esports

Launching from beta, ProGuides is making money ensuring that gamers never play alone

Posted by | Advancit Capital, east coast, esports, game design, gamer, Gaming, league of legends, Los Angeles, ProGuides, Quest Venture Partners, Startups, TC, video gaming | No Comments

When ProGuides pulled the covers off of its service earlier this year, the young Los Angeles-based startup intended to give gamers a way to train with professional and semi-pro esports players from around the world.

But as users signed on to the service, it became clear that they weren’t looking for training necessarily… Instead, what players wanted was a ringer.

“After we launched the beta, we found some interesting user behavior,” says Sam Wang. “We found that gamers were experienced already and wanted experienced players who are better than [the matches] the game can provide… At the end of the day you do get to play with someone pretty awesome and is something that I think can make games better.

That’s right, ProGuides is pitching a marketplace for experienced gamers so that its customers aren’t randomly matched with some noob if they can’t game with their usual partners.

“Our tagline is ‘Play with pros’ now,” says Wang. “We already have over 5,000 sessions that were played in the last two months.”

The professional gamers who list their services on the site charge an average of $10 per session and ProGuides takes about a 25% cut. The company lowers its rates for popular gamers or gamers who are willing to spend more time on the platform either selling their services or actually coaching esports players.

Wang says that pros on the platform are making anywhere from $750 to $2,500 per month and that there are currently 250 coaches on the platform.

A typical session on ProGuides lasts around 45 minutes and players are available for Fortnite, League of Legends, Super Smash Brothers, CS:GO and Hearthstone.

ProGuides raised $1.9 million in pre-seed funding last June. The company is backed by Amplify, an LA-based early-stage investor and company accelerator, Quest Venture Partners, Greycroft Tracker fund and the GFR Fund.

The LA-based company also has some venture-backed competition on the East Coast. Gamer Sensei, which has raised roughly $6 million (according to Crunchbase) has a similar proposition. It’s backed by Accomplice and Advancit Capital.

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Esports org 100 Thieves raises $35 million in Series B

Posted by | 100 thieves, Artist Capital Management, Entertainment, esports, Gaming, matthew haag, Recent Funding, Startups, TC | No Comments

100 Thieves has today announced the close of a $35 million Series B funding round. Artist Capital Management led the round, with ACM’s Chief Investment Officer Josh Dienstag joining Mike Sepso, MLG co-founder, on the board of directors. Aglaé Ventures, which is the technology investment firm of Groupe Arnault, controlling shareholder of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), also participated in the round.

CEO and founder Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag confirmed to TechCrunch that this latest round brings 100 Thieves’ post-funding valuation to $160 million, which is up from the $90 million valuation it had in October 2018.

100 Thieves was founded in 2017. Haag is a former pro gamer and content creator with one of the biggest followings in esports.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned going from gaming to leadership is ‘over-communicate, over-communicate, over-communicate,’ ” said Haag, explaining that he went from working by himself creating content to working with many people each day. “Making sure we’re all aligned on our goals for each day and each week and each month, to have an open and transparent environment, really builds a culture where everybody enjoys working with one another. Over-communication helps drive success.”

The org is co-owned by Drake, Dan Gilbert and Scooter Braun, alongside Haag. 100 Thieves has three revenue channels.

The first is esports. Right now, the organization competes in Call of Duty (where its team has won the last two tournaments), League of Legends and Fortnite (100 Thieves is sending six of its players to the Fortnite World Cup).

The second channel is content creation. 100 Thieves includes big-name streamers such as Jack “Courage” Dunlop, who has nearly 1.9 million Twitch followers, and Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, who has more than 800,000 Twitch followers.

Finally, 100 Thieves has gotten into apparel, with limited-edition hats, sweaters, jackets and t-shirts. As of right now, everything in the 100 Thieves Shop is sold out.

“What’s hurt me the most is having so many community members not be able to purchase this apparel for themselves,” said Haag. “We want 100 Thieves to be all inclusive. If you want to support us, you should be able to.”

According to Haag, one goal is to expand into new esports titles — a few titles in consideration include “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Rainbow 6 Siege” and “Rocket League.”

Another top-of-mind goal is building out a new HQ facility in Los Angeles that will house the esports, content creation and apparel divisions all under one roof. The 15,000-square-foot facility will include streaming stations, a content production sound stage for 100 Thieves’ two podcasts and will serve as the storefront for 100 Thieves apparel lines.

