VR events, brand collabs, breaking physics, socially distant live events

After reading Monique van Dusseldorp’s most excellent new newsletter on the future of (hybrid) events, I re-watched this Travis Scott x Fortnite video from April 2020. At the time, I’d quickly glanced at it and had dismissed it as fundamentally not that interesting. Maybe I was too quick in my judgement.

Travis Scott and Fortnite Present: Astronomical on Youtube

To me personally, pure VR events tend to fall short wherever they attempt to mimic physical space, like concert venues: It mostly just looks too much like a concert venue before even the opening act has shown up: Empty, awkward. The dance moves are often not matched to the beats, so they get that distinct look of awkward teenage dance (that I, for one, remember distinctly from my own youth). It’s like watching a socially distanced event, maybe one of those “silent disco” events where everybody has headphones on and dances to their own music. Doesn’t have to be bad per se, but there’s not much I enjoy in it. If the music is good enough, the failings of VR might not matter so much, of course.

Things get more interesting once the VR leaves the constraints of physics behind, or where it hacks or breaks the game world in interesting ways. In this video above, there’s some interesting stuff that happens with scale, with light, with going underwater. Those parts work.

That said, I can see how that format is appealing as a teenage user/fan. You get to experience something reasonably fresh, targeted at your demographic specifically that your parents are likely not to understand just enough to make it acceptable to you but understand enough not to bar you from participating. If you’re a fan of both the game world (here: Fortnite) and the artist, a mashup will always be interesting. And, let’s face it, in 2020 a virtual event at least allows you to take part in anything at all at a distance, and do so live with friends — so that’s a huge win in and of itself.

Also, zooming out a step: I would love to see the negotiations that went into this collaboration. The way the virtual camera lingers on those Nikes just so and from all the right angles — the swoosh on one side, the inverted swoosh on the other; the Air Jordan logo on the soles — speak of a deep brand integration and plenty of pages of contracts and design briefs I’d love to see!