01/11/18: BTN is doubling down on League of Legends, locking in a new deal that will see all school play

It’s Thursday January 11, 2018 and this is your weekly early morning eSports & Gaming briefing.

BTN is down for a few more rounds of League of legends, announcing a two-year deal with Riot Games to launch the second and third BTN League of Legends seasons in 2018 and 2019. Teams from all 14 Big Ten Conference schools take part with play beginning on Jan. 15. Season one debuted in Jan. 2017 with 12 of the 14 schools in play, with Maryland taking the BTN League of Legends title. The 2018 BTN season concludes with an online 8-team tournament running from March 30 – April 2. Currently, three Big Ten teams are ranked in Riot’s preseason seedings – No. 5 Illinois, No. 6 Rutgers and No. 15 Ohio State. Meanwhile, Riot is funding scholarships for all 14 schools, with each team receiving $35,000 to be evenly distributed among its roster.
“After spending the past two years learning, participating and beginning to understand the esports landscape, we are now at a point where we can take an exciting step forward,” said Erin Harvego, BTN’s Vice President of Marketing. “From our first test event in April of 2016 until now, Riot Games has been a terrific partner and has helped BTN emerge as the leader in collegiate esports productions.”
Three Big Ten teams are ranked in Riot’s preseason seedings – No. 5 Illinois, No. 6 Rutgers and No. 15 Ohio State. Riot is funding scholarships for all 14 schools, with each team receiving $35,000 to be evenly distributed among its roster.
“This two-year deal is a natural evolution of our efforts in 2017 and shows BTN and the Big Ten member schools’ commitment to support the passionate communities of League of Legends players on all 14 Big Ten campuses,” said Michael Sherman, who leads Riot’s competitive college program. “Riot wants to make League of Legends a sport that lasts for generations, something the Big Ten has accomplished in several sports already. The BTN League of Legends competition assures the Big Ten’s best gamers have the opportunity to celebrate the traditions and rivalries of the Big Ten on their own field.”

The much-heralded Overwatch League officially kicked off its inaugural season yesterday, marking the first major global professional esports league with competition organized by cities: Boston Uprising (with owner Kraft Group); Dallas Fuel (Team Envy); Florida Mayhem (Misfits); Houston Outlaws (OpTic Gaming); London Spitfire (Cloud9); Los Angeles Gladiators (Stan and Josh Kroenke); Los Angeles Valiant (Immortals); New York Excelsior (Jeff Wilpon and SterlingVC); Philadelphia Fusion (Comcast Spectacor); San Francisco Shock (NRG eSports); Seoul Dynasty (Kevin Chou) and Shanghai Dragons (NetEase). Overwatch League team uniforms are now available to purchase as in-game skins. “Connecting and engaging the world through epic entertainment is our mission,” said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard. “The launch of the Overwatch League will provide our very best professional players the chance to inspire our engaged, connected audiences around the world. January 10th is an historic day for esports and we are so grateful to our team owners, our media partners, our sponsors, and most of all our players for their pivotal role in the establishment of the Overwatch League.”
On Tuesday, Overwatch League locked in a multi-year deal with Twitch to carry every match to fans across the globe. Estimated to rank as the biggest exclusive media deal in history, valued around $90 million, programming will run on Twitch.tv/overwatchleague, in addition to MLG.com and the MLG app, OverwatchLeague.com, and the Overwatch League companion app. The Overwatch League and Twitch also are developing innovative rewards for fans. “Our fans love to engage with content on Twitch, and we wanted to drive significant viewership of the Overwatch League in its inaugural season and beyond,” said Armin Zerza, COO of Blizzard Entertainment. “That’s why this historic and ground-breaking partnership is perfectly suited for Activision Blizzard, for Twitch, and – most importantly – for our growing global fanbase.”
The 2018 CWL National Circuit is adding Mexican to its menu, announcing that Mexico will launch its own pilot circuit next season. Other regions for the CWL National Circuit will take place in: the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland, France and Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, Italy, and Australia and New Zealand with a program for Brazil also in the works. “Latin America and South America have both brought incredible competitors and fans to the Call of Duty World League, and in 2018 competitors from Brazil and Mexico will have a chance to travel on a direct path to the 2018 CWL Championship,” the league said in a statement.
Galaxy Battles Major hosted by Fallout Gaming had its Major status revoked with publisher Valve claiming “unreasonable infringements on the privacy of the players” as the primary reason for the pullout.  “Based on information we’ve recently confirmed regarding new government regulations for esports players entering the Philippines, we have decided to rescind the tournament’s Major designation, including the Pro Circuit qualifying points, for the Galaxy Battles 2018 tournament,” Valve said in a statement. “This is based on what we feel are unreasonable infringements on the privacy of the players as a condition to enter the country”.
Clear your calendar!!! Cynopsis Esports is teaming with Chief Marketer and Event Marketer for the Esports Business Summit, the premier three-day industry event running Oct. 1-3, 2018 from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. We’ll feature five different tracks, unique networking opportunities, industry awards and access to the most innovative minds in the business. Sign up for info and get updates at http://www.esportsbizsummit.com/
The Peach Belt Conference is partnering up with Riot Games to establish the Peach Belt League of Legends championship for the spring of 2018. The deal marks the first NCAA conference to compete as part of the College League of Legends season. The PBC will hold its first College League of Legends regular season competition this month with eight teams advancing to the Peach Belt League of Legends championship, an in-person tournament in March. The champion and finalist from that tournament will earn spots in the College Championship Play-In, with the opportunity to advance to the League of Legends College Championship, held in June at Riot’s NA LCS Arena in Los Angeles.
Hi-Rez Expo 2018 revealed new elements for the studios’ two key esports franchises – Paladins and SMITE. The company announced that SMITE’s Season 5 will launch with the biggest art and gameplay change ever as the Season 5 Conquest Map features upgraded art and new, highly requested gameplay changes to the premier 5v5 game mode along with the 93rd playable character, Cerberus. Paladins will receive a new Battle Royale gamemode with Paladins: Battlegrounds serving as the first-ever hero-shooter battle royale.
Plans were announced for the inaugural eFootball League, which will launch today, managed by Global eLeagues. The league will be broadcast exclusively by Goal on Facebook, Twitter YouTube and Twitch and involve teams from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Northern Ireland facing off against each other on FIFA 18.

