esports

China’s frenzy over League of Legends championship sheds light on esports growth

Posted by | Asia, China, communist party, esports, Gaming, league of legends, online gaming, Riot Games, social media platforms, Tencent, Weibo | No Comments

When China’s Invictus Gaming defeated European squad Fnatic in the League of Legends 2018 finals this past Saturday, China’s social media platforms became awash in ecstasy and pride.

“It’s like winning an Olympic gold, a teenage dream come true,” writes one thirty-something audience of the competition on his WeChat feed.

Many others share that sentiment. So far, the hashtag #IG冠军, which means “IG the champion,” has generated over one million threads on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter with over four million monthly active users. This is a critical moment for China’s first-generation of players who grew up under parents and teachers who too easily dismissed all kinds of video games.

IG’s victory marks the first time a Chinese team has won the world championship for LoL – fondly called so by fans – the world’s most played PC game according to research firm Newzoo. The role-playing and monster-slaying title is run by Riot Games Inc, a Los Angeles-headquartered studio that WeChat operator Tencent fully bought out in 2015.

It wasn’t just gamers and the youth cheering for IG. Chinese mainstream media also rushed to congratulate. An op-ed from the communist party paper Guangming Daily called IG’s victory “an alternative path to the national sports dream.”

China has a history of obsessing over sports, evident in its generous spending on the Summer Olympics back in 2008 and the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics. Now esports – or competitive video gaming – as an officially recognized sporting event, is gaining ground among policymakers.

Esports in China has grown from a 53.2 billion yuan ($7.72 billion) industry in 2016 into one that’s estimated to earmark 88.7 billion yuan ($12.87 billion) in revenue in 2018, according to research firm Gamma Data. Local officials across the country want a share of the booming market. In some cases, the governments have shelled out billions of yuan to turn their no-name towns into “esports hub” that would house competitions and gaming companies in hope of stimulating local economies.

lLeague of legends china ig

Private companies have joined in the game, too. Tencent, China’s largest gaming company by revenue, has invested in NYSE-listed Huya and Douyu, two of China’s leading esports livestreaming services. IG itself is an esports organization that Wang Sicong, son of China’s once richest man Wang Jianlin, founded in 2011 and catapulted to today’s stardom.

But China’s relationship with video games overall has always been murky. While the government is rooting for professional gaming, it’s tightening control over leisure ones, condemning game publishers like Tencent for “poisoning” juveniles with blockbuster titles.

“The Chinese government treats esports and leisure games very differently,” a staff in the esports division of a major global gaming studio who asks to remain anonymous told TechCrunch. “I don’t think IG’s victory will cause big changes to the government’s attitude.”

Tencent, which earns two-thirds of its revenue from online gaming, lost $17.5 billion in market valuation when China’s state newspaper slashed its popular Honor of Kings, widely regarded a mobile copycat of LoL. This year, a hiatus in game license approvals again puts pressure on Tencent stock prices and profitability.

For esports and League of Legends alone, however, IG’s glory could mean a brighter future.

“At least now we will see League of Legends’ popularity continue into a couple more years. Esports’ development may also benefit from the event,” suggests the gaming company staff.

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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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Live streams of karate and niche sports are terrifying major sports leagues

Posted by | Endeavor, Entertainment, espn, esports, Facebook Live, Gaming, Hulu, Media, mlb, NBA, Netflix, nfl, Sports, streaming TV, Twitch, ufc, Video, YouTube Live | No Comments

Of the 100 most-watched live telecasts in the US in 2005, 14 were sporting events; in 2015, sporting events comprised 93 of the top 100 telecasts. That shift occurred because TV shows are shifting to online or on-demand viewing, and live broadcasts of the biggest sports are the main thing TV networks have left to draw in live audiences. But the need to keep those sports on TV and off streaming services is only accelerating the rate at which young people are tuning into other sports leagues instead.

