The online adventure game Fortnite is exploding in popularity among adolescents—no surprise there. But its popularity is even more stunning with adults—it’s the favorite addiction of celebrities, professional athletes, and cultural influencers of all stripes.
Ninja, a famous Fortnite player and Twitch gamer (Twitch is a website dedicated to all things gaming, a YouTube-like service for streaming and viewing video games), reportedly makes $500,000 a month playing Fortnite. Recently he and hip-hop superstar Drake played LIVE on Twitch, drawing an audience of more than 600,000 fanatics. And Ninja currently has five YouTube videos featuring his epic Fortnite matches with Drake—the combined total views add up to nearly 30 million. (Yes, people watch these guys play the game as if it was the most popular show on TV…30 million viewers.)
There are two versions of Fortnite—a pay version, where you battle zombies, that is called “Save the World,” and a free “Battle Royale” version.
Battle Royale is where it’s at! It’s like the movie Hunger Games merged with Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto to offer players something completely new. Battle Royale is a 100-player, third-person shooter game where the last one standing wins. All 100 players parachute onto an island together, with the mission of collecting weapons, resources, building materials, and eliminating all other players or teams. A storm forms around the island, slowly pushing all players to a smaller and smaller circle until someone wins “#1 Victory Royale!”
What Teenagers Are Saying About Fortnite
Why is this game so HOT that it’s attracted more than 45 million players? Here are what a few teenagers in my ministry are saying:
Carter (17)—Fortnite is popular because of how many people play it and how easy it is to play. Fortnite is free so everyone with a console can play, and it has a really fun team aspect since you can play squads with three of your friends. Also, the feeling of getting that sweet #1 Victory Royale is like no other. I’m drawn to it because it is a very skill-based game, and every time I lose it’s my fault. I enjoy learning how to improve and get better every game.
Frankie (17)—I think it’s popular because of the easy access, the fact that it’s free, and the ability to start a brand-new game right when you die. One bad game won’t affect your future games. Also, I’m drawn to it because of its visual attractiveness. By that, I mean the fun names for towns, colorful weapons, and cartoon nature of the game. I also like the concept that the last player standing wins.
Trent (13)—It is popular because of the game type—Battle Royale. You have to survive with no re-spawn and fight against everyone else with no help (on solos at least).
Studying Fortnite Through a Youth Ministry Filter
When something “hits” in the culture as broadly as Fortnite has done, it’s important for us to pay attention to what’s going on under the surface, and what we can learn about effective youth ministry from this phenomenon…
- Community Is King—Fortnite is not just a game, it’s an online interactive experience. Gaming is no longer an “in-home solo experience.” Many games are created to accentuate their online or social aspects. With Fortnite, you get this when you play in the Duos or Squads mode. I can’t get some teenagers to sit with me at Starbucks for 20 minutes, but that same kid will play Fortnite with me for hours.
Ask Yourself: What social environments am I creating in our youth ministry? How am I creating community outside of my church-based programs?
- Emphasize Inclusion—Battle Royale’s doors are open to anyone with an iOS device, Xbox, or PlayStation 4 (Android coming soon). Some teenagers are coming to your youth group because it’s the one place they feel loved and included. And maybe some have stopped coming because they have not felt included. Connection and a sense of belonging are high values for adolescents—it’s the most powerful force in their life.
Ask Yourself: Are we creating “inroads” for teenagers in our ministry, especially for first-time visitors? I often ask myself during programing: “Is everyone in here connecting?” An equally important question is: “Who is not in the room?” or “Who used to come to our group who is no longer here?”
- Create a Level Playing Field—This game is not for any one type of person—anyone can play and get good at it. The requirements are simple and easy—find Fortnite: Battle Royale (free), ensure you have online access (Xbox Live), and opposable thumbs. We’re not always offering our kids a level playing field—for example, we’re looking for specific skills on our student leadership teams, youth bands, teaching teams, and so on. But we want many easy entry points into the church for every type of person—remember, Jesus intentionally tore down many religious obstacles that kept people from joining in his mission.
Ask Yourself: What obstacles might be keeping certain groups of teenagers from attending our church? If it’s central to the Gospel, we don’t compromise. But if it’s a style of ministry, or a cultural distinction (such as a competition-based youth program), maybe it’s time to consider tweaking it.
- Give Then Their Own #1 Victory Royale—My gamer friend Carter says: “The feeling of getting that sweet #1 Victory Royale is like no other.” Even if you’re not a competitive person, winning feels good. At the end of the day (or your program), we want teenagers to feel like they’re genuinely leaving with more than they came with. When a teenager arrives empty and leaves with a full cup, that’s their (and your) #1 Victory Royale.
Ask Yourself: What are the “wins” in our ministry, and how do we know they’re “wins”? When do we experience teenagers having Ah-ha! moments, and how can we tweak our environment to make it more likely they’ll experience more of them?
- Offer Them a Clear Mission—In Fortnite gamers explore new worlds, but there is still a familiarity to those worlds. They’re given one clear mission—survive to the end. How? Gather weapons for offense and resources for defense. And grow your skills by playing and playing and playing… Teenagers want to know why they exist, and they want a clear mission. These goals are in the church’s wheelhouse.
Ask Yourself: How are we helping teenagers understand and live out the mission that Jesus gave us? Is your ministry’s mission clear? If you asked a random student to explain your mission to a newcomer, what would you hear? Do you have a clear picture of what a disciple looks like, and a clear path to preparing every teenager in your group for a disciple’s life?
How You Can Leverage the Popularity of Fortnite
If we approach Fortnite with a Youth Ministry 101 mindset, these ideas are tools to help you meet them on their turn.
- First, play the game and learn the lingo—Get familiar with words and phrases such as #1 Victory Royale, squads, boogie bomb, double pump, camping, and so on.
- Dance the dance—I know seeing a grown man dance silly dances is not the norm in pop culture, but it wins favor with middle schoolers and many teenagers. I was in the gym with over 100 middle schoolers and dozens of adult leaders. I started doing some Fortnite dances, and the adults had no idea what I was doing. But the students were going crazy, emulating the dances and connecting with one of their pastors. For a visual on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YladY7gEoso
- Plan “Fortnite Fridays” on consoles—Get the game, a headset, and give out your gamer tag. Have a Fortnite event where everyone stays home and connects online. Don’t leave these relationships online—use your online connections as an entry point to conversations in real life.
- Plan “LIVE Fortnite Fridays”—A local appliance store freely gives us their empty boxes. We use them to plan a LIVE Fortnite Friday event where you supply the building materials and your group members bring their Nerf guns.