Entertainment

Where to open a game studio

Posted by | Entertainment, entrepreneurship, Extra Crunch, Gaming, Investor Surveys, TC | No Comments

With the game industry booming, more entrepreneurs are evaluating where to base their new startup or open a new office for their existing company. The U.S. government’s block on H1-B and L-1 visas will encourage American game startups to add an office abroad much sooner than they otherwise would have. But where?

This spring, I surveyed a number of gaming-focused VCs about which cities are the best hubs for game studios targeting the Western games market. Several locales stood out as heavily recommended — which I’ve shared below — but the most interesting takeaway was the lack of consensus.

Game studios are far less geographically concentrated than other categories of VC-backed startups. While there are odes on Twitter and conference stages that “you can build a successful startup anywhere,” most investors will push founders to locate themselves in the SF Bay Area, or at least in LA, NYC or London. Meanwhile, the most common piece of advice from those I spoke to: You should probably not base a gaming startup in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Access to the right talent is the top priority, as is the ability to retain them. Proximity to investors matters, but a successful game quickly turns a profit, which reduces the need for outside funding beyond Series A (and U.S. and European VCs who focus on gaming tend to be very international in scope). Quality of life, ease of obtaining visas and access to strategic partners all play into the decision as well and will weigh these recommendations differently depending on who you are and the games you’re developing.

Three notes:

  • I focused on qualitative research, gauging the assessments of top investors who track new startups in the sector about where the action is right now. 
  • The scope of this survey is limited to studios targeting the Western gaming market, so leading hubs in Asia weren’t included.
  • I group cities by metropolitan area so, for example, San Francisco includes Redwood City and Seattle includes Bellevue.

North America

In North America, Los Angeles is the clear favorite with Montreal, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver all receiving many endorsements as the other top hubs. Regarding cities with the most interesting gaming startups recently, Ryann Lai of Makers Fund said, “It is hard to name a single best location, but Toronto, Culver City (in Los Angeles), Orange County (next to Los Angeles) have gotten increasingly popular among gaming founders lately.”

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What went wrong with Quibi?

Posted by | Entertainment, Media, Mobile, TC, Video | No Comments

Two months after Quibi’s high-profile launch as a short-form mobile-native TV app led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, it is evident the startup is greatly underperforming relative to the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on content and marketing. 

According to a Wall Street Journal report, “daily downloads peaked at 379,000 on its April 6 launch day but didn’t exceed 20,000 on any day in the first week of June, according to Sensor Tower.” The article says Quibi is on pace for just 2 million subscribers by year-end, from its predicted 7.2 million. Most of the current subscriber base is on free trials, so even just maintaining the current pace of subscriber growth for several more months will be challenging. Quibi hasn’t released any of its own stats on subscribers, which it almost certainly would do to combat the negative perception among investors and press, if the stats showed a lot of traction.

I argued in 2018 that Facebook should turn its IGTV into a Quibi competitor, and I continue to believe there’s untapped opportunity for premium, mobile-native storytelling apps. So what went wrong with Quibi? There appear to have been four key mistakes:

  1. Miscalculating the risk of launching during the COVID-19 lockdown.
  2. Failing to see the central role of interactivity in mobile-native entertainment.
  3. Creating misaligned financial incentives with the wrong content partners.
  4. Launching Quibi like a movie instead of like a startup.

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Software will reshape our world in the next decade

Posted by | Alexa, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, blockchain, Column, cryptocurrency, cybernetics, Education, Entertainment, food, Gadgets, iPhone, Opinion, payments, robotics, San Francisco, smartphone, Social, TC, technology, video conferencing | No Comments
Alfred Chuang
Contributor

Alfred Chuang is general partner at Race Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm.

As I was wrapping up a Zoom meeting with my business partners, I could hear my son joking with his classmates in his online chemistry class.

I have to say this is a very strange time for me: As much as I love my family, in normal times, we never spend this much time together. But these aren’t normal times.

In normal times, governments, businesses and schools would never agree to shut everything down. In normal times, my doctor wouldn’t agree to see me over video conferencing.

No one would stand outside a grocery store, looking down to make sure they were six feet apart from one another. In times like these, decisions that would normally take years are being made in a matter of hours. In short, the physical world — brick-and-mortar reality— has shut down. The world still functions, but now it is operating inside everyone’s own home.

