From Football to Fortnite and Back: eSports Goes Full Circle


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If nothing else, human history has proven that the need for sports is inherent in our civilisations. Be it the gladiatorial arenas of old or the modern pitches across which balls roll like heads, the intrinsic nature of sports is not a force to be trifled with.


Two decades into the 21st century, and humankindā€™s electronic domain has seen the evolution of sports in tandem. Digital equivalents of those ancient gladiatorial colosseums now host a modern pantheon of heroes and adventure-seekers, often in pursuit of the glory in resisting conquering forces, defeating insurgents or campaigning to take opponentsā€™ lands. Clearly, while much of the world has become unrecogniseable to our Roman ancestors, in this, humankind has only become increasingly sophisticated.

With the emergence of the suitably dubbed esports, the overlap of this digital activity and its physical predecessor was all but inevitable. And while a better part of the last decade has been squandered on the argument of the key factor of physicality in what is defined as ā€œsportsā€, the secret to progressive sportsmanship, unsurprisingly, lies in collaboration and teamwork.

Enter Fortnite.

Having taken the gaming world by storm in 2017, the co-operative hybrid third-person shooter, tower defense, and survival video game has been wildly successful, spawning two additional free-to-play game modes alongside the original pay-to-play ā€œSave the Worldā€ edition. A modern-day gaming culture to be reckoned with on its own, Fortniteā€™s true anchor in gaming communities is its rapid pop-culture savvy evolution that never fails to tease new fans into checking out what the game has to offer.

Already featuring character skins based on classic sci-fi icons such as the Predator (of the Predator franchise), as well as more contemporary fictional figures such as Din Djarin of Disney Plusā€™ Star Wars series The Mandalorian, Fortnite has evolved from being a pop culture sensation to a digital organism with its finger on the pulse of anything trending. And nothing quite trends like soccer.

Fortnite creators Epic Games bring real-world soccer teams into their battlegrounds!

“We’ve spent a lot of time listening to our players and having conversations with them about what do they want to see next,ā€ said Nate Nanzer, head of Epic Gamesā€™ Global Partnerships.

“Overwhelmingly, the sport that we hear from our players that is most wanted to come to the game is global football, soccer.”

Pele skin in Fortnite

Indeed, Fortnite has collaborated with a current count of 23 soccer clubs across five continents. And the integration of soccer in Fortnite does not end with simple skins and cosmetic features. In addition to the usual partnership fare, players will also be able to witness, and even participate, in special tournaments and events, some of which will be tailored for the game and its audience.

Placing his face on this one-of-a-kind initiative is legendary Brazilian football icon Pele. Not only is Santos FC, Peleā€™s long-time club, one of the many teams available to players, the game will also feature the legendā€™s iconic air punch celebration and even a Pele Cup Tournament.

ā€œWe’re super excited to be able to bring Pele’s famous air punch celebration into the game. We also have a really exciting tournament that we’re going to be running where any Fortnite player will be able to sign up and compete to try to win both outfits and the Pele emote early, prior to launch, for free,” added Nanzer.

Fitting given Peleā€™s reputation for having popularised the phrase ā€œthe beautiful gameā€ in relation to football.

Having already collaborated with the likes of the NFL, Marvel, and Warner Bros., Fortnite’s new partnership with soccer highlights both gamesā€™ cultural significance and staying power.

In an interview with CNN Sport, Chief Revenue Officer of football club AC Milan Casper Stylsvig said, “We pride ourselves on being innovative and forward-thinking. We think there is a clear overlap between sport entertainment, esports, and gaming. That’s the reason we need to be in this field as well, we need to be relevant for our fans and potential fans and especially also attract the younger audience.ā€


Although this isnā€™t the first collaborative initiative between Fortnite and a sport, the association with soccer makes this the most universally accessible collaboration for sports fans across the world, opening possibilities for esports and traditional sports to not only co-exist but also encourage multi-platform competition.

“I can see a world in the future where if you’re a sports fan and you jump into Fortnite, your favorite sport is going to be represented in some way, and you’re going to be able to represent your favorite team,” said Nanzer, his words promising an interesting future for fans and players alike.


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