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eSports How To Go Pro

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How to be a pro gamer: A glimpse down the esports talent pipeline

High school team. College program. Development league. Pro draft.

It’s a system familiar to sports fans. But if you want to make your living in esports, the path isn’t nearly so defined. Aspiring professional gamers are left to hustle and self-promote their way onto any platform they can find — and hope the right person happens to be looking. Success in the industry can hinge as much on gamers’ social media following as their skills.

As esports grow more established, some see benefits for gamers and the industry in creating a more structured talent pipeline. A few have sprung up, and Blaze Elmore, a 17-year-old Thousand Oaks native, is one of the first gamers through.

Elmore has played games since he was little, and became obsessed with the mobile game “Clash Royale” when it was released in 2016. He was soon haranguing his mother to drive him to tournaments in Los Angeles. “At first I told him, ‘No, absolutely not. I’ve got work and you’ve got school,’” his mother, Tammy Elmore, said. “But he was just so persistent. I finally gave in.”

Elmore won his seventh live competition in April 2018 at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and took home a flat-screen TV and $200. The tournament, hosted by Super League Gaming — a Santa Monica start-up that organizes community-focused contests — kicked off Elmore’s rise to the esports big leagues.

The teen spent the next year winning match after match at Super League’s club league tournaments. A scout for Dignitas — an international esports organization owned by the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team — took notice and, at a Super League event this March, recruited him. Founded in 2014, Super League Gaming got its start hosting amateur multiplayer events for the hit game “Minecraft” in local movie theaters. It has spread to hundreds of U.S. cities. The company now organizes 16 city-based club teams for “Minecraft,” “Clash Royale” and esports titan “League of Legends.”

“It’s something akin to the European football club model,” said Super League Chief Executive Ann Hand. “In some ways we are about creating that recreational club space underneath the pros.”

Much of the attention paid to the burgeoning esports industry focuses on the highest professional levels. Last year’s “League of Legends” world tournament garnered more viewers than the Super Bowl. The prize pool at this year’s global championship for “Dota 2,” another massively popular esports title, doled out a prize pool of more than $34 million. But there’s an untapped market lower in the rungs of the competitive gaming scene, Hand says.

This market is where Super League is planting its flag. Most of the company’s revenue comes from brand partnerships and event sponsorships with firms such as Red Bull. It intends to increase its emphasis on selling ads on online videos it produces.

In August, Super League announced the creation of a proprietary digital content network that includes original content on Twitch — a gaming video platform acquired by Amazon for nearly $1 billion in 2014 — as well as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It offers an esports variety show, gaming news and commentary, and livestreams of Super League’s club team matches.

This year, Super League became the first esports business to go public, raising $25 million in its February IPO. The company posted a net loss of more than $21 million in the first six months of this year, including a cash loss of about $7 million, on revenue of about $470,000.

Hand says that the environments created by her company’s amateur events help players build skills such as teamwork and the ability to perform under pressure — vital skills for the pro ranks.

Elmore’s matches with Super League’s Los Angeles Shockwaves club team let him hone and showcase his abilities as both a gamer and a crowd-pleasing, tournament-ready esports personality. This drew the attention of the Dignitas scout.

“I’d read about Blaze before, that he was one of the winningest of all time,” said Heather Garozzo, vice president of marketing at Dignitas. “Seeing him in person, from a marketing perspective he was just fantastic — good on camera, humble, well-spoken, and his mom was there cheering for him.”

Dignitas offered Elmore a spot on its professional “Clash Royale” team. Garozzo, herself a former esports pro, said that the local competitions where she discovered Elmore broke with her team’s typical recruitment process. “Usually we’re listening to what the conversation is like on Twitter or Reddit,” said Garozzo, “or looking to what our players themselves are saying.”

The typical recruitment approach described by Garozzo shows how the esports talent pipeline has historically taken shape. Teams rely on a combination of online rankings, small third-party tournaments, social media chatter and word of mouth to identify promising new recruits. Elmore supplemented his time at Super League tournaments with hours spent boosting his profile online. “It was definitely hard,” he said. “The Super League events were really big, but I was also tweeting and streaming [on Twitch]. That got me a lot of supporters.”

