There’s a moment in the movie Pulp Fiction where professional assassin Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, is waxing philosophical to his co-worker Jules, played by Samuel L. Jackson, about what separates Europe from America and gives each its own distinct flavor. He says, “You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences...a lot of the same [stuff] they got there, we got here. But they’re a little different.”
And it’s those little differences that end up making the biggest and most telling impacts.
In a way, this is the story of comparing and contrasting the two big runaway hit competitive first-person shooter (FPS) multi-player sensations of the last few years. They are Overwatch by Blizzard Entertainment and Fortnite by Epic Games. On the surface, there is a lot in common. But it’s the little differences that seem to be the biggest reasons that determine which you might prefer. And the little differences, too, that may spell which one edges out and eclipses the other as time goes on.
Similarities on the surface
Overwatch was the unstoppable juggernaut of the gaming industry in 2016. It is an FPS game, played across networks, where teams of people battle each other in a never-ending series of discrete matches. It presents a brightly colored, halfway cartoony, halfway “realistic” looking world where goofy (but still formidable-looking) improbable characters sporting overpowered weaponry engage in fast-paced, twitch reflex combat against each other.
Fortnite was the unstoppable juggernaut of the gaming industry in 2017. It is also an FPS, where teams of people also battle each other in a never-ending series of discrete matches. It also presents a brightly colored, halfway cartoony, halfway “realistic” looking world where goofy (but still formidable-looking) improbable characters sporting overpowered weapons engage in fast-paced, twitch reflex combat against each other. You get the idea. Same-same, right? Not exactly.
The different (and telling) little choices in gameplay design and distribution models are the funny thing, Pulp Fiction-wise.
Despite each being released over a year ago, and two years ago, respectively, Fortnite and Overwatch remain two of the top played games on Twitch.tv. But which has more longevity when it comes to eSports and video gaming? We’ve done our best to sort it out for you.
Overwatch is a purchasable game for PCs and home consoles
. As an FPS, it is a 6 versus 6 team set up; there are 12 people in any given Overwatch
match. Players choose specific characters from a roster of available options. While they all run and shoot, each character is specifically NOT created equal. There are four different “class types” or roles. Some characters are “offense,” some “defense,” some “support,” and others “tank.” Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and therefore each also has a specific play-style that it caters to. As a result, each works differently within a team.
There are different match types, but all involve working with teammates to destroy or repel the opposing team. These fall into attack, defense, or competing for objective match categories. Each of the 30-some character “hero” types has its own unique “kit” of weapons and skills.
During a match, players who are eliminated can “respawn” and re-enter the game, either as a different character or the same one they were playing, with the proviso being that there are no duplicate characters allowed to play on the same team at the same time. This introduces an element of dynamic strategy; sometimes getting killed is the best move to make, to re-enter as a different hero type with abilities more suited to take down the opposing forces or win the current objective.
Those are the basics of how an Overwatch eSports match goes down. Professional league players compete against other pro teams, with a scoring scheme in place. Like other sports, there are tiers and brackets, in the same way that NBA basketball teams or NFL football teams vie for championships.
Fortnite overview. And the little differences.
Fortnite is a free-to-play game, supported by optional microtransactions within the game, for PC and home consoles and mobile devices. As an FPS in its most popular mode, “Battle Royale,” each match is a 100-player, last-man-standing game.
No matter how they look, all players are statistically equal to one another with the same set of skills and controls. It is the interchangeable weaponry that is collected, scavenger-hunt style in the early stages of the matches, that differentiate play styles and strategies. Weapons can be swapped out when found (or looted from eliminated opponents).
In the Fortnite eSports competitive setup, anyone can join in to compete and attempt to qualify into the “World Cup” by participating in a series of ranked events across different modes of the game (Solo play, duo, and squad). There are professional teams or “clans,” with ranked members, but the competition is open to anyone who wants to try to qualify.
How does it feel to play the two games? Both are first-person shooters with bright, cartoonish, and heroic-looking avatars. Again, it’s the little differences that make the biggest impact. In Overwatch , being a squad of six versus another squad of six creates a more intimate feeling of competition. You are a team of people, and you face another team of people, working at cross-purposes to you, while you attempt to work in tandem with others. This makes competitions league style.
Fortnite , while offering co-op modes, has its emphasis in the main draw: the all-out, last-man-standing, winner-take-all Battle Royale. This becomes, then, an individual affair, where star players are lone wolves whose PvP skills and quick reflexes are the determining factors for fame and glory more so than team strategy or selfless sacrifice. There are no “support” players, ultimately, in Fortnite . Kill or be killed is pretty much the sum and substance of the gameplay.
This makes it a little easier to explain and understand for newer players. The core concept can be grasped after watching one match: Everybody wants to shoot you; avoid that, while shooting as many people as you can. Try to survive to the end. This is simple to understand and learn but difficult to master.
Overwatch demands a steeper learning curve of its players while offering what is arguably a deeper, richer strategic set of gameplay elements. The 30 different hero avatars, although all divided up between four broad classes, each have distinct differences between them. Each requires a slightly different play style. Then the element of mixing those styles on a team of six, and the various combinations that become possible are another set of things to learn.
Add to this the idea that you can change your team composition on the fly, swapping out to different character types on respawn, and you can dynamically change the entire approach of a skirmish as it unfolds. The differences in character models and aesthetics play out in the gameplay.
