esports

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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The International Olympic Committee is curious about esports

Posted by | esports, Gaming, international olympic committee, Sports, Startups, TC | No Comments

If there’s still any doubt that esports is coming into the mainstream, just look to the world’s biggest sporting event: The Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) have announced they will host an esports forum, looking to gauge whether or not esports has a place in the Olympics.

According to the release, the IOC and GAISF will host esports players, game publishers, teams, media, sponsors and event organizers, as well as National Olympic Committees, International Sports Federations, athletes and the IOC. The group as a whole is looking to “explore synergies, build joint understanding, and set a platform for future engagement between esports and gaming industries and the Olympic Movement.”

In the release, GAISF President Patrick Baumann said:

Along with the IOC, the GAISF looks forward to welcoming the esports and gaming community to Lausanne. We understand that sport never stands still and the phenomenal growth of esports and gaming is part of its continuing evolution. The Esports Forum provides an important and extremely valuable opportunity for us to gain a deeper understanding of esports, their impact and likely future development, so that we can jointly consider the ways in which we may collaborate to the mutual benefit of all of sport in the years ahead.

Some of the panels at the forum include an interview on “The Key to Twitch’s Success,” “Future Opportunities for Collaboration,” an interview on “A Day in the Life of an Elite Player” and a panel on “Gender Equality in All Sports.”

Esports have continued to grow at an impressive clip. The Overwatch League has introduced city-based teams into the mix, while Fortnite had a huge Pro-Am tournament at e3, not to mention Epic’s introduction of a $100 million tournament prize pool for competitive play.

Considering how bizarre some of the Olympic sports are — I’m looking at you, Biathlon — the potential introduction of esports to the Olympic slate almost seems ordinary.

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An Overwatch hacker in South Korea just got sentenced to a year in prison

Posted by | cybercrime, esports, Gaming, Hack, hacks, overwatch, Security, south korea, TC | No Comments

A 28-year-old man in South Korea faces a year in prison for hacking Overwatch . The sentence, reported by South Korea’s SBS News and Dot Esports, handed the hacker one year in prison and two years of probation for illicit activity related to the hit online multiplayer game. The particularly steep sentence is a result of both the ongoing nature of the activity and the fact that the individual generated 200 million Korean won (almost $180,000 USD) from Overwatch-related hacks.

The hacker’s charges stem from the violation of two Korean laws: the Game Industry Promotion Act and the Information and Communication Technology Protection Law. In the last year, Overwatch developer Blizzard Entertainment has worked with the Seoul National Police Agency’s cybersecurity department to crack down on hacks that compromise the integrity of the high-profile game, particularly due to its prominence in the esports world.

“Cheating on the Asian Overwatch server is endemic and widespread,” Kotaku reported in a story on Overwatch hacking last year. “On the Battle.net forums and Reddit, complaints about hacking South Korean players’ too-accurate headshots, immediate gun-downs and even DDOS attacks against winners in competitive mode are widespread.”

Hacks for a game like Overwatch can take many forms, including scripts that enable perfect aim, match-fixing and a rank manipulation practice known as boosting.

“Doing anything to manipulate your internal MMR or Skill Rating (i.e. Boosting or Throwing) is not fine,” Overwatch Creative Director Jeff Kaplan wrote in a forum post last year. “Penalties for boosting and throwing are about to increase dramatically.”

The new sentence isn’t the first to be handed down by the Korean government for game-related hacking, but given the fact that sentencing usually results in large fines, it is notably harsh. Laws meant to deter gaming hacks went into effect in the country last year and stipulate that violators may face up to $43,000 in fines and up to five years in prison.

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PlayVS, bringing esports infrastructure to high schools, picks up $15 million

Posted by | esports, funding, Gaming, playvs, Sports, Startups, TC | No Comments

PlayVS, the startup building esports infrastructure at the high school level, has today announced the close of a $15 million Series A funding round. The financing was led by New Enterprise Associates, with participation from existing investor Science, as well as CrossCut Ventures, Coatue Management, Cross Culture Ventures, the San Francisco 49ers, Nas, Dollar Shave Club founder Michael Dubin, Twitch cofounder Kevin Lin, and others.

PlayVS first publicly launched out of the LA-based Science startup studio in April. The company partnered with the NFHS, the equivalent of the NCAA for high school-level sports, to build out leagues, rules and more around high school esports.

Most high school sports are governed by the NFHS, which writes the rules, hires referees, schedules seasons and determines the format of playoffs and state championships. That same infrastructure might carry over from one high school sport to another, but esports represents a new challenge for the NFHS.

PlayVS brings to market a platform that schedules games, helps schools hold try-outs and form teams, and pulls in stats real-time from games thanks to partnerships with game publishers.

In October, PlayVS will launch its inaugural season, bringing organized esports to more than 18 states and approximately 5 million students across 5,000 high schools.

As esports continue to grow, colleges and professional organizations have already started investing in scholarship programs and pro teams respectively. But whereas other high-level teams look at high school athletes for recruiting, the same infrastructure has not yet been put into place for esports.

