Review: Travis Scott’s ‘Astronomical’ Fortnite Event
(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) – Travis Scott Astronomical
A view of Fortnite featuring Travis Scott Presents: Astronomical on April 23, 2020 in Los Angeles. Travis Scott + Cactus Jack partnered with Fortnite to produce Astronomical, an in-game experiential performance and the world premiere of a new song.
When my editor first asked me to cover Travis Scott’s concert event inside the free online game Fortnite, I had my reservations. I had never played Fortnite and am neither a Travis Scott hater nor fan, so I probably wouldn’t have very strong opinions on the music or the game experience.
But we both knew that the previous Fortnite concert event from Marshmello in February 2019 showed video games were providing a unique new way for artists to connect with younger audiences, and Travis Scott is a massive artist in his own right, having secured the top slot on the 2019 Q1 Top 100 Tours chart after his massive “Astroworld: Wish You Were Here Tour.”
So I committed to downloading the game and tuning into the experiences of streamers, the professional video game players who broadcast their sessions live.
Before we get into my experience, let me start by saying the official video of the in-game concert is available on YouTube and embedded below.
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There are also tons of free videos of people broadcasting their experience playing the game.
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Now, if you want some help making sense of what is going on in these videos or why people are making a big deal about this, I will begin with some context.
Video games are a massive part of the entertainment industry today, in no small part because video gamers tend to be young. Newzoo’s Remer Rietkerk previously told Pollstar that according to company research 78 percent of esports (professional competitive video games) enthusiasts are 35 or under.
There’s lots of money to be made in video games, and they’re one of the best ways to connect with young audiences.
Fortnite, specifically, attracts very young players. More than 62 percent of Fortnite’s player base was under age 24 in 2019, according to Statista. The game has registered more than 250 million users in two years and is playable on phone, PC, and console. The developer, Epic Games, established the first Fortnite World Cup in 2019.
The winner of the solo tournament at the inaugural Fortnite World Cup, a 17-year-old professional streamer from the U.S. who goes by the alias Bugha, earned $3 million.
In the game there are multiple modes, but the most popular one is Fortnite Battle Royale where 100 players are dropped into a massive world where they can build structures, find weapons and compete to be the last player standing. The Battle Royale mode is free to play, though other modes require purchases, and within the game lots of money can be spent to customize your in-game character’s outfit and celebration dances.
Prior to the concert Travis Scott had already played Fortnite with the massively popular streamer Ninja, showing he appreciated the game. Not only does Scott have a massive audience for his recorded and live music, but he is known as a merch king, because his new releases are increasingly associated with custom clothing and collectibles items that often sell out. When he released his chart-topping Jackboys collaborative EP, his merch shop was completely sold out and much of the merch was bundled with the music. So it was fitting that there were several in-game “merch” elements that could be bought or unlocked while participating in the event. Players could do Travis Scott dances during the concert, could ride on one of the carts from his “Astroworld” roller coasters, and could even get an in-game character that looked like the artist.
Which brings me to my experience. The shows took place at different times on different servers (The Americas, Europe, China, etc.), and had two U.S. showings, on April 23 and 25. I had initially intended to experience the first show in-game, but Fortnite proved to be a massive install (it took several hours on my PC and internet connection), and I resigned to watching it first on streams Thursday and playing on Saturday.
I mostly watched the livestream on Travis Scott’s official Twitch page, where Scott and his friends were playing the game leading up to and during the event. While the gameplay before the concert wasn’t very compelling (a lot of “where you at?” and “come over here”), the concert itself was. A giant Travis Scott arrives on screen after an asteroid crashes onto the map, performing several of his most popular songs and debuting a new track, “The Scotts,” featuring Kid Cudi. Throughout the performance, the sky changes colors and the physics within the game alter. For “Highest In The Room,” players are transported into an underwater realm which really does match the ambiance of the song exceptionally well. For “Goosebumps” – the song which Scott famously performed 14 times in a row to set a world record in 2017 – there were all kinds of glow-in-the-dark and underground rave-vibe aesthetics added to the mix.
Watching the concert stream, alongside more than 60,000 others on that channel alone, was definitely engaging. You knew you were experiencing that with thousands of other viewers in real time, which doesn’t replace the experience of a live show, but does strike some of the same chords of feeling connected to a huge group of people at once.
Running just under 10 minutes, the event felt contained, but it was easy to see what the hype was about. I wish they had been able to work in a few more of my favorite tracks from La Flame (“Stop Trying To Be God” or something from Rodeo would have been nice), but appreciating how much work must go into such complex experience for so many people, I recognize 10 minutes is plenty long.
Two days after watching the livestream, I booted up the game about 30 minutes before the event. I was immediately greeted by a cinematic trying to get me to buy content, and had to navigate a few menus that were constantly getting me to buy things, but I was well aware that this is a free game, and having to figure out a few extra clicks is a relatively small price to pay for the amount of work that went into making this experience.
I was worried the game would be difficult to figure out or the player base would be toxic and flame (insult me), but people were civil and most of the skills from other PC games I had played transferred over fine. I really appreciate how the game combines the ability to build structures with elements of a shooter/survival game, and I definitely see the appeal. I made the decision to disable voice chat after my headphones were filled with “OOOOH OOOH AHHH!!!! … Sorry that was my little brother,” so that might partially explain how I avoided flame and toxicity.
We 100 in the lobby played for about 30 minutes before the shooting features were disabled right before the concert began. I didn’t feel like the mechanics of the game were so difficult they prevented me from enjoying the experience, though I do think someone who doesn’t play video games might take longer to get comfortable.
I’ve never attended a Travis Scott show, but I’ve been observing his career since Pollstar‘s 2017 cover story about him. His live shows have always stood out as being exceptionally high-energy, as he has been arrested for inciting a riot after some shows got too hyped.
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I can’t say the experience was quite the same as the live show, but it did do a very good job of making you feel something with other people, which seems particularly valuable when sitting at home to maintain social distancing precautions.
This event sent players soaring through space alongside an ascendant rapper who enjoys the same game they play, likely strengthening the connection to the artist and building a sense of community among fans.
Fortnite has reported that more than 27.7 million unique players participated 45.8 million times across 5 continents.
Scott tweeted after the event, writing he found the whole thing inspiring.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>HONESTLY TODAY WAS ONE OF THE MOST INSPIRING DAYS. LOVE EVERY SINGLE ONE OF U GUYS. AND I KNOW TIMES ARE WEIRD FOR US. BUT FOR ONE MOMENT TO BE ABLE TO HAVE THE RAGERS TO RAGE WHERE EVER YOU ARE IS AMAZING. LOVE U GUYS WITH ALL MY BODY. !!!!! GANG </p>— TRAVIS SCOTT (@trvisXX) <a href=”https://twitter.com/trvisXX/status/1253520274269429761?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>April 24, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
But the most special thing about the event, I think, was the fact that it will likely not happen again. Just like a real concert, you get one (or a few) chances to participate, and then it’s over. It will live on in videos and in the memories of those participants who were there, but there is something special about the chance to experience something unique that will not come back. While I don’t know if I will continue playing Fortnite, I am glad to have been allowed that experience for free and relatively painlessly.