Latin

Custom Masks and Latin Gamers: Inside the Deal to Bring J Balvin's Spooky XR Concert to 'Fortnite'

Epic Games

J Balvin performs in Fortnite

By now, millions of gamers around the world have seen J Balvin’s performance as part of Fortnitemares, the annual event put together by Epic Games as part of its Fortnite game AfterLife Party.

The 38-minute Halloween performance, encored twice the following day, featured Balvin singing in Spanish, beginning with a performance of “Reggaetón,” which he sang atop a giant pumpkin wearing a yellow suit and a Frankenstein mask, made in Medellín from a mold of his face. It’s the first time ever Balvin has performed in a mask, and for gamers everywhere, it was epic.

“We were the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Peru. On YouTube, we’ve seen over 4,000 videos of the event created since the concert,” says Nate Nanzer, Epic Games’ head of global partnerships, who’s still gathering in-game numbers. Such was the level of expectation, that a YouTube video of Balvin playing Fortnite with gamer and influencer GrefG had racked up 2.6 million views in three days.

Beyond numbers, Balvin’s Fortnite show was a milestone: marking the first performance ever by a Latin act for a gaming company.

The show is also one of the first ever done entirely with XR, or Extended Reality technology, which involves augmented reality using LED walls and camera tracking (coincidentally, Billie Eilish also used XR effects in her Oct. 24 paid livestream show) .

And while the endeavor was a monumental, multi-team effort, getting the deal was relatively simple -- a streamlined example of the right artist pairing with the right company for the right reasons.

Balvin is a Fortniter, the term given to Fortnite players, “and he had long wanted to reach another audience through gaming,” says his manager, Fabio Acosta, who’s been having conversations with the Fortnite team since the beginning of the year.

On their end, the Fortnite team were Balvin fans who had identified him as popular among Fortniters. Parent company Epic Games is known for having its finger on the musical pulse of its players -- most between 13 and 24 year old -- and has produced shows by the likes of Marshmello, Steve Aoki and, in April, Travis Scott. Balvin not only had massive global appeal, but he could appeal to Fortnite fans in Latin America, says Nanzer.

“We had an initial call [with Balvin] where it was clear to us he was going to be a great partner. He was really engaged. He got on the Zoom call, he had crazy ideas. To do this, we have to have great partners, and we got that vibe from him early on.”

The deal was finalized around May, and at that point, Balvin’s team brought in his creative directors, Ashley Evans and Antony Ginandjar of The Squared Division, the company behind tours by Balvin, Britney Spears and Katy Perry, among others.

“Epic Games’ request was if Jose was willing to run with this Fortnitemare theme. And Jose was really excited and couldn’t wait to do monsters and ghouls. And so we went there,” says Ginandjar.

The end result, filmed over three days in Los Angeles, features Balvin singing with a virtual Bad Bunny and a very real Sech, with whom he premiered new single “La Luz.” The grand finale features real dancers dressed as Fortnite characters dancing to “Mi Gente.”

It was The Squared Division’s and Epic’s first-ever XR event.

Although the show was available to all gamers for free, singing in Spanish was never an issue, says Acosta.

“That’s precisely one of the reasons I think they called us. Music in Spanish is global and the platform is a global platform. There are Fortniters all over the world. For them it was about getting to an audience they already have with a well-known artist. And for us, it was about reaching an audience that lives in a sphere different to the one we usually reach.” Epic monetizes by selling “cosmetic” items tied to the event and, among other things, offered a “Party Trooper” outfit inspired by Balvin.

In turn, aside from using Fortnite as the platform to launch his new single, Balvin’s team negotiated Balvin launching a collection of Fortnite-themed merch -- including hoodies, beanies and T-shirts -- that will be available for only two weeks on his site, and of which Epic Games gets a royalty.

Most important, says Acosta, “We found people that would normally not watch a Jose show. Watching the reaction of the gamers was amazing.”

“I don’t view these virtual events as a replacement [for live shows],” says Nanzer. “They’re an evolution, because there’s no way to scale a tour to reach all your fans.”