The rapid adoption of subscription video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and of social live streams on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch is enabling massive growth by sports leagues that you won’t normally see on TV. In the streaming era, more sports – and new types of sports like esports – keep thriving while interest in traditional pro leagues like the NFL and MLB declines.

OTT is where the growth is

The central narrative in the global film/TV industry right now is the response of incumbent companies to the growing dominance of Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming (aka “OTT” or over-the-top) services. The incumbents are merging to consolidate ownership of must-have shows onto a smaller number of new OTT services that will each be stronger.

The majority of American households have a Netflix subscription (i.e. access to one of Netflix’s 56M US accounts), another 20M have a Hulu subscription, the number of OTT-only households has tripled in 5 years, and 50% of US internet users use a subscription OTT service at least weekly. Almost one-third (29%) of Americans say they watch more streaming TV than linear TV, and among those age 18-29 it’s 54% (with 29% having cut the cord on linear TV entirely). People, especially young people, want to watch shows on their own time and on any device, and they get more value from a few $8-40 per month subscription platforms than a $100+ per month cable bill.

Meanwhile, social live-streaming platforms that got their start enabling people to either vlog or watch video gaming are expanding to all sorts of live broadcasting: Twitch averaged 1 million viewers at any given point of day in January, and there were 3.5 billion broadcasts over Facebook Live in the first two years after it launched (with 2 billion users viewing at least one).

We’ve hit the pivot point where media is streaming-first. Netflix is now the leading studio in Hollywood, spending $13 billion this year on content. Linear TV viewing is declining: every major cable network (except NBC Sports) has declining viewership and aging viewers. Between 2007 and 2017, the median age of primetime viewers on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox went up 8-11 years and are all in the 50s or 60s.

Major pro sporting events are the last bastion of TV networks because the dominant brands are, for the most part, only available live on TV. Beyond those, the only content getting large audiences to tune in simultaneously are a couple Hollywood awards shows and premieres or finales of a couple hit shows (Big Bang Theory and NCIS).

The exclusive broadcast rights to those live sports events – particularly the NFL, NBA, MLB, and top NCAA basketball and football games – are the last defense for major broadcast networks. They are the reason for younger Americans to not cut the cord. ESPN makes $7.6 billion per year in carriage fees from cable companies paying for the right to carry the main ESPN channel (the other ESPN channels add another $1 billion); that number is increasing even as ESPN’s viewership is declining.

Disney (ESPN’s owner) and other leading broadcasters don’t want to let people watch major sporting events online instead (at least not easily or cheaply) because doing so would pull the rug out from under their traditional revenue stream and OTT revenue (subscription + ads) won’t make up for it quickly enough. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that TV networks are paying record sums for exclusive broadcast rights to top sports leagues out of fear that losing them to a rival could be a nail in their coffin.

This strategy is delaying, not stopping the shift in consumption habits. More and more young people are tuning out (or never tuning in) to the major pro sports on TV, and the median age of their audiences shows that: 64 for the PGA Tour, 58 for NASCAR, 57 for MLB, 52 for NCAA football and men’s basketball, and 50 for the NFL…and all are getting older. (Cable news networks, the other holdouts who are still doing well on live TV face the same situation: the average age of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN viewers is now 65, 65, and 61 respectively.)

The major pro sports staying on linear TV has expanded the market opening for new sports to fill the open space with young people who mainly consume content online. In fact, a growing marketplace of different sports leagues (including esports) developing their own fanbases is an inevitability of the shift to OTT video as it lowers the barrier to entry to near-zero and let’s geographically dispersed fans unify in one place.

1. Lower barrier to entry for distribution

Lawn bowling is no longer your grandfather’s sports league. Mint Images/Getty Images

Niche sports leagues – or frankly, even big sports leagues that just aren’t at the scale of professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey – have always had a hard time getting coverage on television. But you can produce and distribute video for an online audience more cheaply than for a television audience.

