03/23/23: Game Developers Conference in San Francisco


Medias First Morning Read
Thursday March 23, 2023

Good morning! It’s Thursday and this is your early morning Esports and gaming brief.
Stinging rain, bike valet stations and long lunch lines at Chipotle have made for a feisty atmosphere at the 2023 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, which is hosting tens of thousands of attendees. Among the business trends and findings bubbling up:
* Email marketing is back, according to video game promotion and monetization platform Xsolla. Xsolla, which works with Epic Games, Steam, Ubisoft, Roblox and others, is leaning on innovation and cloud gaming for a large part of its business but has seen recent success in returning to the basics of digital outreach.
* Forget about NFTs: Creators are now in favor of creating and monetizing their own assets, be it individual IP, consumer products or other activations. User-generated content is also a piece of this, with players being able to monetize improvements on the worlds they love and change the game-building process.
* MobileFuse Head of Mobile Innovation & Privacy Chris Hughes highlighted that while mobile gaming remains a nascent industry, brands have finally caught up to trends and are integrating games into their advertising and sponsorship spending.
* Incredibuild Chief Revenue Officer Regev Yativ and others noted it’s about time for us to see successful use cases for AI and Web3 in gaming. Combining these technologies into an efficient, powerful product is of particular interest. While AI might cynically be seen as the buzzword of the times (see: NFTs and years of Web3 talk with no mainstream products), it’s a remarkable tool that has ramifications across a plethora of businesses alongside game development and coding.


Counter-Strike 2 will release in Summer 2023, publisher and developer Valve confirmed Wednesday alongside several videos showing off the long-awaited sequel to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. CS:GO released in 2012, and a revamped edition of the game running on Valve’s Source 2 engine should provide a crisper experience both for casual players and the burgeoning esports scene that’s surrounded Counter-Strike since the original launched in 2000. Some quality-of-life improvements include a full graphics overhaul, server upgrades that will improve performance consistency for players, and physics updates for items like smoke grenades that will allow them to be interactive and dynamically shift based on player actions. The news comes at a crucial time for the title’s esports leagues and teams, as Riot Games’ VALORANT continues to encroach on the competitive tactical first-person shooter market, albeit with a different approach.

Gaming festival DreamHack will host a $750,000 three-tournament Fortnite series known as the DreamHack Open Featuring Fortnite across its San Diego, Dallas and DreamHack Summer stops. The San Diego event from April 7-9 will be the first stop of the tour, with the top 10 teams from each competition qualifying for a $2 million event at Gamers8 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from July 6-9. The tournaments will include 50 duos teams competing in a Zero Build format for a top prize of $30,000 during the qualifiers.

Mobile game Subway Surfers has surpassed 4 billion downloads, developer Sybo announced. The title saw a surge in popularity and became the most-downloaded game of 2022 by leveraging TikTok user-generated content and its own social strategy to grow. Subway Surfers, which launched in 2012, has seen consistent updates throughout its lifespan and was one of the most popular titles on mobile well before 2022, but the game is a test case in how businesses can make the most of social media trends to build brand awareness and reach new audiences to hit otherwise longer-term milestones.

Apex Legends developer Respawn has opened a new studio to support development of the popular battle royale title. While publisher Electronic Arts laid off 200 people working on quality assurance for Apex out of a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, office in late February, Respawn’s new location in Madison, Wisconsin, will operate not as QA but as an expansion of the group directly creating Apex content, according to GamesIndustry.biz. The Wisconsin studio could also be involved in additional IP in the future, but its focus will be keeping Apex Legends running for “10 to 15 years,” studio lead Ryan Burnett told the publication

Activision-Blizzard’s closed beta for Diablo IV drew high praise from consumers and critics alike as the title nears its June 6 release date. The action role-playing game could be a shot in the arm for ATVI: Outside of its Call of Duty franchise, the company has struggled with underwhelming releases in recent years, from Overwatch 2 to the June 2022 release of the widely panned mobile game Diablo Immortal. The publisher’s most recent Diablo game on PCs and consoles, Diablo III, released more than 10 years ago, left fans of the series with a serious appetite for a return to the game’s roots and the next step in the gothic storyline. All signs point to Activision-Blizzard delivering on those desires, with an open beta running March 24-26 to bring a first look to a wider audience.

