It’s hard to overstate just how popular Fortnite is. With 3.4 million concurrent players, monthly revenue over $120 million, and high-profile players like Drake, Fortnite is probably the most popular video game on the planet right now. The driving force behind that popularity are kids who are so dedicated to the game they play it even when they’re supposed to be studying in school.
The release of Fortnite mobile has caused a spike in classroom fragging that is driving teachers crazy. It’s pretty easy for schools to block access to certain programs on their Wi-Fi, but clever students are using VPNs and other circumvention methods keep playing.
The easiest solution is the most expensive. “Most kids use mobile data at school,” Amy Terrell, a Texas high school teacher told me via text.
Playing Fortnite on a phone using mobile data will probably ruin data limits and run up the bill, but most kids don’t pay their own cell phone bills. Other students are using a classic method to get around Wi-Fi restrictions—a virtual private network (VPN), a kind of software service people use to hide their internet activity.
VPNs add a layer between your computer and the internet, forcing your connection to go through another server before going out onto the internet, and hide your browsing habits. In Iran, for example, young people use VPNs to reach IP addresses that are blocked by the government. Kids use the same method to play Fortnite in schools where it's blocked.
There are dozens of videos on YouTube showing kids playing Fortnite at school after using VPNs to bypass Wi-Fi restrictions. It’s an arms race though, as schools identify the VPNs kids are using and block those as well.
Another method, identified by 14-year-old YouTuber dowcwow, involves using a Chromebook to remotely connect to his home PC.
“Over 90 percent of the people at school have played Fortnite,” dowcow, a high school freshman on the East Coast, told me over the phone. “It’s hard to do in class...they don’t let us have our phones out.”
He and his friends tried VPNs first, but couldn’t find one that the school hadn’t blocked. That’s when one of his friends floated the idea of using a virtual desktop service to play the game on a laptop. “I thought I’d use remote desktop instead,” dowcwow said. dowcwow’s school provides kids with a Chromebook to do classwork on.
The machines have a built in feature that allows them to easily connect remotely to any PC that’s been set up to stream to the Chromebook. “It’s a pretty simple process,” dowcwow told me. The whole thing takes less than five minutes to set up. Lag is a problem, but it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make.
No one has caught on yet and dowcwow isn’t worried about Google’s remote desktop service getting blocked. “I will look for another site and make another video about it,” he said.
As a tech and science publication, Motherboard recommends students pay attention in class. It's important to get an education. On the other hand... tech savvy teenagers are learning how to bypass an authority that’s restricting their access to the information they want. It’s a skill that will probably serve them well in life. Carry on, kids.
Fortnite developer Epic Games declined to comment on this story.