With the announcement of Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer being hired by Epic Games, we have to wonder what that could mean for Fortnite esports.
The Overwatch League is one of the most ambitious esports undertakings ever. Expansion slots for the second season went for upwards of $40 million as a host of new teams joined.
The OWL is unique because it is operating under a city-based structure where teams are run by organizations but are ultimately separate entitles. By 2020, the goal is to have all OWL teams play in their home stadiums.
Nate has been leading the charge on a lot of that. On Friday, May 24th it was announced he has been hired by Epic Games. His official role hasn’t been announced, but if Epic offered him enough money to leave his spot in the OWL, he has to be entering a senior leadership role for Fortnite esports.
Quick note, it has been speculated that Nanzer has been brought on to help with Rocket League, but in the official announcement he specifically says Fortnite. As the flagship title for Epic, most popular game with a disorganized esports scene, it makes more sense for him to be working on Fortnite anyway.
Who is Nate Nanzer?
He’s an executive who has been working in market research firms in the games sector since the 90s. He spent eight years apiece at two different firms before joining Blizzard in 2014.
He was put in charge of Overwatch Esports before the league began, and then was named commissioner of the league before the first season.
Besides Jeff Kaplan, he has been the Blizzard executive most associated with Overwatch esports. His work developed the Overwatch League and brought in those huge investments from traditional sports owners like Robert Kraft, Stan Kroenke and Jeff Wilpon.
He’s been focused on the gaming world for a long time and has proven he is able to build up an esports ecosystem, basically from scratch.
What can Nate Nanzer do for Fortnite?
Consistency. Right now that is the main thing missing from Fortnite esports. Epic has experimented with a wide variety of events in the ten months since they began the Summer Skirmish.
Each one looked a bit different, used different scoring systems and formats, had different ways to qualify.
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What Nanzer can do is create a formal structure for Fortnite esports. He will have two months as they are fully committed to the World Cup, then whatever his plans are will be announced.
If you look at the biggest esports in the world they have set times for flagship events. League of Legends Worlds happens in the early fall, Overwatch League finals happen in the summer, Dota 2’s The International is every august and CS:GO’s IEM Katowice is at the beginning of march.
Fortnite needs that structure. They need clear ways to qualify for events and a solid scoring structure that makes sense and is easy to follow.
Battle royales have a lot of issues for esports that games like Overwatch do not. Head to head games are simple while Fortnite needs to use some combination of kills and placement to determine the best players.
Nanzer will have two months to figure out the best way to cement Fortnite esports for the future.
What Fortnite esports could look like under Nate Nanzer
Now we are going to try to figure out some ways Nanzer could accomplish a formalized Fortnite league. To start, they need to separate competitive and casual playlists. This has been the case for a long time, and it isn’t immediately clear why it hasn’t happened already.
Have one team balance the competitive game and have one team work on making the main mode the most fun it can be. That provides the solutions Fortnite needs, but for some reason it hasn’t happened.
Regardless of that, let’s look at possible league structures.
The best example of a battle royale league is in PUBG. While not as popular as Fortnite in America, PUBG is still the battle royale of choice in Asia.
They structure of “PUBG Global Esports” resembles League of Legends in many ways.
They hold regional competitions in America, Europe, Korea, Japan, China and Chinese Taipei. Teams compete amongst themselves, getting together for global events after each of the three phases.
Scoring is tracked on a cumulative leaderboard, if you are familiar with racing events it is similar to that. Each week, all 16 teams drop in together, and the points earned through kills and placement go towards the overall leaderboard.
Top teams after each phase get invited to the global events and the bottom teams have to fight to not get relegated. PUBG wasn’t the first to use this type of league, that was actually the now-defunct H1Z1 Pro League. They pioneered the use of the cumulative leaderboard taking place over an extended period of time.
The benefit of that is that as more weeks are held, the more skilled players rise to the top of the pack. H1Z1 also had a unique scoring system, and one I really enjoyed. Instead of having placements give a set amount of points, they became a multiplier for kills.
In Fortnite terms, that means someone in a Baller all game who finishes in fifth place receives no points if they don’t get a kill. On the other hand, a squad that goes aggro and gets 20 kills total but finishes in eleventh would get no multiplier but still have 20 points.
In the H1Z1 Pro League, first place got 2x their kills, 2nd through 5th got 1.5x, 6th through tenth got 1.25x and 11th through 16th got no multiplier. This model would have to be adapted for Fortnite, but provides an interesting mix of strategy and aggression.
The other interesting detail between the H1Z1 Pro League, PUBG Global Esports, and Fortnite is that the first two are squad based. Fortnite on the other hand has focused on duo and solo competitions almost exclusively.
It would be interesting to see if that changes under Nate Nanzer and Fortnite pushes towards a model more similar to those other battle royale titles. The consistency of it makes a lot of sense, and having slots in the league makes organizations more willing to invest in their Fortnite players.