This not-so-normal time reminds me of 2008, the depths of the financial crisis. I sold my company BEA Systems, which I co-founded, to Oracle for $8.6 billion in cash. This liquidity event was simultaneously the worst and most exhausting time of my career, and the best time of my career, thanks to the many inspiring entrepreneurs I was able to meet.

These were some of the brightest, hardworking, never-take-no-for-an-answer founders, and in this era, many CEOs showed their true colors. That was when Slack, Lyft, Uber, Credit Karma, Twilio, Square, Cloudera and many others got started. All of these companies now have multibillion dollar market caps. And I got to invest and partner with some of them.

Once again, I can’t help but wonder what our world will look like in 10 years. The way we live. The way we learn. The way we consume. The way we will interact with each other.

What will happen 10 years from now?

Welcome to 2030. It’s been more than two decades since the invention of the iPhone, the launch of cloud computing and one decade since the launch of widespread 5G networks. All of the technologies required to change the way we live, work, eat and play are finally here and can be distributed at an unprecedented speed.

The global population is 8.5 billion and everyone owns a smartphone with all of their daily apps running on it. That’s up from around 500 million two decades ago.

Robust internet access and communication platforms have created a new world.

The world’s largest school is a software company — its learning engine uses artificial intelligence to provide personalized learning materials anytime, anywhere, with no physical space necessary. Similar to how Apple upended the music industry with iTunes, all students can now download any information for a super-low price. Tuition fees have dropped significantly: There are no more student debts. Kids can finally focus on learning, not just getting an education. Access to a good education has been equalized.

The world’s largest bank is a software company and all financial transactions are digital. If you want to talk to a banker live, you’ll initiate a text or video conference. On top of that, embedded fintech software now powers all industries.

No more dirty physical money. All money flow is stored, traceable and secured on a blockchain ledger. The financial infrastructure platforms are able to handle customers across all geographies and jurisdictions, all exchanges of value, all types of use-cases (producers, distributors, consumers) and all from the start.

The world’s largest grocery store is a software and robotics company — groceries are delivered whenever and wherever we want as fast as possible. Food is delivered via robot or drones with no human involvement. Customers can track where, when and who is involved in growing and handling my food. Artificial intelligence tells us what we need based on past purchases and our calendars.

The world largest hospital is a software and robotics company — all initial diagnoses are performed via video conferencing. Combined with patient medical records all digitally stored, a doctor in San Francisco and her artificial intelligence assistant can provide personalized prescriptions to her patients in Hong Kong. All surgical procedures are performed by robots, with supervision by a doctor of course, we haven’t gone completely crazy. And even the doctors get to work from home.

Our entire workforce works from home: Don’t forget the main purpose of an office is to support companies’ workers in performing their jobs efficiently. Since 2020, all companies, and especially their CEOs, realized it was more efficient to let their workers work from home. Not only can they save hours of commute time, all companies get to save money on office space and shift resources toward employee benefits. I’m looking back 10 years and saying to myself, “I still remember those days when office space was a thing.”

The world’s largest entertainment company is a software company, and all the content we love is digital. All blockbuster movies are released direct-to-video. We can ask Alexa to deliver popcorn to the house and even watch the film with friends who are far away. If you see something you like in the movie, you can buy it immediately — clothing, objects, whatever you see — and have it delivered right to your house. No more standing in line. No transport time. Reduced pollution. Better planet!

These are just a few industries that have been completely transformed by 2030, but these changes will apply universally to almost anything. We were told software was eating the world.

The saying goes you are what you eat. In 2030, software is the world.

Security and protection no longer just applies to things we can touch and see. What’s valuable for each and every one of us is all stored digitally — our email account, chat history, browsing data and social media accounts. It goes on and on. We don’t need a house alarm, we need a digital alarm.

Even though this crisis makes the near future seem bleak, I am optimistic about the new world and the new companies of tomorrow. I am even more excited about our ability to change as a human race and how this crisis and technology are speeding up the way we live.

This storm shall pass. However the choices we make now will change our lives forever.

My team and I are proud to build and invest in companies that will help shape the new world; new and impactful technologies that are important for many generations to come, companies that matter to humanity, something that we can all tell our grandchildren about.

I am hopeful.

