04/27/17: Unikrn adds LEET to fleet; Team Liquid continues to Twitch; Allied Esports talks Venues & Vegas

It’s Thursday April 27, 2017 and this is your weekly early morning eSports & Gaming brief.

Esports bookmaker Unikrn is adding LEET to its arsenal, announcing the acquisition of the esports startup whose specialty is integrating esports experiences into land based casinos by enabling them to run their own in-house esports tournaments. According to the announcement, Unikrn and LEET will continue to work with the casinos to createhighly engaging experiences for the industry. “Our company has seen growth throughout 2016 with our casino events business and we’re looking forward to an even better 2017 and beyond with Unikrn”, said Kingsley Edwards, Founder and CEO of LEET. “It’s clear that casinos are in need of a modern strategy to engage young adults. Unikrn and LEET provide exactly that with our complimentary suite of esports products, community reach, and talented team.”

Friday’s ELeague Street Fighter V Invitational Celebrity Showdown pitting Shaquille O’Neal, Lupe Fiasco, Reggie Bush and Natalie Eva Marie will see the foursome compete on TBS at 10p. The celebrities will compete to raise money for the charities of their choice. O’Neal will support the Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund, Fiasco will support his foundation M.U.R.A.L., Bush will support the 619 Charitable Fund and Marie will support the American Cancer Society. Richard Lewis hosts, along with analysts Steve “Tasty Steve” Scott,Zhi “Zhieeep” Liang Chew, Stephen “Sajam” Lyon, Reepal “Rip” Parbhoo and reporter Malik Forte will serve as game coaches for the celebrities.
Brendan Donohue, NBA Senior Vice President, Team Marketing and Business Operations has been named Managing Director of the new NBA 2K esports league, where he will be charged with overseeing the league. NBA teams participating in the inaugural season will be announced in the coming weeks, with the new league set to launch in 2018 and more than half of all NBA teams now expected to participate in the debut season. “We’re thrilled that we already have in place a seasoned sports executive to lead this new league,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  “The fact that Brendan knows the NBA inside and out is a huge bonus and will enable us to ramp up this venture in record time.”
The Collegiate StarLeague laid out the roster for qualifying teams for the upcoming 2017 North American Collegiate Grand Finals, slated for Toronto from May 12-14. In addition, the event will see a lineup of speaker panels and keynotes covering the esports industry. The qualifying teams for each of the Grand Finals are: Counter Strike: Global Offensive: University of California Irvine, University of British Columbia, University of California Los Angeles and CUNY Baruch; DotA2: University of Connecticut, California State University Long Beach, University of California Davis and University of British Columbia; Starcraft II: University of Waterloo, University of Montreal, University of Connecticut, and Temple University; League of Legends Invitational: University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University and the University of Toronto.
Blizzard locked in the 32 teams that will be competing for the Overwatch World Cup. The selections were made based on the skill ratings of the top 100 players from every country to determine each country’s average rating. China finished the survey as the top country in the ranking, with South Korea, United States, Sweden and Finland rounding out the top five.
ESL formally cemented a rule that blocks academy teams from competing in its tournaments. The rule mandates that an organization is only allowed to field a single team at each tournament, including qualifiers.
Riot Games is looking to end relegation in the League of Legends NA LCS and implement franchising in team for the 2018 NA LCS Season, according to theScore esports. The article states that League of Legends teams that currently hold NA LCS spots, or that will hold them the split prior to franchising’s implementation, will not be guaranteed spots in the league for 2018.
NGE announced plans to team with Stunlock Studios – creators of Battlerite and Bloodline Champions – and Twitch to deliver BattleRekt: The Proving Grounds to competitors. Players can sign one of the ten weekly BattleRekt tournaments. Which pit North American as well as European tournaments in a 3v3 format for a piece of the $20,000 total prize pool. NGE will produce, direct, and broadcast BattleRekt exclusively on Twitch from its studios in Burbank, California. Andy Vander Woude, CEO and co-founder of NGE said their company is “happy to have helped pioneer Battlerite as an esport, and very excited to be taking the show to the next level with BattleRekt: The Proving Grounds.”

ESL unveiled its broadcast talent for the ESL Pro League Season 5 Finals, which run June 3-4 in Dallas. Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez hosts, with Jason “Moses” O’Toole hosting from the desk. Taking on commentator duties will be Matt “Sadokist” Trivett, Henry “HenryG” Greer, Sam “Dazed” Marine, and Jon “BLU” Mullen. Serving as analysts will be Chad “SPUNJ” Burchill, Janko “YNk” Paunovic, and Halvor “Vendetta” Gulestol.
In other talent news, Riot unveiled its lineup of casters for the 2017 Mid-Season Invitational this week from Brazil. James “Dash” Patterson hosts along with Eefie “Sjokz” Depoortere and commentators and analysts seen below.

