Being at the Fortnite Pro-Am Tournament gave me a glimpse at where E3 is going next

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There are only four players left in this match. One of them is Ninja, who’s widely considered to be one of the best players in the world right now. The prize pool for the Fortnite Pro-Am Tournament is a vault-busting $3 million, with the winning team taking home $1 million for their charities. The atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve experienced before: every engagement so far has been met with wild cheering from the thousand-strong crowd in LA’s Banc of California Stadium, generating the kind of noise you’d expect to hear if the home team scored the winning touchdown with seconds left on the clock. This is a Duos match so it starts with 50 teams of two all pitted against each other. Ninja’s partner got eliminated two minutes ago when the tower he had lovingly built got destroyed and he fell to his death, so if Ninja wants to win he’ll have to defeat 3 other players, two of which are in a squad together. The storm is closing in. There’s about 100 seconds left of this match. The excitement levels in the watching crowd has reached fever-pitch and I’m just as excited as they are. 

It’s fair to say I’m ‘well into Fortnite’ as I’ve poured hundreds of hours into it and lost entire weekends running round the map over and over again. Seeing a game you love played by some of the best players in the world on a giant screen inside an (almost) brand new $350million stadium that usually plays host to LA’s soccer team is one thing. But add in the fact that everyone around you has done the same thing and we’re all here together and you’ve got the making of something special. This isn't really about who you support in the tournament - it’s about the community coming together to celebrate what they love.

But I’m quite competitive so I feel I need to pick a side. But I can’t. I honestly don’t care who wins, which - considering this is a competitive match - feels weird but there’s something about the atmosphere here that makes cheering for one person or squad over another feel almost wrong.

The majority of the crowd, on the other hand, is desperate for Ninja to win.

The duo squad of Sean O’Malley (he’s a UFC fighter) and Kinstaar push up on Skyyar, raining rockets down from above. They’re eliminated in seconds. It’s one versus two. Ninja makes a play for the high ground, which will be vital if he wants the win. The duo spot the move, then build up on top of Ninja’s ramp, blocking him in and creating a towering structure in the process. But Ninja is one of the best Fortnite builders and tacticians in the world. He retreats to ground level, grabs a jump pad that was dropped by Skyyar when he was eliminated, builds a platform for it in seconds and launches himself into mid-air. This not only propels him to the high ground above the duo - who started to move down the structure looking for a quick kill - but it gives him a bird’s eye view of the remaining playing field. The duo have split up. Ninja focuses on Sean. It’s like watching a lion hunt as it targets the weakest member of the heard. Shotgun from above, switch to Scar fire for a few rounds, back to Shotgun, and Sean is knocked down. One vs One. The crowd erupts. I have chills. 

Because this is duos, there’s a chance that Kinstaar could revive his teammate (standing over him for 10 seconds will allow Sean back in the fight with a small amount of health), but that would leave him exposed and vulnerable to attack so he ignores his partner and goes for the kill. Kinstaar fires off a few rockets and one of them connects. He has the upper hand now. If I was near a betting shop I’d be throwing my money on Kinstaar to win. Ninja immediately builds a one by one protective house but Kinstarr knows he’s in trouble. A couple of shotgun blasts to the wooden walls and they fall away. It’s now a shoot-out. Ninja is on seven health. Kinstaar jumps, equips his Scar, and fires off five rounds. They connect, Ninja is eliminated, and it’s over. One of the 600,000 people in the Twitch chat says “if you blink, you miss everything”, and they’re right. All that action happened in about two minutes and you know what? None of it mattered. This was just a warm-up match.

Below: watch the final moments of the epic match

Ninja and his duos partner Marshmallow would go on to win the game that mattered, taking home the $1 million prize pot for their charities. That game isn’t quite as exciting, as the pair choose to camp it out at the top of a mountain for almost the entire match and finished it off with an easy elimination at the end. But when such a big prize was at stake I can’t blame them. What’s clear though is that E3 is changing. For the first time this year the LA Expo hosted a series of invitationals, tournaments, and events in a dedicated eSports area. The show isn’t just about new games and announcements anymore: it’s becoming a place to experience the games you already love in new and unique ways. Fortnite’s Pro-Am wasn’t a perfect example by any means. Like the game it was a little buggy at times, the audio from the on-stage commentators and the game dropped out on multiple occasions, the action on-screen and the game sound wasn’t quite in sync, and the watching crowd were sat in the mid-afternoon sun for hours without shade. But Epic has been so open and transparent with fans during this game’s short life-span (and continuing development) that almost anything is forgiven, whether it’s extended downtime for backend server fixes or a few hiccups at their first real venture into developing Fortnite’s competitive scene. 

As time goes on I can see more and more developers moving away from big game announcements and demos and towards making E3 a celebration of their existing games. Of course there will always be reveals and big news, but as what used to be an industry-only event moves further and further towards catering for the paying public, things are going to change. And if Fortnite’s Pro-Am is anything to go by, it’s going to be great.