In fact with Facebook Live and Twitch, you can stream live video for free, and you can share clips across every social channel to attract interest. To launch your own OTT service or partner with an existing one, you don’t need to start with a massive audience from the beginning and you don’t need millions of dollars from sponsors just to break even.

Having signed over 150 new deals this year alone for its 20+ sports verticals (which will stream 2,500 live events in 2018), Austin-based FloSports has established itself as the go-to OTT partner for sports leagues with an established, passionate following that aren’t massive enough to garner regular ESPN-level coverage.

From rugby, track & field, and wrestling to bowling, competitive marching band, and ballroom dance, millions of Americans have participated in these activities in their youth and through clubs as adults but rarely see them on television. In fact, the rare instances when such sports are on TV – like their national championships – the league is usually paying large sums (potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars) for that airtime rather than getting paid by the broadcasters.

FloSports gives a home to the superfans of its partner leagues, with full coverage of the sport and commentary meant for real fans. It produces events in the manner best fit to highlight the action and turns superfans – who generally pay a subscription – into evangelists who recruit friends. There are numerous sports that have millions of participants yet no active, high-quality event coverage; those are underserved markets.

By tapping into this, FloSports properties (like FloWrestling, FloTrack, etc.) have gained hundreds of thousands of subscribers and created a surge of interest in teams like Oklahoma State’s wrestling team, which saw an 144% increase in live stream viewing and 68% growth in event attendance after joining FloWrestling (leading to them to set an all-time attendance record in the university’s basketball arena of 14,059 people). In the first half of 2018, FloSports’ various Instagram accounts collectively received 307M video views, more than the collective accounts of Fox Sports or of all NFL teams (and NFL Network).

2. Going global right away.

Johanne Defay of France at a World Surf League event. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The top pro sports leagues have geographically concentrated fan-bases that fit the geographic restrictions of TV broadcasters, which end at a country’s border. Online streaming empowers sports that have large fan bases who aren’t geographically concentrated to aggregate in the digital sphere with enough eyeballs (and paying subscriptions) to drive engagement with the sport’s content through the roof.

Since being acquired in 2015 and renamed World Surf League, the governing body of professional surfing has developed a large global following – with 6.5M Facebook fans and 2.9M Instagram followers – through the launch of live streams and on-demand video on its website and mobile app, plus partnering with third-parties like Bleacher Report’s OTT service B/R Live. Only 20-25% of WSL’s viewers are in the US but since its competitions are streamed direct-to-consumer online, they were able to reach surfers around the world right away. After seeing WSL’s Facebook Live streams garner over 14M viewers in 2017, Facebook paid up to become the exclusive live-stream provider for WSL competitions for two years, beginning this past March.

3. Immediate data on audience engagement.

As with all offline-to-online shifts, OTT video streaming captures dramatically more data on audience demographics and engagement than television does, and it does it in real-time. This makes it easier for emerging sports leagues to partner with advertisers and show immediate ROI on their sponsorships, plus it informs their understanding of how to produce their particular type of sporting event for maximum audience engagement.

Karate Combat is a year-old league that builds off the existing base of karate participants and fans around the world (numbering in the tens of millions) with a new competition format specifically intended for OTT. The league allows full-contact fighting and sets the match in a pit (rather than a traditional fighting ring) for better camera angles. It also replaces the traditional focus on having a big in-person audience (which is expensive) and instead sets the fights in exotic locations (like the fight this coming Thursday night on top of the World Trade Center).

Like many emerging sports leagues, Karate Combat is vertically integrated: the league organizing the competitions is also the one producing and streaming the event coverage over its website, mobile apps, and social channels. This not only means it captures the content-related revenue from subscribers, advertisers, and numerous OTT distribution partners, but it sees every data point about fans’ viewing behavior and their interaction with various dashboards (like biometrics on each fighter) so they can optimize both online and offline aspects of the production.

