Activision Blizzard

How to watch the first major Black Ops 4: Blackout tournament

Posted by | Activision Blizzard, black ops 4, blackout, call of duty, esports, Gaming, Ninja, Sports, TC, Twitch | No Comments

Gamers, worldwide! A new seasons is upon us. New games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Red Dead Redemption 2 have either arrived or are on the way, which means we’re wading into a holiday season of fresh gaming.

But with new games also come new esports to watch.

The competitive season for Black Ops 4 Multiplayer (the CWL) doesn’t start until December. But TwitchCon still has some Black Ops 4 goodness coming our way on October 27. Four teams, made up of pro players/streamers, will compete in the first high-stakes Blackout tournament. Blackout is the new Battle Royale mode for Black Ops 4.

Officially, the Doritos Blackout Bowl starts on October 27 at 3:30pm ET, and interested viewers can check out the stream here.

Here’s how it will work:

Four teams of four pro players/streamers will drop into the Blackout map alongside public players. As with any Battle Royale game, they’ll loot up and start picking players off. The tournament will be scored based on kills and match placements.

Kills are worth one point, and various placements will earn the team a multiplier. A top ten placement yields a 0.5x multiplier, a top five placement yields a 0.75X multiplier, and a top 3 placement wins the team a 1.25x multiplier.

So who’s playing?

Team Ninja will be led by none other than Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who will be joined by his teammates JoshOG, Gold Glove, and Fearitself. Team Shroud will include Shroud as team camptain, alongside Just9n, Chocotaco, and Chad. Jack “Courage” Dunlop, who transitioned from CoD pro caster to professional content creator for Optic Gaming last year, will lead a team comprised of Karma, TeePee and Hysteria. And finally, Dr. Lupo will lead the fourth team, with teammates including Annemunition, Mad Ruski, and Ninja with no L.

What’s interesting about the Doritos Blackout Bowl is that the organizers have opted to make this tournament a public affair. Not only will it be livestreamed, but the players themselves will actually load into a public Blackout lobby, meaning the pros will be battling it out with real-life Black Ops 4 players.

The prize pool for the tournament is $250,000.

Disclosure: The author’s father works for Pepsico, which owns Doritos. The author does not own any Pepsi stock. She’s just a gamer who loves CoD.

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CoD: Black Ops 4 is available today

Posted by | Activision, Activision Blizzard, black ops 4, call of duty, Gaming, TC | No Comments

CoD: Black Ops 4 is available today, marking yet another chapter in the franchise’s history. The Black Ops series, developed by TreyArch, tends to be one of Call Of Duty’s most popular, and Black Ops 4 doesn’t show any signs of being any different.

Alongside multiplayer, Black Ops 4 also includes Zombies and Blackout, the new Battle Royale mode coming to CoD. Black Ops 4 is the first CoD installment to not launch with any campaign mode.

Folks who pre-ordered the game had an opportunity to play it briefly over the past few months as part of the beta. But now the game is out there and available to all.

One quick thing: Folks who buy a physical copy of the game will need to free up some space on their console, as the game requires a 50GB update to play Zombies, Multiplayer or go to the Specialist Headquarters. Luckily, you can start playing Blackout as soon as the update is 30 percent complete.

In other words, if you bought the game and can’t wait to play, you should pop that sucker in and start the download ASAP.

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Old media giants turn to VC for their next act

Posted by | 21st century fox, Activision Blizzard, Axel Springer, bertelsmann, Entertainment, epic games, Gaming, Hearst, Media, Naspers, Netflix, Sky, Tencent, Venture Capital, WndrCo | No Comments

The Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 eras weren’t kind to the world’s largest media conglomerates, throwing their business models into question, creating whole new categories of content consumption, and bringing online competition to subscription and ad pricing. Many of the media giants from the 1990s and early 2000s remain market leaders with multi-billion dollar valuations, however, and have become active investors in startups as a tactic to help themselves evolve.

