Houston’s clubhouse is not immune to the rapid rise of Fortnite, the hit video game that has captivated millions around the world, including Drake, Roseanne Barr and a few NBA stars. World Series MVP George Springer, third baseman Alex Bregman, outfielder Josh Reddick and starter Lance McCullers Jr. are just a few of the avid players on a team that is obsessed enough to have brought multiple PlayStations into the clubhouse at various points this spring.
“It’s spread pretty fast among us,” Reddick said, “like I think it has worldwide. It’s a lot of fun.”
Bregman and outfielder Jake Marisnick were the first Astros to start playing, with Springer, Reddick and others soon joining in. Springer, who now describes himself as a “Fortnite addict,” began as a casual player before unwanted intervention from a teammate led to the stakes being raised.
“I started out saying, ‘I’m not buying anything on this stupid game. I’m just going generic,” Springer said. “And then Josh Reddick logged into my PlayStation and bought like $100 worth of stuff.”
Though Fortnite is free to play, users can pay for cosmetic upgrades including costumes, gliders and even better dance moves. It’s unclear why Reddick, who is in the second year of a $52 million contract with the Astros, had to spend someone else’s money, though Springer didn’t seem to mind.
“Now I’ve got these crazy costumes and stuff,” Springer said. “And you know what? I’m glad he did it.”
Springer’s best finish so far is third place, which doesn’t place him in the upper echelon of Astros battlers. Marisnick, who estimates that he has seven or eight squad wins, and McCullers, who likes to assemble a squad-mode dream team that includes Brewers outfielder Brett Phillips, a “guy who’s in high school and is actually nasty,” and one of his brothers, were mentioned by their baseball teammates as the top players in the clubhouse.
“Who’s the best?” McCullers asked. “In the clubhouse, it’s probably me. That’s not setting the bar super high. I think the difference is that I play with guys who are really good so I’m racking up a lot of wins.”
McCullers, whose weapon of choice is the green pump shotgun, likes to jump into the heavily populated Tilted Towers area and carry out a carefully constructed plan of gathering resources and setting traps. Springer and Reddick, who tend to play together, tend to jump on the edges of the map and run around to see how long they last.
Just like baseball, squad-mode Fortnite is a team game of individual battles. Even though it’s a video game, things can get heated when players aren’t pulling their weight or aren’t informed that a squad is taking off.
“It gets competitive,” Marisnick said. “There’s always some hard feelings if someone doesn’t get in the squad in time.”
“If you’re with a squad and playing with good players and you die early, you’re just sitting there for 35 minutes just watching them play,” McCullers said. “You don’t wanna be that guy.”
As the focus turns to meaningful games as the season gets underway this week, it’s unlikely that Houston’s major stars will continue to be as consumed by the Fortnite world. Still, Reddick said that there’s a chance during the season that the whole team brings their PlayStations to work at some point this season.
“We understand when it’s time to lace them up, go out there and give it 100 percent,” McCullers said. “But we also understand when it’s time to kick back and relax and just chill.”
That relaxation, at least so far this spring, has helped bring a tight-knit group even closer together off the field.
“You try to find things that keep you and your teammates unified,” Reddick said. That’s something this team does so well. We play together [on Fortnite] and talk baseball until something happens in the game.”