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QuizUp founder gets back to trivia roots with the launch of Trivia Royale

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Gaming, TC, Teatime Games, thor fridriksson, trivia royale | No Comments

trivia royale

Thor Fridriksson is no stranger to trivia. The tech entrepreneur founded QuizUp, one of the hottest mobile games of the early aughts, which attracted more than 100 million downloads, a deal with NBC and had raised more than $40 million from notable investors. Plain Vanilla Games, the parent company of QuizUp, eventually sold to GluMobile for $7.5 million.

But that doesn’t mean Fridriksson is hanging up his hat on trivia. In fact, the lessons he learned the first time around have led him to this very moment. Today, Fridriksson is launching Trivia Royale, the latest game out of Iceland-based TeaTime Games.

Trivia Royale is, like it sounds, a trivia game in the genre of Battle Royale. It’s a 1,000-person head-to-head Trivia tournament. Like QuizUp, players can choose to do one-to-one Trivia matches based on categories in a casual way. But the real draw of the mobile game is Trivia Royale.

It starts with 1,000 people who are matched into one-on-one battles around general trivia. Each battle includes five questions that go from easy to more difficult, with 10 seconds to answer each question. The faster you answer the question, the more points you get. The final question in the battle is worth double points.

If you lose your battle, you’re out of the tournament. The pool then drops to 500 people, and then to 250 people, and so on and so forth, until you’re down to the final four and the final two. Folks who win a Trivia Royale get a “crown” that’s displayed on their avatar, as well as access to the Royale Lounge, where they can check out global and local leaderboards and chat with other Royales.

What’s most interesting about Trivia Royale is that it’s built on the TeaTime Live platform.

TeaTime, co-founded by Fridriksson, launched in February of 2018. The platform is not a game in and of itself, but rather a developer platform for game makers that adds a new level of engagement, interaction and monetization to mobile games.

On TeaTime, users can create an Animoji-style avatar that employs the front-facing camera of a smartphone to let players interact in real time with facial expressions as they play a game. Since most users don’t necessarily want to show their actual face to strangers during gameplay, TeaTime uses Snap-style filters and Apple Animoji-esque avatars to let users engage with one another without revealing their actual identity.

The initial failure of QuizUp was an inability to monetize. TeaTime was built to avoid making that same mistake twice. The existence of avatars offers a built-in monetization strategy as users look to customize and build out their avatars.

Fridriksson was also extremely averse to mobile advertising within games while he was running QuizUp, and has made his peace with some advertising with the launch of Trivia Royale. When a user wins and is rewarded with points, the user can double those points by watching an ad.

Users can also supplement their winnings by buying virtual currency to update their avatar with hats, piercings, hand gestures, glasses and more.

Moreover, users need a ticket to enter into a Trivia Royale tournament. These tickets are provided every couple hours, so users who want to play game after game without waiting will need to use virtual currency to buy a ticket.

Obviously, it would be difficult to get and keep 1,000 players in a single tournament at once, so Trivia Royale focuses on matching people who are at the same level in the tournament rather than holding these tourneys in individual lobbies.

“The challenge is to get a hit game on a platform before it becomes a platform because you need that,” said Fridriksson. “So what I did, essentially, is that I just totally changed my focus as a CEO and went into full-hearted product mode for this game. I find myself back in the mode of creating a cool user experience, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.”

In beta, the company has used bots to fill in the gaps where there aren’t available matches for players. In the first five rounds of the Trivia Royale tournament, Fridriksson says there is about a 60% chance that users will be matched with a real person, with the likelihood of being paired with a bot getting higher the further a user gets in the tournament.

The company ran a beta in Ireland, New Zealand and Canada over the past two weeks and has gotten 9,000 beta users, with day-one retention at 50% and with average users playing around 12 games per day.

As the game gets more users, the company hopes to match users with real people 95% of the time and ultimately get to a place where the bots fade out of the equation.

At this point, the game has more than 20,000 questions across 40 categories including TikTok, Geography, Movies, Superheroes, Videogames, Sports, Disney and Logos, with more questions added every day.

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IoT solutions are enabling physical distancing

Posted by | 3 D, ambient intelligence, artificial intelligence, Column, coronavirus, COVID-19, e-sports, Education, Entertainment, Extra Crunch, facial recognition, Gaming, Health, IoT, Market Analysis, Sports, Startups, technology, telecommuting | No Comments
Tyler Cracraft
Contributor

Tyler Cracraft is an electronic engineer turned solution architect at Advantech who has more than a decade of experience working in the electronics technology industry.

If you’re a business owner or investor and are wondering about the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business world, you’re not alone.