This week’s REV/XP Presents features industry veteran John Spiher. John serves as the SVP of Partnerships at New Meta Entertainment (NME). NME includes top esports team Dignitas along with the women’s empowerment platform Raidiant.



The Kings League regular season wrapped up last weekend and teams are prepping for the playoffs starting Friday, March 24th in Barcelona. The entire season was broadcast live on Twitch and YouTube and generated over 30 million hours watched and peaked at 1.7M concurrent viewers during the match between Pio FC and Porcinos FC during week 8. This match received the most attention throughout the regular season because it was pro football player Ronaldinho’s debut on Ibai’s team, Porcinos FC.

The league averaged almost 400K viewers each week during their matches, across the main channel and the numerous co-streamers also broadcasting the event.

Read more about the top apparel brands on our blog


Riot Games has extended its partnership with Amazon to bring in-game rewards for Riot titles to Amazon Prime members in 2023. The deal allows Amazon to remain a global sponsor across Riot’s esports titles and add sponsorship of global Teamfight Tactics esports competitions to the deal. Meanwhile, Riot will provide Prime subscribers access to in-game currency and items for League of Legends, Legends of Runeterra, VALORANT, League of Legends: Wild Rift and Teamfight Tactics, the last of which was added alongside Amazon’s sponsorship of its esports circuit.

NRG Esports and ASUS Republic of Gamers have partnered to bring the org peripheral support for both content and competitive initiatives. The sponsorship is a revival of one of NRG’s first deals, according to a statement, as ROG worked with NRG in 2017. “It is so gratifying to fast forward five plus years as two powerhouse gaming brands reconnect,” NRG CEO Andy Miller said in a statement. “We are excited to partner with ROG to bring our players and fans the very best in competitive gaming peripherals.”

FURIA, a Brazilian esports organization, is expanding into Europe and establishing a new regional headquarters in Malta. FURIA, which competes in the ESL Pro League Counter-Strike: Global Offensive circuit, said it plans to use the facility as a hub as its teams continue to compete and branch out in Europe. The new office will open this summer and is located in Mellieha, according to a statement.

Microsoft is leveling up its support of underrepresented developers with increased investment in its newly named ID@Xbox Developer Acceleration Program. The initiative serves indie development teams by offering funding for porting their games to Xbox without the title needing to be exclusively on the console. “In addition to funding, participating developers gain access to information and best practices in the form of monthly webinars called Green Room events where developers engage with members of team Xbox covering topics like game lifecycle, marketing tips, certification prep and more,” Xbox said in a statement. “These topics are not exclusive to the program, but the goal is to create an environment where new teams can connect directly with subject matter experts and ask questions in an open and welcoming environment.”

2023 Measurement & Data Conference

New speakers, oh my!

Register to join us on June 13-14 for some of the most important timely conversations of the media industry. Who will be spearheading these discussions? You can expect executives from Horizon Media, CIMM, Wunderman Thompson, VAB, Activision Blizzard and more!



Why do Americans game?

Three-fifths of Americans who play video games on their PC or console for at least an hour each week say they play video games to relax and unwind (62%). For over half of them gaming is a way to pass time (52%), while two-fifths of them also use it as a way to escape reality for a while (40%).


Longtime League of Legends pro Nicholas Antonio “Ablazeolive” Abbott is retiring after nearly a decade of amateur and pro competition. The 24-year-old made his debut in the Tier 1 League of Legends scene with Golden State Warriors-backed Golden Guardians in 2020 and most recently played for fellow League Championship Series squad Immortals. “I have realized there are important aspects of my life that have been stunted due to my professional career and it is important for me to not push them aside any longer,” Ablazeolive said in a statement. He is considering coaching, broadcast roles, content creation and entering game playtesting, or returning to school, as next steps.

Former Toronto Ultra player Eli “Standy” Bentz is looking for a new team after the Call of Duty pro became an unrestricted free agent. Standy, who started his Call of Duty League career hot in 2021 with the Minnesota RØKKR and was voted a league All-Star, moved to a substitute role with Toronto on Feb. 18 after the team brought Charlie “Hicksy” Hicks into the lineup. Hicksy led the team to a championship at the CDL Major 3 Championship to cement his role, leaving Standy to either find a Challengers squad to work with or another home in the CDL.

