10/05/17: Tracking the 2017 esports surge; Immortals’ new supreme; Trevor Noah scouts the field

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It’s Thursday October 5, 2017 and this is your weekly early morning eSports & Gaming briefing.


 
Nielsen released a new report dubbed The Esports Playbook with a deck of stats breaking down the industry and its fans. The report states that esports fans follow an average of 5.7 different games and 2.6 genres, and noted that “Esports fans are watching TV (for clarity, any TV rather than esports-specific content) – but they are also doing a lot of other things, including, unsurprisingly, playing video games. In fact, the average esports fan spends nearly double the time playing video games than watching TV on a TV screen.” The company noted the quick rise in programming hours dedicated to watching esports on linear channels, led by Disney XS with 13 telecasts during the examination period, for 1015 minutes of coverage. TBS had carried seven telecasts in that span, to hit 1135 minutes with other networks measured that included the ESPN channels, NFL Network and the CW.

Diving deeper, the company broke out the growth of sponsorships in the space, noting that the number of esports sponsorships has hit over 600 since the start of 2016, and that 50-60% of fans have favorable responses towards brand involvement in tournaments, streams or esports events. Further data showed that in events tracked through Q2 2017, 42% of esports brand sponsors were non-endemic with energy drinks, fast food, headsets, PC tech, PC hardware, gaming PCs, gaming software, esports news and gaming chairs representing the top categories in terms of brands tracked. Click here to download the full report.

 
“Brands entering the esports space, in whatever capacity, need to have done their due diligence and homework, to understand not only their own objectives but also the audience, their habits and their preferences,” says Nicole Pike, Nielsen Esports’ Global Research and Product Lead. “Understanding the complexities and intricacies of the esports marketplace is another major challenge – there are a multitude of teams, tournaments, titles, players and commercial and broadcast models in play, as the sector develops and matures. We are already seeing examples of brands making the most of the opportunity and generating significant returns on their investments in esports.”


 
 
COMPETITION


The next esports offering for PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds is locked and loaded, taking place at IEM Oakland 2017 on the mainstage from Nov. 18-20 with 20 teams from North America and Europe battling for a piece of the $200,000 prize pool live at the Oracle Arena. “We hope this serves as another excellent opportunity to experiment with a different format,” said Changhan Kim, Chief Executive Officer of PUBG Corporation. “It is essential that we gain experience from events like gamescom PUBG Invitational and Intel® Extreme Masters Oakland in order to take the right steps in the future.” The event will be broadcast on Twitch, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and more this November.
 
Season two of the Gears of War Pro Circuit will hit $2 million this year, according to Xbox, Gears of War Esports, and The Coalition. The prize pool is expected to double from season one with the addition of new regional events and grassroots tournaments, plus crowdfunding through Esports Supporter Packs. Players in North America, Latin America, and Europe can earn “Gears Pro Points” by competing in regional MLG GameBattles.com online ladders and in weekly tournaments. Players can also earn Gears Pro Points through grassroots and community-run approved tournaments and Microsoft Store LAN events.
 
Blizzard released its BlizzCon 2017 schedule, which kicks off with the opening ceremony on Nov. 3 at 11a PT, followed by each major title receiving a block of time to convey upcoming plans for those games. From a competitive point of view, tournament action will include Heroes of the Storm Community Gauntlet, finals of the Overwatch World Cup and StarCraft II World Championship Series, Hearthstone Global Championship, and World of Warcraft Arena World Championship with champions crowned on Nov. 4. The complete schedule can be found here.
 
Riot is bringing the League of Legends 2017 All-Star Event to the NA LCS Studio in Los Angeles on December 7-10. The event will see a team tournament with fan-voted rosters of pros from the top eight regional leagues based on their performance at the 2017 World Championship. In addition to the main event, each dream team will also send two representatives from their squad for a 1v1 tournament this year. Voting for this tournament will begin next month.
 
Speaking of LoL, Riot will see the North American League of Legends Championship Series revert back to a best-of-one format starting next season. In a statement, organizers said that “Feedback showed us that fans preferred watching more content across multiple teams than tuning in selectively for matches specifically of one team,” noting that a Bo1 worked better because it was a more digestible format for fans and it allowed the company to get rid of dual streams.
 
