A Brave(?) New World: Travis $cott’s Astronomical Fortnite Event

Will Hagle pays $10 for a video game adventure featuring the rap star's loose definition of a performance.
By    April 28, 2020

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The only Cactus Jack Will Hagle will acknowledge is Mick Foley.

The doors for Travis $cott’s Astronomical Event open at 3:30 p.m. PST. We’re in the battle bus by 3:33, on our way into a virtual “live concert” streamed globally to Fortnite players. The flying blue school bus soars above the island, passing classic destinations like Salty Springs and Frenzy Farm, places full of loot where we might land in a typical battle royale match. But this is not a typical game: this is Travis $cott’s Astronomical Event.

We thank the bus driver and jump out, parachuting to the floating stage north of Sweaty Sands — the one that’s been taunting players for a week. The map’s beachy, watery area, has also been outfitted with massive gold Travis $cott heads. You can bounce on them to complete a challenge, and unlock coveted virtual Travis $cott merch. A countdown above the stage reads: 25 min until showtime. Until then, players can explore the map, or shoot and kill each other for fun — practicing before the live event begins. It’s a much better pre-concert ritual than spending money at the bar, lurking at the merch table, or trying to talk to people over a horrible DJ and a worse sound system.

Aside from the fact that I land on a blue pistol, begin whacking a car for building materials, and then duck under cover at the sound of a tossed grenade, Travis $cott’s Astronomical Event does feel like an actual concert. It is the first semblance of a real show that’s been accessible to us, the quarantined Fortnite players of the globe, in at least a month. Even though we’re supposed to be fighting, I just want to dance in the sand—something I’d never do in real life, but  which seems fitting in our new digital existences. I consume a shield potion and it might as well contain molly. I run toward a beach which faces Travis $cott’s stage. I bust out a new emote, one of the dances that Fortnite players can buy using V-Bucks, a virtual currency that drains the wallets of disgruntled parents worldwide. Glow sticks wave in the air as my body contorts in a looping rhythm.

I spent $10 to be able to do this dance, more than I would ever spend on anything related to Travis $cott in real life. And it was worth it.

Shots ring out around me. Not everyone is in the mood to dance yet. An enemy approaches wielding her pick-axe, a sign of non-hostility. She emotes too: a poppy snyth and bass build-up to a looping house beat blares out of her virtual DJ decks. Either the shield potion is kicking in, or my emote’s jingle—a swooping bass-heavy techno swirl—times up perfectly to hers. There’s 25 minutes left of continuous gameplay until Travis, our hero — the only touring artist besides Marshmello to visit our island– takes the stage. 

All of us have eschewed combat together in favor of dance. A no-skin joins us and default-dances. This is like Coachella 2028, except make it Fortnite. I take out my pistol and wave it in my enemy DJ’s face without shooting, as if to say, “hey, I’m waving a gun around to the beat, isn’t that fun?” She one-pumps me in the face and I die immediately. I respawn just as fast, soaring high above the stage, which my squad is currently defending from an onslaught of enemies. We are going sicko mode.

I am 28 years old.

The average age of players in last year’s Fortnite World Cup was 16. That’s how old Bugha—the Philadelphia-raised Fortnite phenom—was when he won $3 million after defeating the rest of the world’s top players. The morning before the Travis $cott Astronomical Event, Bugha streamed himself practicing his new keyboard set up, building massive structures at a rapid pace with a purchasable character modeled after Travis $cott. The brand synergy was everywhere in the extended Fortnite universe in the week leading up to the event. Epic Games has never shied away from blatant advertisements for their free game, cashing in on relationships with Marvel, John Wick, Star Wars, the NFL, and seemingly anyone who will give them money.

But Travis $cott is the perfect artist to appeal to the game’s young demographic, and his timing for a high-concept virtual concert to a global audience of engaged, money-spending gaming addicts couldn’t have been better. His melancholic mood music has grimy undertones. It makes you want to crush Baja Blasts while spreading fresh-out-the-oven pandemic bread on your keyboard. You can be hyped—nodding your head vigorously to the beat, the “Sicko Mode” e-mote—or numb, standing there, observing, and still let his repetitive sound lull you into its specific vibe. It’s the kind of music that makes you type YEET to your boys on the Discord server when you finish your chores and slam your door shut from your nagging parents just before the concert starts.