4. Online means interactive

Jujitsu fighting is now an OTT service. South_agency/Getty Images

Online viewing creates the opportunity for functionality you can’t achieve with linear TV: interactive displays overlayed on or next to live video. Viewers can pull up and click through real-time stats, change camera views, or switch overlays (think the the yellow first-down line in NFL broadcasts or coloring around a hockey puck to help you track it on the ice). Ultimately, a more interactive experience means a more social and more entertaining experience (and the sort of deep engagement advertisers value too).

FloSports’ ju-jitsu live streams (FloGrappling) give subscribers multiple live cameras each covering simultaneous matches on different mats so they can click between them. This is a more personalized experience than passively watching one broadcast on TV and it gets that subscriber actively engaged, with their behavior providing valuable data points for FloSports and their deeper interaction likely more compelling to event sponsors.

The display might also highlight live comments from friends or friends-of-friends in order to draw viewers into a more social experience. Discussion of a specific live stream with others watching it has been a central feature for Twitch and Facebook Live and enables the league or team streaming the event to directly engage with fans around the world.

An exception to the OTT-first strategy may be in sports that are entirely new and have zero existing base of participants or fans. Karate, surfing, and video-gaming all have millions of passionate participants around the world, going back decades. A new league like the 3-year-old Drone Racing League (DRL), which has raised $21M in venture capital to develop the sport of competitive drone racing, has to artificially stimulate the development of a fanbase if it doesn’t want to wait years for grassroots competitions to create a critical mass of fans even for a niche OTT service. It’s unsurprising then that DRL has focused on striking TV deals with ESPN, Sky Sports, ProSiebenSat.1, and others to thrust it in front of large audiences from the start, like a new game show hoping its format will entice enough people to take interest.

Power is in the hands of the league owners

Ari Emanuel, chief executive officer of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The best position to be in right now is the owner of a sports league that’s rapidly growing in popularity. The competition for audience by both traditional media companies and tech platforms leaves a long list of distribution partners eager for must-have, exclusive content – especially content like sports events that fans want to want live together – and willing to pay up.

Moreover, vertical integration to control your fans’ content viewing experience and own your relationship with them has never been easier. There are direct subscriptions, advertisers, event sponsors, event tickets, a portfolio of possible OTT distribution deals, and merchandising. The potential revenue streams a league can develop are only more numerous when you add in launching a fantasy sports league – like World Surf League has done – and the recent nationwide legalization of sports betting in the US.

Endeavor, the parent company of Hollywood’s powerful WME-IMG talent agency, seems to have recognized this and is an early mover in the space. It bought two sports leagues that have relied on TV deals and event attendance revenue – UFC for $4B and the smaller but rapidly growing Professional Bull Riders for $100M – and, since they each own their content, launched direct-to-consumer subscription platforms (UFC Fight Pass and PBR Ridepass) for super-fans and cord-cutters. (Endeavor also paid $250M to acquire Neulion, the technology company whose infrastructure powers the OTT services of the UFC, PBR, World Surf League, and dozens of others.)

There’s opportunity for new streaming platforms focused on being the media partner for these emerging sports leagues. Inevitably, the opportunity for bundling will consolidate many of the niche subscriptions onto a small number of leading sports OTT platforms, and that’s a powerful market position for those platforms.

What is unclear is if they can defend themselves as the incumbent media and tech companies come around to this phenomenon and commit billions toward capturing the market. The leading sports broadcasting companies all have OTT offerings and want to make them as compelling to potential subscribers as possible even if they exclude content from the biggest pro sports. A larger company that can afford to spend huge sums on exclusive sports streaming rights (like Disney with ESPN/ABC, Comcast with NBC/Sky Sports, CBS with CBS Sports Network, or Discovery with Eurosport) might opt to buy a company like FloSports as part of their deep dive into the space or they might just aim to outbid them when a league’s contract comes up for renewal.

