With the US$30 million Fortnite World Cup Finals set to kick off in New York this weekend, Fortnite will be adding yet another highlight to its storied run as arguably the most popular game in the world.
Here’s a quick look back at how it happened, from Fortnite’s humble origins as a PvE horde mode game to its meteoric rise as the world’s most popular Battle Royale game.
It may be hard to believe considering just how successful Fortnite is today, but there was actually a time when the game was at risk of not even being released.
Epic Games first unveiled Fortnite during the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards with a teaser trailer that featured familiar Fortnite mechanics, such as resource gathering and structure building, but with an emphasis on horde mode PvE.
While the trailer focused on Fortnite’s less-popular ‘Save the World’ mode, it highlighted features that would come to set the game apart once it entered the battle royale arena.
Epic Games would not release any new information on Fortnite’s development for years after the original trailer debuted. The publisher only broke its silence in 2014 with a Game Informer cover story, which revealed that the game would be going with a free-to-play model upon release.
Tencent buys 48% of Epic Games
What ended up saving Fortnite from development hell was a landmark event for Epic, when Chinese conglomerate Tencent purchased around 48% of Epic’s shares, or roughly 40 percent of the company, for US$330 million in July 2012.
“We did a bunch of pretty crazy things. For the first time in Epic’s history, we brought in an outside investor, Tencent, who put money into the company and also provided an enormous amount of useful advice,” Epic Games founder, Tim Sweeney, told Polygon.
Without Tencent’s money and support, Fortnite’s development would have likely stalled or gone in a different direction from what it is today.
“Tencent’s involvement in Epic had a similar effect on our ability to make this massive change and make this huge leap without the immediate of fear of money,” added Sweeney.
Release and adding the Battle Royale mode
Fortnite was finally released in early access form on July 2017, albeit only with the Save the World mode available and costing US$59.99 — not the free-to-play game it was previously slated to be. While Fortnite’s initial release was met with modest success, it was far from the juggernaut that it is today.
Epic would later piggyback off the success of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and released its own take on the rising battle royale genre.
The publisher’s decision to incorporate Fortnite’s resource gathering and structure building mechanics to the basic battle royale formula, as well as making the new game mode free-to-play, was instrumental in setting itself apart from PUBG and priming it for success.
Within 24 hours of Fortnite: Battle Royale’s debut, it was already being played by over one million players.
Fortnite started to snowball from there, passing 10 million players two weeks after release. The game would double that count by November.
By early 2018, the game had already amassed over 40 million players.
Global domination and esports
Apart from the massive — and still growing — player base, Fortnite flexed its biceps on Twitch by becoming the most-watched game on the popular streaming platform.
The game gained even more mainstream momentum when streamers like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins started playing Fortnite on stream with celebrities like hip-hop star Drake.
On May 2018, Epic announced Fortnite’s entry into the world of esports with the Fortnite World Cup, and revealed that they would fund US$100 million in tournament prize pools through the end of 2019, culminating with the Fortnite World Cup Finals.
Fortnite has showed no signs of stopping its growth since then, with the game now boasting more than 250 million players.
The future of Fortnite
Where will Fortnite go from there? The two-year anniversary of the battle royale mode’s release is in two months, so something big to celebrate the milestone may already be in the works.
Until then, you can watch Fortnite enter esports history with this weekend’s Fortnite World Cup Finals, where US$30 million in prize money will be up for grabs.