CHICAGO -- The world should have been falling down around them.
At the Rise Till Dawn Fortnite event hosted by Red Bull on the 99th floor of the Willis Tower in Chicago, things were at a standstill. The computers hosting the massive amount of players entering the tournament needed to update the current patch of the game, and as such, the event was delayed more than two hours. The tournament, which was expected to begin at 8:21 p.m. sharp, did not start until almost 11 p.m.
Things, though, while falling apart in the background, were being held up by the combined efforts of the event's marquee superstar, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, his duos partner and friend Ben "DrLupo" Lupo, and Ninja's wife and manager, Jessica "JGhosty" Blevins. What would have been a disaster otherwise still kept sailing with 100,000 concurrent viewers on Ninja's stream with the help of the trio, as Ninja and Lupo played warm-up games (with poor ping because of all the computers downloading the newest patch) while chatting with the live audience. JGhosty, meanwhile, did her best to keep things running smoothly.
By the time the one-hour mark hit on the delay, it wouldn't have been surprising to see all three wave to the crowd and submerge into their designated green room, waiting out the storm until given the thumbs up that the Red Bull tournament could start in earnest. Instead, though, to keep the fans engaged, Ninja jumped down from his perch on the main stage and made his way near the group of players watching him near the far wall, welcoming an unplanned autograph signing.
Over the next hour, his stream would become the most popular fan meetup in Twitch history, with fans getting their chance to chat and get their Rise Till Dawn jerseys signed by the man himself, along with Dr. Lupo and JGhosty.
When the tournament finally got underway, the efforts to keep the event afloat paid off. The grassroots feel worked in favor of Red Bull because of the charm of the people putting on the show. Although there were no solid leaderboard updates until the very end of the night, the constant close calls and near victories for Ninja and DrLupo kept the online and offline viewers alike watching the event until the famous duo pulled off back-to-back victories. From doing live commentary behind players after getting knocked out early to joking back and forth with the live audience, Ninja and DrLupo went beyond the call to make this unique tournament pull through.
It was a long night with ups and downs -- which is expected when you run a tournament that is prepared to go from sundown to sunup -- but even the mistakes added to the charm of the event at times. Anytime a fan would grab a kill on Ninja or DrLupo in the sea of computers, there would be a surge of excitement from the back of the room, a crowd of eliminated players converging.
The night could be summed up in one moment -- the final game of the night. After playing along with the crowd through it all, Ninja and DrLupo were taking the final match as seriously as can be, with minimal talking between the two. Focused, they embarked to do their best to end the night on a climactic note for the viewers. Suddenly, things went awry, and the final game became an anticlimax: Ninja got shot down before DrLupo followed in succession, leaving the final game to be decided between players most of the audience doesn't have any attachment to.
When the game ultimately came to a close, there were no pyrotechnics or confetti, seeing as the small group running the event needed to tally up the point totals between all the teams to see who takes home the trophies and the grand prize. Not wanting to let the night end on a down note, the front-facing trio sprang into action for the umpteenth time, ushering in another round of pictures, small talk and signings. One fan, sitting in the front row, asked Ninja if he could sit in his chair to say hi to his chatroom and to see how it feels to be like Ninja for a minute. Ninja smiled and immediately agreed, letting the fan get onstage and sit in front of his computer for a bit while talking to him.
Winners were announced and trophies were handed out, but that's not what really mattered in the end. On the surface, the event was a gigantic success, averaging more than 100,000 viewers the entire night, even during the down periods, with a smiling pair receiving the event hardware from Ninja and DrLupo. When you look closer, you see how near-disaster the event would have been without the combined efforts of Ninja, DrLupo and JGhosty. It wasn't until the end of the night that pitchers of water were made accessible to the players after having had only Red Bull to drink. Players didn't know the schedule of the matches, with some of the earlier group staying until the end of the event with the thought that there would be one more game to round off the night.
At its core, though, this was a grassroots event that became larger than life because of the trio who put their heart and soul into it. The fans left the venue with smiles on their faces, and -- even after signing the equivalent of memorabilia that could be stacked as high as the Willis Tower itself -- Ninja, DrLupo, and JGhosty did, as well.