While Epic and Apple wage their corporate war over the App Store, there’s not a lot Fortnite players can do but wait and see. This weekend, Epic is bringing its fight into the game once more with the #FreeFortnite Cup, a tournament in which players can win a nefarious-looking apple skin and even other consoles to play the game on.
Last week, Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store after the developer released its own payment methods, flying in the face of Apple’s rules in an attempt to get it to change its store policies, which see Apple reap a 30% cut of App Store profits. The two companies are now engaged in a legal battle that could well end with mobile Fortnite players being unable to play the game once Season 4 launches on August 27. (Just in case they’d missed the memo, Epic began yesterday’s announcement of the FreeFortnite tournament by reminding players, “These are the final days of the entire Fortnite community’s ability to play together.”)
The FreeFortnite cup—named after the hashtag Epic has encouraged players to deploy against Apple on social media—takes place on August 23rd and is 12 Solos games for points and prizes. Anyone who scores 10 points will get the “Tart Tycoon” skin, a suited figure with an apple for a head whom we saw in Epic’s “Ninety Eighty-Fortnite” video. Players can also win a physical FreeFortnite hat. If you’re “one of the top 1,200 apple-eaters globally” you can win one of the many devices that will still be able to play Fortnite after Season 4 launches, including a gaming PC, Xbox, PS4, or Switch. “Just because you can’t play on iOS doesn’t mean there aren’t other awesome places to play Fortnite,” Epic writes, helpfully.
“All of your friends. Awesome prizes. And one bad apple,” Epic continues, ending with, “To ALL of our Fortnite players: thank you for your support and for blazing the trail with us on cross-play across console, Mobile, PC and Mac. We look forward to the day when everyone can squad up with all their friends again.”
Once you finish cringing over how on-the-nose this all is, you have to admit it’s a strange turn from the company and its CEO Tim Sweeney. Back in February of this year (so, to be fair, also a million years ago), Sweeney decried (so-called) politics in games. “We as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics and say that that is for individuals to engage in and we as platforms should be neutral,” Sweeney said in his DICE keynote, later saying, “We need to create a very clear separation between church and state where our businesses are operating as neutral venues for entertainment.”
While the FreeFortnite Cup seems like it flies in the face of that recent opinion, I don’t think Epic sees its fight with Apple as political in the same way Sweeney meant in his keynote, in which he brought up the example of the backlash to restaurant Chick-fil-A for its regrettable record on LGBT rights. Epic has spun this as a cause that benefits everyone who plays or makes games for iOS, “neutral” in the way free-market capitalism considers itself neutral while, of course, being anything but.
There is a kind of neutrality here: Winning this case would in fact benefit players, indie developers, and yes, the heads of a big billionaire company, all of whom are different kinds of people with different kinds of beliefs, lifestyles, and needs. But bringing all this inside the game is recruiting Fortnite’s players into Epic’s cause, making the act of participating in the tournament a political one, whether players are actually on board for Epic’s fight or just want to win sweet loot.
A young Fortnite player could be forgiven for not realizing what they’re getting into. As Rebekah Valentine recently wrote at GamesIndustry.biz, “Epic knows well that its video plays to an audience that doesn’t understand the nuance and complexity of the battle it’s about to fight—and frankly, has no reason to. That’s why its concluding message is boiled down so simply: Apple wants to take away your video games. We’re fighting back. Join us.”
As Valentine notes, this is a dumbing down of a complex issue designed to inflame the frightening fury of angry gamers and aim it at Epic’s rivals. With this latest step of the FortniteCup, Epic spins its player-against-player battle royale competition into a team fight against a corporate enemy, here even personified by the in-game character of the Tart Tycoon. The tournament announcement leans heavily on the primary issue most Fortnite players will care about: Your game might go away. And here’s Epic, which fired those first shots, playing the good guy by bringing you not only a fun tournament, but a chance to win a workaround to the problem its decision arguably caused you. The announcement gets at none of those complexities, simply spinning the line the company thinks will resonate most with its audience to further its own ends.
Epic is, of course, not a person. Neither is Apple. Both companies are comprised of people, from CEOs at the top with axes to grind and pockets to line to the thousands of people who work at these companies and have their own beliefs and stakes in the fight. These people know what they’re doing when they portray the ability to play Fortnite as a moral cause, when they dress it all up in the Tart Tycoon and a hashtag, when they adorn it with scarcity-mongering and a ticking clock. It’s calculated, and it’s clever, which isn’t the same as being bad, but isn’t completely honest either. The people at Epic know this isn’t some good-versus-evil video game story, but they’re selling it to Fortnite players as one anyway.