Fortnite is a strange entity. It manages to be both one of the most popular and one of the most hated games on the planet, but then that’s nothing new – lots of games that achieve massive cultural penetration unearth contrarians, especially if they’re targeted towards kids. Minecraft was the same, until Fortnite came along and absorbed the hate, freeing Minecraft from said contrarians. Another game in the future will likely do the same for Fortnite, but as a phenomenon, Epic Games’ juggernaut is currently unrivalled. None of its gimmicks or events have gotten me to play it just yet, but if the Ariana Grande leaks are true, take me to Tomato Town.
Grande wouldn’t be the first to host a concert, but she would be the first one I cared about. More than that though, she’s a clear step up from what has come before. Travis Scott, Fortnite’s big music superstar, is closing in on 1 million albums sold in the US, and will likely reach that when Utopia releases later this year. Ariana Grande has sold 85.5 million. She’s also from a very different sphere, with Scott a known gamer and Fortnite fan, his music very typical of the soundtracks of today’s games that either have their finger on the pulse of youth culture or pay out the wazoo for focus groups that tell them what music to play. While Grande is an avid casual player – she has a Pokemon tattoo and a line about Mario Kart in one of her hits – she’s certainly not a typical gamer, and she’s exactly what Fortnite needs to elevate itself as a genuine platform for digital concerts rather than just a gimmick used to help expand the metaverse.
cross promotion through its skins and seasonal updates, it has also hosted movie trailer premieres, and it feels like only a matter of time before Fortnite outgrows Fortnite and needs a spin-off of its own to contain all of its storytelling and licensed potential. I don’t particularly care for online battle royales, but there’s something uniquely intoxicating about Fortnite. How many other games let Harley Quinn, Aloy, Mystique, and Harry Kane team up on adventures together inside Croft Manor? I always keep an eye on Fortnite, because I think its growth is fascinating for gaming’s potential to tell different types of stories.Music isn’t the only thing Fortnite does – as well as being a master of
We know games have improved narratively over the last decade or so. Many point to The Last of Us as the cornerstone for this, but regardless of what started it, heartfelt, complex narratives are hot right now. Gaming still needs to develop maturity – we constantly compare ourselves to film yet could never have a Promising Young Woman moment – but storytelling is better than ever. Fortnite does things very differently.
It’s narratively flat; without a single player mode or a major story, so it’s difficult for Fortnite to do much more than surface level stuff with seasonal events and rapidly changing worlds. Each chapter brings with it a new development, and it does brilliant things with the space it has, but The Last of Us it certainly ain’t. Much more interesting is how Fortnite includes things outside of the game – whether that be trailers or tie-ins – to make the story of Fortnite much richer than maps and modes changing with each new season. It has teamed up with Stranger Things, Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and many more – yet Ariana Grande feels bigger than all of them.
Sure, Star Wars is a cultural behemoth with an unrivalled impact on pop culture – and its closest rival is probably Marvel, which is also in Fortnite anyway. But we expect Star Wars and Marvel to be in video games. They’re a good get, but they aren’t unique to Fortnite. While Grande has featured in a mobile Final Fantasy game – as the character Dangerous Ariana – having her perform a concert in Fortnite has the potential to be much, much bigger.
While the story is still just a – credible – leak for now, we know for a fact an Ariana Grande event was planned last year. During the Apple vs Epic court case, documents revealed that both Grande and Lady Gaga had events planned and then cut last year due to the difficulties of the pandemic. Also included in those court documents were plans for a LeBron James skin – considering that’s just been launched, it appears many events in the documents were delayed rather than cancelled.
It’s probable that this event was initially timed to promote the pair’s duet, Rain On Me. This time around, there is no obvious promotion. Grande has released an album a year since 2018’s Sweetener, but aside from a deluxe re-release of Positions, it seems like 2021 will break that pattern. She also won’t tour until at least 2022, so that’s out, and the single cycle of Positions seems to be over as well. Maybe she doesn’t need anything specific to promote though. Perhaps Fortnite’s captive audience – an audience very different to her typical demographic – is a draw all on its own.
On a personal level, Ariana Grande is the thing that’s going to make me download Fortnite. Unless you swapped out Grande for Taylor Swift, you couldn’t have it any more perfectly designed for me. That’s kind of the point though – there are lots of people like me, either with an interest in gaming but no attachment to Fortnite or just those who don’t play games at all, who will be drawn in by Ariana Grande. A trailer preview doesn’t mean much; it will be out in the world soon enough anyway. But digitally attending a concert requires active participation; it needs you to be there. The Travis Scott experiment was a success, but Scott draws a far smaller crowd than Grande, and he’s largely drawing Fortnite fans anyway. If Grande comes to town, Fortnite will take another huge step towards global domination.
No one can hear what Snoop Dogg is saying on Twitch and either he doesn’t know or he doesn’t care.
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