Speaking of Overwatch League, networking hardware company Netgear signed on to sponsor OWL team Seoul Dynasty. The team will wear the Nighthawk Pro Gaming logo on their jerseys – Nighthawk Pro Gaming is Netgear’s new line of esports-specific network devices, among other activations.
Display specialist AOC locked in a sponsorship deal with G2 Esports and will now equip the G2 training facilities with AG251FZ gaming monitors, which boast a refresh rate of 240 Hertz and a 1 ms input lag. “We are really thrilled about our partnership with G2 Esports,” as Stefan Sommer, Director Marketing & Business Management Europe, AOC points out. “Working with top-notch esports teams inspires us in the way we think about product design and helps us identify which feature sets suit the respective genre or title best. G2 provides superb training facilities and excellent conditions for their players, and we’re looking forward to living up to those standards with our premium AGON series.”
Natus Vincere is serving up Monster Energy as its new headline sponsor, joining the likes of Fnatic, Evil geniuses, Team Liquid, etc. under the umbrella of the beverage brand. “We sincerely believe that this cooperation will energize the team and inspire us for some great victories,” said Yevhen Zolotarov, CEO Natus Vincer. “NAVI and Monster have a lot in common – we are maximalists and do not want to settle for less.”
Gfinity Esports Australia is partnering with Dell subsidiary Alienware to serve as presenting partner for Australia’s inaugural 2018 Gfinity Elite Series. Ben Jackson, Dell ANZ General Manager for Consumer and Small Business, said, “The Alienware brand is synonymous with high-performance gaming globally and we’re thrilled to be the Presenting Partner of the Gfinity Elite Series for 2018. Alienware has long recognized the importance of esports for the Australian gaming community and as the gaming scene has continued to thrive, we have been looking for the right partner to help bring esports to the forefront here.”

