Fortnite’s black hole hasn’t gone anywhere, and it feels like everyone’s getting weird with it. Twitch itself is even getting in on the oddity: the company’s channel is showing the black hole, and it’s featuring randomly chosen Fortnite streams from around the platform to highlight. The largest Fortnite streamers are having fun, too — many of them have turned watching the hole into an event.
Last night, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins tweeted that for enough likes he’d hint at what’s next (he whispered “tacos”); Turner “Tfue” Tenney tweeted that he thinks the game will be back up in a day. Earlier today, I tuned into Timothy “TimTheTatman” Betar’s stream, where he was streaming himself reacting to his first games of Fortnite; it drew more than 100,000 concurrent (and nostalgic, I’d imagine) viewers, a full quarter of the game’s total on Twitch.
Speculation about what’s happening has reached a fever pitch, because at this point, Fortnite has been gone for more than 24 hours. For a game that’s redefined the way an entire industry thinks about online games, that’s astonishing: Fortnite popularized the idea of constantly updated content, pushed seemingly weekly to servers; it showed that virtual cosmetics can be a significant ongoing source of revenue; and it has turned online multiplayer games into appointment viewing. Naturally, players are searching for answers, which means rumors are flying about as fast as people can think them up. It’s also meant that hundreds of thousands of people are now watching streams on Twitch for any sign of what might be coming next, and when it could be happening.
The most likely time for #FortniteChapter2 is Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 4am ET - around 12 hours from now.— Fortnite News (@FortniteBR) October 14, 2019
We'll be awake with coverage *if* downtime begins then. For now, it seems that we'll have to continue staring at this god damn hole. pic.twitter.com/LWn8OLYoep
The thing is, those streams on Twitch aren’t really showing much. Presently, when you boot up the game, you’re greeted with a lightly animated image of a black hole; there’s music playing in the background, but not much else. Fortnite, however, is still the most popular game being currently streamed on Twitch. (At the moment, the second-most popular game on the platform is League of Legends, which has just begun its world championship series.)
What does it mean that around 400,000 people are watching literally nothing? I can’t think of any parallels. It’s like if there were a new, heavily promoted Avengers movie coming out and then the execs decided to wipe out its social media presence and then play a weird trailer in theaters instead of the movie. Or, as my editor pointed out, it’s very similar to Game of Thrones’ season 7 premiere, which was a Facebook live stream where people watched a block of ice melt which would reveal the airdate.
That a video game can inspire this level of cultural obsession is impressive. But what’s more interesting is that it’s shown how much the creator ecosystem relies on Fortnite as a place to generate content. Even when the game is literally unplayable, it still manages to occupy the top spot on Twitch.
Earlier in the day, a new trailer was leaked. It seems whatever’s coming is going to be called Fortnite Chapter 2, and it looks like it’s going to feature new mechanics, like fishing and piloting boats, on a totally new map. My theory is that Chapter 2 is going to reorient the franchise around the game’s position as a social network — because more than anything, Fortnite is a place where people hang out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the starting map reimagined as somewhere to hang out with your friends and do stuff that isn’t murder 96 other people on your way to a victory royale. The reason: Fortnite is growing up. Chapter 2 could be a fresh start for the game that accidentally took over the world. The black hole is a chrysalis — soon it’ll crack open into something familiar, yet totally new.