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Twitch continues to dominate live streaming with its second-biggest quarter to date

Posted by | esports, Facebook, facebook gaming, game streaming, Gaming, live streaming, Media, microsoft mixer, streamelements, streaming video, Twitch, YouTube, YouTube Live | No Comments

Twitch continues to lead rivals including, YouTube Live, Facebook Gaming and Microsoft’s Mixer, when it comes to live-streaming video. Despite experiencing its first decline in hours watched in Q2 2019, the Amazon-owned game-streaming site still had its second-biggest quarter to date, with more than 70% of the hours watched during the quarter.

According to a new report from StreamElements, Twitch viewers live-streamed a total of 2.72+ billion hours in Q2 — or 72.2% of all live hours watched — compared with 735.54 million hours on YouTube Live (19.5%), 197.76 million on Facebook Gaming (5.3%) and just 112.29 million hours (3%) on Mixer.

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Combined, the total hours watched across all four platforms was 3.77 billion in Q2.

While none of Twitch’s rivals are nearly catching up, YouTube Live did have a good month in May, breaking its own record with 284 million hours watched. Overall, YouTube Live’s hours watched improved in Q2 as a result, while Twitch saw a slight decline.

Facebook Gaming is also gaining steam. It’s now the third-biggest live-streaming platform, having passed Microsoft Mixer.

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Despite its traction, Twitch doesn’t have much of a long tail when it comes to stream viewership. That’s a problem it has faced for some time, as newcomers complained they spent years broadcasting to no one in hopes of gaining a fan base, with little success. Twitch has tried to remedy this problem with various educational efforts as well as product features like Raids and Squad Streams, for example.

However, the new report finds that the majority (almost 75%) of Twitch’s viewership still comes from people tuning in to the top 5,000 channels. Out of the 2.7 billion hours watched in Q2, these top 5,000 channels drove 2 billion of those hours watched.

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In addition, the average concurrent viewership (viewers watching at the same time) of the top 5,000 channels increased by 12% in Q2 2019, compared with Q1. The top 200 channels have the highest concurrent viewership with 10,590 people watching together, on average.

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Also in the quarter, viewership of top titles like Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive declined, while vlogging — aka “Just Chatting” — grew, along with other titles.

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Esports, meanwhile, still draws big numbers, but represents only a small slice of the overall pie.

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The full report, which takes a look at other trends, including which streamers are gaining and losing popularity, is available here.

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Northzone’s Paul Murphy goes deep on the next era of gaming

Posted by | Amazon, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Electronic Arts, esports, Gaming, Google, King, league of legends, Media, mobile gaming, Netflix, Nintendo Switch, Paul Murphy, Rovio, Sports, stadia, Startups, Steam, supercell, Talent, TC, Tencent, unity-technologies, Venture Capital, Virtual reality | No Comments

As the gaming market continues to boom, billions of dollars are being invested in new games and new streaming platforms vying to own a piece of the action. Most of the value is accruing to the large incumbents in a space, however, and the entrance of Google and other big tech companies makes it difficult to identify where there are compelling opportunities for entrepreneurs to build new empires.

TechCrunch media analyst Eric Peckham recently sat down with Paul Murphy, Partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss Paul’s view of the market and where he is focusing his dollars. Below is the transcript of the conversation (edited for length and clarity):


Eric Peckham: You co-founded the hit mobile game Dots before moving to London and joining Northzone last year. Are you still bullish on investment opportunities in mobile gaming or do you think the market has changed?

Paul Murphy: I’m bullish on mobile gaming–the market is bigger than it has ever been. There’s a whole generation of people that have been trained to play games on mobile phones. So those are things that are very positive.

The challenge is you don’t really have a rising tide moment anymore. The winners have won. And so it’s very, very difficult for someone to enter with new content and build a business that’s as big as Supercell or King, regardless of how good their content is. So while the prize for winning in mobile gaming content big, the likelihood is smaller.

Where I’m spending most of my time is not on content, it’s on components within mobile gaming. We’re looking at infrastructure: different platforms that enable mobile gaming, like Bunch which we invested in.

Their product allows you to do live video and audio on top of mobile games. So we don’t have to take any content risk. We’re betting that this great product will fit into a large inventory ecosystem.

Peckham: New mobile game studios that are launching all seem to fall under the sphere of influence of these bigger companies. They get a strategic investment from Supercell or another company. To your point, it’s tough for a small startup to compete entirely on its own.