A few esports titles, most notably Blizzard Entertainment’s “Overwatch” and Riot Games’ “League of Legends,” have built their own talent pipelines. Blizzard has a Path to Pro program designed to funnel aspiring competitive “Overwatch” players into professional teams.

The track begins with an open division, which allows anyone who has achieved a sufficient in-game level to compete for the chance to take part in the annual Overwatch Contenders tournament series. Although winners are not guaranteed pro team appointments, talent scouts from many of the world’s top “Overwatch” teams attend to identify and recruit promising players.

Riot Games employs a similarly regimented system to ensure a supply of fresh talent for its esports powerhouse, “League of Legends.” Its North American League Championship Series is based on a franchise model, with 10 teams. Any franchised team is also required to run an “Academy” team, which serves as a training ground and farm team for up-and-coming players.

Meanwhile, high school and college esports scenes are being built and supported by a plethora of tournament organizers, consultants and school faculty. Santa Monica start-up PlayVS, for example, partnered with the National Federation of State High School Assns. — the regulatory body for high school sports — last year to develop esports teams at American high schools. At the college level, the National Assn. of Collegiate Esports — a nonprofit group that regulates and promotes the college scenes for some esports titles — is one of several organizations that consult with school staff on best practices for esports programs and intercollegiate tournaments.

The focus of most of these groups is recreational, but some players also use the scholastic leagues as an opportunity to hone their skills and gain attention in hopes of going pro. The line between amateur and pro is clear for Elmore.

In August, he moved into Dignitas’ Playa Vista gaming house, living and training with his teammates and manager. Now that his final year of high school has started, Elmore divides his time between school, family and practice for his new career. Andrew Barton, Dignitas’ general manager, said that Elmore has quickly adjusted. “He’s balancing his time with schoolwork and as a professional very well,” Barton said. “It’s very impressive.”

Barton attributes some of Elmore’s success to the things he learned going through the pipeline. “Super League definitely prepared him very well,” he said.

Investing In eSports

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Investing in eSports: 5 Things Investors Should Know

Happy birthday to VanEck Vectors Video Gaming and eSports ETF (ESPO)! Over the past year, we have watched the continued rise of video gaming and esports, and learned more about what’s shaping the industry and what’s to come. Here are five key points that we believe are crucial to helping investors understand this growing industry.

1. Video gaming revenues are bigger than what many investors may expect.

Did you know that the video gaming industry as a whole is expected to generate over $150 billion in global revenues in 2019?According to Bloomberg, that is more than what the robotics industry ($89 billion) and the cybersecurity industry ($99 billion) generated in 2018. Not only are industry revenues strong, they have also been growing consistently over the past few years. Since 2015, video game revenues have seen an annualized growth rate of 13%.2 Newzoo estimates that by 2022, video game revenues should hit $196 billion.

Global Video Game Revenues

2. Video game publishers are diversifying their revenue streams.

Video game publishers, with the help of technological innovation, are continuing to push the envelope to find new ways to generate revenues. Twenty years ago, the thought of playing video games against friends around the world through a handheld device was fantasy. Today, mobile gaming represents 36% of global video gaming revenues.

The rise of the “game as service” model is also helping to boost the bottom line of many video game companies. Instead of paying a one-time, upfront cost, many of the most popular games are free to play, with smaller in-game fees for ongoing services like subscriptions and skins for players to personalize their game. These serve to extend the purchasing cycle of a game.

2019 Global Games Market (Projected Revenues)

 

We expect to see further diversification into new areas of potential revenue, including cloud gaming and virtual reality, as publishers and developers continue to explore what is technologically possible. Video games are deeply rooted in scientific, technological progress and research. The first video game created solely for entertainment was invented at a nuclear research facility in New York as part of an open house exhibition for visiting scientists, and that tradition of innovation continues today.

3. Esports and video game streaming are here to stay.

Esports have become a bona fide cultural phenomenon, fueled by public and private investments as well as the proliferation of social media communities centered on specific games and online streaming personalities.

