01/26/23: The past week brought another round of layoff announcements across major tech and media brands.

 

Medias First Morning Read
Thursday January 26, 2023

Good morning! It’s Thursday and this is your early morning Esports brief.

The past week brought another round of layoff announcements across major tech and media brands. From Google’s cut of 12,000 employees to layoffs by Fandom that hit games and entertainment media giants like GameSpot, Giant Bomb, Metacritic and TV Guide, truncation and consolidation continue to be a trend in early 2023.

Vox Media, the parent company of Polygon, The Verge and New York Magazine, among others, also announced layoffs that affected 130 employees, or 7% of its workforce. League of Legends and VALORANT developer Riot Games confirmed it is letting 46 employees go in a restructuring of its business priorities for 2023, and 343 Industries, the makers of Halo, have been “hit hard” by layoffs at Microsoft, according to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, and — well, you get the point. Recession-proofing, or attempts to prepare for some major market hits, is well underway just a month into the new year.

If you’ve been affected by similar changes, you’re not alone. As someone who was laid off twice in two years and found amazing opportunities afterward, I know how difficult and stressful losing your job can be. I also know life can get better after those darker moments. No matter what 2023 has in store, keep that in mind. Be flexible, be aware of other opportunities and don’t forget to take care of your mental and physical health.

COMPETITION

ESL FACEIT Group and Competition Company’s racing simulation platform RENNSPORT are launching a new esports league with a $543,000 (500,000 euros) prize pool. The ESL R1 league includes 12 teams, with legacy esports organizations such as G2 Esports, FaZe Clan, Furia, Heroic and MOUZ competing alongside automobile manufacturers and their affiliated esports programs, including teams from BMW, Mercedes and Porsche. The league will feature seasonal competition in the spring and fall as well as a championship competition later in the year.

The Overwatch League revealed its 2023 World Cup tournament format, with regional conference play across the Americas, Europe and Middle East, and Asia-Pacific regions determining who competes in the Fall 2023 event. Thirty-six countries across the three regions will be split into two groups, an “A” group for countries that have performed best in the World Cup in the past and a “B” pool for other countries. Three teams will qualify from each A group and two from each B group; those 15 teams will be joined by a team from China, which is unable to compete in qualifiers because of ongoing licensing issues for Blizzard titles in the country. Four wild card teams will also be selected to compete, and Blizzard said it will reveal details of that portion of the event in February.

Meanwhile, Blizzard Entertainment announced it has trimmed its prize pool for Hearthstone esports and will adjust its scope for 2023 as well. Hearthstone players from China will not be able to participate this year following a dispute with Chinese game licensing organizer NetEase that saw the title discontinued in the country for now. The 10th year of official Hearthstone esports competition will feature seven events, including three seasonal championships and a world championship for the mainline game and three tournaments in Hearthstone: Battlegrounds, a spinoff title. The prize pool for 2023 will be $650,000, down from $3 million in 2022, with each Battleground event featuring $50K pools and the Hearthstone world championship drawing $500K.

Brawlhalla publisher Ubisoft will put together multiple offline events and a $1 million prize pool for the free-to-play fighting game title in 2023. Brawlhalla, which is playable across PC, console and mobile platforms, is entering its eighth year since launch, with esports competition beginning Feb. 3. This year will feature four seasonal championships to be played online and three LAN events, and Ubisoft said it plans to announce additional offline events later this year. Brawlhalla will also have its Brawlhalla World Championship, known as BCX, in November 2023.

REX/VP PRESENTS

This week, Team Liquid Chief Business Development Officer Mike Milanov joins REV/XP Senior Vice President Chris Mann as REV/XP’s first guest of 2023.

STREAMHATCHET

TOP HEADPHONE BRANDS IN LIVE STREAMING (DECEMBER)

Headphones are a staple in both the gaming and live streaming space across all types of creators. Many influencers incorporate a gaming headset or a pair of luxury headphones into their live streaming setup during their broadcast. Additionally, gaming headset brands often sponsor the top esports leagues and teams to wear their headsets and get major logo presence across hundreds of hours of broadcasts.
EPOS audio had the most exposures in live streaming for December holding a 26.3% logo presence share among all other audio brands on Twitch. EPOS Audio provides audio solutions for both the gaming and enterprising spaces. The company was once known as Sennheiser Communications but after a joint venture with the Demant Group, EPOS was formed. EPOS has benefited from their partnership with the Blast Premier tournament organizer which has generated the majority of their impressions.

