Epic Games announced last week that Ariana Grande would be performing in Fortnite’s upcoming Rift Tour concert series. The five-show concert series is kicking off on Friday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m. ET, until Aug. 8. Epic will be selling a skin inspired by the “Thank You, Next” singer as part of its Icon Series, joining the likes of LeBron James and Travis Scott. Grande’s skin was made available on Aug. 4 so that fans can show up to the concert dressed up as her, including a backpack inspired by her beloved pet pig, Piggy Smallz, which Arianators will surely get a kick out of. The setlist is full of some of the singer’s most popular songs, including  “7 Rings,” “Be Alright,”  “R.E.M.,” “The Way,” and “Positions.” Other songs from other artists include, “Come & Go” by Juice WRLD & Marshmello, “Audio” by Sia, Diplo & Labrinth / LSD, and “Victorious” by Wolfmother, perhaps an ode to her time on the Nickelodeon show by the same name. There are also other Easter eggs throughout the game that only die-hard Ariana fans will recognize, as well as others that are specifically geared towards Fortnite stans. 

The most memorable parts were moments that reminded me of the hardships the world has overcome and how relying on our communities helped us get through it. Connecting fans to each other is the driving force behind this game, and adding the Grammy winner to the mix makes perfect sense for this community. Complex attended a demonstration for the experience on Thursday, Aug. 5, and got to try out the game firsthand. For those who are Fortnite fanatics, this new Ariana world will be a colorful, exciting addition to their favorite game. But it will also invite those who aren’t too familiar with the virtual video game world but love the singer to a space that was created for them, and all that they love about the superstar. We also spoke to Phil Rampulla, head of brand at Epic Games, ahead of the release and he shared all about their experience working with Ariana and her team, their goals for the future of virtual entertainment, and how choosing iconic entertainers helps them bridge the gap between this fantasy world and reality. 

Can you give me a little bit of a background on how this all started and your decision to go forward with this with Ariana onboard?

As a whole, we’re trying to create more experiences in moments like this. It just basically expands the world of gaming where the notion of gaming into a true platform of entertainment and art form. Each time we do this, we’re looking to try something different with a different partner every time to push those boundaries out. Over time, when we create more and more of these there’s more surface area and more places for more people to do more things. There’s eventually something for everyone. I think lots of games can be in a lane and they stay there and it’s great. Fortnite is much more of a place for these experiences and moments to happen with all of your friends and social connection is a big aspect of it too. So especially in light of this past year, I think bringing people together into a virtual space and still feeling connected, doing something together from all parts of the world, there’s something really special about that. We’re always looking to continue to push those boundaries each time with awesome partners.

ariana-grande-rift-tour
Image via Epic Games

A lot of the things in this experience are very specific to Ariana Grande fans, but also for Fortnite fans. There are a lot of Easter eggs, like the unicorns and the Storm King monster. Why was that important for you to maintain the authenticity of the game while also bringing in the Ariana world?

It’s a really good representation of something for everyone. I think that the hardcore Fortnite fans are going to be super happy and the hardcore Ariana fans are going to be super happy. And then that overlap, obviously, they’re going to be the happiest. So I think that really paints the potential on the spectrum and diverse ranges of entertainment within Fortnite. So we try not to do one thing that is one thing only a lot of times. Juxtaposition is a really fun tool for us to kind of bring things together. So when we have, you name some superhero standing next to a banana, it’s this juxtaposition of a reference that I think brings our role to life. Then what the players do with it obviously is always really fun to sit back and watch as well. So the more we just keep adding into this big pile of toys for everyone to interact and do and create with, the more fun we all have together. So we’re super thrilled to see what the community [is going to] do with it too.

How do you guys choose the people that you want to bring on to this world with you?

I think it’s a partnership. So, it’s less about us actually making the selections and checking those boxes. It’s more about, we’re also super fortunate and grateful that these partners are collaborating with us and having fun with us. That’s the most important thing, but I do think it is a lot of what is in the spirit of our world. There are definitely expansive new ways to show up and entertain. That’s what a lot of the folks that we partnered with have recognized, anyone from, like you mentioned, J Balvin and Travis [Scott] and music world and even outside the music world, athletes are showing up in ways that are completely unexpected and new.

There’s a lot of territories that we haven’t covered yet in terms of whoever’s writing poetry or stand up comedy or orchestra performances, there are lots of different things that I think we want to really position ourselves in our role to do the impossible and show up in a way that they can’t do in the real world. ‘I can’t do this because there’s gravity, I can’t do this because there’s a budget or a Fire Marshall at this thing, it’s not going to let me pull off this pyrotechnic show.’ So I think positioning Fortnite as a place that you come in and show up and expand your own creative ideas is something that we’re really proud of.

