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Fortnite's Plague Doc Skin Is Back After Three Years, Fans Blame COVID

The skin last appeared in the popular battle royale’s cosmetic shop back in March 2019

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An image shows two characters dressed as plague doctors from Fortnite.
Image: Epic Games / Kotaku

Yesterday, after 1,410 days (or 3 years and 10 months) the Grim Medicine cosmetic set—complete with the popular Plague Doctor skin—returned to Fortnite’s in-game store, letting players buy it for the first time since the start of the covid-19 pandemic. And many believe it was the pandemic itself that kept the plague-themed items and skins out of the game for such a long period of time.

I doubt I need to explain Fortnite to you, but just so everyone’s on the same page: Epic’s Fortnite is a free-to-play battle royale PVP shooter available on nearly every modern platform out there. It supports crossplay across all of them and for the last few years has been one of the most popular games in the world as it continues to expand and include more characters from other franchises, like Star Wars, Dragonball Z, and Street Fighter.

But Fortnite also has plenty of its own original skins and cosmetic items too, like Peely and the previously mentioned Plague Doctor. But until yesterday, these plague-related items hadn’t appeared in the game since March 1, 2019, making them extremely rare, as the only people who could use them were folks who bought them back when they were last available. Meanwhile, most other skins appear again and again in the store every few weeks or months.

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Fans had theorized that the Grim Medicine cosmetic set had been blacklisted and retired by Epic due to the covid-19 pandemic. This makes sense, as including those skins during the height of the deadly pandemic that has killed over 6 million people worldwide as of January 2023 would have been a bad look.

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The working theory is that the skin popped up in the store on March 1, 2019. Then before it could appear again in the store, covid-19 was detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and eventually spread around the world, officially becoming a pandemic according to the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. It’s not unreasonable that Epic saw this happening and decided to pull the plague-themed items from the store’s rotation in order to avoid any controversy.

The thing is, Epic has never officially confirmed this theory at any point. Kotaku has reached out about the skin and the long gap in time between it showing up, but didn’t hear back from the company. Still, even if Epic hasn’t officially confirmed the reason for the Grim Medicine items going missing for nearly four years, the covid-19 theory doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. And regardless of why, many players were excited to see it return, even if only to make a joke about its long absence. Or to point out that covid-19 is still a thing in 2023, which it is, and it’s still deadly and dangerous, too.

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“One of my friends IMMEDIATELY dropped money into the game upon getting this notification. He’s been waiting since it was last in the shop,” tweeted one person. “LETS GOOOO! I finally got PLAGUE!!! I wanted him for 2 years,” tweeted another player upon seeing the news of the Plague Doctor’s return to Fortnite. Of course, there were other players who found it funny everybody was excited over the skin, and others who owned it already and were now sad to see their once rare skin become common once more.

Personally, I’m not excited about the Grim Medicine skins as I don’t really like how they look. And besides, I only like to buy the most cursed and bizarre skins in Fortnite, like Mr. Meeseeks from Rick and Morty.