From the moment it was announced, Rave Family Block Fest felt almost too good to be true: With more than 950 artists — including big names like A-Trak, Zhu, MJ, Maya Jane Coles, Khruangbin and even Paris Hilton — and 85 stages entirely within the game Minecraft, it was positioned as the biggest-ever virtual festival. What’s more, Rave Family and its CEO Jackie McGuire aimed to pay every artist for their participation, a rarity amidst virtual events limited by the restraints of COVID-19.
However, those lofty goals quickly came crashing down. After a rocky first day on July 9 that had some referring to it as the “Fyre Festival of Minecraft,” the Rave Family Block Fest was postponed indefinitely.
“I can’t ask [my team], the fans who supported us, or the artists who put time and energy into creating this amazing event to continue to work under the level of pressure we currently are,” McGuire wrote in Rave Family’s postponement announcement. “It’s not fair to anyone involved to deliver a subpar experience and knowing what we’ve actually built versus what we were able to deliver is heartbreaking. People who attended paid for an experience that they deserve.”
So what went wrong? McGuire, others involved with the event and insiders tell Variety that the festival’s downfall was a perfect storm of miscommunication, overambitious plans, an overwhelmed staff and the complications that come with a ticketed event and Internet trolls.
According to their accounts, the miscommunication began about two weeks before the festival, in the area that has sunk so many online events before: streaming rights. In order to ensure artists and rights holders would be paid, Rave Family charged $10 for general admission to the event. McGuire explains that Rave Family had made an agreement to give Mixcloud 30% of the ticket revenue for both organizing the music streams and ensuring the proper compensation of the rights holders to each song used in the DJs’ mixes. However, Mixcloud passed the task of streaming back to Rave Family.
“Not only did we have to sign into each account individually – we’re talking about 85 stages – we had to start the streams individually and log into a different web page to start each stream,” McGuire says.
The Rave Family team gave themselves a five-hour head start on the day of the festival to address the issue, only to find that Mixcloud’s website was down. They considered switching to another platform, but the reason for using Mixcloud was to make sure artists and rights holders were paid fairly. Although he understands Rave Family’s intentions, Ross Burr, co-founder of dance label Disciple Records, says that using a platform like YouTube to stream music is a much easier solution. Burr has thrown two successful Minecraft festivals with his label, and knows that payments can get tricky when DJs play the music of other artists.
“We knew that we were going to come into a lot of copyright problems so we said to all the artists, just use your own music and only music from Disciple,” Burr says. “We’ve released thousands of songs, so it wasn’t hard for us to do that.”
The Mixcloud website eventually came back around ten minutes before the start of the festival, and McGuire and her team rushed to get the mixes up, putting them on Mixcloud’s regular player, where the mixes can be viewed publicly, rather than their live player in order to save time. Some artists did not consent to their mixes being public — where they could be played more than once as opposed to the one-time livestream — and McGuire took those down. However, attendees were still left without music for a portion of the festival, and some were unable to listen to their favorite artists or labels as promised due to the necessity for the mixes to be public.
“I don’t want to paint it as if they acted with bad intent,” McGuire says of Mixcloud. “I think what happened is we came to them like, ‘Hey we have this thing, it might be massive and we need help,’ and I think they were really eager to get involved and were like ‘We can do that,’ and just fell short in a lot of ways.”
Mixcloud, on the other hand, stresses that there was no established partnership between them and Rave Family.
“Given that there is no legal and licensed way to stream music within Minecraft, the Rave Family organizers reached out to Mixcloud about using our platform to power the music streaming element of their event,” Mixcloud CEO Nico Perez says. “As an open platform that supports all types of creators, Mixcloud provided the same streaming technology on Mixcloud.com for the organizers that we do for millions of creators around the world each month. Mixcloud was not involved with the organization or promotion of the event.”
Rave Family also experienced some in-game struggles when it came to converting Minecraft’s Java edition – for Windows, macOS and Linux – to Bedrock, which allows users to play on the Minecraft app using their mobile devices. A lapse in programming the conversion caused stages to disappear and players to get stuck in holes, disabling their navigation. Furthermore, due to the stress of the conversion, Rave Family’s main Minecraft developer quit just 36 hours before the start of the event.
Because the event had already been postponed once before when a Microsoft update made Minecraft unavailable, McGuire was hesitant to do so again and pushed on through the festival’s first day.
