Opinion: Fortnite’s Marshmello Concert: More Than a Publicity Stunt

I went to a dance party with my kids the other day. We found out it was happening about two hours before it was scheduled to take place. But it was available for free, close to home, and at a time that made it easy to go. How could I say no?

All we had to do was log into Fortnite Database-Link-e1521645463907. On every game platform – phones, PCs, Xbox, PS4, or Switch – we could join in a shared real-time concert experience inside the game featuring a superstar DJ, Marshmello. And having expected something fun but ultimately trivial, I’ve come away feeling like this event really was an important moment in grasping what the future of games – and interactive entertainment – looks like.

It was my first time trying to be in-game during one of Fortnite’s special events. Fortnite developer Epic Games has started making ‘live event’ in-game moments a regular part of the game’s update schedule. Not so common that they stop being special, but often enough people keep their eyes peeled for when the next event might take place.

Live Virtual Events

It’s important to understand that Fortnite’s events are very different than what we see from most online multiplayer game worlds. Many games-as-a-service offerings hold seasonal events that tie into the real-world calendar. From Lunar New Year to Easter, Summer, Halloween, and Christmas. But these often repeat on an annual cycle and players know they can tune in again next year.

Fortnite is creating one-off events that happen at a specific real-world moment in time. Everyone in the game at that moment experiences the same special event. From the beginnings with a live rocket launch event through to a winter snowstorm, each event has had a cinematic quality that makes the experience for those in the game feel truly epic and, in the current world of social media and streaming platforms, incredibly shareable.

There are no other games creating these kinds of “had to be there” moments right now. In the early days of World of Warcraft Database-Link-e1521645463907 the game featured a number of special one-off moments in its game world.

marshmellow axe

marshmellow axe

Credit: Epic Games

One example was planned – the dramatic opening of the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj (an event requiring all players to work together to open up access to a new piece of content) only happened once and in real-time. Another was an accident – a blood plague meant only for one in-game dungeon spread through major cities and wiped out thousands of players. Both are the kinds of special events that, like Fortnite, are remembered fondly by all those who were able to boast they were there when it happened.

Fortnite has been using these special events to create a pseudo-narrative in a game that has no story at all. And, reminiscent of mysterious TV shows like “Lost,” enthusiastic players fill in the blanks to create a much bigger fiction than the game has ever presented on screen.

Related Article: Does Fortnite Need Esports to Attract Viewers on Twitch?

So that brings us to the latest event – the Marshmello concert. Just like these other one-off events, what could have been a simple, staged music moment in a corner of the game’s island map felt truly special from the moment you arrived in game.

Marshmello, the artistic pseudonym of Christopher Comstock, an electronic music artist whose biggest hit “Happier” released in 2018 (and closed out this concert), has plenty of history with Fortnite. He partnered with Ninja at the very first Fortnite Pro-Am event in Los Angeles, and he has character skins, dance emotes, and other cosmetic items available in the game.

In the lead up to the concert, the game changed to only offer one mode only – ‘Showtime’ – and everyone could respawn into the game world if they were killed. This is a departure from all other events where you could lose your chance to watch the special moment if someone decided to attack. Immediately there was a shift in the vibe of this event – a community spirit? That we’d all be here until the end so let’s party?

On jumping into the world, a stage had been set at one of the island’s locations, Pleasant Park, and a giant holographic countdown was projected into the sky above. The thrum of generic pre-event dance music filled the virtual air.

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With one minute to showtime, weapons disappeared and our interfaces were cleared of most extras to widen our view of the show. Suddenly, there was no more killing in Fortnite.  Players were invited to relax, come together and just dance. The game’s ever closing storm – a mechanic normally used to force players to move closer to each other and restrict the battle –  ensured players were converging on the right place.

The event itself was a wonderfully orchestrated ten-minute dance party. Marshmello introduced the gig with a very live-sounding welcome, his animated visage behind his virtual DJ decks.

Of course, everyone danced. Dancing is central to the fun of Fortnite. You can buy cool dances for your characters that are based on real-world references.

As the show continued, Marshmello called out moments for everyone to jump – and on cue, the crowd played along, but found that jumping suddenly threw players high into the sky. Gravity changed, dance moves were forced onto players, and in a grand finale, everyone was given the ability to fly freely around Pleasant Park.

And this moment of flight, synchronized to a music experience in a virtual game world, stood out clearly as something that took us far beyond a Battle Royale game that happens to have a friendlier, cartoony face than its competitors. This was a reminder that Fortnite is achieving a scale that means it is becoming a gathering space.

In any given server the number was only as many as 100, Fortnite’s magic number of players per game. Yet across all its servers, some reports have put the number of participants in this one-off event as high as ten million.

marshmello 2

marshmello 2

Credit: Epic Games


More and more stories are emerging of Fortnite being a primary social space for younger gamers. While the game is not a single unified game world, you can stay in constant communication with friends and group members inside and outside any given game round you are playing in. There are also now Creative and Playground modes so you can spend time in a shared space only you and your friends are allowed into.

We hear Netflix say, in its January 2019 earnings report, that it feels more threatened by Fortnite than competitor streaming services. Another analysis points out Fortnite’s revenue per user is better than Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat combined. This fun little game that is not afraid to leap between genres and open its doors to cross-media partnerships is showing us how easy it is to keep pushing its horizons and take its fan-base along for the ride.

It’s a threat to esports too. Not that it is ignoring esports. Far from it. But it is a game that fails to live up to certain measures of what an esport should be again and again. It is hard to broadcast, it is about celebrities and influencers more than pure competition, and it changes its rules in the midst of major tournaments in ways that have upset competitors.

Instead, it keeps entertainment and enjoyment as its core focus. The game’s wild success on Twitch shows that, while managing an impartial esports perspective on a broadcast of 100-player Battle Royale is difficult, it is highly watchable when following one player’s journey through a match.

Perhaps Fortnite will one day merge spectatorship of esports with these live event concepts, allowing virtual spectators into the game world. Like attending a golf match or a car racing event, the spectator chooses where they watch the event from, but being in the midst of the action can only enhance the fun. This raises problems – cheating by receiving information from a spectator, for example – but with Fortnite’s focus on fun over esports perfection, it’s not crazy to think it’s a concept they could one day explore.

marshmello 3

marshmello 3

Credit: Marshmello

The game is wide open to corporate partnerships from the real-world too. Fortnite has partnered with Samsung around the launch of the Galaxy Note 9, offering an exclusive skin to those who purchased the phone. It partnered with the NFL, and with the Australian Open tennis tournament. Nothing seems to be ‘off-brand’ for a game and a setting that is so wildly varied and regularly updated.

Fortnite has become so much more than a Battle Royale game in the past twelve months. It started from a place of fun, and is evolving toward a place of shared experiences. I’ve often described Fortnite as the nicest game ever created that is about shooting people in the face. More and more it seems they’re allowing its players to just use Fortnite as a space to play – shooting more and more firmly in the backseat.


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