There was something majestic about how I earned my 100th and final Fortnite win. After sitting in a box for five minutes prior and listening anxiously to some YouTuber get their compilation clips, I scampered into the moving circle and sat behind a tree with a Minigun. The only other survivor quickly appeared, leading me to crouchwalk out of safety and light him up with the Minigun for the win. They didn’t build, I didn’t build — it was just thoroughly stupid.
Shortly after allowing myself a victory screech (but a reserved screech at that as it was 3AM and I was simply desperate to hit the milestone), I took a screenshot of my achievement and then deleted the game from my PS4 forever. I’ll still jump into Fortnite on PC for challenge guides and update coverage, but my time playing the game to win is now over. There’s absolutely no way that I will be able to reach 200, 150, or even 125 wins.
I used to be quite decent at Fortnite, 80% of my wins coming between seasons 1-5. I wasn’t fantastic at building, but my game sense and positioning usually saw me through. Few deaths felt humiliating and I could go toe-to-toe with most players, though I never went for a huge amount of kills — my personal record is only 14. I’d play it pretty casually for around ten hours a week and had an okay K/D, but Season 6 came around and I just lost all interest for whatever reason. I moved onto other games, returning for the start of Season 7.
It was like playing a completely different game. The amount of “sweats” was overwhelming, me dying constantly and often to almost everyone — even the most average of players were significantly better than I remembered. It was incredibly frustrating to discover that I had slipped into the below average playerbase, someone who played casually and now felt completely off the pace. I initially blamed it on rustiness from missing Season 6, but I just kept playing and just kept failing with my K/D halving to what it was.
I retreated to quieter landing spots, playing more defensively and avoiding daunting confrontations if I could. I kept to this same tactic over the next three seasons, quietly practising my building and editing as I went, though almost always on my own — all my friends had long ago moved on to other games. No matter how much I tried to “hone my craft”, however, I was always undone by some maniac who could wall replace just by looking at me, snap a shotgun headshot off without even aiming, and crank several miles worth of 90s after being hit with a single bullet. I had been completely and utterly left behind, which was just about the most sobering feeling I’ve ever had in a game, let alone one I had been playing since pretty much day one.
There are a few reasons to blame for the Fortnite skill gap increasing so exponentially over the seasons. Playground and Creative are possibly the biggest, them allowing players to practice all things Fortnite for hours upon hours, either by themselves or with friends. You can tell just from looking at the way some players move and build that they’ve dedicated many evenings to sitting in Creative and grinding out the practice, backed by whatever slender, bland female skin they’re wearing. The next most obvious cause for this uptick in skill is that everyone wants a piece of the content pie — lobbies are now brimming with names like UltraUltimoGammaYT and SephirothsPiles.TTV. The casual playerbase just simply does not exist like it used to, so much so that I dread to think how unwelcoming the game is now for those picking it up the first time.
A skill gap increase is to be expected of any multiplayer game that’s been out for almost two years, though I don’t think I have seen any as pronounced as Fortnite’s. Despite the long breaks in-between, every time I have a Rainbow Six Siege binge, it’s like it’s been no time at all. Every time I picked up the controller for Fortnite after periods away, it was like playing a completely different game. The meta changes so often and the players keep grinding so religiously that I felt myself slipping further and further away from what I once was.
This isn’t really intended to be a critique of Fortnite itself, or even one long complaint about how bad I am at the game (I am pretty bad). It’s just interesting to see how the game has been shaped and shifted over time by its more competitive players, how much the playing field has changed from its innocent earlier days. There are common complaints from Fortnite fanatics about Epic trying too often to shrink the skill gap with more “noob”-friendly items, which include the much maligned BRUTE from Season X: a giant robot that basically does the work for you.
However, you can completely understand why as, two years down the line and with everyone who could possibly be interested in playing Fortnite surely having already played it, the game must now be struggling to attract new players. If your live service game is finding it difficult to pull in fresh blood, you have to take some risks and potentially upset your core playerbase with some more “welcoming” tweaks. No matter what they do, I feel like it will be in vain: no huge overhaul will bring in the uninitiated or the jaded back, so Epic should really start concentrating on keeping the dedicated players just that.
Did I enjoy my time with Fortnite? Yes, mostly. Did I feel like I aged by about one hundred years when getting decimating by its young playerbase? Yes. Do I have any regrets? Kind of. While I’ve had some unforgettable moments with the game, Fortnite has vividly reminded me of the problem with live service games in general. I’ve been so desperately (and tragically) trying to grind out wins and stay a part of the content mill that I have completely overlooked so many acclaimed and beloved games — I’ve had so much fun with my stupendous back catalogue over the last few days. Basically, what I am trying to say is that life is too short to get dabbed on by a 9-year old dressed as a cactus.