Of the traditional media companies that have committed to corporate venturing, there are two distinct strategies: those whose investing seems to be about replacing the historic classifieds section of newspapers and diversifying into a range of consumer-facing marketplaces, and those whose investing is concentrated on capturing an early glimpse (and early equity stake) in startups reshaping media.

Replacing Classifieds, Investing in Marketplaces

Mathias Doepfner, CEO of Axel Springer. The company’s startup accelerator is one of the most active in Europe. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)

Given the first crisis newspaper groups faced from tech startups in the 1990s and early 2000s was the rise of online classifieds sites (like Craigslist) and transactional marketplaces (like eBay and Amazon), the disruption of their lucrative classified ads revenue stream drove their attention to e-commerce.

Aside from Hearst, the major US newspaper and magazine chains – like Gannett, News Corp, Meredith Corp / Time Inc, and Digital First Media – haven’t made many investments in startups. Perhaps the financial straits of most US newspaper companies have left little cash for VC investments that won’t pay off for years in the future.

But in Northern and Central Europe, where news readership and even print publishing remain healthy by comparison, the leading media groups have been aggressively investing in marketplace and e-commerce startups across the continent over the last decade.

Europe’s leading publisher, Axel Springer has made itself an established player in the European startup scene. Axel Springer’s Digital Ventures team has backed marketplaces from Caroobi (for cars) to Airbnb, and their Berlin-based accelerator (run in partnership with Plug & Play) has invested in over 100 young startups, like digital bank N26, boat rental marketplace Zizoo, and influencer-brand marketplace blogfoster. In a move more strategic to its business, the 15,000-employee group made a large investment in augmented reality unicorn Magic Leap this past February as well, forming a partnership to leverage its content IP in the process.

Meanwhile, Norway’s Schibsted, Sweden’s Bonnier, and Germany’s Hubert Burda Media (best know to many in tech for their annual DLD conference in Munich) and Holtzbrinck Publishing are each globally active, multi-billion dollar publishers who operate active early- or growth-stage VC portfolios composed mainly of e-commerce brands and marketplaces.

The most iconic corporate venture investment by a newspaper conglomerate (or any company for that matter) is without question the $32M check written into 3-year-old Chinese social web startup Tencent in 2001 by the South African publishing group Naspers (founded in 1915). Tencent, now valued around $400B, is Asia’s largest and most powerful digital media company and Naspers’ 31% stake was worth roughly $175B in March 2018 when it sold $10B in shares.

As a result, Naspers has transformed into a holding company that incubates, acquires, and invests in online marketplace businesses around the globe (though it still maintains a relatively small publishing unit).

The challenge for traditional media companies investing in startups beyond the realm of media is that even if wildly successful, those investments neither give them a distinct advantage in media itself nor make their business model like that of a tech company by way of osmosis. These investments can be flashy distractions to make management and shareholders call the company innovative while it fails to actually re-envision its core operations. Investing in Airbnb or BaubleBar doesn’t address the key challenges or opportunities a traditional publishing group faces.

Therefore the best case scenario in this strategy seems to be that these companies find enough financial success that they just transition out of the content game and become holding companies for other types of consumer-facing brands the way Naspers has. But even then the path seems uncertain: despite all its other activities, Naspers’ market cap is less than the value of its Tencent shares…it’s not clear that the best case scenario necessarily transforms the core organization.

Investing in the Next Generation of Media

Thomas Rabe, CEO of German media group Bertelsmann. Bertelsmann is unique in treating startup investments as a dedicated division of the conglomerate. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The other track for “old media” giants has been to focus on venture capital as a means to uncover the future of the media business so the old guard can learn from the new generation of media entrepreneurs and react to market changes sooner than competitors. Intriguingly, it is consistent that the conglomerates who have taken this strategy are ones whose operations in television, radio, data, and telecom outweigh any involvement in newspapers.

Bertelsmann, Hearst, and 21st Century Fox have been the most aggressive corporate venture investors in startups working to shape the future of media, whether it be through streaming video services, crowdsourced storytelling platforms, or augmented reality.