Today’s business leaders have been plunged into the deep end of telecommuting with little notice, and the way we do business has been impacted at almost every level. Travel is restricted, meetings are virtual and delivery of goods and even raw materials is being delayed. While some industries that depend on large gatherings are seeing extremely difficult challenges due to the pandemic, others such as the tech industry, see the opportunity and responsibility for innovation and growth.

As many states begin phased reopening, companies are trying to determine what the workplace and business environment will look like in a post-quarantine world. The first obvious step is the integration of personal protective equipment (PPE). Sanitization and face masks will become required and nonessential face-to-face meetings will be a thing of the past, along with shaking hands.

Additionally, relationship-driven careers such as sales and recruiting will have to find new ways to connect to be successful. Physical distancing rules will have to be established, which may include employees coming in alternate days while telecommuting the other days of the week to keep offices at reduced capacity. Large offices of 10 or more may implement thermographic camera technology for fever screening or other real-time technology-based health screenings.

One thing is for sure: IoT devices that enable physical distancing will become an integral part of reopening businesses, facilitating sales connections and embracing a different way of living.

Solutions for physical distancing

There are a variety of IoT devices available that can help business leaders successfully implement physical distancing in their offices. Thermographic camera technology coupled with facial recognition can create a baseline for each employee and then assist in determining if an employee has a temperature outside of their norm. Other remote health monitoring may also take place with healthcare providers, helping employees determine on a daily basis if they are well enough to go into work.

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Quibi gets Chromecast support on iOS and Android

Posted by | Android, chromecast, Entertainment, iOS, Quibi, TC | No Comments

If you haven’t checked out Quibi and the lack of Chromecast support was the thing holding you back: Now’s the time.

Just a few weeks after adding AirPlay support, Quibi has released another update that brings Chromecast support into the mix.

The update is live on the iOS App Store now, and is rolling out to Android devices through the week. In a tweet, Quibi Chief Product Officer Tom Conrad says that he expects the Android update to be available to all by Friday.

Quibi’s launch hasn’t been the resounding success the company hoped for, with founder Jeffrey Katzenberg openly saying that it was “not close to what we wanted.” Putting aside whether anyone wants to watch content on their phone in 10-minute chunks, the timing certainly didn’t help; they built a thing meant to be consumed on-the-go at a time when many, many people are anything but on-the-go.

Will AirPlay or Chromecast or any other streaming option be the thing that spikes their numbers? Probably not. But for the folks who were already considering Quibi but didn’t want to be stuck watching it on their phone, it could be enough to get them to give it a spin.

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Investors say emerging multiverses are the future of entertainment

Posted by | augmented reality, Entertainment, epic games, Extra Crunch, Gaming, Market Analysis, Marshmello, multiverse, new horizons, Roblox, scooter braun, Social, social media platforms, Startups, TC, Travis Scott, Venture Capital, vidcon, Virtual reality | No Comments

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the adoption of new technologies and cultural shifts that were already well underway. According to a clutch of heavy-hitting investors, this dynamic is particularly strong in gaming and extended reality.

Unlike other segments of the startup and tech world, where valuations have been slashed, early-stage companies focused on building new games, gaming infrastructure and virtual or extended reality entertainment are having no trouble raising money. They’ve even seen valuations rise, investors said.

“Valuations have increased pretty significantly in the gaming sector. Valuations have gone up 20 to 25% higher than I would have seen prior to this pandemic,” Phil Sanderson, a co-founder and managing director at Griffin Gaming Partners, told fellow participants on a virtual panel during the Los Angeles Games Conference earlier this month.

Driving the appetite for new investments is the entertainment industry’s bearhug of virtual events, animated features, games and social media platforms after widespread shelter-in-place orders made physical events an impossibility.

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This Week in Apps: Facebook takes on Shopify, Tinder considers its future, contact-tracing tech goes live

Posted by | Android, app stores, Apps, coronavirus, COVID-19, developers, Entertainment, Extra Crunch, Gadgets, iOS, Market Analysis, Mobile, Social, Startups, this week in apps | No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications. Notably, we saw the launch of the Apple/Google exposure-notification API with the latest version of iOS out this week. The pandemic is also inspiring other new apps and features, including upcoming additions to Apple’s Schoolwork, which focus on distance learning, as well as Facebook’s new Shops feature designed to help small business shift their operations online in the wake of physical retail closures.