The hope for an independent OTT platform devoted to emerging sports leagues is they get big enough, fast enough that they can afford to keep winning the rights to emerging leagues as those leagues grow and offers from competitors bid prices up. These dedicated OTT services will likely have to secure long-term – think ten years – streaming rights deals or acquire control of some popular new sports leagues outright to hold their own.

Like online distribution triggered an explosion of digital publishing brands and social influencers for every imaginable niche, the rise of high-quality live streaming and subscription OTT services will allow a lot more sports leagues to build an audience and revenue base substantial enough to thrive. There’s more variety for consumers and resources than ever for those with a rapidly growing league to attract fans worldwide.

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Twitch updates security for its TwitchCon event following the Jacksonville esports shooting

Posted by | esports, Gaming, TC, Twitch | No Comments

Twitch is today announcing changes to its security procedures for its TwitchCon event taking place in San Jose, California on October 26-28. The update follows news of the tragic shooting at an esports event in Jacksonville, Florida last month where three people died, including the shooter, and 11 were injured. Twitch said it would review its procedures as a result, and would soon have more information about what it’s doing to keep attendees safe.

Today, the company shared those plans.

Our highest priority at TwitchCon is attendee safety and security. We want to assure you that we are adding additional security measures on top of past event measures. We will have more detailed information on TwitchCon security in the coming days so stay tuned!

— TwitchCon 2018 (@TwitchCon) September 12, 2018

According to Twitch, it’s working with San Jose’s local law enforcement, convention staff and additional security services on the event.

The conference will include bag searches and screenings at designated entrance points, and attendees will be limited to carrying just one bag.

The bag can be no larger than 12” x 15” x 6”, the company says.

Backpacks, luggage, large bags and bulky clothing will not be allowed. In addition, backpacks acquired at the show — even those that are Twitch-branded — will not be eligible for re-entry. There will be an on-site bag check available, but the company suggests that larger bags be left at home as space will be limited.

It says small fanny packs or clear bags will help attendees move through the security checkpoints faster.

Meanwhile, exhibitors will only be able to hand-carry their products and display materials in oversized bags and rollers before 8 AM on show days — that way there won’t be a way for people to bring in large bags when the event is underway.

Press will also have to wear their press badges, and crews that need to carry their large camera equipment will need to be approved.

Of course, the event has a no weapons policy as well, and anyone in violation will be removed without refund.

Badges must be worn at all times, and an ID or passport needs to be on hand, as well.

At first glance, the updated procedures don’t seem remarkably different from Twitch’s earlier policies.

The company’s security plan before Jacksonville had also included bag searches, walk-through or hand-held scanners, the use of uniformed guards, ID checks and the wearing of badges.

The biggest on-record change appears to be the backpack ban.

However, we understand the reference to Twitch’s closer work with law enforcement services and the “additional security services” is a reference to other changes that may not have been fully detailed. (We’d guess this is likely because Twitch doesn’t want to provide too much information to anyone trying to workaround its security procedures.)

The annual TwitchCon event brings together the Twitch community to play games, watch live esports, participate in hackathons and cosplay contests, attend sessions and hear from the company about what’s next for the live game-streaming service.

Last fall, for example, Twitch unveiled a new set of tools at TwitchCon that would allow creators to make money from their online channels.

However, the events in Jacksonville have had many of TwitchCon’s regular attendees concerned about event safety.

After all, the video game competition, taking place at the GLHF Game Bar in Jacksonville, Florida, had been live-streamed on Twitch when the shooting happened. Would a copycat try to get into Twitch’s conference?, some have wondered.

According to reports, the Florida shooter had been upset about losing two games of Madden earlier in the tournament, even refusing to shake hands with the winner after one game. Despite a history of mental illness, the shooter had been able to legally acquire his weapons. It wasn’t clear how he got them into the Jacksonville bar.

