The first Fortnite World Cup has been held, with the winner, a 16-year-old from Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania, taking home the $3 million top prize.
The response to this story has been predicably polarized. Some think it’s great that such a popular form of entertainment is finally getting the recognition it deserves. There were 40 million contestants vying to get into the Fortnite World Cup, a field that must have been strenuously winnowed down to the 100 who made the final cut. Video games are a bigger business than Hollywood, and have been for years. The people who play them can make millions of dollars through their own streaming channels and endorsement deals. Resistance to these developments is clearly futile. And anyway, as Steven Johnson argued in Everything Bad Is Good for You, video games are actually a healthy past-time, involving complex problem-solving skills, among other things.
Critics, and I include myself in this category, have their doubts. I get that video games are popular, and big business. And I have nothing against their professionalization. Elite gamers may as well make money out of this. I also understand the draw for people who just like to watch. Maybe they’re picking up tips to improve their own play, and maybe they just find the players entertaining.
But I don’t think video games are good for you. They are extremely addictive, and very consciously designed to be so. Encouraging any sort of addictive behaviour is bad. I also don’t think people learn anything from video games or pick up any worthwhile skills by playing them. In addition, I think they’re harmful to one’s health. If “sitting is the new smoking” I don’t think the example of teenagers who are spending 8-12 hours a day in front of a screen, as some of the contestants to the Fortnite World Cup said they had to while “in training,” is a good one. Wouldn’t young people be better off swimming or playing soccer? That’s good for the body, and team sports can build social skills as well. It seems to me that sports are also less directly commercial than esports. Sure there are professional sports like hockey and basketball, and kids dream of making it into the big leagues, but these video game tournaments strike me as just being advertisements for a product. Soccer is a sport first and only at a higher level big business. Video games are a business, period.
Is the Fortnite World Cup the end of civilization? No, but I don’t see it as a step in any good direction. That said, I’m comfortable now being on the wrong side of history.