The number of people watching esports and online game streaming around the world is staggering. In 2019, roughly 454 million people are expected to tune in to watch others play video games competitively.4  Nielsen Media Research has developed a new metric for esports viewership numbers—which has been a contested data point within the investment and esports communities—and this new rating is designed to provide an apples-to-apples framework for comparing esports and traditional television events. This is a crucial development for the young industry, helping it gain further legitimacy and earn the trust of potential and current advertising partners.

Competitive video gaming is only a piece of the puzzle. Online social media communities built around gamers and streamers are connecting millions of people around the world. These are active, highly engaged communities where gaming enthusiasts are not only playing games, but also becoming content creators themselves. Online streaming personalities like Ninja and Dr. Disrespect, while not technically esports competitors, have built huge online followings and can reportedly command seven-figure paydays to play new video games (like Apex Legends) on their streams.

4. Private investments drive the media story, but public investments may offer more accessible investment opportunities.

With all the attention on video gaming and esports right now, potential investors may be trying to figure out how to get involved. The opportunity set can be broken down into two broad categories: public and private.

Examples of Private Investments Examples of Public investments
Video Game Publishers (Valve) Video Game Publishers (EA, Activision)
Esports teams (Cloud9, Team Liquid) Console Makers (Nintendo, Microsoft)
Competitions/Community (XY Gaming) Streaming/Community (Amazon, HUYA

The media narrative tends to be driven by private investments, such as high profile coverage of teams securing multi-million dollar sponsorship deals. These investments are not accessible to the majority of people who are reading the articles and are generally less liquid, less diversified and require more capital to participate. Publicly traded stocks are usually more liquid, with a much lower dollar threshold to participate. Additionally, publicly traded companies are historically more diversified because the individual companies tend to have multiple business lines supporting a much larger total market cap.

5. For public investors, publishers and hardware companies present pure-play opportunity.

At VanEck, we are focusing on providing investors access to the publicly-traded companies that are participating in the video gaming and esports industry. We believe video game publishers and related hardware makers are set to benefit the most going forward, in part because video game publishers have been growing their revenues and diversifying successfully, as noted above.

Another factor is that video game publishers have positioned themselves to take over a majority of esports revenues. Esports leagues were originally third-party organizations, unaffiliated with the publishers of the games played in competition. Recently, publishers have launched their own leagues. By developing and owning esports leagues, publishers can maximize their sources of revenues, which may include media rights (TV and internet distributions), franchise fees and league sponsorships.

Hardware makers (such as semiconductor companies) are also set to capitalize on growth in the industry. Advances in semiconductor technology fuel innovation in the video game industry, and certain semiconductor companies generate a majority of their revenues by creating hardware that drives the video gaming experience. When announcing its cloud gaming platform Google Stadia, Google explicitly stated that Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) will be creating custom GPUs that would define the end-user experience.

Investing in Video Gaming and Esports

Predicting which games will become hits is difficult. A diversified basket of stocks may allow investors to express a view on the sector without having to know which specific stock will outperform over the future. The index methodology that guides VanEck Vectors® Video Gaming and eSports ETF (ESPO) provides exposure to companies in the video gaming and esports industries.

Currently, the MVIS® Global Video Gaming and eSports Index is heavily tilted towards video game publishers (including the publicly traded companies that operate the largest esports leagues) and semiconductor companies. As the esports industry matures, smaller esports names, such as streamers like HUYA and Modern Times Group, may grow to become a meaningful part of the Index. In the interim, the index captures the esports phenomenon as part of the broader evolution of video gaming, creating awareness of the industry’s potential to reshape how people spend their time and entertainment dollars.

Major eSports Personality

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Microsoft platform lands another major esports personality

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Microsoft's livestreaming service has added another major gamer two months after prying Tyler "Ninja" Blevins away from Amazon's Twitch. Michael "Shroud" Grzesiek announced Thursday he is leaving Twitch and YouTube behind and will stream exclusively on Mixer.

Blevins joined Mixer in August in a surprising move. The face of Fortnite had over 14 million followers on Twitch. He's since acquired nearly 2.5 million followers and received 26 million views on Mixer.

