Fortnite is a popular video game in which networked players build forts while they bludgeon one another. The game is nearly a year old, but its popularity and acclaim have picked up in recent months. In February, Fortnite clocked more than 3 million concurrent players. On Wednesday night, Fortnite fandom learned that the 3 million players includes Drake.
The most popular Fortnite streamer on Twitch, a user named Ninja, shocked his followers as he streamed several matches with Drake, Travis Scott, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. As Ninja streamed, Drake tweeted the link. As a testament to the shocking novelty of Drake’s foray into games streaming, Drake’s tweet about Fortnite has already gotten more than three times as many retweets as his previous tweet, from 26 days ago, when Drake first shared a YouTube link to the music video for “God’s Plan,” the rapper’s latest no. 1 record.
Given his stature, not to mention his coolness, Drake’s participation in Fortnite and Twitch strikes some fans as uncanny. It’s a crossover moment that seems to imply a new level of coolness has been unlocked. But it’s not totally uncharacteristic of him. Drake, the most popular rapper in the world, holds a dominion over cool, but he has always been the sort of populist performer who adapts to trends and popular enthusiasms with exceptional speed and ease. In the decade when nerd culture has successfully annexed popular culture, it is more surprising that Drake waited so long to reveal himself as a gamer. Gaming is big business, its fandoms are vast and hyperactive, and Fortnite is currently the most popular video game in the world. It is the one video game that matches Drake’s scale as well as his hyper-contemporary pulse. No other game would afford Drake more points for properly interpreting the popular will.
The excitement surrounding Drake’s interest in Fortnite echoes a couple of other recent celebrity forays into surprised fandoms. For the past month, nerds have watched with a conflicted mix of awe, validation, and skepticism as conventionally cool celebrities have revealed their interest in various corners of nerd culture. Following the release of Black Panther, fans unearthed old footage of Michael B. Jordan professing his love for anime—the popular shonen franchise Naruto, in particular. Earlier this month, Kim Kardashian traveled through Japan, tweeting about anime and at one point sharing a fan-art illustration of the character Zero Two, from this season’s breakout anime series Darling in the Franxx. Kim went so far as to credit Zero Two with her decision to dye her hair pink.
The Michael B. Jordan revelation was cute, whereas the Kim Kardashian story grew somewhat unpleasant as many Western anime fans rushed to determine whether Kim Kardashian was “a fake geek girl”—a pernicious archetype that resentful nerds often use to describe female fans. At worst, Kim Kardashian is regarded as a trend-hopping normie. At best, she’s seen as a pathetic echo of her husband’s previously established curiosities about anime, most notably Akira. Still, Kim Kardashian has immediately established herself as the most famous proponent of anime in the history of anime. A month ago, The Fader speculated about Drake’s interest in anime, though its theory of Drake’s interest in obscure 2000s shojo titles is more tenuous than Kim Kardashian’s proud, proven interest in waifu aesthetics.
But Drake, too, suffers his target fandom’s agonizing over whether his interest in Fortnite is sincere, or else a vapid stunt on yet another marketing checklist as the rapper promotes his new music. Of course, there’s a simpler outlook that doesn’t require thinking of Drake as gaming’s coolness messiah; but that also doesn’t require subjecting him, or Kim Kardashian, or whoever else to the sort of authenticity-shaming that already makes so many nerd fandoms alienating and unpresentable. Indeed, Drake’s Fortnite drive-by was a stunt, but also a glitzy sign of how big gaming is, how broadly nerd culture has spread, and how much it overlaps with so many genres and demographics who are supposedly too cool for Twitch. It is, like all things Drake, a fast and spectacular sign of the times.