Individual vs. team play
In Fortnite , the differences between characters are really all just a matter of personal flair and clothing style. Being a game of individuals pitted against each other, individuality is stressed and encouraged by customizing your avatar to your liking. Since everyone’s base stats and movement is all the same, the only way to stand out and feel different is by changing the looks (and dances) of your avatar and their gear.
You can parachute in on a hang glider or a Mary Poppins-style umbrella. You can wear matte-black ninja gear or sport a fuzzy pink teddy-bear outfit. In the end, what matters in Fortnite is how you play the game versus everyone else. In the end, in Overwatch , what matters is how you play with your teammates as you respond to the other team and their team dynamic.
The differences between Battle Royale and team games in online play and matchmaking
The two different approaches create different sets of skills, but maybe more importantly, they create different ranking systems for determining who is a champion and who is a journeyman or a lower tier player.
In games like Overwatch , where team-based skills are grown and players are ranked, what occurs is a matching of like with like, based on rank and skill. Which is to say, as rankings of teams become more accurate, the elite teams and tiers rise to face each other, while the medium and low tiers find their own level and play among themselves.
This sees the top tier, world-class players constantly in competition only with other top tier, world class players. As the old adage goes, “iron sharpens iron.” As a matter of growing the sport by growing the skills of the gamer base, what occurs is that a rarified elite rises and becomes meaningfully different by small degrees.
What you will find within a competitive environment like Overwatch , a player in the 99th percentile of ranking is genuinely at a disadvantage playing against someone in the 99.5th percentile of ranking. This ensures that, in short order, you’ll be playing against others in your relative skill bracket, which makes each game at least somewhat competitive for everyone.
(and other Battle Royale games), the top players are in the mix with everyone else. If you jump into a game of Fortnite
, there’s always a chance that one of the 99 people you’ll be playing against is Tyler Blevins (who goes by the gamer handle Ninja
). He’s a 27-year-old professional gamer, and currently the top Fortnite
player in the world, earning $500,000 a month on Twitch alone. Chances are you’re not going to be competitive in that match.
Where the differences really matter: The pocketbook
Arguably, the biggest difference from the outset, which set the stage for Fortnite’s runaway success, was Epic’s decision to release it as a “free-to-play,” pay-for-cosmetics model, as opposed to making money on each individual installation of the game at the point of download.
Being free-to-play means the barrier for entry is incredibly low. One only has to decide to get it, download it, and give it a whirl. What this means, in a “Fortnite vs. Overwatch ” match up on installed users, is that the Fortnite user base got huge in a way that dwarfed Overwatch very quickly. In May of 2018 as a game with two years to establish a user base, there were 40 million Overwatch players. This is an amazing success in the world of video games.
However, in the same month, after only one year of release, Fortnite
boasted a registered player count of 200 million. In releasing it as a free software package
, with the money coming from optional style add-ons, Epic cracked the code on how to create a runaway behemoth of success. This “free-to-play,” microtransaction-supported model is how many games are now being positioned, in attempts to become the next Fortnite
In fact, industry analysts and pundits are saying that Overwatch’s only real option in 2019 is to move to the free-to-play model. While it’s incredibly successful as a premium software title (retailing at $40 per installation), the size of a free-to-play game can grow so quickly that the scale becomes large enough to swallow that premium initial hit. Forty-million people paying $40 each is a lot of money ($1.6 billion, to be exact - nothing to sneeze at!).
But Fortnite’s massive user base of 250 million players entices 69% percent of them to pay for content within the game, on an ongoing, little-bit-here, little-bit-there basis. And of the approximately 172 million that pay money to get outfits and battle passes and such, the average spend is $85 . That’s somewhere around $14 billion of revenue, which is, among other things, more than the gross domestic product figure of many small countries, all for a single game property.
You can think of it this way. Look to the natural world and its largest inhabitants to see a similar dynamic: the whales. Killer whales are among the largest creatures on the planet; they are hunters who eat large fish and big aquatic mammals and birds. And they’re great at what they do, growing to be about 10,000 pounds. Not too shabby. Think of this as the Overwatch , premium-charge model. Blue whales, however, which do not hunt but rather scoop up micro-sized bits of krill, grow to 300,000 lbs. This is the Fortnite “microtransaction” model.
The Overwatch League (OWL) and Fortnite as eSports
The Overwatch League - known in the online gaming community as "OWL" - is the official, Blizzard-owned league for Overwatch eSport. It made its debut in 2018 across 12 city-based teams, all competing for $3.5 million in prize-pool money. Additionally, a $1 million grand prize to the winning team was awarded in the playoffs, for a grand total prize pool of $4.5 million.
Epic, now in 2019, has huge ambitions for Fortnite's entrance into the eSports realm. They have fronted a stunning $100 million in prize-pool money for their World Cup.
The question among eSports aficionados is becoming one of purity. Overwatch's pro-rankings are a finely tuned, rarified field of elites, in specifically balanced match ups. Epic's entrance disrupts that idea by making a more free-wheeling gameplay model, with much more random and unbalanced elements along the way. But with its massive coffers, it seems that Epic is willing to upset the eSports world and bring that kind of disruption. And with $100 million in prizes, it is most assuredly going to make waves.
It seems strange to think of two games, separated by only a year in their debut, as representing the "old guard" of the new field of eSports, and the upstart, "new conqueror." Yet here we are.
It’s the little differences.