Grzesiek was a competitive Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player before becoming a fulltime livestreaming personality last year. Known for his high skill level across multiple games, he has over 7 million subscribers on Twitch and nearly 5.5 million more on YouTube. Mixer is poaching some of the biggest names in esports with hopes of carving out its own space in an industry that's been dominated by Twitch and YouTube. Results have been mixed. Gamers watched 90.2 million hours on Mixer last quarter, down about 10 million hours from the previous quarter, according to market research group Newzoo. However, hours of streamed content on Mixer nearly tripled last quarter, signaling more aspiring personalities are attempting to build an audience there. Terms of Grzesiek's move were not disclosed.

ESBD Grassroots League

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German Esports Federation Brings Local Clubs into Grassroots League

  • The German Esports Federation (ESBD) has announced an amateur esports league, featuring 12 clubs from across the country.
  • The competition will be organized and produced in collaboration with ESL and Freaks 4U Gaming.
  • All competing players must be registered as members of their respective clubs, which will not be allowed to compensate those players.

The ESBD has announced the Vereinsliga, a grassroots competition for German esports players. The competition will feature 12 clubs representing nine states in the Republic and will be run in cooperation with Cologne-based esports company ESL and Berlin-based agency Freaks 4U Gaming, both members of the ESBD.

Slated to begin with an online round-robin phase from October to December 2019, the Vereinsliga will feature separate competitions for League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The competition’s name translates to “club league,” and reflects the fact that this is the first esports league in Germany solely featuring clubs, as opposed to corporation-owned teams—which is similar to the format used by most major sports leagues in Germany.

“With the new league, we are strengthening the amateur community in esports, paying special attention to regionality and club culture,” said Hans Jagnow, president of the ESBD. Jagnow also told The Esports Observer that, according to the rules of the Vereinsliga, clubs aren’t allowed to compensate their players for participating and that the league will not award any prize money.

The Vereinsliga will qualify teams into the Vereinspokal (club cup) in 2020, to be held for the second year running at DreamHack Leipzig, on Jan. 24. All matches will be streamed via Twitch.

Why Esports Profits

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Why Esports Profits Might Be Further Away Than Activision Investors Hope

As Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) winds its way through a transition year, the company continues to invest resources in its esports initiative. Estimates by market researcher Newzoo and Goldman Sachs expect esports to grow into a multibillion-dollar industry within the next three years.

At the front of this emerging form of entertainment is Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League, which has been driving much of the momentum in esports. Since the league was launched in Jan. 2018, Activision has sold 20 teams -- in addition to broadcast deals with Twitch, ESPN, Disney XD, and ABC, as well as major sponsorships with some of the biggest brands in the world.

With the worldwide esports audience expected to nearly double to 645 million by 2022, it remains a compelling growth opportunity. But it will take time to turn a meaningful profit for Activision Blizzard. CEO Bobby Kotick recently told CNBC during Overwatch League's Grand Finals event in Philadelphia that he "looks at things on a 10-year time horizon." Esports is a relatively new business model for the game company, and there's a lot of work to be done to raise awareness and interest. We'll look at some recent signposts that show Activision's esports efforts are progressing well, and what needs to happen for it to scale into a major business.

Where do esports currently stand?

Unfortunately, revenue from esports is still not registering in the company's financial results. The Blizzard segment, which includes revenue from Overwatch League, has experienced a 25% decline in revenue through the first half of 2019. Part of that is due to strong sales in 2018 of the World of Warcraft: Battle of Azeroth expansion, with no comparable sales of the franchise this year. Still, this means that, despite the team sales and sponsorship deals announced over the last year, esports isn't moving the needle for the company.

Furthermore, profits are likely nonexistent at this point, given that the company spent $50 million last year on personnel, facilities, and equipment associated with esports broadcasting and online games. On the bright side, Activision Blizzard reported double-digit growth in viewership during the second season of Overwatch League based on average minute audience, a metric that calculates the average viewership for a program at a specific interval during the broadcast. The average minute audience for season two of the Overwatch Grand Finals increased by 16% year over year. It's estimated that 1.12 million people tuned in to watch the championship match.

Additionally, Call of Duty World League saw a 50% year-over-year increase in viewership for two events during the second quarter earlier this year. The numbers for Overwatch and Call of Duty are showing progress, but there's potential for much more growth.

