In recent weeks, video game concerts have emerged as an innovative workaround to the loss of social life by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s easy to see the appeal, concerts in these 3D worlds are more dynamic and immersive than 2D live streams of artists singing to front-facing iPhone cameras.
Travis Scott drew over 28 million viewers for Astronomical, his intergalactic world tour in Fortnite. The week before, Soccer Mommy hosted her listening party in the kids game Club Penguin, after overwhelming the server with fans. And American Football headlined a coronavirus-relief festival in Minecraft called Nether Meant, rallying over 112,00 unique viewers on the accompanying Twitch stream and raising over $8,000 for the charity Good360.
Square Garden and Nether Meant were organized by Open Pit, a volunteer-run collective of event organizers who’ve been dreaming up virtual festivals since 2018. In the past, they’ve thrown Minecraft concerts like Coalchella, Fire Festival, and Mine Gala, coordinating everything from lineup curation to building the in-game festival grounds.
“This whole thing has been about figuring out ways to be with people, with friends, who are far away,” says Eden Segal-Grossman, development lead and community support person for Open Pit Presents, the volunteer team that built the Elsewither world and organized the festival. At Nether Meant, users from all over the world bonded via chat, reacting together to the pre-recorded sets in real-time.
Open Pit’s initiative is perhaps the most earnest way the music scene is coping amid the isolation required to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even when venues reopen, virtual events like these Minecraft music festivals can better include everyone who wants to attend, including people with mobility challenges.
The yearning many of us feel to connect, and the frustration at being homebound, is something people with disabilities and their advocates have long understood. And their concerns intersect with those in arts communities who’ve seen venues close due to gentrification, zoning laws, and permit rules. Virtual event sites, especially ones like Minecraft with low overhead costs, are showing their power. Square Garden, another Minecraft event produced by Open Pit and 100 Gecs featuring Charli XCX, Kero Kero Bonito, and Dorian Electra.
“There was a palpable need for things to happen,” Segal-Grossman says.
“The idea of utilizing platforms like Minecraft to build ‘virtual’ versions of beloved ‘real life’ venues can be a strategy to help enhance social cohesion when we all mourn the inability to access the physical spaces we rely on,” he says. “This also can help music fans keep these venues top-of-mind which is particularly important because of the fragile economic situation facing our live music ecosystems.”
We appreciate allowing us to still have that feel of a live event. Minecraft has definitely changed the game and raised the bar!