Popular video game Fortnite — where Travis Scott hosted his explosive “Astronomical” concert earlier this year — announced on Tuesday a new series of concerts set to air in-game throughout September. Rapper Dominic Fike is kicking off the event, called Spotlight, at 5 p.m. Eastern Time on September 12th, and the video-game company says it will announce more performing artists for the series in the next few weeks.
Fike, a 24-year-old Columbia Records signee who recently released his debut studio album, is the youngest and most developing artist to hit the Fortnite stage — and his involvement signals the game moving beyond just superstar collaborations, as Fortnite more heavily integrates into the music industry.
“The message to the music industry here is the stage is open,” Nate Nanzer, head of global partnerships at Fortnite parent company Epic Games, tells Rolling Stone. “We want great partners who are into what we’re doing and are going to be great collaborators. Everything we’ve done in the past with music has been a deep collaboration with the artist, everything from Marshmello to Travis to Diplo, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Fortnite has become an unexpected darling to the music business, as it voraciously seeks out new interactive digital opportunities for artists while Covid-19 stalls the return of live music. Scott gave one of the most popular livestreaming events to date on Fortnite through his “Astronomical” show, which drew in millions of viewers and helped slingshot his single “The Scotts” with Kid Cudi to a Number One debut. Marshmello also put on a similar concert a year before, and to kick off game mode Party Royale, Fortnite previously also featured concerts from Dillon Francis, Steve Aoki and Deadmau5.
As live concert events in the game prove popular, Fortnite is further developing shows in the game not just as gimmicky one-offs, but as full-fledged marketing stops for artists pushing new music akin to what they do on late-night shows, Nanzer says. The Spotlight format gives Fortnite a chance to experiment with different genres and artists than the larger acts whose fanbases have crossed over well with the game.
“We saw amazing engagement around the shows, with people sticking around the entire time, and It got us thinking about how we can take this to the next level. And with some of the [Covid] restrictions being lifted and the ability to go into a studio now, we’ve spent the last couple months developing a plan around that. It’ll be a high-quality live show from a studio here in Los Angeles,” Nanzer says.
“Traditionally, when an artist comes out with an album, maybe they’d play on Fallon or [Saturday Night Live]. We view this as something similar.” — Nate Nanzer, head of global partnerships at Epic Games
“Traditionally, when an artist comes out with an album, maybe they’d play on Fallon or SNL. We view this as something similar,” he adds. “This is an evergreen platform where we want to expose artists to our audience, which is a huge benefit for them. And for us, it’s about creating engaging social experiences for our fans. We don’t want to just do Top 40 — we want to broaden out. We want big and up-and-coming artists.”
Livestreaming as a whole has quickly evolved from a fringe novelty concept into one of the industry’s premier burgeoning marketing and performing concepts. As the pandemic continued and viewers grew tired of low-quality, smartphone-shot concerts from artists’ homes, musicians began experimenting with high-quality, premium streams. Some are taking to more standard filmed ticketed livestream platforms like NoonChorus, while others looking for more immersive content have taken to Fortnite, or other immersive reality experiences like Wave and MelodyVR.
A key distinction in creating greater value for livestreams is bringing as much interactivity as possible, most livestreaming platforms say. In Fortnite’s case, that comes from character customization and users interacting with friends.
Some critics have wondered if the animated-style concerts would grow stale as they become more common, but Nanzer doesn’t worry.
“If my friends and I are watching a traditional livestream together and all we can do is text chat, that’s a very different experience than when you’re literally together through Fortnite and can talk through our voice chat and emoting and dancing together,” he says. “There’s a different level of connection.”