12:00 PM ET
Arda OcalESPN Staff Writer
Neymar has finally leapt out of the Battle Bus and dived into Fortnite, as the Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil forward becomes the first playable athlete in the global smash hit video game for Chapter 2 Season 6.
The 29-year-old has officially entered the winner-takes-all Battle Royale, with gamers able to play the latest edition of the Epic Games title while wearing a digital costume (known as a “skin”) specially designed for the former Barcelona superstar.
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Neymar’s introduction, first announced last month as part of the game’s Season 6 launch “Primal,” will mark the first time in the game’s history when an athlete has been fully drawn digitally.
Fortnite has previously released uniforms from clubs worldwide in a separate activation, including European giants Juventus, Inter Milan and Manchester City and many other clubs worldwide.
“This is the type of partnership we’ve been working on for a while,” Nate Nanzer, Epic’s head of global partnerships, told ESPN in a Zoom call last month. “It’s been [a] super collaborative effort with Neymar and his team.
“If you know Neymar at all, you know he’s a huge gamer. Gaming is a big part of his life when he’s not on the football pitch. This is a really authentic way to bring him into the game. We wanted to make sure we create something Neymar feels great about and that we also think will be really appealing for our players.
“It’s been spending a lot of time with Neymar and his team collaborating on the marketing plan and how we want to bring this to life.”
Neymar joins the likes of Deadpool, Iron Man, The Mandalorian, Batman, Marshmello, Ninja, John Wick and many other crossovers from popular musicians, leagues and brands that have become playable in Fortnite. Nanzer said that there will be more to come on this front. Popular emotes, such as the iconic Pele goal celebration, have also been incorporated into the game and this will certainly continue, with more announcements coming soon.
Sports in general — and soccer in particular — is an area that Fortnite has targeted for growth this year, as its global appeal matches the worldwide user base of the game. As of May 2020, Fortnite had amassed 350 million players around the world. Nanzer said that not only will players be a focus, but also major soccer events in the years to come.
He said: “If you look at the future, you know the global football calendar is pretty juicy for the next few years, right? We have the European Championship this summer. You have the FIFA World Cup in 2022. You have the Women’s World Cup in ’23, the Paris Olympics in ’24, all culminating in ’26 with the World Cup in North America. [It is] going to be hugely exciting to have the World Cup back on our home soil here. So I think you know.
“[We will] definitely look to have future activations around football around many of these tentpole events that we’ll have in the coming years.”
Nanzer said that the soccer collaborations in Fortnite, thus far, such as the jersey options for users, have been “really successful” and he also pointed to events such as FaZe Clan and Manchester City putting on tournaments around the activation as success stories that fans can expect to see more of in the future.
So how does Fortnite choose which athletes, soccer or otherwise, to collaborate with? Nanzer says the key is authenticity.
“They’re not the kind of partnerships that result from, you know, cold email solicitation,” he said. “We build a relationship over time. We have a sense of who you know the athletes that are in our universe, that are fans of the game or players of the game, and you know, sort of cultivate those relationships over time.
“I think for us, it’s really important that activations we do in the game are authentic both to our game but also to our partners’ brands and it comes across in a way where you know like, ‘Oh, yeah, of course Travis Scott’s in Fortnite,’ like he was playing Fortnite on Twitch with Ninja and Drake back in the day. It’s natural. It doesn’t feel forced or inauthentic that that.”
Fortnite seasons typically last for around three months. Season 2 Chapter 6 launched on March 16, meaning it can be expected to last until mid-June.