-Story by Taylor Jenkins

A few weeks ago Fortnite celebrated their Battle Royale mode’s first birthday. In just a year, Fortnite Battle Royale has exploded across the gaming world, grabbing the unending interest of kids, adults and athletes of all ages with over 125 million total players. Of those 125 million players, a handful are Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In Mike Evans’ first press conference back at training camp, he talked extensively about his Fortnite habit, even claiming – fueled by just Chipotle and water – that he played from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. the night he got back to Tampa a few days prior to training camp.

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: PR

“One of my best friends, Terran Petteway, told me to start playing it because I was big into Call of Duty and NBA 2K, I used to play that all the time,” said Evans. “So I tried to play it and I didn’t like it because it was so difficult. Then I played it a little bit more, and after a few weeks of playing it I started to get the hang of it a bit. I’m not the best player, but I’m alright.”

Fortnite can be a great hobby for players like Evans to relax, take a break from football and even avoid napping so he can get good sleep at night. But for some guys on the Bucs’ early 91-man roster, Fortnite can be much more than just a time killer after practice.

“It’s huge,” said rookie tight end, Donnie Ernsberger, who has since moved on from the team. “I’m a rookie coming in, Mike [Evans] is the highest paid wide receiver in the league at the time, and I come in not thinking he even knows my name yet. Then he goes, ‘Hey, Donnie, I heard you’re sweet at Fortnite. Let’s hook up tonight and play some Fortnite,’ so I’m just like, ‘Oh ****, OK, let’s go.’ So we squad up, we play some Fortnite, he’s in there and we’re coordinating attacks together… You just feel like a teammate outside of the actual team, which is amazing.”

Evans and Ernsberger weren’t the only players riding the Fortnite wave though, with Ernsberger saying he played with players all across the offense, from fellow rookie tight end Tanner Hudson to veterans Ryan Griffin and Cam Brate.

“With those big-time names, like Mike and Jameis, and all of them,” said Hudson. “You’ve got to find a way outside of football to connect with them, too, like with any teammates. That’s actually one of the first ways Mike and I started hanging out. We started playing Fortnite and gradually became better friends.”

“That’s such a soft answer,” offensive tackle, Donovan Smith said with a laugh. “But it is. Any time you can find common ground between the vets and the rookies… As a rookie coming in you’re already a little shell-shocked, so any way to ease the load is good.

It may be a soft answer, but when Smith explained how he was ingratiated to the locker room, it sounded like he probably would have preferred to have Fortnite.

“I just had Logan Mankins,” said Smith. “He godfathered me in, him and Gosder Cherilus. They gave me a little bit of hell but they godfathered me in.”

Bucs TE Cameron Brate

“It’s always hard being a rookie, and you’re just kind of forced into it and you’ve got so much going on with football,” said tight end, Cam Brate. “You’re kind of swimming in everything and it’s hard to form relationships with the older guys on the team sometimes. It’s definitely a good bridge to kind of bring guys together. You see guys in their sixth, seventh year playing with rookies. It’s pretty cool.”

But Fortnite isn’t just for building relationships amongst the team. Like Evans mentioned playing with his friend Terran Petteway, who currently plays professional basketball in Italy, Brate also uses Fortnite to keep in touch with friends while he’s in Tampa.

“I play with friends from back home as well,” Brate said. “Sometimes it’s hard to check your phone all the time. You don’t want to be texting all day catching up with everyone so you can just hop on Xbox and connect with three friends for an hour or so.”

As far as the best player on the team during the course of camp, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t reply with “Donnie Ernsberger” when he was still around – no wonder why Evans asked him to play.

The Bucs have moved on from Ernberger already, and with camp cuts looming there’s a chance they could with Hudson, too. But though some of those guys may bounce around the league, Fortnite has been a way for them to connect with their teammates, no matter how long they’re around them as members of an organization.

While a few of these rookies have built a reputation for carrying some of the vets in Fortnite, Fortnite might be the force carrying them through one of the biggest changes of their life and the life of other athletes all across the football world as they strive to make friendships that will last longer than roster spots while striving to make it in the NFL.

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3 years ago

Avid gamer myself and love me some shooters. But I dont get this game at all. My buddy works at epic and that thing hauls in 150 million a week! Anything to help players bond is a good thing and games can do just that.