With annual revenue over €17B, Bertelsmann is one of the largest media companies in the world, spanning television production and broadcasting (RTL Group), book publishing (Penguin Random House), newspapers, magazine publishing (Grüner + Jahr), and education. Unlike of media companies though, it treats venture investments in media startups as a key division of its company rather than as a side project.

The company’s core Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (BDMI) invests across the US and Europe in companies like Audible, Mic, The Athletic, and Wondery (and in funds like Greycroft and SV Angel) but there are also the 3 regionally-focused funds investing in China, India, and Brazil plus the education-focused University Ventures fund it anchors in NYC. Collectively, Bertelsmann teams made 40 new startup investments in 2017 and generated €141M in venture returns, according to their 2017 Annual Report.

The investment arm of Hearst, one of America’s largest publishers with $10.8B in 2017 revenue, has likewise been a major backer of BuzzFeed, Pandora, Hootesuite, and Roku not to mention Chinese language app LingoChamp, live entertainment brand Drone Racing League, VR capture startup 8i, and dozens of other media-related startups. Hearst’s ownership in these ventures makes strategic sense: they provide market insights relevant to the core businesses, offer immediate partnership opportunities, and would be strategic acquisition targets that evolve the company’s position in a changing market.

21st Century Fox and Sky Plc (in which 21st Century Fox owns a 39% stake and is trying to acquire outright) have both made a whole slate of startup investments across the media sector in the last few years. In addition to its $100M investment in live-streaming platform Caffeine (announced on September 5) and similarly massive investment in WndrCo’s NewTV venture led by Meg Whitman, Fox has invested repeatedly in sports-centric OTT service fuboTV, hit newsletter brand TheSkimm, VR studio WITHIN, and fantasy sports app Draftkings with Sky often co-investing or building meaningful stakes in international startups like iflix (a leading streaming video service in Southeast Asia and the Middle East).

Since traditional media giants own extensive intellectual property of hit shows, films, and often exclusive rights to popular live events – not to mention established distribution channels to tens or hundreds of millions of people – there are immediate partnerships that can be signed to benefit both a startup and the incumbent. The incumbents often re-invest repeatedly to build their ownership and deepen the alignment between the companies, which rarely happens when media companies invest in marketplace startups.

Tencent’s always-be-evolving model

The new crop of digital media giants that includes Netflix, Snap, VICE, and BuzzFeed aren’t doing much if any strategic investing. Instead they’re keeping focused on growth of their core product offering. The notable exception is China’s Tencent.

In addition to dominating China’s booming messaging app sector with WeChat and QQ, owning 75% market share of music streaming in China, and being the world’s leading games publisher through its own studios (Riot Games, Supercell, etc.) and its minority stakes in Activision Blizzard, Epic Games, and others, Tencent has taken a strategy of investing often and early in promising digital media startups…and it has its tentacles in everything.

Based on Crunchbase data, Tencent has done over 300 investments in startups. It is likely the most active venture investor in China, where most of its portfolio is concentrated, but also backs Western media startups like SoundHound, Wattpad, Spotify, Smule, and Wonder Workshop.

Tencent can give distribution to these upstarts through its vast portfolio of digital properties and it can keep tabs on what new content formats or business models are gaining traction. It operates from a mindset of perpetually evolving, and trying to snatch up startups whose products could be key assets in the future of content creation, distribution, or monetization. This approach is one both old media giants and the next gen of unicorn media startups should consider.

The pace of innovation is moving so fast, and so many new doors are opening up – from subscription streaming and esports to voice interfaces and augmented reality – that corporate venture as a core strategy can unlock opportunities for the organization to evolve early, before it ends up being categorized as “old media”.

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Loot boxes face scrutiny from an international coalition of gambling authorities

Posted by | Activision Blizzard, Gaming, Government, online gambling | No Comments

The world of online gaming is changing so quickly that players, developers, publishers and regulators are all scrambling to keep up with each other. Case in point: loot boxes, randomized in-game rewards that may or may not have monetary value or be purchasable with real money, are after years of deployment only now being scrutinized globally for being what amounts to thinly veiled gambling.

