Shooter developers have long struggled to balance competitive online games between players using a handheld controller and those using a mouse-and-keyboard setup. Fortnite is no exception, and developer Epic has a long history of trying to deal with the issue.
Lately, Epic has been tweaking the balance of the “aim assist” that helps players using analog sticks target opponents with something like the precision and speed of a mouse (which gets no targeting assistance from the game). Now, though, top-level PC Fortnite players are increasingly complaining about aim assist that’s too good, putting keyboard-and-mouse players at a disadvantage against those who plug a controller into their PC.
The situation has gotten so bad that ultra-popular streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who made a name for himself playing Fortnite, said during a recent League of Legends stream, “I haven’t legitimately played Fortnite in a long time. Right now it’s just not in a healthy state on PC… I just want that controller aim assist on PC balanced.”
How did we get here?
While most people probably associate controller aim assist with console players, the situation that has pros complaining is about those plugging a controller into the PC version of the game. There, players noticed long ago that the quality of the aim assist was tied to the game’s refresh rate. More frames per second in the game engine meant more helpful assistance, to the point where serious players were investing in 240Hz monitors to improve their aim assist boosts.
“Your input is literally not dragging it the same distance [at different frame rates]” player Upshall noted in this demonstration of the effect from back in 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 most of 2019, there were signs of change through 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 it’s not ignoring these kinds of concerns. Back in March, it finally removed Fortnite‘s “Legacy” aim assist option, which had let controller players continually tap a shoulder button to continually snap their aim to a nearby target (a method derisively referred to as “left trigger spam”).
Then, in late April, another update changed aim assist further in order to “make 240hz [aim assist] act like 60hz [aim assist],” as Epic put it in the patch notes. “Investigations and tests are ongoing regarding aim assist, and your feedback is appreciated.”
But that change may have actually made the problem worse, according to some players. “This almost kind of seems easier than it did before to me,” popular Fortnite streamer Cole Rodey said in the immediate wake of the change. The old “magnet snapping” aim assist “held controller players back because it made headshots harder,” Rodey said, while the new update would “really reward people with good aim.”
“I feel like mouse and keyboard players still aren’t going to be happy, because there’s still noticeable aim assist,” Rodey continued. “It’s not as sticky and magnetic as it once was, but yeah, you still 100% feel this.”
Mouse-and-keyboard players were indeed not happy. “There’s a reason all these pro controller players who are playing on PC… getting all the advantages of a computer, getting all the advantages 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 was having that big of an advantage when I was shooting somebody with a controller on PC, I wouldn’t want that to get nerfed either. ‘Don’t take that shit away from me!'”
This week, Blevins followed up with an appeal directly to controller players to push for change themselves. “It’s going to be up to credible top competitive controller players who have a big influence to be vocal about it and be honest about it if we all as a unit want it to be more balanced,” he said. “If we get people speaking up like that and being honest about it, I think we can actually get a nerf and a [chance] to make it more balanced and healthy.”
“The aim is just like super OP”
Some high-level controller players have indeed acknowledged the situation is untenable. “Controller on PC w/ Linear [aim assist] is just too strong right now,” popular controller player Aydan Conrad tweeted this week. “I think there needs to be a serious rework around linear and they need to start focusing on mechanics that will make [a] controller similar to [mouse and keyboard].”
On the other side, some high-profile mouse-and-keyboard players have given up their preferred control method in order to gain a competitive advantage. NRG player Shane “EpikWhale” Cotton said this week that he felt he needed to learn controller play “so I can use it when I need to get good AR beams on people… the aim is just like super OP [overpowered].”
Cotton made use of that overpowered controller aim to win the most recent round of the FNCS Invitational on a server that was “dominated” by controller players, according to Fortnite Intel’s write up.
Other high-profile players have followed Blevins’ example and started to drift away from competitive Fortnite. “Aim assist ruined Fortnite for [mouse and keyboard] players,” professional streamer and long-time aim-assist critic Turner “Tfue” Tenney tweeted this week. “Looks like we need to find a new game unlucky.”
“After not playing Fortnite for a day I feel so much happier,” Tenney said in a followup days later. “No I didn’t quit Fortnite, I just think the game is super unfair ATM and wanted to take a break,” he added.
Epic, for its part, said in an update sent to streamers last night that further PC controller adjustments are coming as soon as next week. “Controller tweaking, tuning, and investigation 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].”
Here’s hoping those coming changes restore the competitive balance high-level Fortnite players are looking for. Otherwise, we may see more players like Tenney, who said his “First Warzone stream went crazy,” this week.