Since the earliest days of spring, Fortnite has been impossible to escape, regardless of whether you were a gamer, a social-media user, or just a parent of one. It has been name-dropped by celebrities, and its dance moves have appeared everywhere from middle-school dances to the World Cup. Online, particularly on video platforms like YouTube and Twitch, Fortnite has been at the top of the charts all year, and it’s barely been a contest. For gaming sites, any article even mentioning Fortnite was essentially free traffic for the taking.
In a space as infinite and varied as the internet, it could seem like everyone had kind of agreed on Fortnite (or at least agreed to have an opinion about it). So it comes as a bit of a surprise then that on Tumblr, Fortnite almost didn’t exist. Here is an analogy: Imagine if Politics Twitter spent 2018 only occasionally discussing Donald Trump.
That’s a bit of an overstatement but Tumblr’s official Fandometrics site, which tracks the social network’s community chatter, recently crunched the numbers and Fortnite didn’t crack the top 10 … or the top 20. It placed 30th. I guess that’s better than last year, when it didn’t even make the list. The top five games, from most to least popular, are Overwatch, Detroit: Become Human, Undertale, Kingdom Hearts, and Splatoon.
How does the year’s most explosive breakout hit land so low on Tumblr? There are a number of factors at play. For one thing, while Tumblr generates an outsize amount of what we nebulously term internet culture, it is of a smaller size than sites like Twitter or YouTube, and more insular (well, as insular as a community of millions can be).
Because of its insularity, and its conversation structure, Tumblr is able to cultivate intense fandoms that continue to talk about TV and movies and games, even after they’ve flamed out elsewhere. It’s why games like Persona 5 and Undertale can crack the top 10, even though they’ve been out for more than a year. Fortnite’s glaring underperformance here is best illustrated by the top-two slots on this year’s list.
The second-most discussed game on Tumblr this year was Detroit: Become Human, a thoroughly terrible game, but one that was heavily oriented around narrative and character development. Tumblr users were drawn to them because the game provided ripe ingredients for shipping (placing two [or more] characters in a relationship) and fanfic. Despite being laughably bad, Detroit has legs because it provides enough narrative fodder and world-building for Tumblr users to run with. Here, for instance, is fanart of two Detroit characters, an android and a grizzled cop, about to make out. They do not kiss in the actual game.
That’s even more clearly illustrated with Overwatch, Tumblr’s most popular game of the year. Unlike Detroit, a single-player affair, Overwatch is a multiplayer shooter with no traditional story to speak of, just like Fortnite. Still, Overwatch has “lore,” a unified narrative framework that informs each of the playable characters. Those characters each have dialogue and backstories, even though they range from a gunslinger cowboy to a robot-driving hamster. The same applies for fifth-ranked Splatoon.
Fortnite lacks that framework, and while it has popular “skins” that fans dress up as, it doesn’t really have any characters — every skin doesn’t speak and performs the same silly dances. There are story-like events that unfold week by week as the game goes on but there is not really any lore fueling Fortnite’s fandom. It’s more about boasting and bragging and showing off online. (There is horny Fortnite fanart but not ton, and it is mostly ironic, not earnest.) That would explain why the game didn’t really make a dent on Tumblr, and why there is little discussion about it. Fortnite has no clear themes to dissect or OTPs to ship.
Zooming out a bit further, Fortnite’s lack of presence on Tumblr serves as a prominent reminder that the internet is not a monolith. In a world where centralized megaplatforms and one-size-fits-all recommendation algorithms often dictate what we see online, it is still a wildly diverse ecosystem where even large communities can ignore what everyone else is telling them to look at and pursue their own passions. It’s rare to see that on display on a network as large as Tumblr.