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eSports Challenges Opportunities

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The eSports phenomenon is bringing new challenges and opportunities in media tech

There are few current trends in media and entertainment as exciting and fast-growing as eSports (an umbrella term encompassing competitive gaming across a number of distinct games). Growing out of the humble origins of arcade tournaments, and online game play-throughs, eSports have experienced a meteoric rise recently, though tournaments have been broadcast by channels such as GIGA since the early 2000s. Still, the growth that media organizations have witnessed in the last half-decade has been immensely impressive. In 2018, Newzoo predicted that by 2021 eSports will become a bigger industry than traditional professional athletics, and the industry will see its first $100-million-dollar media rights deal (an incredibly ambitious forecast). In a follow-up piece published in early 2019, they predict an audience of 645 million viewers by 2022.

With this evolution comes a wealth of opportunities for organizations driving growth across media technology, especially that which better enables remote production and help facilitate fast global multi-channel distribution. This dynamic vertical combines the broadcasting opportunities of live sports and entertainment with exciting differentiating factors that demand the aforementioned capabilities. If media tech enterprises want to seize on this boom, understanding the unique nature of eSports production and distribution is important, as there are some new challenges and opportunities compared to traditional sports productions.

eSports’ Rise on the Leaderboard Explained

While gaming tournaments have been around since the 1970s, eSports as we know it bloomed in the 1990s, in the time of games such as DOOM, Unreal Tournament and Starcraft. Still, the rate at which eSports have gone from a niche hobby to a truly mainstream phenomenon in more recent years is impressive to say the least.

In a 2013 PCWorld article, writer Andrew Groen argues that the then-state of professional PC gaming could be attributed to its massive “economic rise of Asia”. While eSports had looked like a dying industry in the early 2000s, Groen suggests that the availability of free PC gaming centers and the prominence of competitive PC gaming in countries like South Korea not only helped to rescue eSports but to position it for the mass appeal it’s currently enjoying.

As it stands now, pro-gaming is a dynamic and lucrative business on nearly every continent, and shows no signs of slowing down. With a wide range of games—such as League of Legends (LoL), DOTA 2, the aforementioned Overwatch, Counter-Strike and Fortnite—competitive gaming enthusiasts can easily find a challenge that suits their individual tastes.

With the introduction of streaming community services like Twitch, professional gaming competitions are as accessible as the largest sporting events (e.g.: The 2017 LoL semifinals had a viewership of over 80 million people!), and major brands like Mercedes Benz, Toyota, DHL, Coca-Cola, and Spotify have arranged sponsorship deals with global leagues like OWL, ESL One or IEM, while Disney XD, ESPN, and ABC have teamed up with the leagues to form broadcast partnerships. Brands are beginning to recognize eSports as one of the best ways to market to younger demographics who might otherwise be harder to reach, and it’s likely that these sponsorships will only increase in prevalence.

Bringing Content to the Masses

Now that it’s clear that eSports is a big deal and only getting bigger, it’s essential for media technology businesses to understand what this means for them—how they fit into the emerging puzzle.

Recently, VentureBeat published the transcript of their eSports panel at the 2019 National Association of Broadcasting (NAB) convention. The wide-ranging conversation explored the nuances of broadcasting eSports competitions, and how they superficially resemble regular sports broadcasting while exhibiting some fundamental differences (more complex technology, the integration of additional workflows such as social media promotion, etc.) in the production needs.

Matt Edelman, the chief commercial officer at Super League Gaming suggested, “If you’re interested in eSports, relatively new to eSports, it will help if you think of eSports as sports.” While this is definitely a helpful way to consider its current cultural import, from a production and broadcast standpoint there are some crucial distinctions. Certainly, some of the same technology and production equipment is used, but we see critical differentiators in production workflows. eSports events are often much longer, so that logging and metadata becoming key for post-production and social media teams. Furthermore, we have to consider the in-game workflows and the different limitations coming from the observer itself.

While traditional sports and other live events have started to adopt remote or centralized productions, eSports seems to be pushing that model further and faster, to reduce production costs and to streamline global workflows. Additionally, remote production makes central archiving easier, allows post-production and social media teams to stay at home, offers less OPEX, and ensures employees don’t have to travel unnecessarily. With this model, much of the editing, the creation of graphics, and the addition of audio effects is predominantly done at a home facility away from the venue. This means that every single one of these massive events requires solutions that can facilitate constant, complex remote workflows that depend on swift and secure file transfers to and from the venue in near real time over public and private IP networks.

