The third-person shooter by Epic Games — which features no gore and has a cartoon aesthetic — was introduced last week as an esport at the high school and college levels via a partnership between Epic and PlayVS, an organization that offers esports programs in U.S. schools. PlayVS creates competitions by partnering with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), including the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA).
The recent announcement by PlayVS alarmed KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett, who sent an email to Kentucky school officials stating that “there is no place for shooter games in our schools,” reported the Lexington Herald-Leader. Tackett also cited the 2018 shooting at Marshall High School that killed two people and wounded a dozen others.
“Neither the KHSAA, NFHS nor the NFHS Network had any knowledge of this addition and is strongly against it,” Tackett said in the email, which was also provided to The Washington Post. “This announcement was particularly troubling in that it came on the anniversary of one of Kentucky’s darkest days, the Marshall County incident.”
Tackett also alleges in the email that adding Fortnite “violates the contract signed by PlayVS and the NFHS … and places the future of that program at peril.”
The impact and validity of the ban, or the role the NFHS would play in high school-level Fortnite competitions is unclear. In an email to The Post last week clarifying the operation of the Fortnite competitions, a representative for PlayVS wrote that “PlayVS is operating a national club league for Fortnite with Epic” and that “schools opting into Fortnite will compete in a national club league, separate from their respective state associations.” High school Fortnite competitions would “function outside of our current partnerships with the NFHS and individual state associations."
That was a distinction PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell drew in comments to The Post Wednesday night. Parnell said the organization operates on a scholastic level, which works with the state associations, and also as a business, offering programs at the club level. The Fortnite competitions would operate as the latter, with club activities not subject to the governance of NFHS governance.
“We believe the confusion arose from smaller media publications misrepresenting what’s on our website, in our press release, and on our social media,” Parnell wrote in an emailed statement to The Post. Several articles last week heralded the announcement by stating Fortnite had become an “official” high school sport. “[Our postings] all say that Fortnite is a club league. Once we identified this confusion, we took steps to further clarify the scholastic/club distinction on our social channels and issued a clarification to media outlets.”
Tackett said the three organizations will review this with Kentucky’s Department of Education. A KHSAA spokesman told the Herald-Leader that the association feels all games must be “properly vetted” with other partners. The association previously approved League of Legends — a game that also features cartoon violence but doesn’t include guns and is not in the “shooter” genre of games.
Parnell said the organization understands Kentucky’s sensitivity around the issue.
“Our scholastic partnerships are vitally important for us and we’re working hand-in-hand with our partners to help these partnerships blossom,” Parnell said.
PlayVS and Fortnite developer Epic Games announced on Jan. 22 the first official Fortnite competitive series at the high school level, as well as its first officially sanctioned collegiate format with a national championship.
Epic Games declined to comment on the ban.
The KHSAA website currently displays student and program information only for League of Legends, Rocket League and SMITE, the other three series offered by PlayVS.
This friction between Fortnite’s guns and high school programs comes at a time when Fortnite is increasingly becoming accepted and thought of more as a social media app and less as a video game. Last year, Netflix executives considered Fortnite, not HBO, as its biggest competitor.
And although the game was released in 2017, it was still 2019′s most profitable nonmobile game, raking in $1.8 billion, down from 2018′s $2.4 billion haul.
The U.S.-centric issue of whether video games cause gun violence has now spanned three decades, despite analyses that have concluded there’s not enough data or evidence to prove a connection. The American Psychological Association says connecting the two is “problematic."
A 2018 analysis by a Washington Post reporter found that if video games do cause violence, it happens only in the United States.