While esports may medal in territorial games, don’t expect the industry to grab Olympic gold anytime soon. IOC president Thomas Bach told insidethegames that “We are not yet 100 percent clear whether esports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport. We do not see an organization or a structure that will give us confidence, or guarantee, that in this area the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place, and that the implementation of these rules are monitored and secured.”
Superdata reports that gaming video content audiences have now hit 665 million people. The company’s current study states that more people watch GVC than HBO, Netflix, ESPN and Hulu combined. Meanwhile, ads and direct consumer spending will push GVC earnings to $4.6 billion this year. Compared to the days of the stereotyped gamer, the current viewer base has a high female representation (46%) and high average income ($58K in the US).
Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, is making history as the first all-women’s school to announce a varsity esports program that will be supported with scholarships. According to ESPN, the program will begin in fall of 2017 with the team set to compete in the Tespa Collegiate Series for Overwatch, with the title selected, per the school’s site, because “of its diverse and strong female characters.”
Psyonix, creators of Rocket League, locked in a deal with Tencent Holdings Limited to bring the title to China. The Chinese version of the game will feature core Rocket League gameplay with localization for the Chinese market.

Source: Superdata

Team Liquid is going all in on Twitch again, renewing the team’s exclusive broadcasting partnership with the platform. The two companies will continue to collaborate on streaming and VOD content, as well as on strategies to improve the Twitch platform for creators. “Team Liquid was among the initial teams that helped cement Twitch’s role as the industry leader in live gaming video,” said John Howell, VP of global partnerships at Twitch.
Meanwhile, the Immortals are adding Facebook Live to their toolkit, with the platform now joining Twitch for simulcasts of team content. The squad will leverage Restream.io, according to PVPLive, for video. “A big part of our mission here at Immortals is to be on the lookout for new ways to reach our fans with entertaining and engaging content,” said Immortals CEO Noah Whinston. “By adding Facebook to our cross-platform live streaming roster, we’re giving our fans even more, options than before to watch a match or interact with their favorite player on the go, anywhere and anytime.”
ASUS Republic of Gamers announced its sponsorship of NRG eSports. As part of the partnership, NRG will now receive exclusive premium PC hardware from ASUS ROG, including desktops, laptops and monitors. As a part of the sponsorship, NRG esports players will share their own experiences using ROG hardware with the eSports community, including player streams, behind-the-scenes content from the leading eSports events and more. In addition to supporting the team with its award-winning technology, ASUS ROG will appear on the official NRG eSports jerseys for the teams in “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Gears of War,” “Hearthstone,” “Overwatch,” “Rocket League,” “Super Smash Bros.” and “SMITE.” “eSports tournaments are drawing audiences that rival the biggest sporting events I’ve experienced,” said NRG eSports Co-Owner and Advisor Shaquille O’Neal. “We need the most hardcore technology for that intensity of competition and ASUS meets those demands.”
Another team is heading to Lagardere Sports. SK Gaming announced plans to join the global sports marketing and entertainment agency, which is also partnering with Team ROCCATT and Unicorns of Love. “Lagardere understand the rich history we have in eSports and acknowledge the unique position of our teams,” said Alexander T. Müller, Managing Director of SK Gaming. “We are proud to have such a strong partner on our side and are very much looking forward to push our vision of SK Gaming forward together.”

Nintendo is once again teaming with McDonald’s to bring its characters to Happy Meal boxes, with the likes of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser set to be included in meals through May 22. In addition, Nintendo is also partnering with the restaurant chain for a contest allowing McDonald’s app users to potentially win a Nintendo Switch console. 
Speaking of Nintendo, the company announced plans to hit E3 with a Splatoon 2 tournament, with the title set to hit shelves on July 21. Details remained vague, with the Nintendo of America tweeting out to “stay tuned for more details.”
Capcom is raising funds for the Capcom Pro Tour with the release of a new DLC, which will see 30% of contributions be dedicated to the prize pool for the Street Fighter league, with 50% being earmarked for production. This year will see Ryu and Ken serve as the featured fighters, as well as a Champion’s Choice skin picked out by previous CPT champion Du ‘Nuckledu’ Dang. Also returning is a new Capcom Pro Tour stage.
ESL has partnered with Oculus, Microsoft, Insomniac Games, Intel, and ASUS to host in-store tournaments at Microsoft Stores across North America. The Unspoken VR Tournament will begin at select stores on May 13 with the national finals slated for the flagship Microsoft Store in NYC on June 3.
Easter proved fertile for companies leveraging the holiday with themed events. Roblox reports that its Egg Hunt game has now become the platform’s largest annual in-game event and scored more than 3.4 million unique players within six days of the event.. Players spent over 2.6 million hours interacting in that span, searching for hidden eggs across the specially created holiday world.
Meanwhile, Pokemon GO saw Niantic confirm that 87 million eggs were hatched during the seven day period from April 13th to April 20th , which marked a special holiday event for the mobile game.

Vivendi appears poised to formally move to add Ubisoft to its umbrella, according to Reuters, which – citing sources “close to the matter” – stated that that Vivendi is on track to “allay investor concerns about its strategy, mixed results and poor share performance” by acquiring advertising firm Havas as well as Ubisoft. Last December, Vivendi increased its stake in Ubisoft to 25%, gaining almost 23% of the voting rights, with Ubisoft moving to try to block a future takeover bid.