ELEAGUE locked in its playoff plans for the ELEAGUE Premier starting Oct. 10 with a lineup of final teams that include G2 Esports and FaZe Clan in addition to North, Cloud9, Heroic, Astralis, EnVyUs, and Fnatic. Competition will feature two days for the quarterfinals, a day for the semifinals, and then the championship on TBS on Oct. 13.
 
The WWE and IGN are teaming up for a new partnership that will kick off with the WWE x IGN eSports Showdown in New York tonight at 7p. The event will feature WWE stars go head-to-head with names that include A.J. Styles, Sasha Banks, Cesaro, New Day’s Kofi Kingston, and more. New Day’s Xavier Woods will also be on hand as the Showdown’s General Manager, while Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller will also be hosting. IGN’s Max Scoville will be offering commentary over the showdowns, while Alex “Golden Boy” Mendez will be shoutcasting the action as they battle one another in Capcom’s new fighter game Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. “The live video partnership with IGN Entertainment gives WWE another global platform to reach our passionate fan base, many of whom are avid gamers,” said John Brody, WWE Executive Vice President, Global Sales & Head of International. “The WWE x IGN eSports Showdown will be an exciting event for fans to consume our family-friendly content through the growing world of eSports.”
 
The Electronic Gaming Federation recruited the state of Connecticut for the company’s high school esports league, EGFH. Dot Esports writes that the decision by the Connecticut Association of Schools will mark the first state to enroll in the league. “It‘s been an honor to work with CAS to bring esports to schools across the state in a way which creates new opportunities for students who love gaming,” says EGF’s CEO and founder Tyler Schrodt. “There’s still a lot of work to be done but we’ve seen incredible support from students and administrators and we’re excited to use Connecticut as the example as we work with other states and cities to do the same.”
 
WorldGaming opened registration for its upcoming Madden NFL 18 Canadian Challenge sponsored by Xbox. The tournament will feature a $20,000 cash prize with qualifying games starting tomorrow. The top 16 players will advance to the online playoffs on Oct. 21. The final eight winners will be flown to Toronto for an all-expense paid trip for the Live Championships on Nov. 5. “Passionate gamers love the Madden NFL series, a legacy unmatched in competitive gaming, which is why we’re so excited to present the Madden NFL 18 Canadian Challenge,” says Wim Stocks, General Manager of WorldGaming. “This is where the best and brightest Madden gamers go all-out on the field. Players can expect a competitive tournament experience they won’t find anywhere else!”
 
 
TEAMS


There’s a new leader for Immortals, with the global esports organization naming Ari Segal as its new President & Chief Operating Officer. Segal – who previously served as COO of the Arizona Coyotes – will oversee all of Immortals’ business operations, both at the holding company level and across all current and future titles in which the organization competes, including its new Los Angeles-based team and brand (yet to be announced) in Activision Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch League. Segal will report to Immortals CEO Noah Whinston and serve as a non-voting Board Advisor on Immortals’ Board of Directors. “Ari brings a wealth of knowledge and passion from the traditional sports industry and has a proven track record of building or repositioning brands to connect deeply with fans, particularly in their local markets. Innovation, access, transparency, and accountability are all hallmarks of his brand-building strategy and management style, making him the ideal fit for this critical role in our organization,” said Whinston.
 
NRG Esports was the recipient of some high-profile investment, announcing on Twitter that Jennifer Lopez, Marshawn Lynch, Alex Rodriguez and Michael Strahan were now investors. ESPN reports the team is closing a $15 million Series B financing round. Other names investing include Twitter chief operating officer and former NFL chief financial officer Anthony Noto, Sacramento Kings minority owner and Sacramento Republic owner Kevin Nagle, and Fortress Investment Group chairman Pete Briger, all of whom are based in the Bay Area.
 
