Party Royale, Fortnite’s ‘experimental’ game mode, has been a breakthrough for the platform ever since it was released in May.
Set on a violence-free map with no weapons allowed, it offers players a virtual events space to view virtual concerts, so far featuring the likes of Steve Aoki, DeadMau5 and Diplo.
In February 2019, Marshmello held a live music concert within the Fortnite platform, drawing an audience of 10.7 million players. Just before the launch of Party Royale, Travis Scott's virtual show in April exceeded this figure with his own concert, pulling in 12 million players.
Fortnite publisher Epic Games capitalised on Marshmello’s success by turning Scott’s pandemic-based concert into a temporary residency. Four subsequent replays gained a further 15 million players who watched the concert, highlighting the untapped avenue this platform could offer sports – entertaining gamers beyond gaming.
The Covid-enforced postponement of live entertainment exposed the necessity for rights holders to focus on building digital engagement beyond their pure play broadcasting of live events. As a direct consequence of Covid-19, sports consumption declined dramatically from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020, with sports reruns, docuseries and interviews failing to fill the void state which the shelving of live sports created.
An increasing concern for rights holders is that consumers would fill the void with other forms of entertainment and these new habits would become instilled once lockdown measures eased. This is why tapping into the digital entertainment share of consumers bereft of live sports content must become rights holders’ main prerogative.
Party Royale season three began on 8th August with Fortnite hosting ESPN:8 The Ocho, airing a marathon of some of the most niche and bizarre sports, a showcase of the platform's potential for rights holders and broadcasters going forward. Celebrating ESPN’s fourth anniversary of the novelty network, Party Royale is giving Fortnite players unrivalled access to cornhole, death diving, robot fights, and more niche events, all live from the platform's Big Screen.
With more than 350 million registered players, Fortnite could offer sports a unique opportunity in the post-pandemic era. While technology will be a likely hurdle if rights holders hope to play live sports to large concurrent audiences, the possibility of streaming sports to sets of 100 fans in a virtual setting could solve the issue of playing matches behind closed doors, which deprives fans of crowd-generated atmosphere.
Epic Games announced back in 2018 that it would be possible in the future to increase the player limit of 100, although not in the near future. Collaborating with premium sports rights holders could lead to this development if the longer games are bereft of fan attendance.
With 58 per cent of Fortnite players watching basketball, compared to a 33 per cent consumer average in Q1 2020, the addressable audience for rights holders – who could then sell team merchandise via skins, etc – would appear to be too attractive an opportunity to overlook, especially considering the National Basketball Association (NBA) is approaching its climax within its Orlando bubble, and is already innovating with its Microsoft tie-up.
Video gaming has already presented rights holders with revenue stream opportunities via advertising and introducing esports operations to major networks. However, with Epic Games having recently closed a US$1.78 billion funding round it could position itself as the digital distribution partner these rights holders so crave, unearthing a valuable and largely unaddressed younger digital-first demographic.