Murphy: It’s possible in mobile gaming still but it’s really, really hard now. At the same time, what you’ve seen is the odds of winning are lower. It is hard to reach the same scale when it costs you $5.00 to acquire a user today, whereas when Candy Crush launched, it was $0.05 per user. So it’s almost impossible to achieve King-like scale today.

Therefore, you’re looking at similar content risk with reduced upside, which makes that equation less attractive for venture capital. But it might be perfectly fine for an established company because they don’t need to do the marketing, they have the audience already.

The big gaming companies all struggle with the challenge of how to create the next hit IP. They have this machine that can bring any great game to market efficiently, with a large audience they can cross promote from and capital they can invest to build a big brand quickly. For them, the biggest challenge is getting the best content.

So it’s natural to me that the pendulum has swung towards strategic investors in mobile gaming content. Epic has a fund that they set up with Improbable, Supercell is making direct investments, Tencent has been making investments for years. Even from a content perspective, you’re probably going to see Apple, Google, and Amazon making more content investments in mobile gaming.

Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Peckham: Does this same market dynamic apply to PC games and console games? Do you see a certain area within gaming where there’s still opportunity for independent startups to create the game itself and find success at a venture scale?

Murphy: The reason we made our investment in Klang Games, which is building an MMO called Seed that people will primarily play through PC, is that while there is content risk–you’re never going to get rid of the possibility that the IP doesn’t fly–if it works, it will be massive…an Earth-shattering level of success. If their vision comes to life, it will be very, very big.

So that one has all the risks that you’d have in any other game studio but the upside is exponentially larger, so the bet makes sense to us. And it so happens that it’s going to be on PC first, where there’s certainly a lot of competition but it’s not as saturated and the monetization methods are healthier than in mobile gaming. In PC, you don’t have to do free-to-play tactics that interfere with the gameplay.

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Amazon’s Twitch acquired social networking platform Bebo for up to $25M to bolster its esports efforts

Posted by | Amazon, Apps, Bebo, esports, Gaming, M&A, Social, Sports, tournaments, Twitch | No Comments

While Facebook makes a bold move into cryptocurrency to capitalise on its multi-billion user base, a social network that was once a credible competitor to it has quietly been snapped up by a subsidiary of Amazon. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Bebo, one of the earlier platforms to let people share thoughts and media with their friends, has been acquired by Twitch, the streaming video platform owned by Amazon. Together the two will be working on building out Twitch’s esports business, and specifically Twitch Rivals.

A spokesperson for Twitch confirmed the acquisition, which includes both people (around 10 employees) and IP, but declined to provide further comment.

From what we understand from our sources, Twitch paid up to $25 million for the company earlier this month, after beating out at least two other bidders, Discord (which itself has been building out its own esports business), and… wait for it… Facebook. (Our source says the latter offered $20 million.) Indeed, LinkedIn profiles for ex-Bebo employees — see here, here, and here — now at Twitch note June as the changeover date. (Note: original sources say $25 million, others close to the deal say it was materially less than this. As you know, these things can be described differently depending on who is doing the describing.)

It has been a long and winding road for Bebo over the years. Starting out way back in 2005 by Michael and Xochi Birch as an early social networking site, Bebo quickly became the market leader in a couple of English-speaking countries, specifically UK and Ireland.

Bebo’s growth trajectory and the bigger opportunity in social were enough to get it acquired for about $850 million by AOL back in 2008, apparently beating out a number of other interested large tech and media companies interested in getting their own social media platform and the audience that would come with it (disclaimer: AOL eventually also acquired TechCrunch, too).

But the deal was a certifiable dud, with Bebo never managing to build on its early traction, and AOL not being in a position to know how to fix that. Less than two years later, it was sold on to Criterion Capital for $25 million.

Yet as the social wheels continued to turn, and even once-global market leader MySpace also fell back as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile-friendly platforms pulled out ahead, even that $25 million price turned out to be too high. After Bebo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the original founders, the Birches, bought it back in 2013 for $1 million with a pledge to reinvent it.

And so they did, putting in place a small team led by Shaan Puri, who worked on a number of ideas to see which of them could fly. (And I don’t know if this was a tongue in cheek joke about how challenging they knew the task would be, but it seems that the holding company set up to house some of the IP and legal aspects of the endeavor was called “Pigs in Flight.”)

The new app studio effort, which went by the name Monkey Inferno (another great one), came out of the gates with “Blab”, a “walkie-talkie” ephemeral video messaging service, which picked up millions of users quickly but found it hard to retain them. It shut down a year later, and it looks like Monkey Inferno dabbled in a few other things before coming to esports.