A suggestive new study from British researchers and a just-announced coalition of governments are the latest indicators that the loot box phenomenon and its derivatives likely won’t continue to be the wild west they’ve been for the last few years.

Many factors have led games to resemble services or channels more than pieces of entertainment with a start and end. And that in turn has changed how these games are monetized. As an alternative to a $60 up-front cost or a $10/month subscription, a game may be released for free but supported with in-game purchases of various kinds, including loot boxes.

Loot boxes usually contain a random reward, such as a new item for your in-game character. They can be earned by playing the game (usually a lot), but often can also be bought. Not only this, but the items have a sort of black market value and are traded among players and indeed gambled in a highly unregulated economy that reports put on the order of billions of dollars.

Although gaming companies compare it to collecting baseball cards or getting a toy in a box of cereal, the reality is plainly more complex than that, and the idea has led to extreme versions where players are constantly urged to buy in-game currencies and rewards. There’s no doubt that companies like EA and Tencent have made enormous amounts of money by luring players into purchases in “free to play” games.

The report, instigated earlier this year by an Australian parliamentary committee, was conducted by David Zendle and Paul Cairns, of York St. John University. The study is a limited one, they are quick to point out, but there is essentially nothing else on the topic and even the most basic research is warranted. “Such work is urgently needed,” they write in the introduction.

For their study, they surveyed thousands of gamers recruited from Reddit about their habits and spending. What they found was that gamers tending toward “problem gambling” habits (i.e. spending or behavior that negatively affects everyday life and relationships) spent considerably more on loot boxes than normal gamers — yet that wasn’t the case for general microtransactions like outright buying an in-game item or currency.

In the summary issued today to Australia’s Committee on Environment and Communications, they write:

We found that the more severe an individual’s problem gambling, the more they spent on loot boxes. The relationship we observed was neither trivial, nor unimportant. Indeed, the amount that gamers spent on loot boxes was a better predictor of their problem gambling than high-profile factors in the literature such as depression and drug abuse.

As anyone with a critical eye for research will have noted by now, and as the researchers point out, this correlation could go either way. In either case, however, it doesn’t look good for the practice:

It may be the case that loot boxes in video games act as a gateway to other forms of gambling, leading to increases in problem gambling amongst gamers who buy loot boxes.

However, it is important to note that an alternative explanation for these results may also be true. The key similarities between loot boxes and gambling may lead to gamers who are already problem gamblers spending large amounts of money on loot boxes, just as they would spend similarly large amounts on other kinds of gambling. In this case, loot boxes would not be providing a breeding ground for the development of problem gambling so much as they would be allowing games companies to exploit addictive disorders amongst their customers for profit.

The researchers conclude that either way, the practice merits more research and possibly regulation. It’s not the same as ordinary gambling, they say, but it’s similar enough that it warrants controls like those exerted on, say, online poker, to prevent harm and abuse.

Governments around the world are split on how to characterize loot boxes, with Belgium taking a severe enough stance that Blizzard was forced to stop offering loot boxes for real money in its popular team shooter Overwatch. But French and German authorities disagreed and have to a certain extent accepted the argument that the practice is more like opening a Kinder Egg or collectible card game pack.

But this uncertainty is itself galvanizing, apparently. A coalition of 15 gambling authorities, including the U.K., France, Portugal, Norway and the U.S. (via tech-savvy Washington State’s gambling commission), issued a shared declaration that they intend to look into these shenanigans and they expect the companies involved to play ball:

We are increasingly concerned with the risks being posed by the blurring of lines between gambling and other forms of digital entertainment such as video gaming. Concerns in this area have manifested themselves in controversies relating to skin betting, loot boxes, social casino gaming and the use of gambling themed content within video games available to children.

