my best thinking, after a disheartening loss in an intramural basketball game. “Big Mo,” the perennial first pick of the draft, threw down a windmill dunk on a fast break, leaving 5’6” me shocked, awed, and rather crabbed. As the steam rose and I coated myself in Axe Body Wash for Men #ad, I beckoned a rhetorical. How is it that anyone can play basketball, but only an iota of the population will ever, physically, be able to dunk? In essence, a backyard sport with little to no barriers of entry, reserves this inconspicuous members only club for the genetically gifted and I’ll never be offered a bid. I found it strange and rather defeating that the most efficient, advantageous, and pragmatic close-range scoring technique is beyond the ability of most to ever play the game. I turned the faucet, grabbed a fresh towel, and came to understand that in life, some people, put simply, are gifted.
When it comes to Fortnite and the spat-on world of gaming, some are fortunate enough to be touched by god as well. To make sense of the video game watchers populace, lets continue to lean on the basketball analogy, okay. Why watch someone else hoop on TV, when you can just step outside and play yourself? I find the sentiment to be one in the same, really, and the answer to be rather simple. Lebron James. Ever since video killed the radio star, people have been infatuated with professionals showcasing talents beyond their own skill set. As we ourselves fumble in our own attempts to make muscle memory of the fundamentals, we rejoice in our opportunities to sit back and watch those meant to dunk, dunk. It’s not a guilty pleasure, as much as it is human nature. We like seeing the best do we we can not…it’s a strange catharsis.
The difference between basketball and video games though, was that the NBA always had a reachable audience. Therefore, in terms of video games, all eSports needed to make its quasi-Lebron was that same level of accessibility…that’s where Twitch enters our mosaic. The ESPN of video games, Twitch healed the hurt that was the inability to watch others game and bypass the iron curtain that is a closed bedroom door. In tandem with Youtube, Facebook, and other social platforms, video games are finally eliminating the geographical woes of spectatorship by creating content viewable for anyone with access to the internet. You can read more about the NYC-based start up “unicorn” here, but in laymen’s, the streaming platform pulled Excalibur (mass consumption and access) from the stone (personal computer screens and dorm room privacy). When tech meets consumer demand, crazy things happen and Fortnite is just another example of that. Forfeiting controller rights to watch others game was once an early indicator of a maniacal serial killer. Now, “streaming” is as common place as watching the the Cavs play the Knicks at The Garden.
100+ Million Monthly Unique Visitors
15 Million Daily Active Users
2.2 Million Monthly Broadcasters (Streamers)
Circling back to the shower epiphany, we now have the amenities to watch professional gamers “dunk,” as we as a people have always indulged in spectating others demonstrate the gifts that have begrudgingly escaped us. I’ll never be able to dunk and I’ll also never be able to rocket ride through tilted towers or no-scope someone 227 yards away with a crossbow. Ninja and Shroud can though, so why not subscribe to their channels and watch them defy our own inabilities? While it’s not as easy as explaining my love for Lebron, the fandom is one in the same. That’s why I watch, more than I play.