esports

With stadiums closed, TV networks turn to live esports broadcasts

Posted by | coronavirus, COVID-19, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, espn, esports, Extra Crunch, Facebook, Gaming, league of legends, Market Analysis, Media, mlb, NASCAR, NBA, newzoo, nfl, nhl, Riot Games, Space, TC, Twitch | No Comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out the spring seasons for professional sports and associated revenue for TV networks, but esports is filling part of that void.

Gaming companies behind titles licensed by each major league are the winners in this unexpected shift; Electronic Arts (EA) is first among them with FIFA, Madden NFL, NBA Live and NHL in its EA Sports portfolio and more than 100 esports events planned for 2020. The way EA, networks and sports leagues are responding to production challenges in this crisis will reshape the esports market going forward.

Millions of people sheltering in place has created a breakout opportunity for esports broadcasting:

  1. A large portion of the internet-using population is at home 24/7, with screens as their main entertainment outlet;
  2. Sports fans have few competitive live events to watch;
  3. Broadcasters like ESPN, CBS, and Sky lost their most valuable content for attracting live viewers and need alternative content;
  4. Star athletes and non-sports celebrities are stuck at home with wide-open schedules.

In late March, 900,000 viewers tuned into Fox Sports for Nascar’s iRacing series, with 1.1 million watching in early April; the network has also broadcast Madden NFL tournaments with NFL commentators and athletes. ESPN is televising NBA players facing off against each other in NBA 2K (by Take-Two Interactive) and pro drivers (and other pro athletes like Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero) are racing each other in Codemasters’ F1 2019 game. ESPN has broadcast competitive play of non-sports games with League of Legends (by Riot Games) and Apex Legends (by EA) tournaments.

To be clear, ratings for these events have varied widely, but networks and game companies are rethinking how esports is broadcast, which will advance its pop-culture appeal.

Games adapting pro sports are best bridge to non-gamers

Esports is a massively popular activity with its own large piece of turf in pop culture, but it hasn’t secured a central role. Research firm Newzoo pegs the global audience of “esports enthusiasts” at 223 million. But unlike soccer and basketball, esports is siloed because it caters to viewers who are generally avid gamers. The action is extremely fast, so commentary by a streamer rarely helps outsiders understand what is going on enough to become engaged.

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Twitch launches an esports directory to cater to growing streaming audience

Posted by | esports, Gaming, Media, streaming, Twitch | No Comments

Twitch is doubling down on esports in this new era of social distancing as a number of traditional sporting events have been cancelled. The company this week introduced a new esports directory on its site that will make it easier for viewers to find live matches, information on players, games with active competition leagues, a directory of players and more.

The goal, Twitch says, is on making Twitch easier to navigate with regard to this sort of gaming content — particularly at a time when its site is seeing a surge of growth due to the COVID-19 lockdown. According to a recent report from Streamlabs, the pandemic has since pushed Twitch to reach all-time highs for hours watched, hours streamed and average concurrent viewership in the first quarter of 2020.

Notably, it surpassed 3 billion hours watched for the first time — a significant milestone.

The new esports directory will help Twitch centralize its content in an easy-to-find and easy-to-navigate section on its site.

At the top, users can click on favorite games to see matching content. Below, current live matches are featured, followed by replays and highlights further down.

Viewers will also be shown a players directory at the bottom of the page that lets you see who’s currently live.

Twitch says the directory will be populated with competitive and premier esports around the world, including ESL Katowice, Rocket League Championships Series, Twitch Rivals and the League of Legends World Championship, among others. Over time, Twitch plans to add more events, channels and pros to keep the content fresh.

In addition, users browsing the dedicated section will be recommended content based on their own viewing history, increasing the chance that they’ll find an esports stream they’ll want to watch.

However, the site is also organized for discovery, as a click on the “All Games” option lets you easily see a variety of games and recaps being offered through the site.