From social networking to socialising esports

In that last pivot, Bebo first tried out streaming services for esports players, but that proved to be tough competition against dominant platforms like OBS and Xsplit. Then, in an interesting nod to its earlier history in social networking and organising groups of friends, it shifted once more, into organising and running tournaments for streamers, with leagues and more: the streams ran on Twitch and Bebo organised viewers, leagues and other things around that.

That site, Bebo.com, is now offline, and all its tweets seem to have been deleted, but the idea was to build out leagues and tournaments for any and all kinds of groups and players, for example complete beginners, or high school students.

It was the last of these that turned out to line up with a growing market segment.

According to a report in eMarketer, esports attracted some 400 million users in 2018 and pulled in revenues of $869 million from sponsorships, player fees and advertising, and it is projected to be worth between $1.58 billion and $2.96 billion by 2022. And Bebo was helping organise and build those communities.

And that is now linking up neatly with Twitch, which had been developing its own casual esports operation in the form of Twitch Rivals. This launched in beta in 2018 and is now widely available wherever Twitch is.

The Bebo tech and its team are now both being put to use on Twitch Rivals, to help continue expanding it with more features and more users. To be clear, though, it seems there is no intention — from what I understand — to parlay Bebo’s past efforts in social networking into a wider social networking play at Twitch: the focus is on esports.

Still, the acquisition comes at a key moment. Since January, there have been reports that Amazon is working on a new game streaming service (just like Apple, Google and others), which likely won’t be out until next year. While there is no news on that today, you can see how expanding the variety and breadth of content on Twitch by way of esports leagues and tournaments fits in with a wider effort to bring more regular, engaged users into the Amazon fold, using this as one of the big draws.

(Updated with more detail on the price.)

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Delane Parnell’s plan to conquer amateur esports

Posted by | accelerator, Alexis Ohanian, Amazon, Apps, Brian Wong, Canada, coach, delane parnell, detroit, esports, Facebook, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, league of legends, Los Angeles, Ludlow Ventures, Matt Mazzeo, Media, national basketball association, north america, Personnel, Peter Pham, playvs, Riot Games, rocket fiber, Rocket League, science, serial entrepreneur, Sports, Spotify, Startups, Talent, TC, Twitch, United States, Venture Capital, video game | No Comments

Most of the buzz about esports focuses on high-profile professional teams and audiences watching live streams of those professionals.

What gets ignored is the entire base of amateurs wanting to compete in esports below the professional tier. This is like talking about the NBA and the value of its sponsorships and broadcast rights as if that is the entirety of the basketball market in the US.

Los Angeles-based PlayVS (pronounced “play versus”) wants to become the dominant platform for amateur esports, starting at the high school level. The company raised $46 million last year—its first year operating—with the vision that owning the infrastructure for competitions and expanding it to encompass other social elements of gaming can make it the largest gaming company in the world.

I recently sat down with Founder & CEO Delane Parnell to talk about his company’s formation and growth strategy. Below is the transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

Founding PlayVS

Eric P: You have a fascinating background as a serial entrepreneur while you were a teenager.

Delane P.: I grew up on the west side of Detroit and started working at the cell phone store of a family friend when I was 13. When I turned 16 or so, I joined two guys in opening our own Metro PCS franchise. And then two additional franchises. And I was on the founding team of a car rental company called Executive Rental Car.

Eric P: And this segued into tech startups after meeting Jon Triest from Ludlow Ventures?

Delane P: He got me a ticket to the Launch conference in SF, and that experience inspired me to start a Fireside Chat series in Detroit that brought in people like Brian Wong from Kiip and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit to speak. Starting at 21, I worked at a venture capital firm called IncWell based in Birmingham, Michigan then joined a startup called Rocket Fiber.

We were focused on internet infrastructure – this is 2015-ish – and I was appointed to lead our strategy in esports. So I met with many of the publishers, ancillary startups, tournament organizers, and OG players and team owners. Through the process, I became passionate about esports and ended up leaving Rocket Fiber to start a Call of Duty team that I quickly sold to TSM.

Eric P: What then drove you to found PlayVS? Did it seem like an obvious opportunity or did it take you a while to figure it out?

Delane P.: What esports means is playing video games competitively bound to governance and a competitive ruleset. As a player, what that experience means is you play on a team, in a position, with a coach, in a season that culminates in some sort of championship.

