Ben Rivera opened his snack bin concealed beneath his dorm bed, drawing a bag of sour cream chips. The junior placed the potato slices beside his PlayStation and paced through the darkness toward his fridge to retrieve a bottle of Coke. Through the window, an early March winter storm that had ended sessions at Springfield College following 1:30pm, was Rivera’s only source of light. He didn’t typically turn to gaming this early. But with no class and a weather status of 33 degrees and snowing, running squads on Fortnite was the only option.
“Y’all ready?” he asked into his gaming headset, as he opened the Coke bottle with a satisfying “hiss” of the cap.
Rivera’s phone dinged once. Twice. Thrice. An ESPN update caused the network’s iconic jingle to briefly uproar through the dorm’s silence. But unless it was his friend Matt Cole, notifying him he was joining the group, Rivera wasn’t checking his phone. Anything else would have to wait for the loading screen.
Clad in gray camouflage, Rivera’s level 19 avatar descended toward the map. “I’m landing in Junk Junction for the first time in my career,” he notified his team.
The endless rounds of Fortnite matches take Rivera to the days when he grabbed four or five friends and gamed for hours. “It brings me back to the middle school days when all you wanted to do was play XBox or PlayStation with your friends,” he said. “You’d be in school waiting for class to end so you can go home and play video games. [Fortnite] lets you bring a squad back together and have a great time.”
The idea that would became a 100-player survival test, and later seduce itself into the heart of America’s gaming culture, first surfaced in 2011 at the Spike Video Game Awards. After displaying Fortnite’s trailer, Epic’s former designer Cliff Bleszinski promised an open world game of scavenging and survival. After seven years in the making, the game made its debut in July 2017. As a cross between Left 4 Dead and Minecraft (according to Epic), with art inspired by Pixar, Looney Tunes, and Tim Burton, Fortnite quickly found its way into college housing that fall. The co-op sandbox survival game surpassed the one million player mark on August 18. Since the beginning of October, the sounds of bullets ricocheting, along with police cars and walls being busted in search of defense. Rivera’s voice reverberates through Alumni Hall’s empty first floor wing.
The objective of Fortnite is to survive amongst a group of 100 players. Battle Royale consists of solo or squad play. Players either take an aggressive or conservative approach, either looking to eliminate opponents, or lying low and constructing forts for protection. The last player standing wins.
If a player struggles with building, they’ll be an easy target late in the game. Junior Nick Chin knows that a player must take an elevated approach to attacking. “There’s a certain strategy you want to build the fort with the high ground so you can shoot down on other players,” Chin said.
Junior Jason Robinson reflected on the stakes of panicked aiming under pressure. “If someone’s rushing up on you and you freak out, you might draw the wrong gun or misaim,” he said. “You miss once and you’re going to die.”
Students across campus enjoy the unpredictable variety the game brings. The scenarios are always changing. “You can keep dropping at the same place,” explained Robinson. “But one game you can drop, no one will be there, others you can have four people, then sometimes 10 people drop at the same spot as you. Those players could be good or they could be bad. You could get a really good gun or a bad gun.”
Traffic on the game’s servers can cause 7.5 gigabyte updates to take over 25 hours. Though it’s all worth it in the end, when players receive that next update that brings a new game mode.
“It’s good because it gives everyone something to talk about,” Chin said. “If they keep adding things and updates to it, it definitely will [stay popular]. It’s simple, and that’s what makes it fun.”
Rivera is into his third month partaking in Fortnite. As an eSports enthusiast, he believes it is a platform that can thrive as collegiate gaming competition.
“I can see a future in eSports for [the game],” Rivera said. “If you have a 50 vs 50 match, you [can] have one college’s 50 against another college’s 50 and see who wins.”
Thanks to the constant gamer stress and claustrophobia employed by an ominous storm that shrinks the stage and a pool of skilled builders, the feeling of victory is unlike any other according to those who play.
“You know the odds are stacked against you,” said Rivera. “Whoever wins, you see three of the same Snapchat of that person getting No. 1. You get amped for it when you beat 96 other people. You walk down the halls of any college dorm you’re going to hear the distinct sounds of Fortnite’s gameplay, you’re going to hear yelling, you’re going to hear cheering and you know it’s all because of Fortnite.”
In addition to making its mark on Alden Street, Fortnite has brought the men’s basketball team closer together amidst its NCAA tournament run. Senior guard Ben Diamond attributes a Fortnite victory to the Pride’s clutch win over Cabrini in the second round. “When we were about to play [Cabrini], we were at the hotel for a few hours after lunch. Deonte started playing solo and it came down to the end, he ended up getting a win. It got to the point where we were screaming ‘Let’s go!’ From there we just had a really good feeling for the rest of the day. Our mindset was, ‘we gotta get a dub against Cabrini now. Two wins in one day.’”
Sophomore forward Jake Ross introduced the game to freshman guard Deonte Sandifer at the beginning of the season, and the game quickly went viral through the team. Gameplay occasionally comes up at the table at Cheney Hall.
“There’s levels,” said Sandifer. “Definitely levels. [Top tier] there’s [Cam] Earle, me, Jake -”
“Nah, nah, nah,” Earle interrupted. I’m not a top, it’s either Jake or [Deonte].”
“Charlie [Clay]’s gotten a lot better,” pointed out Diamond. “Charlie’s the most improved player by far.”
“Jake Ross, coach of the year,” added Sandifer.
Some players however, choose to spectate the action. “[Fortnite] gets me tight,” said forward Heath Post. “I don’t have the aim, I just stick to GTA.”
Senior point guard Andy McNulty sits quietly over his food as the team quips. He’s with Post.
“Nutty don’t play that” said Sandifer grinning.
Whether upon campus culture or athletics, Fortnite will continue to grip college culture across the nation for the months to come. “This year’s definitely the year of Fortnite,” said Ben Rivera. Every [trend] comes to an end, but this is a video game that’s adding new game modes. It’s free, it’s really fun and there’s not many games where it’s you, or you and three other buddies, against 96 other people. I think it’s going to stay around for a while.”
Vin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org