Twitch says the directory launched on Wednesday but is rolling out over the “coming days” — meaning, if you don’t have it just yet, check back in a bit. (The dedicated URL for the new directory is twitch.tv/directory/esports if you want to visit directly.)

Though more people are going online for gaming entertainment due to the coronavirus outbreak, the esports market overall will take a slight hit from the pandemic in the near-term.

According to Newzoo, the global esports market will generate revenues of $1,059.3 million in 2020, down from its previous estimate of $1,100.1 million. This is mainly due to coronavirus-related cancellations and postponements of live events. Twitch’s new directory is an attempt to get ahead of the trend that will see many esports events shifted to digital-only formats.

This shift will actually lead to higher streaming revenues in the future, as global quarantines send more users online and encourage new entrants to join the market. As a result, Newzoo’s forecast for team streaming revenues increased from $18.2 million to $19.9 million in 2020, and $31.6 million to $34.4 million in 2023.

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7 VCs talk about today’s esports opportunities

Posted by | Advertising Tech, artificial intelligence, coronavirus, COVID-19, Entertainment, esports, Extra Crunch, Gaming, Investor Surveys, machine learning, Startups, TC, Venture Capital | No Comments

Even before the COVID-19 shutdown, venture funding rounds and total deal volume of VC funding for esports were down noticeably from the year prior. The space received a lot of attention in 2017 and 2018 as leagues formed, teams raised money and surging popularity fostered a whole ecosystem of new companies. Last year featured some big fundraises, but esports wasn’t the hot new thing in the tech world anymore.

This unexpected, compulsory work-from-home era may drive renewed interest in the space, however, as a larger market of consumers discover esports and more potential entrepreneurs identify pain points in their experience.

To track where new startups could arise this year, I asked seven VCs who pay close attention to the esports market where they see opportunities at the moment:

Their responses are below.

This is the second investor survey I’ve conducted to better understand VCs’ views on gaming startups amid the pandemic; they complement my broader gaming survey from October 2019 and an eight-article series on virtual worlds I wrote last month. If you missed it, read the previous survey, which investigated the trend of “games as the new social networks”.

Peter Levin, Griffin Gaming Partners

Which specific areas within esports are most interesting to you right now as a VC looking for deals? Which areas are the least interesting territory for new deals?

Everything around competitive gaming is of interest to us. With Twitch streaming north of two BILLION hours of game play thus far during the pandemic, this continues to be an area of great interest to us. Fantasy, real-time wagering, match-making, backend infrastructure and other areas of ‘picks and shovels’-like plays remain front burner for us relative to competitive gaming.

What challenges does the esports ecosystem now need solutions to that didn’t exist (or weren’t a focus) 2 years ago?

As competitive gaming is still so very new with respect to the greater competitive landscape of content, teams and events, the Industry should be nimble enough to better respond to dramatic market shifts relative to its analog, linear brethren. A native digital industry, getting back “online’”will be orders of magnitude more straightforward than in so many other areas.

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Players Ntwrk launches celebrity gaming channel backed by WME, Daylight and Stratton Sclavos

Posted by | digital media, Endeavor, Entertainment, esports, Gaming, HBO, Internet, lebron james, Netflix, Players Ntwrk, producer, sacramento kings, Spotify, TC, telecommunications, Twitch, twitch tv, video hosting, wme | No Comments

Emerging from the smoldering wreckage of Echo Fox and Vision Venture Partners, the investor Stratton Sclavos is rising again to launch a new esports-related venture — a gaming-focused digital network also backed by the WME talent agency and Daylight Holdings.

Tapping Daylight and WME’s roster of talent, Sclavos has created Players Ntwrk, a new gaming-focused production company that will look to compete with other upstarts angling to tap into esports and competitive gaming’s newly dominant place in the entertainment firmament.

Players Ntwrk will feature original programming, unscripted series, celebrity gameplay and live events tapping talent from music, traditional pro-sports and the esports gaming world.