“The choice was either to not have the festival be available to 35-40% of people who bought tickets, or to launch as fast as we could and then try to fix it, which is what we did,” McGuire says. “In hindsight, we should have just postponed again.”
Another major complication came from the fact that unlike most Minecraft festivals, Rave Family Block Fest was a ticketed event, which McGuire says was only the case in order to pay the artists. She says the festival sold around 3,000 tickets, but none of the money was taken out of Eventbrite in case of a postponement.
“I haven’t made any money from this. Every single penny of ticket sales is still sitting in Eventbrite, I have financed this entire thing out of my pocket and my whole staff has worked on a volunteer basis,” McGuire says. “I did this for artists — because I have so many friends who are DJs who are not going to be able to play a show for the next couple years.”
When asked about the concept of a ticketed Minecraft event, Burr says that it is not something he has seen done smoothly. “As soon as you start putting money into the equation, things get very complicated,” he says. “When you put money into the conversation, people are much quicker to snap and hate.”
Cue the trolls.
Ever since Rave Family announced the festival, their Discord channel – a chat room application frequented by the gaming community – had been flooded with trolls, who are notorious for spamming events like this with derogatory language, phallic images and white supremacist content. It grew so dense that Rave Family had three people working full-time on deleting posts and banning accounts, which took valuable time away from working on in-game development and artist relations. Despite their efforts, by the first day of the festival trolls were flooding the main channel, making it impossible to convey any important information to actual game players.
According to McGuire, the channel from which most of these trolls were coming from was associated with Deadmau5, the popular Canadian electronic musician-producer whose label, Mau5trap, had a stage at the festival. McGuire claims she contacted a label rep several times to alert them about the trolls, but the rep denied that the trolls were associated with Deadmau5. The artist himself even directly communicated with McGuire on the general Discord channel, criticizing the festival and insinuating that McGuire made $30,000 from it.
“I absolutely will own up to everything that we did wrong: we didn’t have enough staff, we didn’t have enough instructional videos, we failed in that regard and a lot of that material did not get produced because of the other stuff we were spending time on that we shouldn’t have been, like the trolling and the MixCloud issues,” McGuire says. “Yes, we f—ed up, but also dealing with [DeadMau5’s] channel is a lot of the reason why we didn’t have the resources to finish what we needed to finish, and for [him] to come in here and start criticizing us is so disingenuous.”
Contacted by Variety, a rep for Deadmau5 and Mau5trap said: “As we previously explained to McGuire repeatedly and she seems to concede in her own statement, deadmau5 or mau5trap is not a part of this at all and had nothing to do with the cancellation of the festival. McGuire is trying to attribute her decision to [postpone] and failure of the festival to this channel and somehow linking it to deadmau5. However, the channel is created and run by someone not associated with deadmau5 or mau5trap. Again, we made that clear to McGuire at least as early as last month. Indeed, Joel Zimmerman (who is deadmau5) and McGuire did not even communicate prior to July 11, i.e. after the festival was [postponed].”
Burr also had to deal with trolls during Disciple’s Minecraft festivals, but had less trouble because the number of trolls tends to align with the scale of the event and the artists playing it.
“It can escalate very quickly, but with our fans and our community, it’s less so than other people,” he says. “I think as a brand, your fans end up taking on the attitude of the culture that you create. So for example, I’m not surprised that Deadmau5 fans were acting like that. Nothing against Deadmau5, I think he’s awesome, I love his music. But the culture within his fanbase is a reflection of his [at-times combative personality.”
With minimal music, conversion problems and trolls causing backlash among attendees and undermining the in-game experience, McGuire and her team made the decision to postpone the festival, promising ticketholders refunds within 48 hours.
As for the future of Rave Family Block Fest, McGuire has hired another main developer who is making progress on the conversion, and is taking time to reflect on what went wrong.
“Everybody will look at this and say we took on too much, and that is absolutely true. We should have started telling artists ‘No’ much earlier, rather than ending up with the massive number of artists that we did,” McGuire says. “I didn’t want to say no, so we were like ‘Okay, let’s make it work.’ We built 85 stages and we got all of that done, but the volume that came along with it was just too much to handle.”
Burr agrees, saying that from his experience, starting small is key.
“Like with anything, if you’ve got a dream to do something that big, you start small, you do it really well and then you grow it and you keep getting bigger,” he says. “You can’t just go in and do something massive like that straight away because it’s going to go wrong.”