It’s been less than a year since Epic Games kicked off the competitive circuit for Fortnite, but the company says it’s learned enough to make a substantial change to how it balances the consumer version of the game with the one played by pros at big tournaments. In an announcement on its website, the developer says it will now leave a window of time, somewhere between a few days and one week, for players to acclimate to a new update, one that could include game-changing new items, vehicles, weapons, or environmental changes to the map.
“We value the ability of players to adapt to the game changing over time. We also believe these changes keep Fortnite fresh for everyone including players, competitors and spectators. However, we want to provide reasonable time for you to adjust strategies following large gameplay impacting changes, for example prior to official Fortnite competitions,” the developer explains.
This new policy will take effect with the upcoming Australian Open tournament, which Epic says will use only the core battle royale modes for Fortnite. “Fortnite will continue to update every week, however for major, official Fortnite competitions we may adjust for competitive needs,” the post concludes.
This is the first major concession from Epic that its breakneck update cycle — a feature of Fortnite that has helped it stay popular and fresh with hundreds of millions of players for the last year and a half — is having a detrimental affect on the competitive scene. Competitive players like to practice with a known set of variables, such as which weapons work best in certain situations and, in the case of Fortnite, how the interplay between items, map movement, and building affects your ability to fight other players in high-skill contests. Fornite changes so much, however, that it’s sometimes difficult for players to adjust, especially if those changes drop right before a big tournament with a sizable cash prize.
One notable example includes the most recent Winter Skirmish tournament series, in which the over-powered Infinity Blade mythic item became a controversial and game-breaking weapon due to its mobility, destructive nature, and health regeneration capabilities. It was later removed from the game, but not before becoming a major factor in some competitive games. Another example for Fortnite was when a map change tied to the roaming purple cube from over the summer, an in-game narrative event, ended up disrupting the final session of its $1.5 million Summer Skirmish final at PAX West with an anti-gravity field gone haywire.
This struggle to balance game consistency for the sake of competitive play with fresh and fun new updates plays out in other games. Blizzard notably keeps the version of Overwatch played by its e-sports league a few patches behind. That way, new and potentially disruptive alterations to the “meta,” or the most strategically effective way to play a game at any given moment in its update cycle, don’t throw a wrench into the ongoing pro league play. This is an ongoing debate, and it can be applied generally to all forms of e-sports: at what point should a game maker cater to its casual player base at the expense of its competitive one, or vice versa, and should constant balance changes to the game be a natural part of any e-sport, or should video games at a pro level be more static like traditional sports?
For Epic, which is just now really getting a full handle on how tricky these balance issues can be, it’s going to be an interesting experiment. These changes could simply involve more communication to players about what’s changing and what the desired effect might be, and these waiting periods might be few and far between depending on how drastically the game changes in the coming months. Fortnite is set to host its Australian Open tournament during the tennis competition’s final weekend, starting on January 26th.