High School Esports League Adds Fortnite as a Summer Tournament; Is Fortnite the Future of Esports?

June 21, 2018

The High School Esports League (HSEL), currently the top esports league for high schools in the United States, has announced that Fortnite Battle Royale will be the competitive game for its upcoming Summer Open season. The Fortnite league will support iOS, PC, Xbox and PS4, all separated into different leagues for each platform.

Additionally, for the Summer Open, HSEL is trying something new. It is instituting a “free agent” system where high school students can partner with friends from any high school in the nation. So, players don’t need to attend a school that is officially affiliated with HSEL to participate. All they need is an eligible student ID to sign-up as a free agent.

Photo Credit: Codigo Esports

HSEL has partnered with NRG Esports to produce the Fortnite competition. NRG is a professional esports organization based in California that has rosters in Clash Royale, Fortnite, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), and Overwatch (it fronts the San Francisco Shock in the Overwatch League) and has the backing of several well-known investors, including Alex Rodriguez and Shaquille O’Neal.

NRG will provide the winner of the HSEL Summer Open Fortnite tournament a matchup with NRG pro Svennoss, a highly ranked Fortnite player and popular Twitch personality.

“With the explosive rise of Fortnite and colleges starting to offer more and more scholarships, making it our Summer Open title was a no-brainer,” said Mason Mullenioux, CEO of High School Esports League. “Being the first to offer Fortnite, plus working with NRG Esports and Svennoss, really takes things to the next level. We’re thrilled to continue to create more opportunity and value for the students.”

Photo Credit: The Esports Observer

HSEL offers tournaments in 14 titles, with five of these being considered “majors” – League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, Hearthstone, and CS:GO.

“League of Legends is still our most popular game,” said Mullenioux, “but Fortnite could overtake them all.”

Mullenioux founded HSEL in 2012 with his friend Charles Reilly. Initially, they promoted the association through Facebook advertisements and were thrilled to get 20 schools for their first season in the summer of 2013. That number jumped to 300 schools for the fall. Today, HSEL has partnered with 850 schools and has more than 16,000 student users.

“There are a lot of older people who don’t get it,” said Mullenioux, “but that’s changing. With colleges starting to offer scholarships, varsity esports will exist all over the country soon.”

In fact, this year HSEL faces its first significant competition. PlayVS, an esports startup based out of Santa Monica and backed by venture capital from a startup incubator, Science, is creating infrastructure for district- and state-wide high school esports league play.

“Esports is about more than just playing games – it can be used to help students grow their STEM interests and develop valuable life skills and since there are more high school gamers than athletes, it’s about time we foster this pastime in an educational setting,” said Delane Parnell, founder of PlayVS.

PlayVS has an official partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations, whereas HSEL has a partnership with the National Association of Collegiate Esports (which will be scouting the Fortnite tournament for potential scholarship candidates), oh, and Fortnite – which PlayVS has expressly stated they will not be including as part of its gaming offerings.

Photo Credit: Engadget 

“We’re doing no shooting games,” said Parnell, “no third-person, no first-person shooting, no battle royale, as much as that sucks. Because the contents of the games are not friendly in a high school environment. We’re sensitive to all of the issues around violence in schools, and we do not want to promote that for the foreseeable future.”

High schools have been generally supportive of this decision. But could PlayVS be winning a moral victory while losing the war? HSEL will likely lose some schools to PlayVS, however Mullenioux is confident that HSEL will continue to grow as a direct result of PlayVS’ decision to not offer first- or third-person shooter games.

The most popular titles on Twitch currently are Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch,  and Fortnite – and PlayVS will not hold tournaments for any of them.

Fortnite is currently not just the reigning battle royale champion, it’s the most popular game by a mile. Fortnite dominates in a genre that is basically changing the video game landscape as we know it. At this year’s E3, it was revealed that both Call of Duty and Battlefield would be adding battle royale modes due to fan requests. Fortnite was not the first battle royale game (that would be the one with the genre (almost) in its title: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), but it is the most popular (so much so that PUBG filed suit against Fortnite earlier this year for intellectual property theft).

Photo Credit: Fabian Chills YouTube

Meanwhile, NACE will be scouting the Summer Open looking for potential college scholarship opportunities, and NRG will have their eyes on the tournament, as well. If it seems unlikely that a pro team will pull a player from the high school ranks, one only needs to look to the Fortnite team that NRG competitor Team Secret has formed. It features a 13-year-old British player – so, nothing is out of bounds.

“We’re thrilled to team up with High School Esports League for the first-ever Fortnite tournament at the high school level,” said Brett Lautenbach, CEO of NRG Esports. “These players are the future of professional esports and any chance we have to work with them to grow the sport is a top priority.”

Epic Games recently announced it would commit $100 million into esports prize pools over the 2018-19 season, instantly vaulting Fortnite to the top of the esports ladder – while still fueling speculation of what Fortnite esports will even look like.

“Fortnite has the perfect mix to become an esport,” said Mullenioux, “It’s easy and fun to pick up and play, hard to master, and keeps you wanting to play game after game. It’s also no secret that Epic Games wants to make Fortnite a lasting esport.”

Regardless of how the official Fortnite esports scene will shape up, by providing the first major Fortnite tournament at a high school level and with the connections the organization is making, HSEL is securing its foothold in high school esports. If you or a student you know would like to sign up for the HSEL Fortnite Tournament, you can do so here. If you would like to know more about hosting or supporting an esports tournament or team, give eGency Global a call at 972-323-6354.