My opponent is distracted and I’ve managed to sneak up on him—perfect. I take aim and then left-click, firing at his back. Several shots land, but then the player spins in a circle and is instantly surrounded by a miniature fort. In the blink of an eye, he pops out of the top and kills me. Another round of Fortnite over, and for me it’s ended early—as usual.
“The first thing you have to do is build a 1×1,” Troy Hanson tells me. “Then you want to get higher than your opponent. Building is essential in Fortnite.”
Hanson—better known by his Fortnite username, UnknownAvix—is a college student in California who is paying for his education by coaching Fortnite. He tailors his lessons to the skill level of each student, covering everything from the best spots on the map for finding loot to the quickest ways to build structures to defend or attack. I hired him to see what techniques and tricks he could teach me in an hour to take my game to the next level. And I’m not alone.
In the past decade, e-sports have exploded. Tournaments structured more like those involving professional sports are drawing massive in-person and online crowds. Recently, one aired in a prime-time spot on ESPN. The best players can make millions. Is it any surprise, then, that gamers are hiring coaches, just like any other athletes?
Now, I’m by no means a pro, but I’m not new to the world of gaming, either. I’ve played various first-person shooter (FPS) games for over a decade and currently rank among the top 1% of players in Rocket League, a game best described as soccer but with cars that can jump and boost. The massively popular game Fortnite, however, is not my forte. That’s where Hanson comes in.
In Fortnite’s “Playground” (free play) mode, Hanson started off by assessing my skill level and asking what aspects of the game I’d like to improve on. It felt a lot like talking to the personal baseball coaches I’d worked with growing up.
I found that many of the techniques I use in other FPS games, like movement and aiming, carried over nicely to Fortnite. But they weren’t enough. The game’s unique take on its genre is the concept of building. In each match, players gather resources that are used to build forts, towers, and other structures to gain an edge when engaging opponents.
Hanson taught me the basics of building. By erecting four walls surrounding a staircase, you create Fortnite’s simplest strategic structure, the “1×1.” It’s sort of like your own mini-fort. But it’s not something you can do at your own speed. In this fast-paced game, clicking once to build each wall is too slow. Instead, Hanson taught me to hold down the left button, then move my mouse to look in rapid succession at the spots where I’d like the walls built. This method completed a 1×1 maybe half a second faster, but in Fortnite, that’s all that matters.
The next step was converting the 1×1 into a tower—a more complex feat than it sounds. If the supports for your structure are shot out, it can collapse and take you with it. So Hanson taught me how to build a tower that utilized a reinforced design. Pros can erect these structures in moments. For me, it took half a minute.
As our hour progressed, we covered everything from the best way to knock down an opponent’s structure to building an emergency landing pad to catch you when you fall (an ever-present risk in a game where building higher than your opponent is the preferred strategy).
The session ended with a library of links to Fortnite guides, and I saved the replay of what we’d done so I could reference it later. Hanson emphasized the importance of not just understanding the strategies he’d taught but practicing them until I could reproduce them through muscle memory alone. I found myself reminded of the time a batting coach assigned me to square up to an imaginary home plate and take 100 practice swings a day.
In the end, I learned an incredible amount from my hour with Hanson, but it was only the start of a proper Fortnite education. Most of Hanson’s students study with him long term—just as athletes might stay with a particular coach over the course of their career.
In the growing e-sports scene, there’s no shortage of aspiring Fortnite pros. Hanson estimates he averages 50 to 60 hours of coaching a week, with back-to-back sessions on the weekends. Many of his students are 12 or younger , which could be problematic given that his standard rate is around $13 an hour. Luckily for them, a growing number of parents now view video games as character-building hobbies just like football or guitar. In that light, it makes sense that you’d hire a coach to improve your skills.
“Four or five years ago, gaming was the nerdiest thing you could do. But now it’s cooler, and that’s yielding a larger audience of people looking to get better,” says Hanson. The potential to earn vast amounts as a pro e-sports athlete probably doesn’t hurt either.
Hanson used to do all his own advertising to find students, but these days he’s listed as a top coach on Gamer Sensei (one of several websites connecting students with experienced coaches), and the students come to him.
While versions of Fortnite for computer and console remain the most popular, the game has recently expanded into mobile in order to appeal to a wider audience. Hanson coaches all forms of the game but sees Fortnite Mobile as more of an introductory tool than a competitive platform.
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“On a controller or keyboard, you can click a lot of keys very quickly. On mobile, you have to do with two thumbs what others do with 10 fingers,” he says. “For my mobile players, if they’re looking to improve, I suggest switching to Fortnite on PC or console.”
As for the future of Fortnite and video-game coaches, Hanson thinks things are looking up. “Even if Fortnite dies off—which I think it won’t—there will always be another game to take its place,” he says.
Looking to improve at Fortnite yourself? Here are Troy’s top five tactics you need to perfect to earn your first victory
1. Building structures
You have to practice building structures so that when you need to, you can do it quickly.
2. Editing structures
Making on-the-fly changes to your structures can give you a competitive edge by surprising your opponent.
3. Map rotation
In “Battle Royale” games, the playing zone constantly shrinks. Moving intelligently around the edges of this space can keep you away from enemies and extend your life.
It’s hard, but it is possible to win games without building. You’ll never win them without good aim, though.
5. Map awareness
Fortnite has fixed loot spawn locations. Knowing where they are gives you a necessary competitive edge.