Fortnite’s 8.20 Patch Is Epic’s Biggest Misstep Yet

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A Fortnite player enters battle in v8.20.

Fortnite’s 8.20 release has brought it with a storm of controversy. Much of this controversy has centered around the removal of “siphoning.” Siphoning grants the player health and shield on eliminations, along with building materials. The latest update also introduced the “Arena” mode. Arena is a ranked play mode designed for competitive players. Everyone seems to have an opinion on these two additions, but let’s break down the facts.

Siphoning

At it’s heart, siphoning allowed skilled players to maraud around the map and endlessly stomp lesser teams with little regard for tactical planning. As you can imagine, this made the game immensely enjoyable for those players. Streamers who play for eliminations were in love. They could engage opponents without worrying too much about 3rd-party encounters.

The act of being “3rd-partied” is one of the most annoying aspects of any Battle Royale game. It happens when a 3rd-party joins a 1v1 or squad v. squad fight and picks off the unsuspecting players, who are busy fighting each other. If you engage and defeat an enemy as a skilled player, it is likely you will leave the encounter weakened. Your mats will be lower, your health and shield will be lower, and often times your ammo will be somewhat depleted. Siphoning removed that aspect from the game. It gave players leaving engagements renewed strength so that they could better defend against 3rd-party opportunists.

A player battling enemies from atop a ramp in Fortnite 8.20.
Wait for the enemy to finish, then go in for the strike. That’s the meta with siphoning removed.

The Downsides of Siphoning

On paper this sounds great. A perfect game would never allow a more skilled team to lose to a 3rd-party, and siphoning helped a lot in that regard. It also had some unforeseen consequences. Skilled players were crushing casuals in droves. Siphoning rewards rampant aggression, and as a result casual players encountered better teams at a higher than normal rate. These lower skilled teams were less likely to make it to the final circle, and even less likely to win.

Many players saw the removal of siphoning as catering to casual players. For the most part, this assumption is correct. The question is, is it too much. Every game needs a skill gap to keep players playing, and there is a balance that developers must find in order to keep casual and professional players happy. You can’t make a game too hard for new players, or there won’t be any. On the other hand, you can’t simplify the game or the skill gap will be too thin to keep anyone engaged for a long period of time.

Epic has access to troves of data that as players we simply cannot see. Based on that data, they determined that the game had become too aggressive and removed siphoning. Predictably, the vast majority of professional players objected – with some even stating that the game is now unplayable.

The Siphoning Solution

The correct move for Epic would have been to lessen some of the benefits of siphoning without removing it completely. Make the benefits apply to health only, or reduce the materials and ammo dropped from eliminations. Better yet, introduce a different mechanic completely to aid casuals without altering the benefits of siphoning. Skilled players were hooked, and the game was so enjoyable to them with it added that it became hard to go back to the way things used to be.

The winner of any given firefight no longer gets health and shield with eliminations.
An intense battle leaves the winner vulnerable to 3rd-party attacks.

Arena Mode

Since the inception of Fortnite, players have called for a “ranked play” mode that allowed skilled players to play against other skilled players. In theory, this would allow professional players who compete at the highest levels of game play for large amounts of money the chance to hone their skills and practice. Many professional players complain that playing against casual players becomes boring with time. Ranked play solves that problem.

The Downsides of Ranked Play

Ranked modes aren’t without side effects though. They segment the player population. Part of the allure of Fortnite has always been that in any given server the average Joe could encounter the likes of ‘Ninja’ and have his way with him. It’s a community thing. Having all types of players mixed in is essential to the health of the Battle Royale ecosystem. New players encounter stronger players, and learn from them. Stronger players have plenty of opportunities to flex. Everybody has a good time.

Players are less likely to thirst others right away, which is one of the upsides of removing siphoning.
Players are less likely to thirst others right away, which is one of the upsides of removing siphoning.

Ranked play also creates toxicity. You start to see the word “pubs” pop up in simple game debates, where other players opinions are minimized because they don’t play ranked. It also creates a segmented rule set, Epic has to concentrate on balancing two types of game play instead of perfecting one.

It also creates long queue times for skilled players. By nature, the better you are the less players there are to match you against. This results in 10-20 minute wait times for players entering matches. Something that simply is not viable for streamers.

The Arena Solution

Ranked play has no place in Fortnite. The better solution is to have a singular system for public play, while at the same time giving professional players the ability to create private matches. This solves the practice problem, allowing pros to compete against pros in a controlled environment whenever they want. Epic previously introduced this feature, but removed it after a short time for unknown reasons. This solution also keeps pubs viable, and minimizes community toxicity.

Have your own opinion on how to solve the problems introduced in Fortnite 8.20? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below.

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