We commit ourselves today to working together to thoroughly analyse the characteristics of video games and social gaming. This common action will enable an informed dialogue with the video games and social gaming industries to ensure the appropriate and efficient implementation of our national laws and regulations.

We anticipate that it will be in the interest of these companies whose platforms or games are prompting concern, to engage with [gambling] regulatory authorities to develop possible solutions.

Tying it to kids is a good way to stay on the moral high ground, but there aren’t a lot of problem gamblers in the under-18 bracket. The truth is that while kids are certainly at risk, the problems associated with loot boxes threaten all gamers and indeed the basic economic grounding of gaming itself.

A letter of intent is a start and may cause a change in the ecosystem as developers and publishers aim to make their loot box systems less exploitative (as some have already done) and (what is more likely) engage in a charm offensive to normalize the practice and distance it from more traditional gambling. At the very least it is good to know that there is action afoot in an area that has frustrated and certainly lightened the wallets of millions of gamers.

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Overwatch League strikes a milestone deal with Disney and ESPN

Posted by | abc, Activision Blizzard, disney xd, Entertainment, espn, esports, Gaming, Sports, TC | No Comments

If you’re sick of hearing about esports, you need to get over it. The space continues to grow, inching its way into the traditional media landscape. Today, in fact, Activision Blizzard announced that the Overwatch League playoffs will be aired on ESPN and Disney XD.

The Overwatch League in itself is a huge step for esports, as it’s the first true city-based league for a competitive video game. While most esports leagues consist of privately owned teams with little or nothing to do with geography, Overwatch League is a pro league made up of city-based teams such as the Dallas Fuel or the San Francisco Shock. Many of these teams are owned by big names in the traditional sports world, such as Robert Kraft (CEO and owner of New England Patriots, who owns the Boston Uprising) and Jeff Wilpon (COO of the New York Mets, who owns the New York Excelsior).

The agreement, which also includes a recap/highlights package from 2018 Grand Finals coverage on ABC on July 29, marks the first time that live competitive gaming has aired on ESPN in prime time, and will be the first broadcast of an esports championship on ABC. Activision Blizzard said in the announcement that this is just the start of a multi-year agreement.

That said, EA’s Madden NFL 18 did broadcast an esports tournament on ESPN2 and Disney XD earlier this year.

Overwatch League playoffs begin tonight at 8pm ET, and will culminate in the Grand Finals, taking place in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, on July 27 and July 28.

Here’s what Justin Connolly, EVP of Affiliate Sales and Marketing at Disney and ESPN, had to say in a prepared statement:

The Overwatch League Grand Finals is by far our most comprehensive television distribution for an esports event over a single weekend: 10 total hours over four networks and three days. This overall collaboration with Disney/ABC, ESPN and Blizzard represents our continued commitment to esports, and we look forward to providing marquee Overwatch League coverage across our television platforms for fans.

The rise of Twitch stars, like Ninja, and the growth of the competitive gaming scene have paved the way not only for a new type of sports media, but for a growing new economy. While challenges remain around monetizing the content, the pieces of the puzzle are slowing coming together to create an audience large enough to incentivize advertisers to spend big money.

In fact, sponsorship revenue and ad spending revenue are expected to hit $655 million and $224 million, respectively, by 2020, according to Newzoo. That doesn’t sound like much when you think about the NFL, which raked in $1.3 billion in revenue in 2017 alone. But, like this deal proves, the esports space is growing and working its way into the mainstream, hoping to get the attention of young men between 18 and 34 who have become increasingly difficult to reach via traditional advertising.

Alongside the live TV broadcast of the Overwatch League playoffs on ESPN and Disney XD, the playoffs will also be live-streamed via Twitch, MLG.com and on the ESPN app and DisneyNOW.

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Esports Overwatch League heads to hipster Brooklyn for its finals

Posted by | Activision, Activision Blizzard, blizzcon, california, esports, esports league, game design, Gaming, London, Los Angeles, Louisiana, New York, overwatch, Seoul, setting, shanghai, TC, United States | No Comments

What could be more perfect than moving the inaugural championship finals for an esports league from its Los Angeles home to Brooklyn?