Tinder, meanwhile, seems to be toying with the idea of pivoting to a global friend finder and online hangout in the wake of social distancing, with its test of a feature that allows users to match with others worldwide — meaning, with no intention of in-person dating.

Headlines

COVID-19 apps in the news

  • Fitbit app: The fitness tracker app launched a COVID-19 early detection study aimed at determining whether wearables can help detect COVID-19 or the flu. The study will ask volunteers questions about their health, including whether they had COVID-19, then pair that with activity data to see if there are any clues that could be used to build an early warning algorithm of sorts.
  • U.K. contact-tracing app: The app won’t be ready in mid-May as promised, as the government mulls the use of the Apple/Google API. In testing, the existing app drains the phone battery too quickly. In addition, researchers have recently identified seven security flaws in the app, which is currently being trialed on the Isle of Wight.

Apple launches iOS/iPadOS 13.5 with Face ID tweak and contact-tracing API

Apple this week released the latest version of iOS/iPadOS with two new features related to the pandemic. The first is an update to Face ID which will now be able to tell when the user is wearing a mask. In those cases, Face ID will instead switch to the Passcode field so you can type in your code to unlock your phone, or authenticate with apps like the App Store, Apple Books, Apple Pay, iTunes and others.

Technology can help health officials rapidly tell someone they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Today the Exposure Notification API we created with @Google is available to help public health agencies make their COVID-19 apps effective while protecting user privacy.

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) May 20, 2020

The other new feature is the launch of the exposure-notification API jointly developed by Apple and Google. The API allows for the development of apps from public health organizations and governments that can help determine if someone has been exposed by COVID-19. The apps that support the API have yet to launch, but some 22 countries have requested API access.

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Statespace, the platform that trains gamers, raises $15 million

Posted by | Entertainment, funding, Gaming, Khosla Ventures, Recent Funding, Sports, Startups, statespace, TC | No Comments

Statespace has today raised a $15 million Series A financing round led by Khosla, with partner Samir Kaul joining the board. Existing investors, such as FirstMark Capital, Lux and Expa, also participated in the round, as well as newcomer June Fund.

Statespace launched out of stealth in 2017 with a product called Aim Lab, which recreates the physics of popular FPS games to help players practice their aim and work on their weaknesses. Statespace was founded by neuroscientists from New York University, and goes beyond the mechanics of aim itself to understand and measure several parts of a player’s game, from visual acuity across the quadrants of the screen to reaction time.

Anyone from an average gamer to a professional can use Aim Lab to improve. But the company has other offerings, too. The company is working on the Academy, which will launch in Q3 of this year, and was built in partnership with MasterClass and a number of top streamers. Users can get advanced tutorials from these streamers, which include KingGeorge (Rainbox Six Siege), SypherPK (Fortnite), Valkia (Overwatch), Drift0r (CoD) and Launders (CS:GO).

Statespace has also partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame to develop the “Cognitive Combine.” Just like the NFL Combine measures general skills and abilities, such as speed, strength, agility, etc., the Cognitive Combine is meant to give a general assessment of a player’s skill in a game-agnostic manner.

The company also works directly with esports teams such as 100 Thieves and Philadelphia Fusion, building custom data dashboards and products so those teams can get a deeper look at their metrics and build practice regimes around their weaknesses.

Statespace is also sprinting to make its products more available to a broader user base, including launching a mobile version of Aim Lab and introducing Aim Lab on Xbox, with plans to launch PlayStation support soon. The company also plans to launch support for 400 games next month.

Interestingly, the technology behind Statespace, which lets the company measure well beyond the kill:death ratio and look at cognitive ability, can be used for many other applications. The company has applied for a grant alongside several universities to work on a commercial application for stroke rehabilitation.

Statespace will use the funding to continue growing the team, which has doubled since raising $2.5 million in August of 2019. The company has also brought on a few notable hires from bigger companies, including new VP of Engineering Scott Raymond (formerly of Gowalla, Facebook and Airbnb), Jenna Hannon as VP of Marketing (formerly of Uber, Uber Eats) and Phil Charm as VP of Growth (formerly of Checkr, Gainsight).

According to founder and CEO Wayne Mackey, Statespace has 2 million registered users and 500,000 monthly active users, up 400% from January.

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With stadiums closed, TV networks turn to live esports broadcasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Games adapting pro sports are best bridge to non-gamers

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

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