Most parties at E3 are ridiculously lavish. They have to be — the party is supposed to sell people on the game’s spectacle. Even casual mixers are slightly regal. Parties hosted by major corporations at annual industry events like E3 aren’t surprising anymore, which is why Epic Games’ Fortnite extravaganza — a carnival littered with happy, intoxicated adults and hyper teens — seemed more like a Coachella show than an E3 afterparty.
Fortnite’s rager devoured the entire Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, across the street from Banc Stadium where the Pro-Am tournament was held just a few hours prior. The ride share drop off is a little walk away from the Coliseum, and just about everyone was using Lyft or Uber. No one drove themselves to the event, partially because it’s Los Angeles, and if people can avoid trying to find parking and dealing with traffic, they will, but also because no one wanted to give up a chance to try “Slurp Juice,” an absurdly sweet cocktail of Blue Curacao, vodka and lemonade. I drank half of one the sickly blue looking drinks for research purposes, and was transported back to early college days, where kids are still learning to drink and come up with overly sweet concoctions to mask the taste of alcohol.
It’s all ridiculous, and the type of event I usually try to avoid going to because I don’t want to be vomited on while waiting in line for the bathroom. Every nightmarish quality associated with the party, however, kind of disappears when you walk up to the coliseum and see the purple-blue lights hitting the sky. The ground shakes as the faint roar of people dance to reverberating EDM beats pulsate. There’s no question that this is the E3 event of the year. For a brief second, the disturbing carnival vibe that emanates from the coliseum is forgotten. The only thought that registers is how big Fortnite truly is, and how the last few months have been building to this massive celebration.
There are just enough holes in the fence for people who didn’t get an invite to the party can stand and look through, many hopping up on stones and cars as a way to film what’s happening inside the party. The greatest sign of success is having people show up to a party where nothing major is being announced or given away, where there aren’t any meet and greets taking place, and stand outside the entire time just to feel like they were present. Think Woodstock, but replace an open space filled with harmonious hippies dancing in mud with teenagers and adults in unicorn hats, chugging bad cocktails and hoping they’ll get a glimpse at Tyler “Ninja” Blevins.
Inside the party is a whole different story.
Fortnite’s afterparty almost feels like a funhouse. The main area includes a lit-up, square dance floor with a glittering disco ball hanging over head. There are food trucks lining the back of the coliseum’s open space, serving every junk food imaginable, but with a Fortnite twist. Terms like “raptor” and “raven” are added to snacks, reminding everyone in attendance this giant, over-the-top affair reenforces a pointed message: it’s impossible to forget about Fortnite. Fortnite is everywhere.
This party is a statement, and one that almost everyone in attendance wants to get behind. That includes Epic Games employees and casual fans like Jaidon, who managed to snag a ticket. He tells me about feeling like he was a part of this moment.
“It’s just so lit, it’s so lit,” Jaidon says. “It’s pretty crazy. I’m loving it so far. I’m just really hoping to see some celebrities. There are so many people here tonight, I think I can probably see a few celebrities for sure.”
Aside from glancing up at Ninja as he welcomed his close friend, tournament buddy and renowned DJ, Marshemllo, to the stage, Jaiden was in for a bit of disappointment. Unlike the Pro-Am tournament, which allowed celebrities like Vince Staples, Marshemello, Paul George and Ninja to just walk around and mingle with whomever, the party made it very clear there was a distinction between Fortnite’s elite and those at the party. A VIP section, reserved for the creme-de-la-creme of Fortnite’s scene, existed inside the Coliseum. Famous YouTubers, Twitch streamers and their closest friends sat in the back as fans waited nervously outside, hoping to get a glance at someone whenever a bustle of security guards swooped by.
Anyone who’s gone to any hot club in New York, Miami, Los Angeles or any major city in the world knows this dance well. People purchase a drink, stand as close to the VIP entrance area as security will allow, and patiently wait with their friends, front-facing camera at the ready to snap a selfie whatever celebrity happens to be there that night. A selfie with a celebrity goes a long way. It’s Instagram currency and social clout; one good shot with a hot celeb, and suddenly you’re the coolest person in the world. The stark difference between a standard club scene, and Fortnite’s afterparty, is who the celebrities are.
People aren’t necessarily bouncing on the spot hoping for a selfie with Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz or R&B singer PARTYNEXTDOOR. They’re specifically waiting for Ninja, Myth or Ali-A. The real celebrities are streamers, and they’re like gods to so many of the people waiting in line.
Throughout the rooms are groups of cosplayers (possibly hired to work the event) dance around the venue, performing different emotes from the game, and encouraging other people to jump in, which they often did. Everyone knows the same moves, everyone works in tangent with each other to create a dazzling, choreographed spectacle. Fortnite’s culture is synonymous with mainstream culture at this point, and that thought really comes to fruition watching strangers jump into a dance circle together and perform the exact same moves.
Like “BackPack Kid” and Paul George performing the iconic dance seen in the video below.
Backpack Kid, whose real name is Russel Horning, knows that Fortnite’s culture is a big part of why he was invited out to the event. The minute Fortnite put the “floss emote” into the game, Horning’s dance reached a new, big audience. It’s an impressive feat considering it was already a massive trend worldwide before Fortnite ever got to it, with Horning appearing in Katy Perry videos and his choreographed dance dominated Instagram.
“I created a worldwide dance move, so I mean, it’s pretty crazy to see it in Fortnite too,” Horning tells Polygon. “I didn’t know this dance would get as big as it did, but Fortnite is a big part of that.”
Being at Fortnite’s afterparty is a little disorienting in the way that any IRL gig that plays heavily on internet and gaming culture often is for people. Everyone is making the same jokes, obscure references are suddenly understood by all and everyone’s looking to talk about they’re favorite and least favorite parts of the game. Conversation doesn’t really deviate, but instead allows people to really fan out over a game they love immensely, while staring up at television screens playing Fortnite clips above the DJ booth.
It gets a little overwhelming, but luckily there’s a space for overwhelmed party-goers (like myself). Hidden behind the pulsating dance floor is a little nook lined with bean bag chairs and a giant TV silently playing Fortnite clips. I’m in line for a beanbag chair when a bartender offers my empty hand a Slurp Juice. I joked that I could still taste the last one, but asked how he was enjoying the night.
“This is crazy, man,” he said. “All for this one game? I didn’t know a game could draw this many people. I’ve never seen this.”
That’s what Fortnite has going for it right now, and that’s what the party emphasized. Fortnite is the biggest game in the world, but it won’t be forever. Fortnite’s lasting legacy will forever be that it changed the way many people view esports, and the culture around video games. It built upon what franchises like Call of Duty, Halo, Pokémon and others did to bring gaming into the mainstream — a place where it very much is — and reminded people that there’s more to gaming than just, well, games. There are elaborate dances, personal heroes, competition and, most importantly, an entire culture built around the experiences one game can give.
Fortnite’s party was definitely over-the-top, ridiculous and, at times, nightmarish to navigate, but it’s also a celebration of what a game can accomplish in less than a year. It’s an incredible feat, and that’s certainly worth dancing for as hundreds of people demonstrated.