Last September, a friend told Noah Shannon to download Fortnite: Battle Royale. He laughed. He didn’t want to download some “cartoon video game.”
But his friend kept pushing.
Finally, Shannon downloaded it. It took all of two minutes to wish he had done so sooner.
“It’s amazing,” said Shannon, an Iowa defensive tackle signee. “That’s all I can say.”
Fortnite is the latest video game craze to sweep the nation, including Iowa’s 2018 signing class. Nearly the entire group plays it, and most use it as way to learn about their fellow signees before arriving on campus.
“It’s something fun we like to do, and it lets us become better teammates before we even become teammates,” Shannon said.
Jumping into Fortnite
The Class of 2017 used a group text to bond. The popularity of Fortnite allowed the newest Hawkeyes to interact in a different way.
The Battle Royale version of Fortnite is a winner-take-all survival game. Up to 100 players jump out of an airplane and use various weapons located on an island to be the last person standing.
The first Fortnite game, Save The World, debuted on computers and video game consoles in June 2017. It isn’t free, unlike the downloadable Battle Royale version, which was released in September 2017, about the time it was introduced to Shannon.
The game quickly gained popularity with more than 40 million users worldwide, in part, because the development team focused on a basic question.
“I ask myself what I would want to play,” Epic Games worldwide creative director Donald Mustard told The Spectrum in March. “From very early on, the team knew one of our design pillars would be to make a game that was living room safe [for a younger audience to play].”
The Fortnite Hawkeyes
For the signees, the simplicity of the game is part of its appeal. So is the fact it’s free and can be played on a cell phone, computer or video game console.
There are solo or team missions. The Hawkeyes tend to play together. A player may see another signee online, send them a text to join them or throw out a group message, seeing if anyone in the class is free for a quick game.
Shannon plays mostly with linebacker Jayden McDonald, defensive back Dallas Craddieth, defensive back Kaevon Merriweather, wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. and walk-on wide receiver Blair Brooks.
He enjoys missions with McDonald the most because the two often win together.
“He knows what to do and usually has a plan for us,” Shannon said. “He communicates it really well and it works most of the time.”
Shannon didn’t know Craddieth too well before they started playing Fortnite together. Craddieth is quieter and more reserved in the class chats. Shannon was surprised to see him so outgoing during battles, and it later carried over into conversations away from the game.
“He’s a real cool guy,” Shannon said. “He is so more assertive when playing. I wouldn’t know him as well as I do now if we didn’t play.”
Most of the Hawkeyes don’t consider themselves experts. Defensive end John Waggoner started playing about two months ago. He’ll wade into discussions about the game, but is hesitant to do a mission with his teammates because he’s still a novice.
“They are always sending something in the group chat,” Waggoner said. “They are sending messages and tweets about Fortnite videos.”
Running back Samson Evans is one of the group’s best players. He is coy about his success, saying a little research and practice helps.
His Prairie Ridge (Ill.) High School teammate and fellow Iowa signee Jeff Jenkins is a little more forthcoming about Evans.
“Basically, he does it all and I just kind of follow him,” Jenkins said. “He is on it every day. Spring break, that is all he did.”
Not every signee is into Fortnite. Defensive backs D.J. Johnson and Julius Brents don’t play. Linebacker Logan Klemp tried it twice, but couldn’t get into it.
“I’ll take them all out hunting or fishing to bond,” Klemp said. “That’s what we can do.”
McDonald spotted Shannon when both visited during the Iowa spring game. He came over and the two quickly started chatting, joking and laughing.
The two acted like old friends, but it was their first time meeting in person.
They were eventually joined by Craddieth and Merriweather. The group spoke for about an hour about their future, their hopes and Iowa football.
Fortnite seldom came up.
“It’s funny,” Shannon said. “I figured we would have talked about it more.”