In talent news, the CWL New Orleans broadcast talent lineup is locked and loaded with the event running at the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans tomorrow through Jan. 14. The CWL New Orleans Open is slated to be the largest Call of Duty event in MLG history with over 250 teams competing for a prize pool of $200,000. MLG tweets that names will include: Ben ‘Benson’ Bowe, Miles ‘Miles’ Ross, John ‘Revan’ Boble, Clint ‘Maven’ Evans, Jack ‘CouRage’ Dunlop, Thomas ‘Chance’ Ashworth; Rich ‘Rich’ Campbell; Jessica ‘Jess’ Brohard,  Jamie ‘Dirk’ Ruiz, Chris ‘Tunn’ Tunn and Guy ‘Blaze’ Spencer.
Leger released its latest study on the viewing habits of adults and esports, noting that – as of Dec. 2017 – one of five US adults reported watching an esports event, with YouTube again being the leading way for them to do so. Meanwhile, between June and Dec. 2017, awareness of esports jumped from 36% to 50% among US adults, swelling from 48% to 60% among men and 25% to 40% among women.
ELEAGUE lined up initial matches and casters for its second CS:GO Major Championship, The ELEAGUE Major: Boston. The $1 million showdown will begin with The New Challengers stage on Friday at 10a with live Twitch coverage, featuring 16 teams split into four pools. ELEAGUE host Richard Lewis will be joined by a rotation of seasoned commentators including Anders Blume; former professional players Jason ‘Moses’ O’Toole, Janko “YNk” Paunovic, Daniel ‘DDK’ Kapadia and Henry ‘HenryG’ Greer; Sue ‘Smix’ Lee, James Bardolph and Matthew ‘Sadokist’ Trivett.
Meanwhile, Overwatch League also recruited a well-known lineup of talent to call game streams for the season. Blizzard’s official lineup now includes: Christopher ‘MonteCristo’ Mykles; Erik ‘DoA’ Lonnquist; Matt ‘Mr.X’ Morello; Mitch ‘Uber’ Leslie; Chris Puckett; Soe Gschwind;  Auguste ‘Semmler’ Massonnat; Alberto ‘Crumbz’ Rengifo; Jonathon ‘Reinforce’ Larsson; Robert ‘Hexagrams’ Kirkbride; Brennon ‘Bren’ Hook; and Josh ‘Sideshow’ Wilkinson.
Speaking of which, Blizzard launched the official app for the OWL on Android and iOS, offered free. The app will look to help fans with the Overwatch League schedule and standings in real-time in addition to serving up content such as interviews and profiles.
Smilegate Entertainment has announced viewership numbers for their main FPS title Crossfire’s world championship tournament ‘Crossfire Stars 2017 Grand Finals’ which was held in Xi’an, China in early Dec. Overall, the tournament reached a total of 37.5 million unique viewers, about a 50% increase from the previous year viewership record set by CFS 2016 Grand Finals, carried live in 6 different languages on YouTube, Twitch TV, Facebook and other streaming platforms.
The 7th Annual Cynopsis Sports Media Awards
The Cynopsis Sports Media Awards will celebrate the work of the most talented producers, hosts, sponsors and executives in the sports industry, saluting the initiatives that drove audiences and turned sports viewers into fans. Crossing the spectrum of television, radio, and online platforms, we’ve expanded our categories and are looking forward to spotlighting this incredible industry.
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SoloMid Corporation reportedly locked in a deal to snag $25 million in investment from Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, per ESPN. SoloMid and Bessemer will now recruit additional investors for the round, which is ultimately expected to be larger than the $25 million that Bessemer will contribute. As the story points out, Team SoloMid is now the final North American League of Legends Championship Series team to receive a significant investment, be acquired or launch with a sports background.
EA Sports is hunting for the FIFA Team of The Year. For the first time ever, the roster will be voted on by a curated list of media, athletes and EA SPORTS FIFA community members, representing the millions of EA SPORTS FIFA players all over the world. Ballot recipients will receive a custom-built ballot box that includes a shortlist of football’s most elite 55 players, nominated by EA SPORTS for their real-world performance in 2017. The final Team of The Year will be announced starting on Jan. 15, with special TOTY player items available in packs for a limited time in FIFA 18 Ultimate Team and FIFA Mobile.
POWER PLAYERS – Jack Etienne

After a year in which global esports organization Cloud9 became one of only two organizations to snag a slot in the Overwatch League and League of Legends’ NA LCS, secured a $25 million round of Series A funding from the likes of World Wrestling Entertainment and locked in sponsors such as T-Mobile, team co-founder and CEO Jack Etienne now opens 2018 with the UK in tow as the London Spitfire begin play today in OWL against Florida Mayhem. As the team prepares for takeoff, Cynopsis spoke with Etienne about the League, London and how his job has evolved.
Etienne on the announcement of Overwatch League: At that time, there wasn’t really any franchise like it that had been announced yet. It was something that I had wanted to a long time, a long-term partnership with a publisher in a league that had revenue-sharing where we were building something together on a large scale. When it was first presented to me, I was like ‘this is what I’ve been working toward for years.’ I just knew that I needed to be part of this thing.
On selecting London: London was one of the top cities I was looking at right from the get-go. I wanted a really large market that could get support. There were only two cities in the world where I wanted Cloud9 to host a team and London was one of them.
On the evolution of the game: If you look at the finished product from 2016 and how it progressed into 2017, the game is much easier to watch, the action is easier to follow. So – in a really short period of time – they really improved the quality of being a fan in the game. You don’t really see, from the top down, publishers who are really interested in making a really good esports league and I feel that Overwatch is one of the most watchable FPSs on the market now.
On how Overwatch League changed the conversation with sponsors: It was really interesting that around a year ago, after this was announced, sponsors were interested, but now they are full-on wanting to be a part of this. What’s really special about this FPS is that sometimes there are concerns with some of the other shooters out there that they may be too violent and that some sponsors may not want to get behind them. Overwatch doesn’t have any of those concerns. It is very family friendly. What’s really cool is that you are seeing young fans and players coming, where both generations play the game together. I think that when the brands see the demographic of these fans, it gets them very excited about what they can do with it.
On how his role has changed: As time goes by, I find myself now delegating more responsibilities to other people we’ve brought into Cloud 9, which allows me to focus on a) what I am really passionate about and b) what I think is the lifeline of this company which I think is a good player experience and that our players are being taken care of. I used to be much more involved in account management, etc. but I can now focus on recruitment, talking to investors and our players.

Registration is open for the 2018 Cynopsis TV Awards!
Wednesday, FEB. 7th | 4:45pm – 8pm | Espace, NYC
We’re gearing up for the annual Cynopsis TV Awards, saluting excellence in national TV programming, from writing and directing to casting, hosting and more.    The awards celebration will include the 2018 Buyers & Planners honorees, awarded for outstanding campaigns that have run on broadcast, cable, and digital platforms. Be sure to register your team before January 23rd as seating tends to fill up quickly!

ON THIS DAY in 2011: Electronic Arts releases Mass Effect 2.
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Leverage qualitative and quantitative analysis to understand key drivers of game performance..
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