Luckily I don’t have to party up with some random international 8-year-olds for the show. I go with a squad. Their names are unimportant, but I can reveal this: one is dressed as a Hot Dog. Another had been planning his glowing disco ball-sequenced skin for weeks. The third once wrote an article for this site about E-40:

As for my skin, this is me:

A few minutes after 4pm, weapons are disabled and the 50 or so in our lobby descend upon the stage. Hot Dog weaves his way toward the rest of us on his motorcycle. A christmas tree holds a flaming microphone above its head. A Travis $cott skin—the equivalent of a fan wearing a band’s t-shirt to the concert—plops into a virtual chair, tossing popcorn into his mouth, staring up at a massive orbital screen, which begins to pulse and glow with vibrant color. What is about to happen? Is Kendrick Lamar going to come out during “Goosebumps”? 

We’re encouraged to nod our heads vigorously to the beat of — of course — “Sicko Mode” as it blares out of the speakers. The sweet voice of Aubrey Graham lures us into a trance: “Sun is down, freezing cold.” 

“Why is Drake the first voice we hear?” @greatwhitesnake on Twitter says.

On cue, the stage explodes and we’re all rocketed backwards. I can’t find my squad but I no longer need them. I land on a structure that someone had built during the pre-game activities. I bust out the glow sticks as a massive Travis $cott walks on water, bouncing back and forth from Sweaty Sands to the Lighthouse. At one point I am inside his chest.

The rest of the performance is a blur. He plays all the hits. Basically the first few tracks of the Travis $cott Essentials Playlist. I take notes, but this is all I write: “Bouncing while jumping around… Underwater… Space… Drake… Warp…” It’s a visual marvel. Difficult to describe. Here’s a glimpse of two clips I took, set to the “Buck 50” opening, so that those of you who hate Travis $cott can maybe appreciate:

Later, I read that Travis debuted a new song, “The Scotts,” featuring Kid Cudi, while we were all floating through space. At that point I was too distracted, teetering between euphoric epiphany and nightmarish freakout, like a late Sunday night Coachella performance, waiting around in the desert, wondering if any of this was worth it. Whatever song was playing during that sequence in which we floated through space and into a pulsing white light, it was enjoyable. The concert ended after 15 minutes.

Travis $cott “performed” (it’s unclear whether he had anything to do with anything that happened whatsoever) a total of 4 times, in different time zones so that Fortnite players across the globe could tune in. The scope of the event was grandiose, and the interactive element offered a taste of our hunched-back VR, self-isolated evolutionary future. It was a welcome diversion from the low-res content filler that has plagued this quarantine. We were at a live event, but we weren’t watching distressed celebrities talk about nothing in their living rooms. We were going sicko mode for 15 minutes while a massive animated Travis $cott loomed above us, before we entered a warp tunnel in space, and returned to the Island, weapons redrawn, another game automatically begun.

Returning to a normal game mode felt jarring, like Leonardo awakening from a dream to find himself in another, less pleasant dream. We all processed what we experienced, with Hot Dog summing it up succinctly: “I didn’t know who Travis $cott was before this.”

The worst takeaway would be that Epic Games are corporate shrills, Fortnite is dead, skins and emotes are a waste of time, Travis $cott is basically Post Malone, and anyone who owns a gaming PC is an incel loser. I went in apathetic toward Astro Boy; I came out relistening to the concert’s setlist on the front-page feature in Apple Music. The Travis $cott Astronomical Event was a spectacle on par with Lollapalooza, a place that’s magical if you don’t mind eating a $10 slice of Connie’s Pizza while walking from the Budweiser stage to the AT&T plaza. A wholly immersive experience of an alternate reality where the V-Buck economy is booming, concerts not only still exist but have evolved into something greater, and where Travis $cott is a giant, and quite possibly the Lord and Savior of us all.

In the post-show game, fighting became futile. The game’s lobby slowly emptied. What point is there shooting at each other when we’ve learned what it’s like to bob our heads, raise flaming microphones, wave glowsticks and dance together to “Highest In The Room”? That’s Fortnite. That’s the future. That was it. I shut down my PC, assuring the squad that I was done dropping for the day.

I logged back on 30 minutes later to play another game.

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