For the first time since its meteoric rise, Fortnite is no longer a no-doubt victory royale atop the video game industry.
Apex Legends - a battle royale from Electronic Arts - has charged into the market and smashed Fortnite records for downloads and viewership since its release three weeks ago.
Tyler "Ninja" Blevins and other streaming stars have powered that surge, as has the emergence of an 18-year-old Apex superstar. Esports teams are already scrambling to sign talented players and invest long- term, while others are raising concerns about overcommitting to the suddenly volatile battle royale genre.
Developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by EA, Apex has shaken the industry by building on many of its shining successes.
It has pulled popular elements from other battle royales - a type of video game where players are dropped into a map and fight in a last-man-standing format against up to 100 other gamers - while making a few key changes.
Like Fortnite, Apex is free to download and play, making its money by selling outfits and other upgrades for use in the game. Among its key differences: Apex players compete exclusively in teams of three and can choose characters with varying abilities, features essential to team-based esports like League of Legends and Overwatch.
Parents need to know the game is available for download on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC.
The teams compete in matches with up to sixty players to be the last team standing. Gameplay's easy to pick up for first-person shooter fans and has a heavy focus on teamwork and communication. Violence is persistent with some blood shown onscreen, but it isn't overly graphic and there's no onscreen gore.
While there's no profanity in the game's dialogue, online play could still open players up to offensive language in party chat. And while the game is free-to-play, there are microtransactions available which allow players to unlock cosmetic items and characters immediately with real-world money, as opposed to over time through gameplay.
The game has gone hard after the existing battle royale audience. EA recruited Blevins, Richard "KingRichard" Nelson and other famous gamers, asking them to put down Fortnite and stream Apex following its release February 4.
Blevins alone has over 13 million followers on Twitch, immediately giving Apex a massive audience. It's unclear if EA paid those influencers to play the game, and EA did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Apex had 25 million downloads in its first week, crushing the Fortnite mark of 10 million over its first two weeks after launching in 2017.
"I think Apex has caught everybody by storm," said Andy Miller, CEO of NRG Esports, which rosters teams across various video game titles. "They did a phenomenal job of getting the influencers to play it first, feeding the market on Twitch and then watching everybody starting to play the game, and the game is good."
Six days after the game launched, NRG announced it was recruiting Apex players, making it the first esports organisation to seek a pro specifically for that title. General manager Jaime Cohenca led the search, combing through applications and Twitch streams. With the game being so new, Cohenca wasn't entirely sure what he was looking for other than an "exceptional talent."
The question now: What comes next for Apex, Fortnite, and the stars and companies building up around their popularity?
AP and Common Sense Media