How Fortnite put on a masterclass of COVID-curated content

May 11, 2020
Sam Voss

As a marketer, tech lover, and gaming enthusiast, it’s safe to say I’m in awe of Fortnite’s recent cross-platform ‘live show’. A ground-breaking stunt that offered a small relief in difficult times, and even a glimpse into the future of branded content. Before I dive into all of that though, let me set the scene for those who missed it.

Fortnite over the last few years has been nothing short of a gaming juggernaut. The game is simple – players drop into an open world map. They then take part in a ‘last man standing’ royal-rumble with varying degrees of power-ups, weapons and gadgets available to them. The popularity of the game has increased due to its growing celebrity fan base of footballers and sports stars, with even Antoine Griezmann at the 2018 World Cup mimicking in-game dance moves as part of a goal celebration.

However, it was a recent move by the games developer Epic that has grabbed the headlines in some of the biggest marketing, business and entertainment publications across the globe – and deservedly so. A little over two weeks ago Fortnite announced that they would stage five ‘live’ shows of US rapper Travis Scott performing as a giant version of himself within the game. Think Godzilla stomping across the Tokyo skyline, meets the Tupac hologram at Coachella in 2012.

During the show Fortnite players could drop in and watch Travis Scott perform whilst the map and skyline would psychedelically shift and change. At one point Travis sank to the depths of a dark ocean wearing a gold plated diving suit which then changes to him sitting on top of a flaming planet rapping as it spins in orbit.

The event itself should be seen as a masterclass in cross-platform entertainment. Fortnite, or more specifically the developers Epic, were brave enough to take the plunge. The utter-craziness of the concept slots perfectly within the cartoon universe of Fortnite. The end result? Over 12 million people watched the 10-minute show “live”. At the end of the five-show run Epic announced that there had been over 27 million unique views. That’s more than the Game of Thrones finale, the 2019 Champions League Final on BT or the 2019 Wimbledon Men’s Final on BBC 1.

Changing habits

Of course, there is no doubt as to the effect that COVID-19 has had on the way we consume content.

Gaming has seen record breaking numbers during lockdown which should come as no surprise. A recent report showed that there was 4.9 billion hours of live-streamed content watched during Q1 2020 (a 35% increase compared to 2019.)

Data from Global Web Index shows that esports is the most popular thing 25-34 year olds are doing more of during lockdown. It also seems to be becoming more mainstream. Half of fans are now 25-34 years old (previously the biggest fan group was age 16-24). The male: female ratio is also changing. Pre-COVID, it was 80:20 but now it’s 65:35. Other fan insights include a rise in people with two kids, from 16% to 27% and increased increase for people with higher incomes.

With people forced inside and wanting some form of escapism, gaming provides a huge opportunity, and platform, for brands to feature. Where eyeballs are, brands will follow.

So, what can other brands learn from the Travis Scott/Fortnite collaboration and how can they capitalise on this interest?

For example, did Nike miss a trick by not getting involved with the shows in Fortnite? Scott recently collaborated with Nike to create custom Air Jordan’s and a line of clothing called Cactus Jack. With over 27 million views it could have been a lucrative, and relatively low cost, way of showcasing that clothing line to its key audience.

Is the future for brands and esports through sports stars and brand ambassadors, such as Sergio Aguero who took part as a driver in yesterday’s virtual Spanish Grand Prix for Aston Martin Red Bull through his affiliation with Puma? Or will it be through sponsorship in the many different esport leagues and tournaments across the globe?

This will no doubt be a question at the front of every global brand and sponsor’s mind as they watch the world of esports continue to grow over the coming months and years. It’s an exciting time for gaming and we look forward to seeing how brands will navigate the world of esports to deliver innovative and impactful results.

Sam Voss