It has been an absolutely absurd week in the gaming industry, where a new game from EA and Respawn, Apex Legends, went from rumored to leaked to released in the span of just a few days. After that, it went from somewhat buzzy to worldwide phenomenon in 72 hours, which is as long as it took to amass 10 million players and 1 million concurrents, something I have genuinely never seen in the industry before.
Apex Legends is fun. It is deeply, unequivocally fun, and I say that as someone who, despite writing roughly 200 Fortnite guides over the past year, is generally not a fan of the battle royale genre overall (I’m more of a loot shooter guy). But everything Respawn has done here, mostly minor UI/usability tweaks paired with smooth, accessible but challenging combat, has taken Apex Legends to the next level.
As a result, Apex Legends has dominated Fortnite at least on Twitch for the entire past week. First inching past it, then blowing past it by anywhere from 50 to 100% more viewership. At the time of this writing, Apex has roughly 5x the viewers of Fortnite early this morning here before the biggest streamers are playing either game. Twitch is not a full gauge of a playerbase, obviously, and Fortnite has 200 million players and had 10 million concurrents as recently as last weekend, and yet the question is still being asked.
Is this happening? Is Apex Legends the chosen one? The Fortnite killer?
This is a complicated question I’ll try to dissect, but the fact we’re even asking it about a game that was announced and released literally a week ago is significant in its own right.
For the most part, usually when a game “wins” a popular genre, you don’t see it unseated. Think League of Legends in the MOBA scene. Overwatch for hero shooters. World of Warcraft for MMOs if you want to go way back. Players have too much time and money invested, and the game has perfected its form too much for people to leave en masse for other titles in the genre, and if there are declines, it’s because players are moving on to other types of games entirely (Overwatch’s current, pressing problem).
Fortnite, arguably bigger than any of those games listed, has felt secure in its Battle Royale throne for the past year, not just as a popular game, but practically as a lifestyle for many kids especially, the game acting as essentially a new form of social network for the youths. But then here comes Apex Legends to upset the apple cart and suddenly every kid’s favorite Fortnite streamers are going all-Apex, all the time.
But I think it is way, way too soon to rush to judgement about what’s happening here, and far too early to count Epic and Fortnite out the way some are doing, jokingly (jokingly?) declaring Fortnite a “dead game” when just a week ago it was throwing a live Marshmello concert for 10 million players at a time.
The Apex Twitch numbers are a bit skewed because EA’s entire marketing campaign was to pay pretty much all the top Twitch content creators to stream Apex for its first few days of launch. And yet now that the campaign is over, most of them are still streaming it anyway because A) the game is super fun and good and B) they’re getting tons of viewers by playing it, so there’s no reason to stop. This is the best case scenario for what EA’s streamer campaign was trying to achieve.
With that said, it is just so early. Fortnite has been a monster for a solid year now, and this is week one of Apex Legends. I also remember the week that Call of Duty: Blackout came out, that was routinely beating Fortnite on Twitch as well, and it seemed like the first real formidable competition in the battle royale space in ages. And yet, where is Blackout now? Not that it’s unpopular per se, as I know many people still do like it, but it absolutely did not make a dent in Fortnite’s playerbase or cultural relevancy over the long term. As I write this, Black Ops 4 is the #38 most viewed game on Twitch, behind Atlas and ASMR streams. That seems like its own kind of problem for Activision, but that’s a discussion for another day.
We’re going to need at least a month or two to see where Apex lands. This is still the honeymoon phase, and even if I really can’t see any potential, glaring major problems ahead, there’s a lot of stuff to consider. Fortnite has succeed because Epic has been able to add content to it and make balance changes at an extremely rapid pace, and I wonder if Respawn can do anything approaching that level of constant updates. The design of Apex will require not just new weapons or items, but also full-on new heroes, which are more involved to design than anything Fortnite has to do with its cosmetic skins.
Also, Fortnite is currently in a bit of a lull at the end of the season, in between major esports event. You can believe that once Fortnite starts throwing out millions upon millions in prize money to top streamers that they won’t switch right back to the game to try and snag some of that. Epic has a multi-billion dollar war chest that they can unleash however they want, and now that they finally have some real competition, who knows what they’re capable of doing. In addition to prize money and big updates, I can also imagine Epic just flat-out taking some of the things people like about Apex and putting them into Fortnite. The ping system for better play with randoms. The group drop system. Apex probably won’t exclusively own those concepts for long.
I am not on “Team Fortnite” here, I just think it’s way, way too early to start declaring Apex a Fortnite killer in week one because of how entrenched the latter is in popular culture and the resources Epic has at its disposal. I genuinely enjoy Apex Legends more than Fortnite, my own personal preference, but it’s just too soon to know what’s going to happen here. Though if enough people feel the same way, who knows where we could be 3-6 months from now.
By Paul Tassi
Cover image source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0umzZwfGLeY