Furthermore, we see much faster adoption of cloud-based workflows in the eSports industry as well. That isn´t really a big surprise, when we consider that all the multiplayer games are living in the “cloud” already. With major publishers operating their own private WAN networks around the world, it´s just a natural step to shift more and more traditional broadcasting jobs into the cloud. A good example is Blizzard’s OWL production. Blizzard uses AWS Services to add localized graphics for different MRLs and regions and to transcode up to 37 individual video-streams.

The ability of broadcasters to handle all these components and production conditions as quickly as possible is absolutely essential for, as VentureBeat notes, the battle for eyeballs as it is far more hectic when it comes to eSports, and social media relevance demands the deployment of content ASAP. Even posting content five minutes late can make it less desirable. Additionally, while a football game or a basketball game might only be broadcast on a single channel because of exclusive media rights deals, eSports events are often broadcast on multiple channels across multiple platforms without geo-blocking. As such, being able to move content quickly, and create coverage that is dynamic and attention grabbing while under the real-time pressures of a given tournament is vital.

The final component that makes eSports such fertile ground for media technology businesses is the timeframe in which events take place. Since the debut of Twitch, gamers have been able to stream uninterrupted for days, and eSports competitions can last an entire weekend or longer. Gaming fans are used to tuning in for extended periods of time, and—whereas a basketball game might just take up a solid three hours of someone’s afternoon—eSports enthusiasts will tune in and out or even watch for an entire day. This means broadcasters are constantly moving files over a long period of time, and they demand solutions that can handle such conditions.

Gaming Around the World

Another crucial element for media technology organizations to consider is that eSports is a global phenomenon (the 2019 Newzoo article estimates that 57% of eSports enthusiasts are in the Asia-Pacific region), and the way in which fans tune in reflects that.

Whereas football fans might have a favorite local club or cricket fans a regional rivalry, eSports fans largely follow individual players. That geographic loyalty or team obsession is much less prevalent in this vertical, so even if you live in Dubai, you could be dedicatedly following a gamer based in Tokyo (though, organizations like Blizzard are trying to get fans invested in local teams through leagues like OWL). Compounding this is that, beneath the eSports umbrella, there are enthusiasts who really only care about one game of the dozens that currently drive eSports’ popularity.

eSports also serve the purpose of educating or engaging new gamers with the mechanics of games at which they might still be novices. As per Joe Lynch, the head of broadcasting at EA, and one of the members of the NAB panel, “Going by all these stats that we’ve looked at—the vast majority of the people who are watching are watching to learn…As broadcasters and storytellers, we have to spend a lot of time teaching. NFL football games don’t do that…They’ll do a little to explain the basic rules so you can enjoy the game, but they’re not going to go into the minutiae…Those are the things we have to do as storytellers, and that part is really different.”

So, what does all of this mean for distribution? Well, on a basic level, the distribution net for eSports is far wider than for any other type of sports. If I’m an Overwatch super fan, I’m going to tune into OWL competitions no matter where in the world they are, time difference be damned. And, if I can’t check out a tournament because that time difference is a factor, I’m going to want (or expect) that I can watch that tournament at a different time, at my convenience.

eSports is Here to Stay

The bottom line is simple: eSports isn’t going anywhere. In 2018, alone, the industry saw 4.5 billion dollars in investments.

The market, as it stands, is experiencing immense growth, and a heretofore undreamt-of level of legitimacy, and with that comes a trove of needs and opportunities that media technology businesses should be paying extremely close attention to.

Remote production and global distribution are elemental to eSports and with that comes an incredible demand for solutions that can support the workflows and omnichannel content push that defines the industry. This will continue to be a growth driver for media technology and certainly for Signiant as we provide intelligent file transfer solutions to the entire value chain including the game developers themselves, the broadcasters and online streaming services.

Still, no matter what your niche is, it would be absolutely foolish to dismiss eSports as a fad. In the past, pro-gaming might have been seen as a temporary craze or a fringe hobby, but the last half-decade has done wonders to disprove that assumption. Dubai even announced the construction of the first eSports-exclusive stadium in the Middle East!

The eSports wave is sweeping the world and media technology organizations should be paying attention. When it comes to production and distribution, the chances are immense.

If you’re committed to innovation, you’ll go where the innovators are.

The Booming World of Gaming

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Esports: A look inside the booming world of gaming

With viewership and revenue booming, we take a look at the world of esports. According to the tech consulting firm Activate, an estimated 250 million people watch esports worldwide and most of them also play. Global esports revenue is expected to reach $1.8 billion by 2022. Our reporter Yong Chim takes us behind the scenes of how the French team Vitality prepared for the 2019 F1 Esports Pro Series in London.