The Overwatch League has its first official team name, with the Shanghai team in China, led by Chinese internet technology company NetEase, officially unveiling the team’s moniker, logo, and colors. The Shanghai Dragons will officially begin play when it kicks off in Dec., offering a logo that “combines the team’s name and a dragon figure to call upon the history of this symbol. The letter S outlined by the body of the dragon represents Shanghai, and the smooth line design is a nod to the strategic skill and flexibility of the team.” Red is present as a theme color for the Shanghai Dragons’ logo in order to emphasize its Chinese connection.
 
Esports staple Ninjas in Pyjamas will reportedly receive an investment in the “double digit” range from Felix Granander, son of late Swedish media mogul Jan Stenbeck. TEO writes that Granander will purchase a fifteen percent stake in the Swedish esport organization.
 
Twitch inked a partnership with North for an exclusive streaming alliance. The multiyear deal will see some of the World’s best CS:GO players start streaming on the platform. As part of the deal, North’s players will be streaming from their practice facilities in Telia Parken, as well as from home. “Media rights and live content are cornerstones in the professional sports business, as well as in esports. In Twitch we have found a strategic partner that share our vision for the future of livestreaming” said North CEO, Christian Sorensen.

TEAM SPOTLIGHT – IMMORTALS

Courtesy: Esports One & Esportspedia: Revolutionizing Esports Data

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PLATFORMS

Flyclops revealed that its top title Domino! increased revenue by over 45% by cross-promoting players into Dominoes Gold, a Skillz-enabled esports version of its game. The strategy saw the company repurpose 7% of its third-party ads in Domino! to promote competitions in the ad-free Dominoes Gold. The 45% increase in revenue was driven by the repurposed ad inventory, which generated 7x the eCPM of the third-party ads that were replaced. “The industry points to advertising as the top monetization method, but since integrating Skillz, we’re actually showing fewer third-party ads and making more money,” said Dave Martorana, co-owner of Flyclops. “Skillz allowed us to turn 7% of our third-party ads into 45% more revenue, while bringing ad-free competitions to our users in Dominoes Gold.”
 
For the first time, Twitch is opening up an official merchandise online store, powered by Amazon’s e-commerce engine. The Twitch Online Store offers fans Twitch shirts, hoodies, community inspired apparel and home goods. “Giving our community access to items like our coveted purple Twitch shirts and expanding into women’s fits and kids options allows us to embrace the broader Twitch community,” Jennifer Dabnor, director of private label and licensing for Twitch, said in a statement. “We also want to make it easy for our fans to show off their Twitch pride, which is why we are providing them with a 24/7 digital store powered by Amazon.”
 
Rovio Entertainment is turning to Popcorn Digital to oversee branded content on the official Angry Birds YouTube channel, implementing plans to grow viewership and revenue for original animation and branded content as well as expand the title’s fanbase. According to World Screen, new episodes of Angry Birds Blues will be launched on a weekly basis later this year, while Piggy Tales: 4th Street will debut in 2018.
 
 
INDUSTRY


Esports fashion brand ULT, owned and operated by product and content company Ultimate Media Ventures, locked in a partnership with esports outfit Versus Sports for a clothing collaboration and content strategy that “brings modern technical product design to renowned esports players.” The technical products include a high-end cut and sew jersey of a completely custom pattern, which are hand cut and sewn in Los Angeles and constructed with French terry and mesh overlays, woven labels and elongated hem lines. “The evolution of the ULT brand into the traditional sports space is something we are very excited by,” says ULT brand lead designer and Ultimate Media Ventures Co-Founder / Chief Creative Officer, Nate Eckman. “Challenging cultural ideas of athleticism, sport and fashion for this community is something we at ULT are deeply inspired to do. Being able to partner with Versus Sports and collaborate with Manny Anekal on product ideas and content strategy is a total thrill.”


With PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds blowing up the charts, developer Bluehole Inc. is now reportedly valued at $4.6 billion, and now comes word that the team at Bluehole that handled the game is being turned into a subsidiary called PUBG Corporation, according to Gametoc. The move was made, according to the company, to ensure maximum responsiveness and efficiency, allowing the new subsidiary to react to worldwide game market with greater flexibility.
 
