Wed. Jul 18th, 2018

Learning from Fortnite

We’ve all been watching the NCAA Tournament, right? What’s been your favorite story so far? Was it Loyola-Chicago making the Final Four on the prayers and international fame of Sister Jean? Was it any of the countless buzzer beaters? The story of the opening weekend, of course, was the UMBC Retrievers becoming the first ever 16-seed to beat a 1-seed with their 20-beat drubbing of the Tournament’s top team, Virginia.

After the game, Nolan Gerrity, a junior forward who logged all of two minutes in the game for the Retrievers, told reporters that the historic upset felt as good as beating Fortnite for the first time. Now, if you’re under a certain age, you got the reference and it made you smile. If you’re the average age of the guy that watches the NCAA Tournament though, chances are you probably had to Google “Fortnite,” and there’s a very real chance that, like me, first you Googled “Fortnight.”

Fortnite is a video game. Fortnite: Battle Royale is the version that the internet has lost its mind over. Up to 100 people playing across multiple platforms can join a battle. Leo Sepkowitz has a piece that went up on Bleacher Report over the weekend that details the devotion to the game among the NBA’s youngest players. A recent session of the game that featured rapper/professional fair-weather fan Drake drew over 600,000 views on the video game streaming site Twitch.

Being curious, I did some research to try and figure out not the why, but how Fortnite became so damn popular. The answer to that question, or at least my hypothesis, is something sports radio should pay attention to, because it starts with some good news.

First, and most importantly, the game is free. There’s a version you can pay for, but that’s not the version the world is obsessed with. This is the good news for us. The appeal begins with a given of terrestrial radio. We make it easy for listeners to be a part of what we do.

The next aspect of Fornite: Battle Royale’s rise in popularity worth noting is that for gamers, it is everywhere. You can play the game on the PS4, the Xbox One, your PC, and any iOs devices. Epic Games, the company responsible for Fortnite, doesn’t tell players where to go to be a part of the community. It has put Fortnite everywhere gamers are.

That is something I have told a couple of programmer friends lately when we discuss what the next evolution of content in our format is. Making good content is still the priority, but how we place that content matters just as much.

Your podcast, interviews, anything you feel is A+ material, needs to be everywhere. Tweet it out multiple times over the course of a 24 hour period. Post it to the show’s Facebook page, and then make sure every cast member shares it on their individual pages. Put it on the station website. If eyeballs or ear holes are there, your content should be there too. This is what “making it easy for listeners to be a part of what we do” looks like in the 21st century.

One of the most interesting things about the Fortnite phenomenon is that some of the game’s most dedicated players have never recorded a single kill, let alone actually won a battle. That’s because it is possible to make progress in Fortnite simply by staying alive. This isn’t a game with a payoff only for the most hardcore fans. It is an experience that is welcoming.

I have alluded to this in past pieces. When I wrote about the Winter Olympics last month, I talked about the importance of understanding the event’s place in your listener’s life. When I interviewed SiriusXM’s Taylor Zarzour last year, he mentioned how much impact simply thinking about sports from a casual fan’s point of view has had on the way he deliver’s his points.

The makers of Fortnite didn’t set out to create an unbeatable game or a game that requires you to beat people that play for 10-12 hours per day on to have fun. There isn’t much of a win in that. Don’t walk into your studio with the attitude that everyone listening knows what you know. Being the show for the hardcore sports fan may earn you cred in that circle, but it’s a pretty small circle.

Finally, Fortnite’s success has been the result of an appeal with some very famous people. When Drake posts a video of himself losing his mind over this game or Chance the Rapper tweets about the need to bring the game to the Nintendo Switch it opens this brand up to those celebrities’ fans.

Do you have to be the favorite show of every jock or coach in town? No, all you have to do is make sure every guest that comes on your show likes coming on your show. Involve them in your social media conversations before the interview. Thank them online after the interview. Most importantly, don’t bore them during the interview. Making fans out of people that have fans is one of the most important things you can do to grow your show’s audience.

I have never played Fortnite, and it is likely I never will. I am a very casual gamer at best, but as I did my research for this piece, it was very easy to see why the cult of Fortnite is so large and why it includes so many famous names.

The path the game followed to success can be duplicated by anyone. It’s not like any new ground was broken along the way. The success started with someone asking “how can we make sure the most people have the most fun?”. If you work everyday on answering that question, you will be in a better place than you were the day before.

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