Around this time last year, an online battle royale video game called PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds took over the entire universe. The game, which revolves around being the last person out of 100 to survive a tense firefight in an ever-shrinking arena, broke records for the most concurrent players on the PC gaming platform Steam and was awarded multiple “Game of the Year” titles at 2017’s end.
Last September, another online multiplayer first-person shooter game called Fortnite added a battle royale mode in a hilariously contrived move to compete with PUBG’s monolithic success. Because the world works in weird ways, because Fortnite is free-to-play, and because Fortnite’s cartoonish, colourful art style is easier to look at than PUBG’s dogshit-brown Counter-Strike aesthetic, the newer game is on the cusp of replacing PUBG as the biggest thing in the universe, if it isn’t already with a 40 million player base.
Perhaps the coup de grace was having one of the biggest personalities in the world, Drake, show up to play the game himself.
After a few days of teasing (and postponing) the appearance, Aubs ran squad matches with ultra-popular Twitch streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins on March 14, with Travis Scott adding to the event status of the stream.
Drake’s face never appeared on the postage-stamp-sized window that’s synonymous with streaming, and he didn’t speak often, even though it’s incredibly surreal to hear his disembodied, familiar voice emerging from the chat client when he does (I’m not sure if Drake is playing Fortnite on PC or Xbox One, so he may not be using popular voice chat app Discord).
The team won, primarily because Ninja is just incredibly good at this game. Thanks to the critical mass of both Ninja’s and Drake’s passionate fanbases, the stream became the most watched of all time.
It’s an enormous look for Fortnite, one that cements its burgeoning status as hip-hop’s new favorite video game. Only a few others – the NBA 2K series, the Grand Theft Auto series, and the Call of Duty series – can claim such a stranglehold on the rap world.
As per usual, Drake’s ability to find the pulse of internet culture plays a part, and becoming mutuals with one of the streaming’s biggest names is the kind of affable cross-branding he’s incredibly good at.
More important, though, is that rappers are embracing Twitch, which has been solely the territory of streamers and thus disconnected from anything considered “cool.” But with younger figureheads like Lil Yachty semi-regularly running Fortnite, the gap between the worlds has narrowed considerably.
It’s not just gaming, either
DJ Akademiks has done live interviews with odious new-schoolers XXXTentacion (who also has streamed himself playing Fortnite, natch) and 6ix9ine on Twitch, the constantly cascading chat of spectators creating an anarchic looseness unknown to virtually any kind of music interview.
Twitch’s popular personalities make millions, just like YouTubers, so rappers taking advantage of streaming to not only to add a few extra bucks to their pockets but to also connect with a plugged-in gamer fanbase not traditionally associated with “serious” music fandom is fascinating.
Whether Fortnite remains the primary platform or if we’ll soon see Lil Uzi Vert dominating as D.Va in Blizzard’s mega-successful superhero team shooter Overwatch is up in the air, but just like the traps and buildings of the former game, the future of rap is being constructed in the Twitch window.