Speaking of valuations, Angry Birds’ maker Rovio Entertainment hit the stock market, opening with an IPO values at about $1 billion as it went public last Friday. Company CEO Kati Levoranta told CNNMoney that there is now a “clear” vision of how to move forward so investors wouldn’t have to worry about painting the company as a one-hit wonder. “Well to be honest we’re in extremely good shape, we have a clear strategy,” she said. “It’s all about the execution now.”
 
Paramount Pictures picked up rights to bring Sonic the Hedgehog to the big screen. THR writes that Paramount Pictures snagged the rights for Sega’s flagship franchise after the project stalled at Sony Entertainment. The file was originally announced with a 2018 target release date.
 
 
POWER PLAYERS – Trevor May


The convergence of sports and esports has another intersection courtesy of Minnesota Twins pitcher Trevor May. Not only a popular streamer on Twitch and a member of Luminosity Gaming, May is now also in investor with an eye to expand the esports ecosystem through a multi-pronged approach of stats and content through his company Esports Lab, with an eye toward leveraging analytics and statistics to help train, scout and develop players and teams as well as consumer interest.
 
Cynopsis Esports chatted with May about the similarities with traditional sports, his interest in the industry and vision for the esports ecosystem.
 
May on getting involved with esports: Last year, I got really into streaming on Twitch. I have always loved games my whole life and really enjoyed being able to do it. As I got more acquainted with how influencers are doing business by streaming, I found it to be an interesting dynamic for me because of the subtle differences between esports and traditional sports. That said, there are a lot of parallels as well that I think will lead esports to more of a mainstream following and more business success. Also seeing all the general hype around esports and the businesses that are now investing big numbers into the industry is an exciting proposition. So I said, there is something there and given that I had to have Tommy John surgery and unable to play baseball, I decided to pursue some of these interests that I wouldn’t be able to go after if I was playing.
 
On launching Esports Lab: It became very clear that the gatekeepers and the buy-in were beginning to become a little more set and the days of launching an esports org for $5,000 were gone. So when Overwatch and League of Legends announced plans to start franchising teams, it was interesting to me because the means we will see contracts that bring in a more mainstream audience. It occurred to me that people would now be wondering how to become a player or a coach. In sports, you have a path you can follow to get to the Major Leagues and when I was 12, I knew what I had to do. In esports, the 12-year old doesn’t have that path. So I decided that my path here would be to build several businesses building around the franchising of teams and developing that structure in the amateur scene to feed into it.
 
On goals: The world we live in is obsessed with data and the idea that data drives everything is how I’ve functioned my whole life. In baseball, we are becoming more data driven although we have been slow because we are so traditional. The amount of data taken from video games is gigantic so I saw the opportunity there and I found two terrific guys who were developing technology in this particular area that didn’t really have this particular vision. A big part of this was Winston’s Lab, the sabermetrics website of Overwatch. It started as a blog and now it is being used with publicly broadcast games and featured technology that can take a video of the game, pull stuff of the screen, create a timeline and make the whole thing searchable for people looking for analysis of the games they just watched. The other side of it involved an app that basically is a stand-in API for Overwatch that pulls statistics from custom games and offers more detailed stats for users.
 
On the path ahead: We decided that it would be extremely valuable to not only have a professional take a look at your stats and see where you can improve and see peripherally that I should be playing a certain way. While we want professionals to be able to use it, the plan is for this to be used by your everyday consumer as well, who can track who their statistics have changed. So we are partnering with two other start-ups, one is called Wild, Wild West Bootcamp that is now starting to develop a coaching curriculum that is going to incorporate our statistics. So you can start to see how vested we are in player development and when owners of teams in leagues such as Overwatch League move forward with professional players, they will realize that at some point, they will need to compete with players that are cheaper, that are new the same way that every traditional sport tries to find that diamond. It is a natural step.
 
 
ROSTER MOVES

Sony is shaking up the PlayStation business, announcing that CEO Andrew House was leaving the company. Meanwhile, Tsuyoshi ‘John’ Kodera has stepped up from deputy president for Sony Interactive Entertainment to House’s role as president and CEO, effective immediately. House will remain with SIE as chairman until the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition, departing after 27 years at the company.

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