The wildly popular game “Fortnite Battle Royale,” an online shooter in which 100 players fight to the death on a cartoonish island arena, is entering the world of higher education. Ohio’s Ashland University announced this week that it’ll be the first college in the U.S. to offer scholarships specifically for the game.
Although it currently has no formal esports scene, “Fortnite” has consistently been the most-watched title on Twitch’s streaming platform in recent months, with competitive broadcaster Ninja shattering viewership records when he had hip-hop star Drake as a guest on his channel. Online organizations like The eSports Hub and MLG GameBattles have also begun establishing ladders and tournaments.
“I think ‘Fortnite’ has a lot of room for players to get creative,” incoming head coach Josh Buchanan, who has a background in “StarCraft II” esports, told Variety. “There’s a lot of teamwork in [the game’s core building mechanic] that’s really untapped. A lot of players kind of do fancy stuff, and it looks cool, but it might not be the most efficient. I think it’s a game that, due to how creative you can be, there’s a lot of potential to get really, really skilled in the game.”
Battle royale games like “Fortnite” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” are fairly new to the world of competitive gaming, and both titles have begun experimenting with variant game types, such as 50-versus-50 team play and accelerated “blitz” modes. As such, it remains to be seen just what form the esport might ultimately take.
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“As part of the program, you’re going to have coaches and a staff dedicated to helping you succeed — not only in the game but also in your academics,” Buchanan says. “Helping to make sure that you have a good social life, and that your physical fitness is on point. All of our athletes are going to have access to our fitness facilities and trainers. And Ashland is known for putting a lot of focus on the individual and having a lot of one-on-one sessions with professors, or small group sessions, to really make sure that we’re personally invested in the students’ success.”
Beginning with the fall 2018 semester, the Ashland Eagles will be conducting open tryouts for current and prospective students, offering scholarships of up to $4,000. Applicants will be reviewed on the basis of both player skill and academic history. In addition to “Fortnite,” the program will include coaching for “Counter-Strike,” “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” and “Rocket League.”
According to the National Association of Collegiate Esports, Ashland is the first school to officially announce a “Fortnite” scholarship, but Missouri Baptist University also has plans for adding a “Fortnite” team, and there’s little doubt other colleges will follow suit.