Right. Bring ideas to life in the game that they can’t do in real life.

That’s one of the key starting points with every partnership is one of the first questions we ask. And then that’s how people, folks who, because we’ve worked with a mix of folks who are familiar with Fortnite and then really dedicated to Fortnite, but everybody gets it. The one thing that unlocks everything is what do you want to do that you’ve always wanted to do, but can’t, and I think once we start there, it’s all bets are off. Then the ideas start flying and we go, oh, that’s a really good one. Let’s put it with this. And then we start to refine it. And our wizards make all this stuff come to life in ways that are really impressive.

The things that made me react more emotionally were the song choices for each space that we were in. And just little moments like reviving the players. Obviously, after this past year has been all about community and trying to build each other up, but from an Ariana Grande fan standpoint, I thought about the tragedy at her concert in Manchester. The symbolism that you have in these games, is that something that you guys think about deeply?

We think about social connection, positivity, inclusivity, a space for you to express yourself without any negativity is the dream. This past year, what we’ve been able to provide in the form of entertainment and escaping, or connecting with somebody that you can’t connect with anymore, they’re across the country and I can’t go see you, or we’re in lockdown or whatever. I think even just connecting with somebody, even in a match, just knowing that they’re there has been, it’s really emotional when you think about the impact that this world has really given up our humans across the world. So we definitely want to lean into that. And it is a thank you. It’s a hug, it’s an homage to everyone who’s been with us from day one or someone who just came in today. I think it’s a sense of welcoming for sure.

Ariana Grande
Image via Epic Games

Can you talk about how involved Ariana was in choosing the outfits, choosing the little things like her Piggie Smallz backpack, the song choices, etc.

We’re an open door when it comes to maintaining the authenticity of how our partners show up and how Ariana wants to show up. We only bring a certain part of the equation. And then we have to have a good partnership to fill in that rest and those two things come together and you get things like the riff tour. Ariana and her whole team were phenomenal collaborators. It was the best I describe it as it was just a back and forth. Like we would throw one thing over and it’s like, oh, what about this? It’s great and things just kept leveling up, whether it was the actual design of the outfit or this 3D set piece around this piece of music. But it was just a really, really fun back and forth. And once things started, there was almost no, no, we don’t want to do that. I was like, oh yeah, let’s do that plus this and then plus that, and then plus this and our artists went back and forth with their team and it was a blast.

What do you think about people who think that these virtual concert experiences are replacing the real-life concerts that we haven’t been able to go to? 

I think in this past year, it’s been a nice way to kind of get close and get back to entertainment in that regard, but there is no way that we ever want to replace any of these live music experiences. And if anything, going back to the question that we always ask every partner is like, what do you want to do on Fortnite that you can’t do in real life? In addition to their tours or their movie releases or whatever they’re doing in the world of sports, Fortnite should live in concert with that really. It should be an extension of, it should enhance, it should not replace or remove anything else. So it’s like, I’m going to go on a world tour, but I’m also going to have this thing with Fortnite.

And maybe these two things play together. And that’s how we think about Fortnite and we hope everyone else around the world thinks about us that way, too. So even as they’re creating their own content, movies, films, stand-up comedy, whatever that they’re thinking about, oh, I wonder if I could put this little piece in Fortnite and how would it show up? So that’s how we think of ourselves as a place for people to come together.

Ariana Grande Rift Tour
Image via Epic Games

I’m sure you’ve already seen the social media reactions. Now that you’ve seen that everybody’s receiving it so well, and what are you hoping fans take from this experience?

The joy. I mean, I’ll definitely, obviously be in the experience tonight, but I know myself and everyone on the team loves watching the reactions. It’s days of entertainment for us to go back and watch the YouTube clips and Twitch streams and all these things of people just yelling and screaming. That’s one of the most joyful reasons and outcomes out of all this. So I’m really looking forward to that. And I hope they see things that they didn’t expect. I hope they feel happy when they saw things that they wanted to see. And then as always, we always listen. So that’s really important for us too. So continue to be vocal about what they expect in the future is something that we’re always having an ear, too.

Epic recommends that fans are ready in the game 60 minutes before any of the performances so that they can enjoy the Rift Tour playlist when it goes live 30 minutes before the show. Tune into the experience at 6 p.m. ET on Aug. 6 over at RiftTour.com.