China’s esports industry drummed up a cool $7 million in 2016, per China Media Network, marking an uptick of 34.7% year-on-year, according to a report by China’s GPC. In addition, Chinese professional video gamers have surpassed Sweden, South Korea and the U.S. to become the top country in terms of tournament winnings, with a total haul of US$19.3 million in 2016, a report from Unibet shows.
Vision Venture Partners announced the formation of Vision Entertainment, an original content creator and production studio “delivering innovative scripted and unscripted TV, Film, Live Event and Online projects” with an eye to expand upon the company’s current lineup of seven original content esports shows currently airing on Facebook Live. Additionally, VE is collaborating with Facebook Live to stream esports performances featuring many of the professional athletes competing for VVP’s Echo Fox esports organization with the goal of expanding the esports audience beyond the hardcore gamers. The newly-launched VE operates from a nearly 30,000 square-foot Beverly Hills office featuring 75 private office suites, three production studios and an esports training facility.
Millennial Esports Corp. entered into a letter of intent to acquire data analytics company Stream Hatchet. The Transaction is expected to close within two weeks. “We are excited to soon welcome the Stream Hatchet team to the Millennial Esports family” said Alex Igelman, CEO of Millennial Esports Corp. “We continue to expand our offerings to focus on Esports technology and business solutions in addition to operating our state of the art downtown Arena, tournament platform, game related apps and functioning as a tournament organizer. Our motto is ‘All things Esports’ and we will continue to explore other business opportunities in Esports in order to be able to capitalize on this emerging but still nascent space.”
POWER PLAYERS: Allied eSports’ Jud Hannigan

The recent announcement that Allied Esports and Esports Arena would be taking over a storied nightclub in Las Vegas to launch a new dedicated esports venue at Luxor Hotel and Casino cemented the city’s swelling moves into the esports industry. The new Esports Arena Las Vegas is slated to open in early 2018 and will serve as the first permanent esports venue on The Strip as well as the center of Allied Esports’ growing global network of esports properties spanning North America, Europe and China. With the company planning to announce 10-15 additional Esports Arena locations in North America over the next few years and shoring up content for media platforms, Cynopsis Esports spoke with Jud Hannigan, CEO of Allied Esports International, about the company’s recent moves and goals.
Hannigan on Allied Esports’ strategy: If you look at all of our facilities, including the Big Betty mobile esports truck and studio in Europe, they are all production studios, so it’s about us leveraging experiences and events into content. From a business standpoint, we are trying to create a unique, live experience around esports that we can own but from there, we are trying to extract content that we can leverage along the way from online and digital to traditional linear. One of our sister assets is World Poker Tour, which was a helpful model and benchmark for us to help create a new format that suddenly  become sticky with a global footprint of events happening around the world. We are now looking at all sorts of content to expand on that as well, examining multiple formats to figure out what we think will work, not just for a digital first audience, but also for a linear audience looking to expand their own interst in esports.
On esports venues: If you walked into our arena in Santa Ana as a fan of esports, it is kind of a unique experience. People are gravitating toward it and we want to get this experience right. People who come into our facility are typically there for around eight hours. We have a lot of programming going on and every week it feels like there is something different happening so to that effect, we feel like we have a good theme going o there that is authentic to a wide variety of gaming communities. We are constantly changing the look and feel of the arena itself. This past weekend, we had Blizzard in there running their collegiate Hearthstone Championship.  Every inch was completely covered with something new and they made the space really feel like you were sitting inside a tavern in the World of Warcraft.
On the move to Las Vegas: We look at Vegas as what we are doing now on steroids. MGM has been fantastic. We sat down with them to determine which property made the most sense and there were a number of properties we considered. When we came on to the LAX nightclub, they had the perfect layout. There as this built-in mezzanine, and while we will be renovating the facility, if you walk in, there is a sense that this was exactly the right spot for what we feel will become the top interactive entertainment experience in the world. There will be a lot of different themes. Elsewhere, these venues serve as local community hubs, but here in las Vegas, we are trying to create that experience where a traveler who comes in for three days will be able to get a chance to experience a battle between the top teams that we fly in or they want a chance to compete. Las Vegas for us will serve as our flagship.
On the importance of experiential: We don’t try to overdo it. We try to make it about the competition itself. Gamers want to go and rub shoulders with like-minded individuals and not feel alienated from society. They end up bragging about the fact that they were there. No matter what game is going on that night, that is really the goal.

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ON THIS DAY in 1999: Nintendo releases the Super Smash Bros. game for the Nintendo 64 in the US.
Trivia: Which American university was the first to offer scholarships for esports? (Email chris-sports@cynopsis.com with your answer and be sure to include your name, company and city.)
Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question: Name the game pictured last week. Answer: Joust. Kudos:  Chris Davies-Virgin/London; Joseph Grippo-Madison Square Garden/NY; Danny Araque/NY; Mark Bowers-ESPN/Bristol; Aron Dunn-Treason Media/Toronto; Rylan Albach-Sideqik Influencer Marketing/Atlanta; Glen Ross/DC: Daniel Hanson/Vail; Jim Thurston-GumGum Sports/Santa Monica; Greg Dudsic/Venice; Hal Isaacson-The Charity Network/LA

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