For Overwatch League, the esports conference created by fiat from Activision Blizzard, the move is the first step in its plans for housing esports teams in cities around the country.

Heading from sunny Burbank, Calif. to the hipster heartland of Brooklyn conjures up echoes of the famed Dodger franchise move (in reverse) while tapping into one of the few other markets in the U.S. that might rival LA for esports popularity.

When the Overwatch regular season ends on Sunday, June 17th, six teams will face off in the league’s first post-season playoffs. Those games are set to begin July 11th and will take place in Burbank at the company’s “Blizzard Arena Los Angeles.”

After the playoffs, the final teams will fly to New York to compete for the largest share of a $1.4 million prize pool and the first Overwatch League trophy. The games are slated to begin Friday, July 27th and continue on the 28th.

“The Overwatch League Grand Finals will be an epic experience for fans and viewers,” said Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer in a statement. “We want this to be the pinnacle of esports, and holding it at a world-class venue like Barclays Center, in a global capital like New York, will help us celebrate not only the league’s two best teams, but the fans, partners, and players who have joined us on this incredible journey.”

Overwatch is taking a geographic approach to its franchises with teams sponsored by cities in the U.S. and major esports hubs around the world like London, Shanghai and Seoul.

Eventually the league is looking to set up stadiums in locations outside of Burbank. With league play requiring teams to travel — like a traditional sports league.

The move to Brooklyn could be a test of how well the Overwatch experience travels and a precursor to the league starting to take its show on the road in earnest.

Tickets go on sale on Friday, May 18th, at 10 a.m. EDT, and can be bought on ticketmaster.com and barclayscenter.com, while tickets to the first two rounds of the Overwatch League postseason at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles go on sale Thursday, May 10th, at 9 a.m. PDT via AXS.com.

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Blizzard reveals Overwatch’s queer character

Posted by | Activision Blizzard, Diversity, e-sports, Gaming, lgbtq, overwatch | No Comments

tracer-blizzard After months of hinting, Blizzard finally revealed which member of Overwatch’s colorful cast of characters counts themselves a member of the LGBTQ community. The much-anticipated reveal came in a seasonal digital comic centered around Tracer, the spritely Londoner with gravity-defying hair who proved to be an early fan favorite and the literal face of the game.
The comic… Read More

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Discord chief executive on distribution and the importance of the PC in gaming

Posted by | Activision Blizzard, Column, Electronic Arts, Gaming, jason citron, Josh Elman, TC | No Comments

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Jason Citron (C) of Fates Forever attends Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013 at San Francisco Design Center on September 11, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch) The global video game industry is exploding in popularity. Companies such as ESPN, Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts have formed their own e-sports divisions in recent months, and the gaming market exceeds $90 billion, up 9 percent in the last year. It is bigger than the movie industry and predicted to expand with new emerging platforms like VR. Greylock investment partner Josh Elman… Read More

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Activision Blizzard Closes Its $5.9B Acquisition Of King, Makers Of Candy Crush

Posted by | Activision Blizzard, Apps, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, king.com, Mobile, mobile gaming, social games, TC | No Comments

candy-crush-burst Activision Blizzard today announced that it has closed its acquisition of King Digital for $5.9 billion, a deal that it says makes it the largest game network in the world with more than 500 million users. King is the publisher of the popular Candy Crush series of social and mobile games, while Activision Blizzard’s best known titles include World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. This… Read More

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Activision Blizzard Acquires Candy Crush Maker King Digital Entertainment For $5.9 Billion

Posted by | Activision Blizzard, Apps, Candy Crush, Gaming, King, King Digital Entertainment, king.com, Social | No Comments

yeti-shop Well here’s a blockbuster acquisition for you. Gaming mothership Activision Blizzard has entered into an agreement to acquire King.com, maker of the wildly popular game Candy Crush and probably other games that I have nor ever will play. Mobile. Games. It’s all of the hot things. Read More

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