Sclavos and the multifaceted talent manager and president of Daylight Holdings, Ben Curtis, dreamed up Players Ntwrk as a way to tie together disparate groups of athletes and entertainers around their shared love of gaming and entertainment. The network will initially leverage relationships with WME and Klutch Sports Group, the agency founded by LeBron James’ longtime manager, Rich Paul, to find talent for programming.

The network will launch on Tuesday at 5:00 pm Pacific for two hours of gameplay featuring the New Orleans Pelicans Guard/Forward Josh Hart and Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox on the Players Ntwrk Twitch channel. Additional live streams will be broadcast Friday and Saturday, the company said.

Over the next 12 weeks the network will add live programming featuring all of its “First Squad” talent and experimenting with different gaming and unscripted formats. Ultimately, the network will produce between 12 and 15 hours of original programming per week by the end of the second quarter and will ramp up to 20 to 24 hours of programming per-week by the end of the year.

Initial programming is going to be devoted to charity fundraising, with proceeds going to designated charities based on direct audience donations, the company said.

Players Ntwrk’s First Squad talent roster includes:

  • Professional athletes: De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings), Josh Hart (New Orleans Pelicans), Jarvis Landry (Cleveland Browns) and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)
  • Music and Entertainment: PARTYNEXTDOOR, Murda Beatz, producer Boi-1da, actor/former athlete Donovan Carter (Ballers)
  • Creators/Streamers: KatGunn, Sodapoppin, Cash, Jesser, Jericho, Octane, Sigils, Sonii and DenkOps

Players Ntwrk joins companies like Venn, which are angling to gain a slice of the roughly 37.5 million monthly viewers that are expected to watch live streams on Twitch by the end of 2020, according to research done by eMarketer.

“The number of viewers and subscribers consuming gaming entertainment across YouTube and Twitch tops other entertainment services such as Netflix, HBO, Spotify and ESPN combined,” said Sclavos, in a statement. “Entertainment spectacle is trumping hardcore gaming competition. That kind of engagement makes it clear; gaming entertainment is the next pop culture phenomena. PLAYERS NTWRK is the only platform embracing and executing this new reality by creating original content with the most influential people who also happen to be fans themselves.”

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Esports One launches its fantasy esports platform

Posted by | esports, Esports One, Gaming, Media, Startups | No Comments

Esports One is a startup betting that there’s a big opportunity in bringing a fantasy sports approach to the world of esports — particularly at a time when traditional pro sports are on pause.

Co-founder and COO Sharon Winter told me that the company’s platform, which is leaving beta testing today, is the first “all-in-one fantasy platform” for esports. In other words, it’s not just a site where you can create a fantasy team to compete with others, but also a place where you can research players, read articles about the latest news and watch live games.

And while Esports One is starting out by supporting the LCS (North American) and LEC (European) regions for League of Legends, the goal is to support a wide range of esports titles.

Co-founder and CEO Matt Gunnin said that when he started Esports One in 2017, the goal was to create “the first and only esports fantasy destination.” And while today’s launch is in many ways the realization of that vision, Esports One has been launching other data and analytics products in the meantime, becoming a data partner for both Acer’s Planet 9 esports platform and League of Legends publisher Riot Games.

Backed by Eniac Ventures and Xseed Capital, the company was also part of the first class of startups to participate in the MIT Play Labs accelerator, and it says it uses computer vision technology developed at MIT and Caltech.

Why does an esports startup need that level of tech? Gunnin compared it to watching pro football on TV, where you can see a virtual yellow line indicating how far a team needs to advance to achieve first down.

“Imagine trying to watch a football game if there isn’t that yellow first-down line,” he said. “What we’ve been trying to build from the early days is the technology to be that first-down line for esports.”

Esports One screenshot

Image Credits: Esports One

More specifically, Gunnin and Winter explained that their computer vision capabilities allow Esports One to track the activity in a game without having to rely on a game publisher’s API — though Gunnin added that when an API is available, they’re happy to use it as “a central source of truth” to start training the company’s algorithms.

