Shooter developers have long struggled to balance competitive online games between players using a handheld controller and players using a mouse-and-keyboard configuration. Fortnite is no exception, and developer Epic has a long history of attempting to address the issue.
Lately, Epic has tweaked the balance of the “aiming aid” that helps players who use analog sticks to target opponents with something like the precision and speed of a mouse (which doesn’t get aiming aid from the game). But now PC at the highest level Fortnite players are increasingly complaining about aim assist that is too goodputting keyboard and mouse players at a disadvantage over those who plug a controller into their PC.
The situation has gotten so bad that ultra-popular streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who made that name by playing Fortnitesaid during a recent League of Legends stream, “I didn’t play legit Fortnite long time. Right now it’s just not in a healthy state on PC…I just want the controller aim assist on PC to be balanced.”
How did we get here?
While most people probably associate pointing a controller with console players, the situation where pros complain is about those plugging a controller into the PC version of the game. There, players noticed a long time ago that the quality of the aim assist was linked to the refresh rate of the game. More frames per second in the game engine meant more helpful help, to the point where serious players invested in 240Hz monitors to improve their aim assist boosts.
“Your input literally doesn’t drag it the same distance [at different frame rates]player Upshall wrote in this demonstration of the effect from January 2019.
So… FPS affects how hard aim assist drags.
— Upshall (@UpshallGames) January 31, 2019
While keyboard and mouse players still generally dominated the competitive scene for much of 2019, there were signs of change throughout the year. Fifteen-year-old Jaden “Wolfiez” Ashman won a share of second place while using a controller in a Fortnite World Cup Tournament in July. And in December, high-profile controller player UnknownArmy won the Fortnite Champion Series two seasons in a row on the highly competitive NA-East server.
“Get controller players out of PC tournaments SAY I,” Faze Clan pro player Timothy “Bizzle” Miller tweeted last November†
Not enough nerfs?
Going into 2020, Epic has shown that it is not ignoring these kinds of concerns. It was finally removed in March Fortnite‘Legacy’ aim assist option, which allowed controller players to continuously tap a shoulder button to continuously aim at a nearby target (a method derisively referred to as “left trigger spam”).
Then, at the end of April, another update further modified target help to make “240hz” [aim assist] act like 60hz [aim assist]as Epic put it in the patch comments. “Research and testing are ongoing regarding aiming assistance, and your feedback is appreciated.”
But that change may have made the problem worse, according to some players. “This almost seems easier than before,” popular Fortnite said streamer Cole Rodey in the immediate aftermath of the change. The old “magnet snapping” target assist “stopped controller players because it made headshots more difficult,” Rodey said, while the new update “would really reward people with good aiming.”
“I have a feeling that mouse and keyboard players are still not going to be happy because there is still noticeable help with aiming,” Rodey continued. “It’s not as sticky and magnetic as it once was, but yes, you still feel this 100%.”
Mouse-and-keyboard players were indeed not happy. “There’s a reason why all these professional controller players who play on PC… get all the benefits of a computer and get all the benefits of a 240 Hz monitor are saying, ‘It’s not broken,'” Blevins said in early May. “Because if I was 16 years old and I had such a big advantage shooting someone with a controller on PC, I wouldn’t want that to go nerf either. ‘Don’t take that shit off me!'”
This week, Blevins followed with a direct appeal to controller players to push for change themselves. “It’s up to credible, competitive controller players who have a lot of influence to speak up and be honest about it if we all as a unit want it to be more balanced,” he said. “If we let people talk like that and be honest about it, I think we can really get a nerf and a [chance] to make it more balanced and healthier.”
“The target is like super OP”
Indeed, some high-level controllers have acknowledged that the situation is untenable. “Controller on PC with Linear” [aim assist] is just too strong right now,” popular controller player Aydan Conrad tweeted this week. “I think there needs to be some serious rework around linear and they need to start focusing on mechanics that will make sure the [a] controller similar to [mouse and keyboard]†
On the other hand, some high-profile mouse-and-keyboard players have given up their preferred method of control to gain a competitive edge. NRG player Shane “EpikWhale” Cotton said this week that he felt he should learn controller play “so I can use it when I need to get good AR beams on people… the target is just like super OP [overpowered]†
Cotton took advantage of that overwhelmed controller goal to win the most recent round of the FNCS Invitational on a server “dominated” by controller players, according to Fortnite Intel’s article.
Other high profile players have followed Blevins lead and started drifting away from competitive Fortnite† “Aim assist ruined Fortnite for [mouse and keyboard] players,” professional streamer and longtime critic Turner “Tfue” Tenney tweeted this week† “Looks like we have to find a new game unhappy.”
“After Not Playing” Fortnite for a day I feel so much happier,” Tenney said in a sequel days later. “No I didn’t stop FortniteI just think the game is super unfair ATM and wanted to take a break,” he said added†
Epic, for its part, said in an update sent to streamers last night that further tweaks to the PC controller will be made next week. “Tweaking, tuning and researching of the controller continues,” the company wrote. “We have some changes and next steps, but we don’t want to release right before the FNCS Invitational Finals [which begin May 23]†
I hope those coming changes restore the high level competitive balance Fortnite looking for players. Otherwise we might see more players like Tenney who said his first war zone stream went crazy”, this week.