Wednesday night, I touched down in San Francisco after hours spent on a plane watching mediocre in-flight movies. I was on my way home, scrolling through everything I missed in the sky without internet, when something caught my eye: Ninja, popular Fortnite Battle Royale streamer, was playing his usual game with a surprise guest: Drake. Drake the rapper, also known as dearest Aubrey Graham, once the star of the hit Canadian teen soap Degrassi: The Next Generation. (Rest assured, I will never forgive Spinner for inadvertently getting Jimmy shot by Rick.) The man behind the song I've heard in every Lyft ride I've had in the past few weeks. The 6 God himself. Fuckin' Drake.
Drake, as it turns out, is pretty okay at Fortnite. He even roped in Travis Scott, another rap mogul on the current scene (whose songs all sound exactly the same). The ragtag team—Ninja, Scott, NFL player JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Drake—tore up Fortnite, much to the chagrin of others on social media still baffled by Fortnite's success. The stream broke Twitch records, pulling in over half a million views before the night was through. Previous record holders Dr. Disrespect and Tyler1 left in the dust of Drake going from zero to 100, real quick.
It erupted in a way I hadn't seen many Twitch streams explode before, in terms of social media chatter. Twitch Plays Pokemon, which was four years ago, may be the last time I remember average fans clinging onto a Twitch stream so ravenously. The stream also put the spotlight on another hot button issue that's been plaguing the games industry for awhile now: the debate of Fortnite Battle Royale versus PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (commonly referred to as PUBG).
Fortnite Battle Royale burst onto the scene last summer as a free-to-play standalone game, separate from Fortnite proper's Early Access buy-in Fortnite Save the World. It was a controversial launch, lifting a lot of aspects of PUBG wholesale—from parachuting onto an island to the ever-closing circle. The gaming press, judging from game of the year awards and watching peer adoration, has always seemed to lean more on the PUBG side of things, even as Fortnite's popularity grew and grew thanks to its price tag of free and accessibility across most platforms, including PS4 and newly iOS.
And somehow, it's also culminated into a new sort of rap-related beef, even if it's an extremely mild one, at that. Lil Yachty, a hip-hop artist with the world's nicest dad, wanted in on the action after Drake mentioned him on the stream. He even desperately tweeted at the dynamic duo, saying, "I'm online let's go." Poor Lil Boat never got to join the fun.
Elsewhere Post Malone, the Wonder Bread of country-inclined hip-hop, tweeted a succinct diss towards the stream that was dominating the night. "PUBG is still better," he wrote with aplomb, as if he was seething behind the keyboard. He clarified that he prefers the PC version, not the rough Xbox One port, and followed up by propositioning Drake to play PUBG duos with him. Drake has not responded to the tweet.
PUBG is still better— Beerbongs & Bentleys (@PostMalone) March 15, 2018
At this moment, I imagined Malone scoffing at the adoration of Drake and others for daring to enjoy a popular, free-to-play game like Fortnite Battle Royale. Maybe Malone loathes free-to-play games, or just the ones that eclipse the games he personally loves. I can relate to Malone's tweet, because I'd be lying if I didn't think the same exact thing whenever Fortnite Battle Royale reaches yet another insane milestone. Maybe Malone was just jealous too, a little bit like me when a friend I usually play PUBG with recently messaged me asking if I play Fortnite too. (My response was "Fortnite is for babies," because I'm coming back on my worst behavior.)
Rap beefs were once a lot more serious, and less child's play. East Coast rap versus West Coast rap was a violent, intense era for hip-hop in the 1990s. The most recognizable faces from the era were The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac, who both were killed.
Now, rap beefs have tempered. The dominant feuds in recent years have both been Drake related, with his Meek Mill beef birthing two back-to-back diss tracks for Mill daring to insinuate Drake has a ghostwriter, despite Drake literally having ghostwriters credited on records. (Just own up to it, dude.) Elsewhere, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, even having collaborated in the past, are widely speculated to dislike one another, due to subtle disses to each another in respective songs. (Some speculate that Kendrick's track "God," which hijacks a flow very similar to Drake's and does it better, is one of his more subtle mock tracks.)
On the game end though, beefs have gotten more intense, especially with the rise of battle royale games. The developers behind PUBG threatened legal action against Fortnite's developers Epic after its launch of Battle Royale. The two have had an antagonistic relationship, to say the least, with PUBG (which runs on a game engine by Epic) now fighting to get back in the spotlight.
Celebrities that play video games, as with all great debates, will be doomed to pick a side (except if you're Taylor Swift, who notoriously never picks sides on anything, not even politics). It's not out of the ordinary for celebrities to play games, even with the busy lives they lead—hell, even on the stream Drake casually mentions that Fortnite became an escape for him during 20-plus hour nights in the recording studio. Just a month ago, electronic musician and producer Grimes streamed Bloodborne. Baseball player Phil Hughes even streamed himself playing Fortnite. As streaming surges into the norm, as will the fans of games who happen to have a more famous career. Drake's dip into streaming and battle royale genre sides-ing is just the beginning.
If anything comes of this collective realization that Fortnite Battle Royale has hit the big time because even Drake has been playing it for the past month, it's that streamers shape the video game landscape more than they're given credit for, and they shift their own content accordingly. Popular streamer Dr. Disrespect, who got his start streaming PUBG, "reinstalled" Fortnite Battle Royale on March 8th and has been streaming it quite a bit recently. Model Chrissy Teigen, who has been an outspoken fan of games in the past, even tweeted asking if people would be interested in watching her "shake trees on Animal Crossing." (The answer is yes, Chrissy.)
The next era of the dreaded rap beef (now outside of purely games) is one still tethered to the ego of men: and it's one that's percolating in the underbelly of the games industry every day. It's a feud of favoritism, going with either the dominant, popular choice or the one you genuinely enjoy more, no matter what side it falls in. The battle royale genre as a whole is still evolving, and Fortnite Battle Royale has been one-step ahead of PUBG almost every step of the way. Drake's picked his side on this entertainment battle royale. And who knows, maybe Kendrick will even out himself as a PUBG fan to spite the trend-following of Drake, but he's probably got other things to do, like curating another dope soundtrack for a Marvel movie. Ain't no tellin'.
At the very least, we can count on rapper Danny Brown always remaining on the right side of history; far away from any games-related wedges placed between battle royales, Twitch, and beyond. He named his cat after Chie from Persona 4, after all.
If you're joining Drake and Travis Scott on the road to Victory Royale glory, then check out our guide for Fortnite Battle Royale.
Edit: We neglected to include baseball player Phil Hughes' name on accident in the initial posting. This has since been amended and we regret the oversight.