Stepping stones for a profitable medium

Esports for Overwatch and Call of Duty feature a city-based league structure, which lays a solid foundation with which to grow a large audience. Like traditional sports, teams in both leagues will begin playing home and away games in their respective cities starting next year.

Cultivating local fan bases for teams is crucial to realizing Kotick's vision for esports. During the first two seasons of Overwatch League, local watch parties started to pop up in different cities, which helped drive merchandise sales. And there was a good turnout for the few games hosted in Dallas and Atlanta earlier this year. Perhaps the greatest challenge to build a large audience is to improve the viewing experience, which won't be easy for a fast-paced game like Overwatch. The in-game camera is mostly focused on one player's point of view during a match. That leaves viewers mostly relying on the commentators to know what's going on amidst all the chaos.

During the second-quarter conference call, CFO Dennis Durkin said, "There's still a lot of room for further improvement in the viewing experience, and this is a key focus area for us as we think it's critical to continuing to make the broadcast not only compelling but easily digestible for mass-market audiences." Management has made some adjustments, but this will be an ongoing trial-and-error process.

A long road ahead

Ultimately, what drives revenue is people watching games. One indicator that the esports industry is rapidly growing is the rate of increases in player salaries, which have been doubling every two to three years since 2010. Player salaries for any sport come out of the total revenue generated primarily from ticket sales, merchandise, and advertising. The more viewers there are, the more partner brands will line up to put their logo in front of those eyeballs.

As revenue in esports grows, it will attract additional investment. This is how Activision Blizzard was able to sell eight additional teams ahead of season two of Overwatch League. And in August, the league announced a multiyear co-marketing deal with Kellogg, which will kick off next year with Cheez-It and Pringles products featuring Overwatch League branding.

Investors should also keep in mind that professional gaming is new to mainstream entertainment, whereas traditional sports have been around for decades. It's likely going to take several years for team owners to develop a profitable business around local advertising, ticketing, and merchandise sales. The first thing that must be done is to cultivate a large amount of local support around each team, and that won't happen overnight.

eSports And Education

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Esports and Education: Looking Beyond the Money

If you have a Gen Zer in the house, chances are they are a gamer of sorts. Whether they play Minecraft, Fortnite, or spend hours on Twitch watching others play, they all are deeply invested. Common drivers are the fun of gaming, as well as the social impact that these games create in building teams and relationships with real-world friends or digital ones.

Over the summer, gaming became more than just fun for many kids following the Fortnite World Cup finals. Fifteen-year-old Jaden Ashman won half of the $2.25 million after coming second with his teammate. A few days later, sixteen-year-old Kyle Giersdorf went on to win the final battle taking home a $3 million prize.

If your child is as cunning as mine, I am sure you were faced with interesting conversations that outlined how your offspring’s gaming time could lead to wealth and success. While that might not necessarily be the case, it is true that the path to eSports as a career mirrors more and more that of a traditional sport, including the role colleges play.

Esports Scholarships and Courses

ESports scholarships have been around since 2014 when Robert Morris University in Chicago became the first university in the US to offer substantial scholarships for members of its Varsity eSports League of Legends team. The acceleration of this trend over the past year or so will get us close to 150 schools across the US and Canada by the end of 2019. ESports scholarships are very similar to other sports, with academics and merit playing a significant role in the decision of how they are allocated. Player skills, communication ability, and open spots on the team are also contributing factors to the decision.

More recently, the acknowledgment that eSports can be a full-on career drove some universities to go from offering scholarships based on gaming skills to offer eSports courses. These are courses that focus on prepare students to take advantage of the business opportunity presented by the growing world of eSports. The University of Staffordshire in the UK, Virginia’s Shenandoah University, Ohio State University, and Becker College in Massachusetts were the first universities to offer eSports courses at the start of the 2019 academic year that focus on a range of subjects from marketing to business management, to design and app content development.

There is a concern, of course, that these courses might be springing up to make colleges and universities look more relevant and attractive, rather than to provide skills for what might be a large job pool for the future. It is early to say, but there are certain skills that go with eSports that other businesses could benefit from, especially as the gig economy continues to grow.

