Fortnite may be a ridiculously massive gaming phenomenon, but here in Malaysia, where I’ve yet to stumble on any Fortnite streams, it feels almost non-existent to me. And while Travis Scott seems to be quite the successful rapper – his third album, Astroworld, peaked at #1 on the Billboard charts – and has a child with Kylie Jenner, I wasn’t very familiar with him, to put it mildly.
Even so, when it was announced that Fortnite would be having several Travis Scott concerts (the next one is happening today at 10pm Malaysian time), there was no doubt that some record would be set. More than 10 million viewers tuned in for last year’s Marshmello Fornite concert; even with my unfamiliarity with Scott, it seemed likely that his appearance would bring in equally formidable numbers (and it did, with over 12.3 million players participating).
After all, aside from Fortnite’s popularity, there’s also the current social distancing measures and live concert cancellations to bear in mind.
But while the Marshmello concert was a case of “I knew it was going to be a hit, but I don’t understand why people like this”, the Travis Scott one was different. It’s called Astronomical, and it earns the name.
I was expecting it to be similar to Marshmello’s concert, which had a digital stage and a digital Marshmello performing on it. But no – instead, Astronomical opens with a bizarre, giant object with a carnival on its surface floating towards the stage. Was Scott going to disembark from this… thing?
He does, but as a streak of light which flies around the thing before crashing into the ground. The force of the impact sends the audience flying into the air as Scott emerges – shirtless, and very, very big.
It’s an unexpected and surreal start to a concert that only gets increasingly weird. At first, it’s just giant, shirtless Scott walking around the area and emitting stardust (?) as he raps and breaks out some moves. Near the midway point, everyone is thrust into the air again as giant Scott uses his powers to create a red hellscape with fiery meteors in the background.
It’s at this point that the concert starts to really makes use of Fortnite‘s virtual trappings. The map is replaced with a neon-light filled alternate dimension at one point, everyone is underwater at another, and finally, players find themselves flying in space while Scott sits on a moving planet. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.
This first concert probably would have done well anyway without this kind of ambitious display – it’s not like those 12.3 million players knew that it would happen this way. But now that we all know how zany it is, I’m sure that those numbers will see some increase during the next few performances.
But to me, the numbers aren’t the most exciting thing about this event. As Cultured Vultures notes, Fortnite had an official peak of 78.3 million players in August 2018, and 250 million total players in March 2019. That may leave us speculating about whether those numbers have waned or increased since, but big numbers for Fortnite aren’t surprising anymore, barring any massive growth spurts.
It’s the performance itself that sticks in the mind, and how could it not? It’s surprising, creative, and offers spectacle. More importantly, it used its video game venue to create an experience you won’t find in a regular concert.
Considering how impressed I was by watching a video of the concert, I can only imagine how it felt to actually be there. And what if we could one day experience something like this in VR? I don’t think concerts like this will become mainstream anytime soon, but the possibilities for the future are exciting.
The other Travis Scott Fortnite performances aside, we’ll also be seeing another video game concert in the form of Square Garden. Here, artistes like Charlier XCX and Tommy Cash will be performing live in Minecraft, although I’ve no idea what the experience will look like. Although MMOs and games like VR Chat have existed for a while, and even though there were people who performed stage plays in Final Fantasy XIV, the ability of video games to bring people together remains remarkable, especially in this time of coronavirus.
Having watched Astronomical, however, I want more experimentation with these sort of events. I don’t mind “regular” performances, but there should also be more events that strive to deliver something that can only be done in a video game. Astronomical has shown that it’s possible and that it works; the question now is whether others will take inspiration and run with it.