Gunnin added that the plan is to keep the basic Esports One platform free, then add premium subscription features over the summer.

“There could be various ways for users to get more insights, more analytics, more research tools, more ways to engage with one another,” he said. “We’re not going into gambling … Users don’t have to buy an advantage when they’re playing against anyone else, [we don’t want users to have an advantage] because they’re paying for monthly subscription access to stats. But we could take some of those stats and make it available in chart form, make it exportable.”

The company said that while in beta, the platform has already pulled in 30,000 active participants — and that’s without advertising spend.

And Gunnin and Winter suggested that there’s an even bigger opportunity to expand the esports audience right now, as traditional fans have nothing to watch and even pro basketball players are turning to video games to compete.

“As people have been staying at home… we’re seeing DMs to our social media accounts from people diving into esports, signing up for Discord accounts,” Winter said. “We’ve ramped up the support to educate the community and expand the esports audience. It’s quickly surpassing mainstream, traditional sports.”

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Venture investment in esports looks light as Q1 races to a close

Posted by | Chair, CrunchBase, esports, Extra Crunch, funding, Fundings & Exits, Fundraising, Gaming, league of legends, Startups, TC, United States, Venture Capital, video gaming | No Comments

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re taking a look at the world of esports venture capital investment, largely through the lens of preliminary data that we’ll caveat given how reported VC data lags reality. That phenomenon is likely doubly true in the current moment, as COVID-19 absorbs all news cycles and some venture rounds’ announcements are delayed even more than usual.

All the same, the data we do have paints a picture of a change in esports venture investment, one sufficient in size to indicate that an esports VC slowdown could be afoot. As with all early looks, we’re extending ourselves to reach a conclusion. But… no risk, no reward.

We’ll start by looking at Q1 2020 esports venture totals to date, compare them to year-ago results, and then peek at Q4 2019’s results and its year-ago comparison to get a handle on what else has happened lately in the niche. The picture that the quarters draw will help us understand how esports investing is starting a year that isn’t going as anyone expected.

Venture results

Today we’re using Crunchbase data, looking at both global and U.S.-specific venture totals in both round and dollar volume. To get a picture of the competitive gaming world, we’re examining investments into companies that are tagged as “esports” related in the Crunchbase database. Given that this is a somewhat wide cut, the data below is more directional than precise and should be treated as such.

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YC-backed Legionfarm lets competitive gamers pay to play with pro coaches

Posted by | ceo, Entertainment, esports, Facebook, game design, gamer, Gaming, league of legends, legionfarm, Startups, TC, TMT Investments, Twitch, video gaming, Y Combinator | No Comments

Legionfarm, a YC-backed company, is looking to bring coaches to the competitive gaming world. Esports teams at the very top often have coaches, but the rest of the massive competitive gaming scene has to find a way to improve on their own, either via sheer time played or with creative new training platforms.

There is a huge demand for skilled teammates that can help you hone your skills, while at the same time, there is a broad community of near-pro gamers who haven’t landed a spot on an esports team and want to earn a living with their skills.

Legionfarm is a platform built to solve both problems.

The company was founded by Alex Belyankin, who is a former pro gamer and was once in the top .01 percent of World of Warcraft players.

Competitive gamers can sign up to become a coach on the platform, going through a process that looks at their stats within a particular title. Less than the top 0.1 percent are accepted as coaches and told how to manage sessions, including asking the customer’s goal at the beginning of the session.

On the other side, gamers can pay to play with one (or two) of these coaches in hour-long increments. Legionfarm allows users to specify if they want to play with two coaches, one coach and a friend, or one coach and another customer.

Users can also determine what kind of lobby they want to enter, such as a public or a ranked lobby.

Here’s how it works.

When a user buys a session on the website, they are given instructions to join a Discord bot, which puts them in game chat with the coaches and asks for their gamertag for that specific title. The coaches then invite the customer to a lobby, and fire up the match.