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Pro gamer Tfue files lawsuit against esports org over ‘grossly oppressive’ contract

Posted by | esports, faze clan, Gaming, lawsuit, Sports, Startups, Talent, TC, tfue, Twitch, YouTube | No Comments

Turner “Tfue” Tenney, one of the world’s premier streamers and esports pros, has filed a lawsuit against esports organization Faze Clan over a “grossly oppressive, onerous and one-sided” contract, according to THR.

The complaint alleges that Faze Clan’s Gamer Agreement relegates up to 80% of the streamer’s earnings from branded content (sponsored videos) to Faze Clan, and that the contract hinders Tfue from pursuing and earning money from sponsorship deals that Faze Clan hasn’t approved.

Tfue’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman of Freedman + Taitelman, took the complaint to the California Labor Commissioner with issues that span far beyond financial contracts. Freedman wrote that Faze Clan takes advantage of young artists and actually jeopardizes their health and safety, noting an incident where Tfue was allegedly pressured to skateboard in a video and injured his arm. Freedman also wrote that Faze Clan pressured Tfue to live in one of its homes where he was given alcohol before being 21 years old, and encouraged to illegally gamble.

From the complaint:

In one instance, Tenney suffered an injury (a deep wound that likely required stitches) which resulted in permanent disfigurement. Faze Clan also encourages underage drinking and gambling in Faze Clan’s so-called Clout House and FaZe House, where Faze Clan talent live and frequently party. It is also widely publicized that Faze Clan has attempted to exploit at least one artist who is a minor.

Faze Clan issued the following statement on Twitter following the news:

A follow-up from FaZe Clan on today’s unfortunate situation. pic.twitter.com/qm6sK8v88B

— FaZe Clan (@FaZeClan) May 21, 2019

Faze Clan claims that it has taken no more than 20% of Tfue’s earnings from sponsored content, which amounts to a total of $60,000. The owner of Faze Clan, Ricky Banks, took to Twitter to make his case, showing the incredible growth of Tfue’s popularity across Twitch and YouTube since signing with Faze Clan.

I recruited Tfue to FaZe Clan in April of 2018. These are graphs from both his YouTube & Twitch channels following the mark of our relationship. pic.twitter.com/c7m3QwsoTZ

— FaZe Banks (@Banks) May 20, 2019

As it stands now, Tfue boasts more than 120 million views on Twitch, more than 10 million YouTube subscribers and 5.5 million followers on Instagram.

Banks also reiterated Faze Clan’s official statement saying that the company has taken 20% of Tfue’s earnings from branded deals, totaling $60,000.

OK LAST TWEET – To clarify Turners contract does outline splits in prizes, ad revenue, stuff like that. But again we’ve collected absolutely none of it with no plans to and that was very clear to him. We have collected a total of $60,000 from 300k in brand deals (20%). That’s it

— FaZe Banks (@Banks) May 20, 2019

The Tfue claim, however, seems to take issue with the content of the agreement, not necessarily its execution, and the general legality of these types of gamer agreements across the esports landscape. Moreover, the complaint alleges that Tfue lost potential earnings due to his agreement with Faze Clan and their own conflicts of interest with various brands interested in a sponsorship.

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Where top VCs are investing in media, entertainment & gaming

Posted by | Apple, BetaWorks, charles hudson, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, epic games, Eric Hippeau, esports, Facebook, fortnite, founders fund, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, Google, GV, HQ Trivia, instagram, interactive media, lerer hippeau ventures, lightspeed venture partners, Luminary Media, matt hartman, Media, mg siegler, Netflix, new media, precursor ventures, Roblox, scooter braun, sequoia capital, Sports, Spotify, starbucks, Startups, sweet capital, TC, Twitch, Venture Capital, Video, Virtual reality | No Comments

Most of the strategy discussions and news coverage in the media and entertainment industry is concerned with the unfolding corporate mega-mergers and the political implications of social media platforms.

These are important conversations, but they’re largely a story of twentieth-century media (and broader society) finally responding to the dominance Web 2.0 companies have achieved.

To entrepreneurs and VCs, the more pressing focus is on what the next generation of companies to transform entertainment will look like. Like other sectors, the underlying force is advances in artificial intelligence and computing power.

In this context, that results in a merging of gaming and linear storytelling into new interactive media. To highlight the opportunities here, I asked nine top VCs to share where they are putting their money.