Sadly, mass shootings in the U.S. have now taken place at schools, movie theaters, churches, concerts, workplaces — even at YouTube —  and elsewhere. But they had not yet before occurred at an esports event.

The tragic event brought attention on the esports industry as a whole, which still sits somewhere outside of mainstream attention, despite Twitch having more than 2 million broadcasters and 15 million viewers who tune in daily to watch.

We are shocked and saddened by the tragedy that took place in Jacksonville today. Twitch and all its staff send our deepest sympathies to the victims, their loved ones, and everyone in our community who’s grieving today.

— Twitch (@Twitch) August 26, 2018

Shortly after the tragedy, Twitch said it would make changes.

“Security at TwitchCon is our top priority and is something we take very seriously at all our events,” the company told TechCrunch in August. “We regularly review and iterate on our policies and approach in order to provide a safe and positive experience for staff, attendees, and exhibitors. In the wake of yesterday’s tragedy we will be re-reviewing our plans and updating them accordingly,” a spokesperson had said at the time.

The updated plans for TwitchCon are detailed on Twitch’s blog and its FAQ.

Image credit: Twitch

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What should competitive Fortnite look like?

Posted by | epic games, esports, fortnite, fortnite battle royale, Gaming, Sports, Startups, TC | No Comments

Last weekend, Epic Games put forth its first true effort at official competitive Fortnite Battle Royale. It was a disaster.

The private hosts used for the tournament were about as laggy as could be, with pro players getting eliminated simply because they couldn’t move. This tournament was for a total prize of $250K. That’s big money, and big frustration for pro players who were essentially eliminated by the whims of the server gods. But on top of the lag, the whole thing was, well, boring. A cardinal sin in any sport.

The fact is that when you put 100 pro players in a lobby together and tell them that the last man standing wins, most of them will simply sit in a fort and stay safe as long as possible. This does not generate a whole lot of action.

And when there is action on the map, there was no way for a spectator to know about it. There are, after all, a hundred people to watch out for, and jumping from one engagement to another is not only difficult but lacks a certain narrative quality, making the whole thing feel scattered.

It seems clear that a guided mode or hotspot indicator would go a long way to improving the viewing experience. Being told where the fighting was or could be happening or having a guide that flagged these opportunities could work. There could also be a documentary-style concept that followed a few top players on their entire run, with the hope that they’ll find action and maybe even be pushed into conflict to impress viewers.

Epic recently published a post-mortem on the event, outlining ways that the publisher can improve on the tournament. They’ve also set forth the rules for this weekend’s event, proposing a score-based tournament where both eliminations and Victory Royales count toward players’ overall score. Whether or not this will incentivize more action will be determined following the event.

It’s also worth noting that Epic scheduled today’s event during the Fortnite Friday tournament. Fortnite Friday, hosted by popular YouTuber Keemstar and facilitated by UMG, was a $20,000 elimination-based tournament with top players. In this week of the Summer Skirmish Series, which is worth a total of $8 million, Epic is choosing to host a two-day tournament, effectively rendering Fortnite Friday playerless.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Epic. I know that the concept of 100 of the best players in the world dropping into one map sounds incredible. It does. It sounds great, in theory. But in practice, it’s just a disorderly live stream of a bunch of highly talented players sitting around in bases, or, worse, lagging to the point of being frozen.

And, an invitational tournament (that goes terribly wrong) doesn’t scream “inclusive,” which is what Epic repeatedly says competitive Fortnite should be.

There is another way, and it’s the same way that Fortnite players have been competing for months now. A kill race.

But let’s back up a bit.

What should competitive Fortnite be?

Right now, Fortnite is played by 100 people in a single lobby, and “winning” the game is defined by being the last survivor(s). This can be played in solo mode, with 100 individuals facing off against the storm and each other, or in 50 teams of two (Duos), or 25 teams of four (Squads).