Read more on Stream Hatchet’s blog to find out how these brands generate brand awareness in live streaming.

SPONSORSHIP & ACTIVATION

Complexity Gaming and Miller Lite have renewed their partnership for a fourth consecutive year. The alcohol brand “will be featured on select Complexity streams, social media posts, and merchandising, as well as custom video content,” according to a statement from Complexity parent organization GameSquare. “We are excited to extend our collaboration with one of the best-known global brands,” GameSquare CEO Justin Kenna said. “Partnerships are a key component of our growth strategy, which is helping increase our mix of reoccurring revenue opportunities.”

In other beer news, the League of Legends Europe/Middle East/North Africa Championship has added non-alcoholic beer maker Desperados 0.0% as a partner for its German broadcast in 2023. Desperados 0.0% will take part in Twitch broadcasts, the organizations said, including giving away 10 tickets to the LEC finals throughout the season. Desperados 0.0% will also have a content partnership with the German broadcast as part of the LEC’s first partnership with a national beer brand.

Sports betting company Rivalry has partnered with Brazilian esports org RED Canids on a one-year deal that will promote the RED Canids Counter-Strike team. The deal includes creation of a 12-episode documentary and Rivalry branding on the RED Canids training facility along with in-game naming rights for Rivalry. The organizations will also host watch parties, giveaways and other activations to bring exposure to the esports brand and its new betting partner. “Rivalry adds a valuable layer of creative firepower to our organization that helps us engage with our fanbase in unique ways,” RED Canids CEO Felippe Corradini said. “Responsible sports betting drives engagement and excitement for our fans where when we win, they win too. Rivalry is a partner that brings all this and more to our organization, and we’re looking forward to our partnership together.”

And now, back to drink updates: Esports organization Heroic has renewed its partnership with Red Bull, the partners announced Monday. The collaboration will include Red Bull branding on Heroic jerseys and a variety of to-be-announced activations. This is Year 2 of Red Bull’s work with the European org, and the brand is no stranger to the esports scene, with multiple teams competing under the Red Bull banner, league sponsorships, first-party tournaments and more.

Tournament organization platform Rally Cry has partnered with Riot Games to operate and distribute the North American Challengers League for League of Legends. Rally Cry will run broadcasting, operations and the overall platform for NACL and also have monetization rights for the league, which is a feeder system for North America’s League Championship Series, the premier League of Legends circuit in the region. Rally Cry CEO Adam Rosen, who previously co-founded Tespa, the Blizzard Entertainment collegiate esports circuit, hopes to turn the NACL not just into a talent incubator for the LCS but for other on-screen personnel. “This partnership allows us to make a lasting impact on players aspiring to compete at the next level in their esports careers,” Rosen said in a statement. “In addition, we look forward to showcasing the up-and-coming on-air talent within North America.”

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YOUGOV LIVING DATA INSIGHTS

Who’s buying the most video games?

YouGov Profiles data reveals that American gamers who play MOBA titles are the most likely to have purchased five or more video games in the last six months (52%). Those who play Indie games (49%) and Battle Royale games (45%) can also be heavy purchasers.

TEAMS

Streaming superstar Ludwig “Ludwig” Ahgren announced he has become a co-owner of esports organization Moist Esports. The streamer, who was once the most-subscribed-to person on Twitch and creates in-person events and other content through brand offshoot Mogul Moves, will provide financial backing for Moist. The organization was founded by owner Charlie “Cr1TiKaL” White Jr., a fellow streamer, and operates in titles including Apex Legends, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros.

G2 Esports interim CEO Alban Dechelotte has been promoted to the role permanently, with former interim commercial director Sabrina Raith moving into Dechelotte’s previous COO role. Dechelotte has been with G2 since April 2021, when he joined the team as the general manager of the organization. He was promoted to COO in June 2022 and took on the interim role following former CEO Carlos Rodriguez’s ouster from the organization. Rodriguez left G2 after being suspended for association with misogynistic content creator Andrew Tate, which he revealed in a social media video where Rodriguez was seen partying with Tate.

Sentinels has released its Apex Legends roster after failing to qualify for the Split 1 Playoffs in the Apex Legends Global Series. The team, which was slated to compete in the Split 2 Qualifiers after finishing among the bottom eight teams in the 30-team competition, plans to “start fresh,” according to former Sentinels coach Will “TeQ” Starck. “There were a ton of really unfortunate circumstances during Split 1 that were simply out of our control and ultimately led to our poor performance as a team,” TeQ said in a statement. “There were flashes of brilliance throughout my time at Sentinels, but it simply wasn’t enough.”

