Hooked On Fortnite: How a video game has taken over the locker room

Josh Hart: 'I'm definitely the best Fornite player in the league' (1:06)

Lakers youngster Josh Hart says that throughout the NBA he's the best gamer, but he'd always choose hoops over Fortnite. (1:06)

LOS ANGELES -- The most eclectic club in Los Angeles, at least on this scorching summer night, is located in the bowels of a soccer stadium downtown.

On one end of the room, five-time NBA All-Star forward Paul George is holding court by the bar with fellow NBA players Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson as a swarm of cameramen shoot their every move.

To their left, the 16-year-old "Backpack Kid" is giving a group of kids a lesson on how to do his signature "floss" dance. To their right, UFC champions Tyron Woodley and Demetrious Johnson are talking to former WWE tag team champions The New Day about their favorite fighting games. Directly behind them, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, a popular Twitch streamer and internet personality, is catching up with Marshmello, a popular music producer and EDM artist.

They are all here, along with many other celebrities and athletes, to play in the Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am, a 50-team, 100-person invitational event, hosted by the game's developer and publisher, Epic Games. The event is the first Epic Games-sponsored esports event, which comes less than a month after the developer committed $100 million in prize money to events for a game that was just released last July but has quickly become one of the most popular and addicting for professional athletes and celebrities alike.

"It's a great game," George said. "It's the competitiveness. It's one versus 100 people. If you're a competitive person like me you enjoy that challenge of going through so many people to win a game. That's what it really comes down to for me. It's a fun, interactive game that attracts everyone from little kids to grown adults and from single guys to family men. It's a great game for all generations."

Nothing drives that point home more than the assembled group at the field level club of Banc of California Stadium just moments before the start of the competition. It's hard to imagine any other event attracting this diverse collection of athletes and celebrities, which by the end of the night inspires the Backpack Kid to dance with George and forces the normally silent Marshmello, who wears a signature marshmallow mask, to scream and hug Ninja after they win the competition.

"I think the reason it caught on so fast is the accessibility," said Marcus Scribner, who stars on the ABC sitcom "Black-ish," and is an avid gamer who played in the Fortnite Pro-Am. "It's a game you can easily understand even if you don't play video games. One of the main games I play is League of Legends and the difficulty is people outside of League of Legends don't understand what's going on when they're watching it so it's harder to introduce new players. Fortnite is easy and accessible. People understand it as soon as they watch it and they want to play it."

The game's popularity spread rapidly through NBA locker rooms last season. Few, if any, were playing the 2-month-old game at the start of training camp in September, but over half the league was playing it by the end of the season, according to several players.

"Paul George is one of the most competitive people I've ever been around. He's competitive in chewing gum so it's always going to be a competition with him."
Reggie Jackson on Paul George

"It's really big in the NBA," George said. "I think at least eight guys on every roster is playing the game. I know in our locker room in Oklahoma we're very competitive against each other to see who can get as many wins so it's definitely competitive and something we talk about."

George had been playing Fortnite with Jackson before Jackson introduced the game to his Detroit Pistons teammate Drummond, who instantly became hooked on it along with their teammates Stanley Johnson and Eric Moreland. Many others around the league, including Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Josh Hart and Steven Adams, haven't hidden their love for the game on social media.

"It's gotten nuts to be honest with you," Jackson said. "It went from a fad to most of the guys playing this game. I started playing with Paul and then I started playing with Andre and so many other guys. We're competitive in everything. Paul George is one of the most competitive people I've ever been around. He's competitive in chewing gum so it's always going to be a competition with him."

No game has experienced this kind of growth and this kind of following before its first birthday and many players credit the ability to play the game on PlayStation, Xbox, PC, Mac, smart phones and tablets at no cost. It's easier to get hooked on a game when there's no need to buy anything and all your friends are already playing it.

"Fortnite is an easy game for everybody to get into," said UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. "It's not very aggressive. When you're looking at games like PUBG or H1Z1 they're very overwhelming and hard but Fortnite is easy and it's on all consoles and it's free. You cannot beat free. It's just easy to get into and it's fun, so it's not surprising how quickly it caught on."

Chances are anyone who wasn't familiar with Fortnite before first found out about the game in March, when rappers Drake and Travis Scott along with Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster joined Ninja and streamed themselves playing Fortnite. The quartet attracted about 630,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch, which shattered Twitch's previous record of 388,000 concurrent viewers on a single gamer's stream. Last month Fortnite was the highest-viewed game on Twitch, with a total of 127.9 million hours consumed by viewers, according to Statista.

"I actually watched Ninja play in his stream when he was playing with Drake," George said. "The guy is great. He understands the game. A lot of the game is angles and knowing direction and he has a brilliant mind when it comes to that stuff. You knew the game was big after that stream. Everyone knows about it and is playing it now."