K-12 Paves the Way

With scholarships and courses growing at the college level, it is no surprise we have seen more than 800 schools in North American join the High School eSports League reaching around 15,000 students in eSports clubs. Similar to the rise of robotics and STEM, we started to see eSports afterschool clubs roll out first. As the scholarship dollars grew, so did more formal elective courses that, like traditional sports, aim at preparing students to apply for some of those college scholarships.

With 70% of students identifying themselves as gamers, schools are hoping to build on this interest to offer students who might not be interested in traditional sports or might not be athletically gifted a different option to engage in campus activities. Similarly to other clubs and electives, the High School eSports League requires minimum GPA standards to participate.

Modern World Skills

Simply equating eSports to gaming, like equating First Lego Robotics to just coding, would miss the number of skills this discipline, yes I said it, it is a discipline, requires. Many of these games are team based and require a vast set of skills:

  • communication
  • writing for multiple purposes, and for different media formats
  • reading comprehensive information and directions
  • listening skills.

I would bet these are the skills any recruiter is looking for in both a leader or a team player. Branding, marketing, event planning, operational analysis, and strategy are all part of what eSports entails.

For schools, one of the appeals of eSports is actually that in most cases, there is no specific hardware requirement, but schools can plan to adopt multi-purpose computers and workstations. Hardware companies that cater to the education market see the opportunity eSports provide, but their involvement does not necessarily end with just providing the infrastructure to run the games and hold the classes. Often marrying their education leaders with their social responsibility advocates, hardware vendors look at the opportunity to help schools and districts to get started with eSports in the right way so that it is not just a fad but a truly new opportunity for kids.

NASCAR Drives Digital Transformation

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NASCAR Drives Digital Transformation: From Gears And Grease To Millennials and eSports

Digital transformation – taking a traditional business to a modern digital business, is a core challenge of most non-technology, non-startup companies. I recent talked to Box CEO Aaron Levie about how his company is helping other companies transform. And I had the chance to chat with State Farm’s chief digital officer and CTO about 15 keys to successful digital transformation that they’ve learned throughout their journey.

“[Esports] is this really unique mix of sports culture and pop culture,” Cole said. “The difference in 2020 versus 1980 is that now it’s cool…I really think we’re at an exciting time where going forward you’ll see more unique activations.”

Last week I had the chance to do the same with Tim Clark, chief digital officer of NASCAR, and John Martin, who leads digital ops at one of America’s oldest and most-loved brands. They’re using data and AI via Adobe’s Experience Cloud to unify their customer data, customize experiences, and personalize messaging. As a result, they’re bridging the physical and digital world, increasing fan engagement, and entering new markets like eSports and augmented reality. Here’s what they shared:

John Koetsier: Let’s start at the beginning: what does NASCAR really sell?

Clark: It’s experiences. We are an entertainment product, and we are constantly looking for ways to create a great experience for our fans. At the top of the list is attending a race in person, but also with fantastic broadcast partners we can deliver that on broadcast media.

And we fill the rest in with digital media experiences.

John Koetsier: Why does NASCAR need to reinvent itself? And how are you doing it?

Clark: Prior to 2012 we outsourced the management of our digital platforms to Turner Sports. We brought those back in house and got up and running in 2013.

Since then, digital-based insights have permeated the company. We initially saw launching digital in NASCAR as one piece of the pie, but actually  it touches everything.

We try to reinvent ourselves every year. We’re constantly trying to improve based on data and learning. We now have access to so much data and insights so we can pretty quickly tell what’s working and what’s not.

It’s an ongoing reinvention … there’s no finish line. And we’ll continue to evolve.

One of the most important parts of the transformation journey we’ve been going on for the last few years is that we’re getting smarter every year.

John Koetsier: Talk to me about the NASCAR demographic. From the outside, it would seem to be older. How are you reaching new fans while keeping existing fans?

Clark: It very much mirrors the demographics of the United States, actually. We’re really well in line with that.

But, we’re creating opportunities to reach younger audiences and newer audiences via augmented reality and esports … we’re looking for ways to reach fans where they are.

We don’t want to get too caught up in different tech platforms and whether they’ll scale, but it’s important for us to be where the fans are.