The Overwatch League’s Toronto Defiant will bring on the core of a former Overwatch Contenders roster to compete in the big leagues this season. Players from American Tornado, a former dominant Tier 2 organization that disbanded in 2021 according to Dot Esports, will reassemble to play for the Defiant. Toronto hopes the camaraderie and talent of the former Contenders roster, which sent several players to the Overwatch League prior to their reunion on the Defiant, will help the team improve after a first-round exit from the Overwatch League playoffs in 2022.

INDUSTRY

Activision-Blizzard games have gone offline in China after failing to reach a deal with former licensing partner NetEase. The shutdown particularly affects esports pros in the Overwatch League, StarCraft 2 and Hearthstone as well as fans of popular franchises such as World of Warcraft. Chinese players can no longer access the games without access to a virtual private network, or VPN, which also flies afoul of the country’s communications laws. In all, five of the Overwatch League’s 20 teams are affected by the shutdown of Overwatch 2 in China: the Chengdu Hunters, Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, Los Angeles Valiant (who are based in China) and Shanghai Dragons.

Google is facing a second antitrust lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice targeting the platform’s online advertising business. The suit, filed Tuesday, follows a similar 2020 lawsuit that focused on the company’s alleged monopoly over internet search platforms. That 2020 suit has not yet gone to trial but is expected to later this year. “Competition in the ad tech space is broken, for reasons that were neither accidental nor inevitable,” the DOJ said in the Tuesday complaint. “Having inserted itself into all aspects of the digital advertising marketplace, Google has used anticompetitive, exclusionary, and unlawful means to eliminate or severely diminish any threat to its dominance over digital advertising technologies.” Google generated nearly $210 billion in revenue from its online advertising business in 2021, according to CNN, and $54.5 billion in the financial quarter ending in September, according to CNBC. That revenue is comprised of Google Search, Google Network advertising, other advertising activations and YouTube, according to CNBC.

The Washington Post has sunset Launcher, its video games and esports vertical, in a Tuesday that came as a shock to staff and the Washington Post’s union. The Washington Post cut 20 staffers, including five from Launcher. Editors Mikhail Klimentov and Alyse Stanley, video editor Jhaan Elker and reporters Shannon Liao and Nathan Grayson were among full-time staff from Launcher that lost their jobs. Reporter Gene Park will remain with the Post and transition to its Style section, where he will continue to report on video games. Lead editor Riley MacLeod will also remain with the company. “This news is sad, upsetting and, perhaps most of all, mindboggling,” editor Mike Hume, who founded the Launcher vertical, said on Twitter. Hume moved to the Post’s Emerging News Products team in mid-2022. “Over three years, Launcher attracted over tens of millions of users, the majority first-time readers of The Post and almost all of them under the age of 40. What makes this news so hard is that Launcher was doing well! In ’22, Launcher’s traffic was up year over year, even as [Park] recovered from cancer. We were succeeding in our mission. I’m stunned. But mostly just sad to lose such wonderful, dedicated, caring colleagues.”

Niantic, the developers of Pokemon GO, is bringing the NBA into the augmented reality game world, the developer announced alongside the NBA and NBA Players Association. NBA All-World, “where the NBA lifestyle meets the real world metaverse,” became available Tuesday. Core gameplay includes minigames and interactions with digital versions of NBA stars and the typical physical exploration mechanics of other Niantic AR titles. In-game merchandise and leveling via competition at in-game courts replaces Pokemon item-gathering and gym battles, with NBA All-World also leaning into basketball culture to draw core fans from both gaming and sports circles.

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TRIVIA
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, a remake of popular farming simulator Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, released in Japan today. When did the original game release, and on what console? (Email [email protected] with your answer, and be sure to include your name, company and city).

Answer to Our Last Trivia Question
Dallas Cowboys kicker Brett Maher made some dubious history with how many missed extra-point attempts during his team’s playoff win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Answer: Four. Kudos: David Westberg | SAG•AFTRA Federal Credit Union, Burbank, California; David Hauptman, Denver; Michael Goodman | Senior Integrated Media Specialist-Radio One Atlanta; Jim Himmel | TCB Media, San Clemente, California; Creed Heilskov | ImOn Communications, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Andy Pittman | Baylor University, Waco, Texas; Tom Moore | Kalt Productions, Los Angeles

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