Earlier this week, Fortnite released new rules to attempt to curb cheating in competitive play. The new guidelines relate to a player behavior called “signaling,” which means communicating with opponents. Fortnite doesn’t allow for voice chat between opponents, so players use other means to communicate, like jumping or swinging their pickaxe. On the surface, these new rules against signaling make sense, but they might have some consequences for competitive play.
In a January 20 post titled “Signaling Update—Competitive Fortnite 2020,” developer Epic added specificity to rules again collusion, or working with opponents during a competitive match. Also called “teaming,” this was a problem that plagued last year’s World Cup lead-up. In the blog, Epic writes,
Throughout last year, players have been sending or receiving signals more commonly during official Fortnite competitions to the point where many players are confused around the ruling.
For 2020 (starting 1/20/20), we are taking action against any kind of in-game communication between opponents via signaling in official tournament matches. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Pick-axe swinging
- Toy tossing
Any cases of signaling like those listed above will now result in a teaming/collusion penalty. We want to be explicitly clear that pacifism-style gameplay is still allowed, but if signaling is involved, we will review and take appropriate action for the teaming/collusion penalty. Repeat offenders may be subject to increased penalties.
Further clarification to what constitutes teaming makes sense, but some members of the player community, especially competitive players, aren’t happy. Many players have been joking that Fortnite has “banned jumping,” worrying that actions like jumping repeatedly to avoid snipers could be considered collusion. (An Epic employee pointed out on the competitive subreddit that “Competing players shouldn’t have anything to worry about if the jumping isn’t an intended meaning of signaling.”)
Jokes aside, the new rules will affect a common practice in competitive play. Many competitive players swing their pickaxes at each other or otherwise signal when they’re rotating, or finding a better position to get to the next storm circle. It’s a way to signal a temporary truce between players so that neither of you spends materials or healing items for a fight, only to have to survive storm damage as well. As website Fortnite Intel puts it, “In competitive Fortnite, you only want to take a fight when it will benefit you. Two players rotating out of the storm will only lose by taking a fight. It’s common sense, which is why most players truce when they’re moving.” Every player won’t pickaxe when rotating, but it seems to be an unofficial show of courtesy between higher-level players.
Of course, this has always technically been against the rules, but Epic didn’t seem to enforce it. In a tweet about the new signaling rules, streamer Ninja wrote, “I can see where epic is coming from, as a spectator seeing teams and players rotating and not shooting and swinging pick axes can seem odd but with no rotation items at all professional players understand when the time to fight actually is.” Ninja’s mention of “rotation items” refers to the removal of items that help players move around the map quickly, like vehicles, redeployable gliders, and jump pads. Many players see the prevalence of signaling as a direct response to the lack of mobility options in Fortnite’s new season. Professional player Benjyfishy agreed that mobility is the cause of the problem, tweeting “this isn’t going to work unless movement is added.”
Caster Ballatw agreed that “mobility would help the issue of people needing to signal,” but still felt that “signaling is an issue that needs to be cleared up NO MATTER WHAT.” In a reply to his tweet, Ballatw agreed with Ninja’s sentiment that signals like pickaxing are confusing to viewers, writing, “it just looks dumb af and makes our game look like a joke.” Ballatw’s main concern, shared by other players, is that the rules aren’t specific enough about what constitutes collusion versus other types of communication, wondering if actions like taunting or simply not shooting would count as signaling. While fears that looking at another player too long while jumping might be overblown, there are still a lot of gray areas that could lead to confusion.
Epic confirmed to Kotaku that “Epic would action players who are attempting to signal or communicate to opponents via pickaxing or any other method of in-game communication to opponents. We will not action players for rotating, jumping while running, or having a pacifist style of play.” Obviously enforcement of the new rules is going to be tricky, and it remains to be seen what the consequences will be. In the competitive subreddit, one commenter wrote, “In my opinion, when you have thousands of players all doing the same thing, it’s not because they’re all cheaters, it’s because they’re being motivated to act in a certain way because of external circumstances….this is a band-aid solution to a problem that has its roots in the game itself.” Being more clear about what constitutes teaming is a start, but many players clearly feel Epic has more to do if they want to eliminate the practice altogether.