Here are the media investment theses of: Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Alex Taussig (Lightspeed), Matt Hartman (betaworks), Stephanie Zhan (Sequoia), Jordan Fudge (Sinai), Christian Dorffer (Sweet Capital), Charles Hudson (Precursor), MG Siegler (GV), and Eric Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau).

Cyan Banister, Partner at Founders Fund

In 2018 I was obsessed with the idea of how you can bring AI and entertainment together. Having made early investments in Brud, A.I. Foundation, Artie and Fable, it became clear that the missing piece behind most AR experiences was a lack of memory.

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Activision Blizzard has five franchises lined up for its new Call of Duty esports league

Posted by | Activision Blizzard, Atlanta, bobby kotick, call of duty, cox enterprises, Dallas, esports, first person shooters, Gaming, Media, New York, new york mets, overwatch, overwatch league, paris, TC, toronto, VC, video gaming | No Comments

Activision Blizzard said it has lined up five franchises for a new, city-based Call of Duty esports league.

Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Paris and Toronto will all play host to franchise teams that will compete in a professional league based on what is perhaps Activision Blizzard’s most successful title, the company announced after its earnings call earlier today.

Each city is partnering with existing Overwatch League team owners to leverage the existing framework that Activision has labored over for the past few years to lay the groundwork for a global, city-based Call of Duty league, the company said.

The first teams are Atlanta Esports Ventures, the joint venture owned by Cox Enterprises and Province Inc.; the Envy Gaming esports team, which has been active in Call of Duty competitive play since 2007 and with the Dallas Fuel Overwatch league team; New York’s Sterling.VC, a sports media company backed by Sterling Equities (owners of the New York Mets); c0ntact Gaming, which owns the Overwatch League team Paris Eternal and the Paris-based Call of Duty team; and Toronto’s OverActive Media.

“The upcoming launch of our new Call of Duty esports league reaffirms our leadership role in the development of professional esports. We have already sold Call of Duty teams in Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Paris and Toronto to existing Overwatch League team owners, and we will announce additional owners and markets later this year,” said Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision Blizzard. “Our owners value our professional, global city-based model, the success we have had with broadcast partners, sponsors and licensees, and the passion with which our players have responded to our events.”

The announcement came on the heels of an earnings announcement that saw the company report earnings of $1.825 billion for the quarter, beating its outlook of $1.715 billion but down slightly from the year ago period when the company brought in almost $2 billion.

The company credited esports and its  Overwatch League and the newly announced Call of Duty city-based league (including selling its first five teams to cities) for contributing to the better-than-expected numbers.

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Zwift CEO Eric Min on fitness-gaming and bringing esports into the Olympics

Posted by | cycling, eCommerce, Entertainment, esports, Gaming, Media, Peloton, SaaS, Sports, Strava, TC, Zwift | No Comments

The rumored IPO plans of $4 billion spinning brand Peloton marks the rise of a wave of interactive fitness startups like Mirror, Tonal, Hydrow and At Home 360 that combine a monthly subscription to recorded and/or live video classes with workout hardware.

There’s opportunity beyond this initial “Peloton for X” model, however, when you look at where the gamification of at-home workout experiences can overlap with actual games. We’re in the midst of rapid growth in the gaming industry, the rise of esports and the mainstream-ing of socializing within games due to Fortnite

The virtual cycling business Zwift is a five-year-old startup that has raised more than $170 million as a pioneer of fitness-gaming ― physical sport carried out in a virtual world. Athletes join together for group rides and races within a cycling game that hooks up to their own bike trainers at home in order to reflect their movements and physical exertion. Because users are represented as players within a social game, there is the benefit of network effects, opportunity for in-game commerce and an audience viewing the competition.

I recently sat with Eric Min, Zwift’s CEO and co-founder, at the company’s London office. We discussed why he founded Zwift and how the product has evolved, the potential revenue streams available to an interactive fitness brand and Zwift’s rise as an esport with ambitions to enter the Olympics. Here’s the transcript:

Eric Peckham (TechCrunch): Do you view Zwift as a fitness company or as a gaming company where the bike trainer is just a controller?

Eric Min (Zwift): We’re the fitness company born out of gaming. While we’re a fitness brand, we’re also a game and social network, two things that are converging rapidly right now. What we’re trying to do, though, is build this social network around real-time experiences, physical experiences, and I think that’s far more interesting. Crucial to that is being hardware-agnostic though. We work with a lot of equipment out there so our users can come to the game easily.

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