PlayVS wants to change that. The new round of funding will go towards expanding the product and the team to eventually put PlayVS in every high school across the country. The company has yet to announce which schools will participate and which games will be available during the first season, but PlayVS has confirmed that the games will be PC-based and will come from the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, Fighting and Sports genres.

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Quarterback lets top esports gamers and streamers create their own fan-based leagues

Posted by | broadcasting, esports, Gaming, Mergers and Acquisitions, Recent Funding, serial entrepreneur, Startups, TC, Twitch, twitch tv, UpWest Labs | No Comments

In an effort to tie the top gamers and streamers more directly with their fans, a new company called Quarterback has just raised $2.5 million to create and manage fan-based leagues for the superstars of the esports and streaming world.

The company raked in its seed round from investors led by Bitkraft Esports, which is quickly building one of the most complete portfolios of gaming-related startups in the industry. Additional investors include Crest Capital Ventures, Deep Space Ventures, UpWest Labs and angel investors.

Essentially, it’s a platform for creating gaming leagues and content driven not by game publishers, leagues, or existing streaming sites like Twitch, but by the gamers themselves. It gives streamers and players a new way to reach their audience, the company claims.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Jonathan Weinberg, who acted as the chief executive for Round Robin and held a leadership role in the mobile game studio Spartonix, Quarterback is the latest attempt to get more revenue into the hands of gamers. 

Leagues created on Quarterback can host daily challenges, give away prizes and compete against fan clubs devoted to other top players.

Esports streamers and gamers are among the most bankable influencers, pitching to a new generation of consumers that don’t track traditional media sources. The ability to host and own their own channels gives these streamers an ability to create their own game libraries, cultivate a next generation of talent and encourage one-to-one interactions on platforms they control.

“Most streamers and pros struggle to monetize their fan-base and lose touch with their audience when the fans break away to play their own games,” says Jens Hilgers, a founding partner of Bitkraft Esports Ventures. “Quarterback solves this problem in a unique way by helping streamers become an integral part of their fan’s game-play.”

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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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PlayVS wants every high school to have an esports team

Posted by | esports, Gaming, playvs, Startups, TC | No Comments

Nearly 200 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada are actively recruiting for esports scholarships. But unlike other sports, there is currently no real infrastructure for high school esports.

PlayVS, a Science-backed startup out of Los Angeles, is looking to change that.

Founded by Delane Parnell, PlayVS has signed an exclusive contract with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to provide support in building the infrastructure for high school esports, allowing students to play esports on behalf of their school all the way to the state championship level.

Most of us have participated in high school sports in some way, but many of us aren’t aware of all the moving parts going on behind the scenes. The NFHS, essentially the NCAA of high school sports and activities, handles those moving parts for more than 90 percent of schools in the U.S. across almost every sport.

From writing the rules to referees to building out the districts and conferences to organizing the state playoff tournaments, the NFHS has almost 100 years of experience across hundreds of sports and activities handling organization.

But esports represents a new challenge for the governing body, requiring more technical infrastructure than established sports.

That’s where PlayVS comes in. The company has built a website that handles league organization, scheduling, leaderboards and more. Plus, PlayVS has existing relationships with the game publishers, letting the platform pull stats in real-time from each high school match.

There will be two seasons each year, with students organizing their own teams at their school for a variety of games. High school teams go to the PlayVS website to see their schedule and log on for their game (which is played on the publisher client).

Eight season matches will be played online, with the top teams competing in a LAN tournament in front of a live spectator audience organized by PlayVS.

PlayVS is also partnering with NFHS Network, a live-streaming platform for high school sports, to broadcast some of the games to spectators.

As it stands now, colleges and esports organizations have to rely on relationships with publishers and tournament results to get a clear view of the top young talent. But there are surely many players slipping through the cracks.

With the new high school esports league powered by PlayVS, colleges and esports orgs will be able to use the PlayVS platform to see real-time stats and player profiles. Plus, the PlayVS site allows coaches and recruiters to request an introduction to the student’s parents and/or coach to start talking scholarships.

To start, the high school esports leagues will be PC-only games in three genres: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, Fighting and Sports games.

The first season will start in the fall.

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The Las Vegas strip’s first legit esports arena just opened for business

Posted by | esports, Gaming, Las Vegas, TC | No Comments

On the south end of the Vegas strip, a different kind of gaming is taking root. At the Luxor casino, the Esports Arena Las Vegas just opened its doors, occupying the former home of the LAX nightclub. Following a special event on March 22, the arena, owned by Allied Esports, opened for regular operations on Monday, March 26.

Allied Esports is a joint venture of Chinese gaming companies Ourgame International, KongZhong and iRena that aims to build a global network of at least 10 esports arenas over three to five years. The effort is just the latest sign that yes, esports is mainstream now and its momentum — and its accompanying business ventures — will only ramp up from here.

The 30,000-square-foot space is custom-built to accommodate the flashy, massive events that have come to define the esports world, including an in-house “network TV quality” production studio replete with 24 cameras and a two-story LED TV wall. In addition to console and PC gaming stations, the arena also boasts competitive VR gaming via two immersive Virtuix Omni machines and free retro gaming. The modern forward or backward-gazing gamer should have plenty to do, even beyond events like a kick-off weekend Super Smash Bros. tournament with $25,000 on the table.