Video games often get tweaks for the competitive scene, whether it’s limiting the resources/gear that players can use or reducing the number of maps that can be played. When skill level is that high, most games must make changes to allow for true competition.

Given it’s still early days, Fortnite Battle Royale featuring purely pro players simply hasn’t worked.

But as it stands now, there are roughly two schools of thought.

Whoever gets the most eliminations wins.

Pros:

  • Super fun to watch
  • Requires skill
  • Inclusive to non-pro players

Cons:

  • A lot of RNG
  • More time-consuming

Gamebattle sites like CMG and UMG have been running minor tournaments for quite a while now using this format. Fortnite Friday, arguably one of the biggest weekly tournaments, also follows this format.

Here’s how it works: Individual players load up in a Duo match on the same team, or teams of two load up into a Squad match, also on the same team, and race for who can get the most kills in a public match.

This means that these opposing players can’t kill each other, but can keep track of each other’s kills and placement on the map. When you’re racing for kills, understanding where the other duo is fighting and how many kills they have is important information.

Given only four players are competing at a time, that means the rest of the 92 people on the map are regular Fortnite players.

This is where RNG comes into play. RNG is a term used in gaming that means Random Number Generator. It is the gaming equivalent of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.” It essentially means there is some level of random luck involved in the game. For example, you might land in a place where there is usually a weapon or chest, but that weapon or chest isn’t there, leaving you vulnerable to other players who land around you.

Great players can work around or overcome a certain level of RNG, but if the opposing team comes up on a squad of noobs and your team rolls up on a squad of great players, the tide of the match will inevitably shift against you, and may even result in a loss.

This is the cost of the 2v2 format that has become popularized with the vast majority of Fortnite competitive players.

While it takes more time to have 100 players compete four at a time, this format allows the viewer to watch no more than four players as they traverse the map and seek eliminations. At most, the audience has to follow along with four separate stories on the map. In most cases, duos play together, which brings that number down to two. In either case, it’s much easier than following along with the stories of 50 separate teams.

Traditional Battle Royale

Pros:

  • Less RNG
  • Amazing build fights
  • Fair, in the sense that players are fighting players of equal skill level

Cons:

  • It’s boring
  • Not inclusive
  • Confusing and scattered for viewers

This format was used during the Ninja Live tournament, the Fortnite ProAm tournament and, most recently, during the $8 million Summer Skirmish series, hosted by Epic Games.

Here’s how it works: 100 pro players/streamers pair off into teams of two and all load into the same lobby, with the goal of lasting the longest.

As I said, Fortnite Battle Royale is built around the idea that there would be a sole survivor, but doesn’t predicate that survival on a certain level of skill. In other words, it’s relatively easy to hide, avoid fights and survive to the near end of a game, or potentially even win. It doesn’t take much skill to squat in a bush or set traps in a house and sit in the bathroom.

Obviously, with pro players, there will be gunfights, and those gunfights should be pretty interesting. But they are few and far between, and are difficult to predict and capture for the live stream.

This also excludes regular players from being a part of the action. Yes, it’s a risk to construct a competitive scene on the backs of public gameplay. But it’s also never been done before in the pro gaming world. And it is the best way to include public players into the competitive scene. A regular player is far more likely to get interested in the competitive scene knowing that, on Friday or Saturday, they have the chance to play against the world’s greatest competitors.

The best way to build on the momentum of Fortnite’s popularity, as well as support the community as a whole, is to build out tournaments focused on eliminations within public lobbies.

It makes sense for Epic to want to control that experience, and it certainly makes sense for Epic to want the competitive scene to fit within the game they built, which is a Battle Royale. But thus far, competitive Battle Royale featuring purely pro players simply hasn’t worked. And it feels slightly underhanded for Epic to barrel over Fortnite Friday, given that the more competitive tournaments around Fortnite, the better for the game.

The community is here, telling you what it wants, Epic. And in true Fortnite fashion, if you build it, they will come.

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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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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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