We have no illusions that augmented reality will reach a ton of people, but if there are fans that are completely new to the sport … we should be where they are and it’s incumbent on us to reach as broad an audience as possible. We certainly want to continue to serve our existing fans while also reaching new fans.

And we’re able to do that through data.

John Koetsier: Let’s talk about eSports. It’s super-hot right now, and you have major-league sports owners investing in eSports as well as gaming companies. What is NASCAR doing here?

Clark: We’re very, very excited about where we are with esports.

We have two primary eSports platforms: iRacing, which is a simulated racing product on PC, and console games. In terms of iRacing, there are drivers that are racing at the top level of the sport today and part of their journey has included iRacing.

Essentially, this game that is driving the next generation of NASCAR stars. NBC Sports Network broadcasts it live, and 17-year-old just won the championship.

And we have a partnership with 704 Games to produce the Nascar console game. On the console side it’s more of a mass-market play.

Bow we’re able to reach fans where they are. We have team involvement. This is the first year of this league, but eSports will continue to be a bigger and bigger piece of our future.

John Koetsier: With all these changes, how is monetization changing for NASCAR?

Clark: We are obviously a sport that I would argue that is equipped to super-serve our advertising partners.

No other sport has as much visible sponsor involvement as ours, and brand loyalty among fans – based on their favorite drivers – is an incredible advantage. Our digital platforms are a great way to activate those sponsorships, and our partners want these more authentic brand experiences.

It’s not about a banner or clickable ad … it’s about authentic integration into the fan experience.

And the way we’ve managed through data to optimize that has been a huge benefit.

John Koetsier: You told me previously you were using AI. Where? What for?

Clark: One example that is top of mind is in our fantasy game that allows you to make in-race line-up changes. So we’re able to use AI to make real-time recommendations based on the data that the cars are generating in a live race to give fantasy users predictive data that says you might be better off moving a particular driver into your starting line-up.

John Koetsier: Nice ... I don’t think that’s possible in NFL

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 Fantasy Football. Talk to me about time to implement. How long it take to reach this point?

Martin (John Martin, who leads digital ops at NASCAR): The transformation has been more about our capabilities internally. When we first started this journey … the common mentality was that only big tech companies can do this stuff ... and you’ll never be able to it yourself.

That’s changed in the last decade. We do so much more internally, and we have so much more capability. Things that we would have been afraid to do before, we’re able to do now … with the help of technology partners.

John Koetsier: Talk to me about challenges? Surely this has not all been smooth sailing ...

Martin: The core failure is that we followed what other people were doing.

It wasn’t until we sat down with Adobe and talked about our sport and how it’s different that we were able to NASCAR-ize the technology.

John Koetsier: Talk to me about the business results your digital transformation is achieving.

Clark: Our marching orders are really clear: we focus on engagement.

Whether we’re serving 100 or 100 million users, we’re focused on improving the experience and deepening the engagement. One of the results is that of all of the US-based sports league websites (NFL, MLBNBA, NHL) we have a consumption rate that is higher, exceeding four pages per visit.

We can create engaging experiences to keep fans and users coming back, and that’s great for us and great for our partners.

What’s happening now is that we’re reaching the right audience with the right message at the right time ... we’ve really stepped on the gas in the last year with that.

We can certainly fall in love with big numbers and sending one consistent message to tens of millions of people, but where we find more effectiveness is targeting specific messages to specific people.

To do that, we have to be hyper-focused on using our data.

John Koetsier: Thank you both for your time!

Fnatic India Pubg Mobile

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Fnatic Planning Facility in India After Acquiring PUBG Mobile Team

  • Fnatic plans to establish an Indian gaming facility after acquiring a PUBG Mobile team in the country.
  • As of June, PUBG Mobile had amassed more than 400M downloads, with 50M daily active users.
  • The $2.5M USD PUBG Mobile Club Open 2019 will conclude in December.

U.K.-based organization Fnatic today announced that it has acquired an Indian PUBG Mobile squad, and according to a representative, the team plans to establish a local facility in the country. Fnatic acquired Team XSpark, a team that competes in the mobile version of PUBG Corporation’s battle royale shooter, PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS. Division director Victor Bengtsson told Indian publication Spiel Times that Fnatic has larger-scale plans in the country.