To be clear, Legionfarm coaches are not coming from the same pool of streamers and pro gamers we’ve come to know and cheer on in the esports world. Rather, Legionfarm seeks out the very best and most skilled amateur players based on the publisher’s rankings and stats to become coaches. These are people who otherwise aren’t making money via Twitch or a salary via an esports organization, but are still in the top 0.1 percent of gamers by skill.

In other words, Legionfarm is creating pro gamers, rather than hiring them.

The average cost of a session is $16/hour, with Legionfarm taking half of the revenue and the rest going to the coach.

Legionfarm currently offers nine titles to choose from, including Apex Legends, Fortnite, CoD: Modern Warfare 2019, League of Legends, and Destiny 2. The company has run more than 300,000 gaming sessions with its 7,000 coaches.

Legionfarm is currently available via the web and through a Facebook Messenger bot, with plans to launch an app soon. Founder and CEO Alex Belyankin also teased new functionality that would allow Twitch viewers to request a session with the streamer directly from the chat.

Legionfarm has raised a total of $1.7 million from TMT Investments and Y Combinator, and will present at Y Combinator’s upcoming demo day.

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The Meta, a training platform for gamers, builds on Kovaak’s FPS Aim Trainer

Posted by | esports, fortnite, Gaming, overwatch, playvs, Startups, statespace, TC, video games | No Comments

As esports grows and creates opportunities for gamers to level up to the pro or streamer level, there is still a huge barrier in the way. There is not a wealth of training options for gamers. If you can’t get better within the environment of the game itself, then you’ve peaked. Practice makes perfect, but what if there’s no such thing as practice?

The Meta is looking to change that with the launch of a new training platform that builds off the success of Kovaak’s FPS Aim Trainer. Kovaak is a former Quake pro, known for his hyper-accurate aim, who built Kovaak’s FPS Aim Trainer out of personal need. He wanted a way to grind out his mechanical aiming skills, and built out various scenarios across 10+ major titles to practice.

The Meta co-founders Duncan Haberly, Jay Brown, and Chris Olson had been working on their own training platform that focuses on guided trainings around specific skills, with physics and gun mechanics identical to popular titles, to let gamers learn from their mistakes and train better habits.

After the two esports entrepreneurial teams met, they decided to join forces and offer what they believe to be the ultimate training tool.

It’s comprised of two parts. The first is The Meta’s self-guided training platform, with various branches that focus on a different skill set in FPS gaming. The second is Kovaak’s Sandbox, the aim trainer that lets users test the skills they’ve learned by playing through more than 2,600 user-generated scenarios.

For now, The Meta-guided training focuses on flicking (otherwise known as click timing), with plans to introduce tracking and scoping skill branches soon. The self-guided training side of the platform feeds users insights about their deficiencies — maybe they tend to miss their shots when enemies are in the upper-left quadrant of the screen — so they can dedicate time and energy to improving that part of their game in the aim trainer.

The Meta is available on Steam for PC players, with plans to launch for consoles in the future.

The flicking trainer has more than 40 sub-levels, with support for Overwatch and Fortnite. Kovaak’s Sandbox, as the FPS Aim Trainer is now known, has more than 2,600 user-created scenarios, and supports titles like Overwatch, Fortnite, Quake, Call of Duty, Apex Legends, Paladins, CS:GO, Battlefield and Rainbow 6.

The Meta is $9.99 as a single-time payment, and the company says it’s currently averaging 20,000 units sold per month. The gaming startup has raised $2.5 million in funding from investors like Village Global, Canaan Beta Fund, Courtside VC, AET Fund (Akatsuki Entertainment Technology), betaworks and GFR Fund (GREE).

There is movement in the esports space around training and improvement. In 2018, Epic Games introduced Playground Mode to allow players a chance to experience the Fortnite environment without dropping in alongside 99 other gamers. PlayVS, the startup looking to take the esports infrastructure to the high school and college level, is investing heavily in data, reporting stats and analysis to players, coaches, fans and recruiters. StateSpace, a direct competitor to The Meta with $4 million in funding, uses neuroscience to help gamers train, hoping to create a standardized metric by which gamers’ skills can be measured.

