For those flummoxed by the Fortnite phenomenon, any number of online guides will bring you up to speed. To put it very basically, Fortnite Battle Royale is a third-person video game involving three core elements: building, shooting and moving. Players are airdropped onto a dystopian island where they frantically build structures to protect themselves, and locate weapons to attack opponents. The last person standing scores the most points.
In a half-time on-the-court interview, Jesse – the so-called “King of Australia” – is asked whether he reckons opponents will start hunting him down with sniper rifles. He responds with mealy-mouthed bravado: “They can come try if they want!” The crowd erupts.
Celebrity-wise, the biggest drawcard at the Fortnite Summer Smash is Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo, a 31-year-old American from Nebraska. He has 2.9 million followers on the streaming platform Twitch, 3.1 million followers on Instagram and 1.2 million fans on YouTube. Players of his stature are mobbed by young fans and stopped on the street.
At a photoshoot and media event held the day prior to the main event, Lupo told Guardian Australia he “took pictures with five different kids on the flights over here alone”. For these large-scale stadium-style events, he says, “there are very few competitive games that do what Fortnite does,” but “it would not surprise me if, in the next couple of years we started seeing other games that have reached a similar level doing similar events.”
Another big name is Kathleen “Loserfruit” Belsten, a 25-year-old Melburnian. She says the core elements required to be great at Fortnite are “consistency, time and constant practice.”
According to Belsten the Fortnite community has a cleaner culture than other games: “There’s always going to be free vbucks no human verification in gaming,” she says, “but there’s less toxicity in Fortnite.”
Back inside Margaret Court arena, the commentators – or “casters” – squawk and ramble incessantly, hyperbolically informing the crowd that they are witnessing “history in the making”. There are Mexican waves; there are people of various ages (though the crowd is noticeably skewed towards the young) watching and yelling and noshing on fried food. DrLupo, who will participate later in the day at the “Pro-AM event” – an exhibition game played by a mixture of professionals and amateurs, including names like Nick Kyrgios, Peking Duk and Dave Hughes, with proceeds going to charity – does a lap of the court, pointing his phone at the audience. It behaves like a magical device, prompting flocks of people to leap out of their seats.