The field for the biggest video game tournament of all time has been set, and the world's most recognizable gamer, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, will not be there -- at least as a competitor.
From July 26 to 28, the Fortnite World Cup will take place at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City with $30 million on the line between its individual and duos events. The champion of the solo competition will walk away with a life-changing grand prize of $3 million.
Ninja, who was officially eliminated from the solo competition two weeks ago when he failed to qualify in the last individual qualifier, had one more chance to reach New York City in duos competition. Alongside duos partner Malachi "Reverse2k" Greine (who qualified for the solo division), Ninja took to the online qualifiers a final time to see if he could advance to New York City.
Although he said he was ill heading into the final qualifying rounds, Ninja and Reverse2k passed through the preliminary rounds on Thursday to make the ultimate qualifier on Friday. Ninja didn't stream his attempt to qualify for the World Cup, keeping his potential qualification a secret from the Fortnite community at-large.
After three hours of games, Ninja and Reverse2k finished with 64 points, 25 shy of what they needed to make it to the World Cup finals. Following his team's failure to make it to New York, Ninja took to social media to inform his four million-plus followers on Twitter that although he didn't qualify for the World Cup, he will be appearing at the event in some capacity.
While Ninja conducted his final run in private, the other biggest name in Fortnite, Turner "Tfue" Tenney, took a different approach in streaming his entire last-chance qualifier experience without any delay on Twitch. Coming off a third-place performance at the Fortnite Pro-Am in Los Angeles with celebrity basketball teammate Josh Hart, Tfue teamed with partner Dennis "Cloak" Lepore in front of a steady audience of more than 100,000 for the three-hour qualifier.
The champions of the Fortnite Fall Skirmish at TwitchCon last year who won $510,000, the two, like Ninja and Reverse2k, were expected to be on the bubble all day Friday trying to accumulate enough points through their 10 matches to advance. Tfue and Cloak stumbled through the first half of their games before putting on a show in the final game they would play in the three-hour qualifier window, their run coming to an anti-climactic end due to long queue times that plagued various top players throughout the day.
Another popular team that failed to qualify Friday, the Team Liquid side of Thomas "72hrs" Mulligan and Noah "Vivid" Wright faced similar challenges with queue times. At 80 points and within striking distance of one of the final tickets to the World Cup finals, the two faced an excruciatingly long queue to get into their final game, eliminating them from the tournament.
It isn't the end of the road, though, at least for Tfue and Vivid, both of whom have qualified for the solo competition and a shot at the $3 million grand prize. Overall, the field for the Fortnite World Cup is littered with relative unknowns, some as young as 14 years old, hunting for a piece of the prize pool that turned heads in the esports world when it was first announced. Like Fortnite itself, the qualifiers for the World Cup were unpredictable and sometimes too crazy for their own good, leaving us with a tournament in New York missing some names that have come to shape the game since its meteoric rise in the summer of 2017.
Two years after its release, the Fortnite World Cup will tell us what's next for the game that has found so much success in the gaming world and popular culture but has had mixed results in establishing itself as an esport. With Ninja in the crowd and millions of dollars on the line, Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, will hope a new star or two are born in a city that is famous for making them. The future of Fortnite as an esport might depend on it.