At this point in his life, Isaiah "Turkey Lips" Fletcher expected to be cryptologic technician for the United States Navy. But years ago, his feet got in the way.
"Seven weeks into basic training, they told me my feet were too flat for military service," the 25-year-old from Mingo Junction, Ohio, said. "They were like, 'You gotta go home.' I thought that was a meme. I didn't know that really happened."
Turkey Lips returned to Mingo and pursued a career that didn't require perfect feet: streaming. A gamer since he was 4 years old, Turk's affinity for first person shooters eventually led him to Fortnite. Epic Games noticed, and in July 2018 the developer extended an invitation to the inaugural Summer Skirmish Series, the company's exploratory esports effort. Eight weeks of inconsistent but promising tournaments culminated at PAX West, a four-day LAN (local area network) that acted as both a celebration and esports proving ground for the game that has enraptured millions.
Turkey Lips was a finalist in Seattle and walked away with $5,000 of the $1.675 million awarded at the event.
"It was such an honor to even be there and play," he said. "It was nuts to see that format, the presentation they brought, the arena, all the computers lined up. I've literally dreamed of doing that, of this being a thing. I never thought it would be."
The success of Summer Skirmish and PAX West begot a six-week, $10 million fall iteration that began last Friday. Acting as a bridge to the upcoming Fortnite World Cup, Fall Skirmish continues the previous circuit's practice of rotating formats week by week. This time around, invited players will compete on behalf of five different clubs: Fort Knights, Dusty Dogs, Lucky Llamas, Rift Raiders and Bush Bandits. Top finishers earn their club points in addition to prize money, with each club battling for a greater slice of a $4 million prize pool based on cumulative points.
In a change from summer, the fall competition will not be confined to the weekend. Though the central broadcast will take place each Friday, a choice that evokes comparisons to Daniel "Keemstar" Keem's original "Friday Fortnite" competitions, clubs will participate in weekly trials that award club points and additional prize money.
Like the Friday showcase, weekly trials will change and skew zanier by design; Epic has already teased potential ATK races and golf outings. These weekly trials will be streamed by the players and act as an entertaining counterpoint to the more serious Friday event.
If Week 1 is any indication, the weekly trial's infusion of fun will be appreciated. Friday reintroduced "Hold the Throne," a six-match duo format where points were granted based on placement and combined eliminations. The team that recorded the most eliminations in a single game ascended the throne, good for a floating two-point bump that was given at day's end.
Despite this extra elimination-centric incentive, players again adopted conservative playstyles as they jockeyed for final position. Dozens of duos consistently remained on the map, rotating safely on the edges as the third and fourth circles collapsed. Often, the game would end in a heal-off rather than a clutch elimination.
Noah "Vivid" Wright, a Lucky Llama who won Hold the Throne back in Week 4 of Summer Skirmish, understands the value of balancing both placement and eliminations. While he agreed that rewarding placement brings about a passive playstyle, so does the overall skill of the lobby.
"Killing another player is not the easiest thing in the world," Vivid said. "Taking a fight with any of these guys, who are very good, is not going to be beneficial for either of us. You use a lot of resources, so a lot of people are like, 'Let's not take a fight, let's play for endgame.'
"I think the fairest way to do it is to incentivize both placement and kills. There's skill in both, so therefore, you should be rewarded for both. At the end of the day, it's a battle royale. The idea is to win."
Vivid and fellow Team Liquid Fortnite player Jake "Poach" Brumleve did not win last Friday and finished well outside the money in 23rd place with two points. While the Solary duo of Duong "Kinstaar" Huynh and Corentin "Hunter" Tardif dominated Europe with 17 points on behalf of Dusty Dogs, Jessi "VapeJesus" Rodriguez and Anthony "ZexRow" Colandro took first place with 12 points for the Rift Raiders in a close North American set.
Vivid mentioned the lag created by throwing newly introduced Port-a-Fortresses in the late game was a factor for his duo as well as Epic's increased use of the Live Spectator tool.
Friday's broadcast made impressive strides as Live Spectator was fully implemented in an online environment for the first time. Piggybacking individual Twitch streams was gone, replaced with frequent god's-eye camera angles, live positioning on the mini-map, fluid replays and on-screen markers of other player locations while still in player view. Informative graphics were overlaid on the screen regularly, and the lack of visual noise from subscriber announcements or personal screen flair streamlined the viewing experience.
It was a such an unquestioned success that losing face cams and voice communication felt like a worthwhile tradeoff.
Outside of the weekend was a more elimination-happy event. The weekly trial, "Squad Goals," tasked squads of four from each club to record the highest elimination score in a single public game, a straightforward challenge that has nonetheless been well-received. Turkey Lips linked up with fellow Lucky Llamas club members Nicholas "Nick Eh 30" Amyoony, Thang "SpaceLyon" Phan and James "Replays" Crowder to drop a PC world record of 56 eliminations on Tuesday, only for it to be broken hours later. However, those 56 kills should be enough for a top-five spot and the club points the last-place Llamas needed going into Week 2.
Been wild so far. Ninja and Sypher pop off with a 44 elim warm up. Then Poach, Vivid, Myth and Zayt dropped 52.— K.L. Smith (@arCtyC) September 26, 2018
Then, Replays, Turkey Lips, SpaceLyon and Nick Eh with 56.
Now @TTfue @cloakzy @ZexRow and @LG_Kreo drop 57. #FallSkirmish
Turkey Lips earned 16 eliminations in that game before getting surrounded and mini-gunned down northwest of Dusty Divot. He caught several enemies flat-footed with an early pump shotgun at Viking Village before eliminating three players with one well-placed C4 explosion at Greasy Grove. Turkey emotes filled Twitch chat as Turk leapt around his room, screaming "LET'S GO!" as his teammates celebrated on stream.
Looking at the big picture, Turkey Lips said he understands that he's at the beginning of something big and ready to take the next step with Epic as Fortnite esports continues to evolve. For him, Epic's bungling of Week 1 of the Summer Skirmish seems like a distant memory.
"[Epic] has come a really, really long way," Turkey Lips said. "The only time we run into difficulties is not because they've made a mistake: It's literally a technicality that can't be helped. I'm impressed at how smoothly they're able to pull this stuff off, providing it on a grand scale. They're putting the effort in, and I really respect that."