As this column has covered extensively, 2020 was a watershed year for in-game concerts, from Travis Scott, Steve Aoki and Dillon Francis in Fortnite to Ava Max and Lil Nas X in Roblox. But ironically, traditional concert promoters — even market leaders like Live Nation and AEG — have been almost completely cut out of the in-game concert boom.
Instead, game developers like Epic Games and Roblox have been taking on the role of promoter, booker and venue themselves in one fell swoop — leveraging their existing virtual-world infrastructure, skill sets and audience connections to drive engagement, instead of relying on third parties to do the job. Even game-centric events that don’t take place directly within games have cut traditional concert promoters out of the picture. For instance, on 15th January this year, Twitch and Riot Games partnered on the hybrid EDM/gaming livestream wwFest: Valorant, which featured artists like Madeon, ARMNHMR and Whipped Cream on what looked like a standard festival line-up — but there was no festival promoter in sight on the press release or marketing copy for the event.
This isn’t necessarily out of intentional malice, and it’s not like concert promoters weren’t collaborating with the gaming and esports worlds pre-COVID. In fact, around 2018 there was a surge in IRL events that combined the skills of promoters, game developers and esports brands into new hybrid entertainment experiences, from Insomniac’s PLAY Festival to Riot Games’ Hyperplay festival. Rather, as the entire live music ecosystem has moved online in the last year, boundaries among traditional job functions have blurred, in a way that might make some roles seem redundant. More often than not, the companies “promoting” in-game concerts — whether a major game developer or a content platform like Twitch — are also the ones who book the talent, build the stage and own the audience. This represents a verticalization and centralisation of operations and opportunities, and hardly presents a viable “future” for live music online, in that it doesn’t support a more open, decentralised ecosystem of promoters who are free to foster their own events and communities as they see fit.
So how do we solve this? There’s one area where concert promoters aren’t redundant, especially in an online context: crafting experiences that cater to the specific geographies and niche music communities that they know best.