Epic Games prioritizes fan engagement over commercial gains for Fortnite World Cup finals

Epic Games deliberately left money on the table at the weekend’s Fortnite World Cup finals – by eschewing commercial partnerships and linear media-rights deals, as well as having low ticket-price packages – in order to concentrate on growing the brand and maximizing the fan experience.

The inaugural Fortnite World Cup finals was staged at the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York City, from July 26-28.

The top 100 Solo players and the top 50 Duos from around the world competed in the event – based on Epic Games’ hugely popular game Fortnite – with a $30m prize pool up for grabs, including $3m for the winners. The average age of competitors was 16.

Epic Games hired leading global sports, entertainment and fashion conglomerate Endeavor to oversee operations and logistics for the event, as well as its subsidiary IMG Media to manage the media distribution. IMG secured 40 digital broadcasters for the event and supplied the feed to over 50 streamers/influencers’ channels.

Sunday’s Solo final had over two million concurrent viewers on all platforms, including Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Mixer and Twitter.

All tickets – which cost between $50 and $150 – were sold out during the three-day event. Some empty seats at the 23,000-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium each day were a result of all tickets being sold as three-day packages, meaning that seats were left empty if fans decided not to attend every session.

But the goal of Epic Games was to make the event as fan-friendly as possible, rather than to maximize revenues.

“The ideology behind the ticketing process is: this is not about Epic making money off esports. This is about Epic making sure their fans have a fantastic time however they want to have it,” Stuart Saw, senior vice-president of esports at Endeavor, told SportBusiness.

“If you look at lower seating price, it was a three-day ticket for $50. There is no other festival where you can get a three-day ticket for $50. Epic wanted to pass the choice and the opportunity to fans to come as and when they wanted. The idea is – and you can see this at a number of sporting events – to have people on campus as often as they wanted to be rather than focus on having seats filled. That’s not a metric of success.”

Epic Games also decided not to sell any sponsorships or linear media-rights deals, or access to Arthur Ashe Stadium’s corporate suites, to keep the Fortnite brand ‘clean’.

“For a game like Fortnite and the size that it is, it’s certainly not for lack of interest [that commercial partnerships were not sold] it’s more a conscious decision on Epic’s front to want to push Fortnite exclusively,” Saw adds.

“From a commercial perspective, Epic are very unique in that they are the brand you see here and all the sub-brands are worked within Fortnite. Epic’s goal has been to bring this venue and this entire facility to Fortnite in its physical manifestation.”

The choice of staging the event at the National Tennis Center – the home of the US Open tennis grand slam – was also deemed a success.

“The angling of the seats actually lends itself to esports a lot better than the music venues that lean backwards. The campus factor is great [for a Fortnite-themed fan fest], as it is to be in New York. We’ve got people flying from all over the world to come here,” said Saw.

“The demographic of this event compared to other esports event is very interesting, you’ve got a lot of families here that aren’t traditionally at esports events. From Epic’s perspective…the excitement they have for this, having seen this come all to life, don’t be surprised to see more Fortnite [events] in the world.

The United States Tennis Association, for its part, is hoping Fortnite’s young demographic will lead to increased interest from a younger audience to the US Open, which takes place next month.