Esports is growing across almost every metric, from viewership to awareness to revenue, and with that, we can only expect to see more startups dive into the space and stake their claim.

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Fortnite just officially became a high school and college sport

Posted by | delane parnell, Entertainment, epic games, esports, fortnite, Gaming, playvs, Startups, TC, video games | No Comments

Fortnite, one of the world’s most popular games, will now be an official high school sport and college sport, thanks to an LA-based startup called PlayVS.

The company has partnered with Epic Games to bring competitive league play to the collegiate and high school level. This also marks PlayVS’s entry into colleges and universities.

PlayVS launched in April of 2018 with a mission of bringing esports to high school, with a league akin to traditional sports like basketball or football. Through a partnership with the NFHS, high schools (or parents, or the students themselves) can pay $64/player to be placed in a league to compete with neighboring schools, just like any other sport.

But PlayVS partnerships go deeper than the NFHS (the NCAA of high school sports), as the company is also partnering with the publishers themselves. This is the part that puts PlayVS a step ahead of its competition, according to founder Delane Parnell .

While other companies are setting up paid competitive leagues around video games, very few if any have partnerships at the publisher level. This means that those startups could be shut down on a whim by the publishers themselves, which own the IP of the game.

PlayVS is the first to score such a partnership with Epic Games, the maker of the world’s most popular video game.

These publisher partnerships also allow PlayVS to productize the experience in a way that requires almost no lift for schools and organizations. Players simply sign into PlayVS and get dropped into their scheduled match. At the end, PlayVS pulls stats and insights directly from the match, which can be made available to the players, coaches, fans and even recruiters.

For PlayVS, the college landscape presents a new challenge. With high school expansion, the NFHS fueled fast and expansive growth. Since launch, more than 13,000 high schools have joined the waitlist to get a varsity esports team through PlayVS, which represents 68% of the country. PlayVS says that just over 14,000 high schools in the United States have a football program, to give you a comparison.

The NFHS has a relationship with the NCAA, but no such official partnership has been signed, meaning that PlayVS has to go directly to individual colleges to pitch their technology. Luckily, they’re going in armed with the most popular game in the world, and at a time when many colleges are looking to incorporate esports scholarships and programs.

And it doesn’t hurt that PlayVS has quite a bit of cash in the bank — the company has raised $96 million since launch.

Unlike the rest of the PlayVS titles, the first season of Fortnite competition will be free to registered users, courtesy of the partnership with Epic Games. Registration for the first seasons closes on February 17 for high schools, and February 24 for colleges and universities. The season officially kicks off on March 2.

The format for competition will be Duos, and organizations can submit as many teams of two as they like. The top teams will be invited to the playoffs with a chance to win a spot in the championship in May.

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Where FaZe Clan sees the future of gaming and entertainment

Posted by | Activision, epic games, esports, faze clan, fortnite, gamer, Gaming, instagram, Microsoft, National Football League, social media, TC, Twitch, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Lee Trink has spent nearly his entire career in the entertainment business. The former president of Capitol Records is now the head of FaZe Clan, an esports juggernaut that is one of the most recognizable names in the wildly popular phenomenon of competitive gaming.

Trink sees FaZe Clan as the voice of a new generation of consumers who are finding their voice and their identity through gaming — and it’s a voice that’s increasingly speaking volumes in the entertainment industry through a clutch of competitive esports teams, a clothing and lifestyle brand and a network of creators who feed the appetites of millions of young gamers.

As the company struggles with a lawsuit brought by one of its most famous players, Trink is looking to the future — and setting his sights on new markets and new games as he consolidates FaZe Clan’s role as the voice of a new generation.

“The teams and social media output that we create is all marketing,” he says. “It’s not that we have an overall marketing strategy that we then populate with all of these opportunities. We’re not maximizing all of our brands.”

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