Free, easy-to-learn Fortnite lets players build walls, bases and fortifications to help them stay alive
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Searching “Fortnite” on YouTube leads to about 22 million videos. The official gameplay trailer, uploaded in September, has 31.8 million views. And in February, the game surpassed 40 million downloads.
To put that into perspective, the population of Australia is 24.7 million people.
Needless to say, Fortnite has become extremely popular since its release only six months ago.
Developed by Epic Games, Fortnite Battle Royale is an online survival game in which players skydive from a flying bus and collect guns, building materials and other supplies to fight up to 99 players. The last player or team standing wins, their screens displaying “#1 Victory Royale!” in bright, bold letters – the only award they receive.
The game has spread to the school as well. In a March 11 poll of 103 high school students, 24 percent said they played Fortnite.
More than three-fourths of the players were boys.
In fact, freshman Elise Sommerhaug is one of only six girls who play Fortnite in the high school. She said she spends about five hours a week on the game, mostly playing with friends – Fortnite has modes for solo players, duos and squads (up to four players).
Sommerhaug usually plays with fellow freshmen Max Wu, Ming Zhu and Hayden Boersma. Wu, who Sommerhaug said is a more experienced player, has 43 wins.
“One time I remember shooting two players down in the sky while they were still gliding down,” Wu said.
“They haven’t even touched the ground yet, and they’re already out of the game!”
Unlike other video games that depict gory deaths, in Fortnite when players die, they just vanish.
When Sommerhaug plays with her friends, she said they often die in the “storm,” an area that hurts and can kill players who are in it. The “circle” is the continually shrinking area that is safe from the storm.
“Usually I’m the person nagging our group, saying we have to go to the circle,” Sommerhaug said.
“They sometimes listen, (but) most of the time, Max, Ming and Hayden are frantic and trying to use bandages and med kits (to keep from dying).”
Sommerhaug hasn’t won a solo game, but she has while in a squad.
Playing alone is more difficult than in a team, senior Bryce Longoria said.
In duos and squads, running out of health doesn’t mean the game is completely over since the player is first “knocked out” and can be revived by a teammate.
“If you get sniped in solos, the game’s over,” Longoria said. “But in squads, you have a chance to keep going.”
Longoria typically plays with his brothers, JT and senior Jake, seniors Harkirat Lally, Reggie Fan, Andrew Rossell and Cameron Collins, and sophomore Chris Wilson and Adam Dean, ’17, a freshman at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Bryce has won almost 100 times, mostly while playing in a squad.
Once when Jake was playing in squads, the rest of his team was killed early on, while he was trapped in one of the game-generated houses.
“(The only weapon) I had left was a pump shotgun, and I got seven straight kills,” Jake said.
“I ended up with close to 10 kills that early in the game!
“And I died from falling off a structure.”
So why is Fortnite so popular?
It’s not because the game is anything new. In fact, it’s similar to other battle-royale-style games, such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG, which was the most downloaded paid game, according to Jake), in that players collect supplies and try to be the last man standing in a Hunger Games-esque environment.
However, Fortnite’s defining qualities are its extremely low price and its novel approach to a traditional survival game.
While PUBG costs $30, Fortnite is free to download and runs well on low-end computers and consoles. It’s also easy to learn, according to junior Mehdi Lacombe, who started playing when the game was first released.
Another special aspect of the game is that players can build walls, bases and fortifications, which increases their chance of survival.
“There are a lot of (other) battle-royale games, but they’re kind of the same,” freshman Joanne Tsai – another one of six girls who play Fortnite – said. “You just collect weapons and try to survive till the end.”
Bryce agreed, saying that players building and destroying parts of the map adds a different dynamic.
“If you throw a grenade at a wall in Call of Duty (another first-person shooter video game), it won’t break, but in Fortnite, it will,” he said.
“It makes the game unique – the players can change the map itself.”
Nevertheless, Fortnite’s worldwide popularity isn’t limited to just 14- to 18-year-olds. NBA players, such as Josh Hart of the L.A. nm, Lakers, have played it. NFL players, such as Juju Smith-Schuster, have played it. Even Drake – an award-winning rapper – has played it.
After Drake streamed the game on Twitch, a livestreaming video platform, searches for “Fortnite” increased 824 percent on Pornhub, according to Pornhub Insights.
Spreading its influence even further, Fortnite released an app for iOS devices on March 15. The Longorias, Lacombe and Lally now have it after waiting in a virtual line for the developer to email them a link to download the app.
However, fitting a game meant for a PC or a TV on a 5-inch screen is bound to lead to issues. The main one, all three agreed, were the controls.
“(They) feel a little clunky, and it’s different from the precision I’m used to with a mouse,” Lacombe said.
For now, Lacombe said he’s sticking with his PC.
“But if I’m ever stuck somewhere with Wi-Fi and bored, I might play a game or two (on the app),” he said.
Through Fortnite, Lacombe has reconnected with his friends in Belgium, where he lived for nine years. They texted him, asking if he played the game and if he wanted to join them. Though they’ve been too busy to actually start playing together, he said, he has other friends in Belgium with whom he plays on the weekends.
But because of the different time zones, Lacombe’s friends sometimes stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. Belgian time to play.
Back when Fortnite first became popular, Lacombe would play for hours with his friends. But now, he said, they’ll play the game for one or two hours and then move on to a different game.
“I still enjoy (Fortnite), and it’s consistently fun, but it lost the brand-new appeal,” he said.
Because of how much Lacombe has played (755 matches with eight wins, totaling 57 hours), he has inevitably met other players through Fortnite’s “fill” system. (For those who want to play in squads but don’t have enough other players, Fortnite can automatically group them with other players to fill a squad.)
Since many of Lacombe’s friends started playing the game after he did, he said he spends most of the game teaching and helping them.
“Sometimes I get angry when they don’t build, and it ends up getting us killed,” Lacombe said.
“Though I could probably win more games playing alone or with other players, I prefer losing games with friends than winning games with strangers.”
—By Allison Zhang