The Overwatch League’s Los Angeles Valiant are still mum on a roster for 2023 despite starting play today. A report from Dexerto indicates a league insider has revealed some of the roster, though the Valiant have yet to announce the players publicly. The team’s lack of communication isn’t an aberration, either: Many Overwatch League teams were slow to give roster updates as the season approached, with multiple teams still quiet on who their substitute players will be.

Esports organization Heroic could be in financial trouble, according to a financial report translated by Dexerto that indicates the company did not raise enough money from shareholders to continue operations. Heroic, a European organization that has been highly successful in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and fields teams in Rainbow Six: Siege and racing sim RENNSPORT, sought funding from stakeholders to continue operations through 2025 but also requested at least $950,000 to operate through the summer of 2023. The team has made cuts this year, including removing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds from the titles it competes in, but has obligations to remain in RENNSPORT and CS:GO as a partner in the ESL Pro League and BLAST Premier (CS:GO) and ESL R1 (RENNSPORT) leagues.


Amazon-owned Twitch laid off 400 employees this week alongside 9,000 overall job cuts by the company. The staff reduction also impacted Amazon Web Services, the company’s hosting and cloud API provider. Cuts will take place “in the next few weeks,” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said, and follow the elimination of 18,000 employees in January of this year. “For several years leading up to this one, most of our businesses added a significant amount of headcount,” Jassy said. “However, given the uncertain economy in which we reside, and the uncertainty that exists in the near future, we have chosen to be more streamlined in our costs and headcount.” The news follows Twitch CEO Emmett Shear announcing his departure from the company late last week.

The Chinese and Russian governments plan to partner to put on esports events, according to a report from The Esports Advocate. The countries hope to create “international sports events,” including an esports collaboration known as the “Future Games,” Chinese journalist Hongyu “Eddie” Chen reported. “China will support Russia in hosting international esports event ‘Future Games’ in Kazan, Russia, in 2024,” according to a statement translated by Chen that was signed by Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin. “Both sides object to politicizing in sports and hope sports can promote peace and unity.”

Gamurs Group, the parent company of Dot Esports, Twinfinite and 15 other gaming- and entertainment-focused publications, laid off more than 50 reporters across multiple verticals Monday. Gamurs has been panned for the move, particularly because of the already low rates its publications offer most writers and because of its non-personalized outreach to laid-off personnel: One writer noted the salutation for his email was “Dear Freelancer” and that the email came in the middle of the night in his time zone. Gamurs cited the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank as a reason for the layoffs. However, in an internal email given to Kotaku, Gamurs CEO Riad Chikhani admitted he overextended the company during acquisitions of publications in 2022, which more than tripled its full-time headcount (not to mention its stable of freelancers) and noted a lack of efficiency from management in evaluating content strategy across his publications. Neither Gamurs nor Chikhani have commented publicly on its decision.

Microsoft is continuing to work to assuage regulators’ concerns about its acquisition of Activision-Blizzard by proposing additional support to external console providers like Sony for IP that Microsoft would own. The battle is ongoing in the United Kingdom, where Microsoft has faced its toughest battle with government agencies amid concerns that titles like Call of Duty would become Xbox exclusives and thus lead to monopolization of the games industry. Sony has put forward claims that Microsoft would provide a “worse version of CoD titles on PlayStation consoles for example ‘with fewer features’ and ‘degrading the graphical quality’ of the PlayStation version,” which Microsoft sought to rebuff in its most recent filing in the U.K. The proposal is heavily truncated but appears to mention a revenue sharing agreement between the companies for Call of Duty sales as a potential solution to the ongoing dispute. The percentage share between Microsoft and Sony was cut from the publicly released document.

2023 Sports Media Awards

Have you registered to attend yet?

We’re just under 1 month away, and tables are filling up fast. Don’t wait to register. Join luminaries Jessica Berman, Andres Cantor, USAA, Amazon, and Ally at this year’s Sports Media Awards.

Prices increase tomorrow, March 24th, at 11:59pm EST.


Time for some more hoops. After Purdue’s loss during the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, how many No. 1 seeds have lost to No. 16 seeds during March Madness? (Email [email protected] with your answer, and be sure to include your name, company and city).

Answer to Our Last Trivia Question
A remake of Resident Evil 4 is coming out March 24. What’s the name of the main protagonist in that game? Answer: Leon S. Kennedy Kudos: David Westberg | SAG•AFTRA Federal Credit Union, Burbank, California; Tom Moore | Kalt Productions, Los Angeles

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