“For the initial months, we’ll focus on the sports side and content. Over time, we are looking to set up a gaming facility and staff up so that all the fans and gamers in India can get the full Fnatic experience that they deserve, in terms of products, experiences, and of course content,” Bengtsson said in the interview, adding, “One of the core reasons for us coming to India is to create a platform where fans of esports can find a home.”

The free-to-play PUBG Mobile has seen significant growth across Asia, with Tencent announcing in June that the game had been downloaded 400M times internationally, with 50M daily active users. The $2.5M PUBG Mobile Club Open 2019 competition is currently underway, with the Fall Split Global Finals set to take place in December.

Coffee with Creatives

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Coffee with Creatives: Tapping Into the Esports Ecosystem with XR Sports Group

Hosts Erin Patton and Tyler Kern were joined on this episode of Coffee with Creatives by Kedreon Cole and Dom Bookman of XR Sports Group to discuss the growth of esports. “[Esports] is this really unique mix of sports culture and pop culture,” Cole said. “The difference in 2020 versus 1980 is that now it’s cool…I really think we’re at an exciting time where going forward you’ll see more unique activations.”

They also discussed the value for brands in finding ways to integrate themselves into the gaming landscape. Bookman explained how XR Sports Group is making it easier for companies of all sizes to create communities within the esports ecosystem. Listen to the full episode of Coffee with Creatives and stay tuned for more insightful episodes coming soon in this series.

How Technology Can Help eSports

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How Technology Can Help Esports Continue Its Astonishing Growth

Misfits Gaming chief Matthew McCauley believes that Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology has the ability to revolutionise esports. McCauley, who is social media and marketing director of the outfit, identified new technologies as they key to continuing the growth of the esports market.

In recent years the industry has exploded in popularity and commercial value, exceeding $1 billion, but McCauley is wary that it must continue to innovate to survive. McCauley says: “It is my firm view that the furthering the industry’s growth is in large part going to be dictated by more technological advancements, both in quality and in economy.

“Take VR and AR in current state. These are both still developing, though at a rapid pace, but are just vastly too expensive in their demographic–it’s not affordable at the moment for the consumer or even for the developer to create purpose led titles. “Both technologies are crucial though, in what they add to IP, and in what they add to the user experience. When AR becomes affordable in mainstream technology is when esports changes again.”

McCauley further emphasised the importance of treating esports differently to traditional sports. He is clear that those driving esports must look at non-traditional methods of attracting new audiences and not be held by convention.

He adds: “What if VR headsets came down in price so much that everyone had a VR headset in their household? Instead of watching Twitch on a screen, what if you’re part of the audience or you’re roaming around the map in-game as a VR participant? “Having a real virtual audience and being able to interact as part of a crowd is a huge missing element. We’re in a digital age and a digital world–it’s not traditional consumership. It’s not like we’re at an NFL game.

“We’re looking at this as a fan from your desk or your office: how are you interacting with the tournament, match or brand?”

McCauley has further pinpointed Instagram as a key area of growth for the organization going forward. He believes, as the core audience for esports ages and their habits change, so will their primary sources for social media.

However, he also accepts the need to effectively operate on Twitter to enable conversation and grow audiences in new markets. He says: “As the community gets older, they’re shifting to Instagram. We find it easiest to grow on Instagram in terms of pure follower growth, and we get much more engagement on Instagram purely by how the app functions. “It’s a completely visual platform. We don’t tend to post anything low-end. The difficulty with it is, where Instagram is a high-quality platform, Twitter is still where the conversation happens.”

Furthermore, McCauley feels esports can gain the most commercial success from building authentic and genuine brand partnerships. For this, the French and the South East Asian markets have been highlighted as key to achieving enduring success.

He adds: “The most successful brands are the ones that are making something their fans can interact with. Partnering and esports company with a brand is so crucial to sustainability and longevity. “I’m not saying that esports is going to be the biggest thing on the planet, but it could be, and you could feasibly get a gaming brand that branches across esports and action sports.”