In true Vegas fashion, the space is accompanied by a gamer-themed menu from chef José Andrés, an avid gamer himself. The space will host big events while also being open to normal non-pro gamers, who can buy a $25 all-you-can-play gaming pass. The fresh space in the Luxor joins other major dedicated gaming venues like Blizzard’s new LA area Overwatch arena and Allied Esports sibling spaces in Orange County, Beijing and Shenzen, with another location set to open next month in downtown Oakland.

Dedicated competitive gaming spaces, oddities just a few years ago, are now springing up all over, moving esports away from traditional sporting venues and into increasingly high-profile purpose-built spaces.

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Facebook lets all PC games live stream and reward viewers

Posted by | Apps, Developer, esports, Facebook, Facebook Games, Facebook Live, Gaming, Social, TC, Twitch, YouTube | No Comments

Facebook is challenging Twitch and YouTube for video game live streaming supremacy with the release of its new Games SDK for PC. After testing Live streaming from games like Overwatch from developers like Blizzard since 2016, today Live broadcasting from PC games to the News Feed opens to all developers. And Facebook will let them reward fans who watch by providing in-game items or bonuses. For example, beneath the comments reel, users might see a promotion like “Watch Paladins streams for a chance to earn random loot to use in-game.”

The potential for viral growth and sales could convince tons of game developers to bake in Facebook’s new SDK, while players could use the simple broadcasting feature to reach a big audience — though one not as dedicated to gaming as on other platforms. Viewers might choose to watch on Facebook because they get rewarded there. Facebook meanwhile benefits because game streams create compelling niche content that can drive long viewing sessions, helping Facebook monetize viewers in the moment with ads while locking them deeper into the platform long-term.

Facebook is also hooking up developers with deeper analytics through custom “app events” that are now available on PC as well as web and mobile. Game developers can also integrate Facebook’s enhanced Friend Finder feature that lets them play with friends and now see “Key Player Stats” about other people they want to join up with to keep playing together. Developers who want access to the SDK can sign up here.

Facebook got a late start in the game streaming world but has been rapidly developing features and signing deals to grow its viewer base and content catalogue. It inked a deal with esports league leader ESL last year, and just added streaming from tournaments of top games like Counter-Strike and DOTA. It’s brought Live streaming to Messenger games. Facebook also recently started testing a way for viewers to tip cash to their favorite streaming stars, and has even hired some of them for its games team.

The question will be if a catch-all mainstream social network can succeed in such a niche content space. 800 million people play Facebook-connected games each month. But not everyone’s real-world friends care about video games or want to watch their buddies play, so broadcasts could fall flat if they don’t find the particular subset who love gaming. On networks like Twitch or corners of YouTube, people are there specifically to watch game stream. So Facebook will have to use rapid feature development, and it’s size and potential for audience growth to attracts streamers, viewers, and developers. Otherwise gamers might stay where they never feel embarrassed about their passion.

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Drake and Ninja are playing Fortnite live on Twitch

Posted by | Drake, epic games, esports, Gaming, Livestreaming, Ninja, TC, Twitch | No Comments

What do Drake, Ninja the professional esports player, Kim Dotcom, Travis Scott and NFL player JuJu Smith-Schuster have in common?

They’re all playing Fortnite together right now and live-streaming it on Twitch . Yes, seriously.

You can tune in to Ninja’s channel here to check out the action.

playing fort nite with @ninja https://t.co/OSFbgcfzaZ

— Drizzy (@Drake) March 15, 2018

Right now the amount of live viewers is hovering around 600,000 which smashes Twitch’s previous record of 388,000 live concurrent viewers.

Drake and Ninja started playing together a few hours ago on Ninja’s channel, and were soon joined by the other members as word spread of the livestream. Ninja is playing on a PC while Drake is on a PS4, but the two can play together thanks to Fortnite’s cross-platform support for those two systems.

The group had their fair share of technical difficulties – especially when it came to adding new players to their party, mainly because everyone’s friend requests were maxed out. That’s definitely something Epic will to work on if Fortnite continues to be the preferred game of celebrities and athletes.

In all seriousness, it’s a big moment for esports and livestreaming in general. The fact that mainstream celebrities are not only spending their time playing (and talking about) massively popular video games, but doing it live so hundreds of thousands of others can watch is a huge validator for the future of the two industries and companies like Twitch and Epic Games .

As you can imagine, Twitter is going insane and we’re already getting some amazing memes.

Drake’s next album cover… pic.twitter.com/gKOvRxwkFD

— Miguel Lozada (@Miguel_Gator) March 15, 2018

Drizzy super generous with his items to @Ninja tonight pic.twitter.com/NoeoCVJhlN

— Barstool Gametime (@StoolGametime) March 15, 2018

Oh, and one more thing. Epic Games (the company that created Fortnite) is supposed to take down the game’s servers at 2am PT / 5am ET. Anyone want to bet that they’re going to reschedule?

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