Also, we speak to our guest Nicolas Desombes about whether the discipline has managed to overcome bias.

And in Test 24, we try the competition-level kart Tandikart, which offers the disabled the opportunity to discover an extreme sport like racing while staying safe.

Blockchain Revolutionizes eSports Industry

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John Lee discusses how blockchain revolutionizes esports industry

Esports and blockchain technology are a natural fit. Esports enthusiasts have a high knowledge and love for digital technologies and virtual tokens, which, in turn, has helped the esports industry to integrate blockchain seamlessly into its operations. In an interview with CoinGeek’s Becky Liggero Fontana, esports veteran John Lee explained how blockchain is shaping the future of esports and why BSV is the one blockchain that will rule them all.

Lee got involved in the e-sports industry years ago with Taiwan-based GigaMedia, a Nasdaq-listed online gaming company. The company was among the first in Asia in the esports industry, giving Lee the opportunity to see the industry grow into the phenomenon it is now.

Esports and blockchain fit naturally, Lee pointed out. Many esports enthusiasts usually have high-performance PCs as well as the latest graphics cards for a smooth gaming experience. In the early days of cryptos, this equipment was what they used to mine cryptos, introducing them to the technology in its early stages.

Blockchain use in esports takes many forms, one of which is in crowdfunding for esports startups. Lee likened the current blockchain industry to the early days of the Internet. Back then, it was just startups and smaller companies which integrated it. However, in later years, the large conglomerates came in and the Internet blew up.

On the current high number of blockchain platforms, Lee believes that time will prune them out and that Bitcoin SV will prove to be the undisputed leader in the space. Lee drew parallels to when Linux first came out. Back then, a lot of companies claimed to be the best Linux platforms, but over time, this number has been drastically trimmed down.

“What I understand about BSV is that they are one of the strongest platforms out there right now, and it’s going to be a last man standing scenario, BSV is definitely going to be one of them.”

Esports To Spur Gaming Sector

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Esports to spur gaming sector

Intellectual property is the lifeblood of content creators and game companies, empowering them to retain users and sustain growth, and the industry will gain fresh momentum and traction in future as esports becomes popular, panelists told a forum on Thursday at the China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable themed “New Era of Cultural and Creative Industries: Opportunities for Gaming IP”.

The forum, co-organized by China Daily Asia Pacific and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, brought together prominent game developers and publishers, investors and top-tier industry stakeholders. It was held as part and parcel of the Business of IP Asia Forum.

“While it’s true that the online game industry is much more robust on the Chinese mainland than it is in Hong Kong at the moment, I believe Hong Kong is keen to catch up with the world’s leading online gaming cultures with a little push from the local government,” said Zhou Li, editorial board member of China Daily Group and publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific.

Citing the HKSAR government’s initiative to pledge HK$100 million (US$12.8 million) for the city’s esports industry in the 2018-2019 budget, Zhou noted that the flagship Hong Kong international esports event, introduced merely three years ago, has seen huge turnouts every year, including in July 2019.

Darang Candra, head of esports research at Niko Partners, called esports the “No. 1 driving force for growth in the gaming industry” as it’s able to reach a global audience regardless of what language people speak, and make the game understood across the world.

Riding high on the live streaming craze worldwide, esports has spawned its own ecosystem and given birth to a billion-dollar advertising market, he said.

Hendrick Sin, co-founder and vice-chairman of CMGE Technology Group, believed his Shenzhen-headquartered mobile game company, founded in 2009, is already a step ahead in testing the massive potentials of the IP-based mobile-game market, where the market in China alone reached 97.2 billion yuan (US$13.8 billion) last year. 

The total market size of the country’s mobile-game market amounted to 145.1 billion yuan.

Candra is upbeat about the market’s potentials. The market size in terms of revenue of PC (personal computer) and mobile games on the Chinese mainland hit US$30.8 billion last year, and the mainland is now, undoubtedly, the games industry’s capital of the world.

“For everyone here in Hong Kong, right next to you is the biggest games market in the world, bigger than the US,” Candra said.

Drawing on his 25-year-long working experience in the gaming sector, Alex Xu Yiran, chairman and CEO of Leyou Technologies Holdings, introduced the two major types of companies in the gaming world — platform companies and content providers.

“Platform companies are defined as bigger players known for their capabilities to acquire a valuable user base at low cost, in the large quantity, in a steady manner, in the long run and for a long time. Ideally, they do nothing but just lie in bed and wait for the money to flow in,” Xu said in jest.

By contrast, content providers are smaller players who rely on platform companies to access the user base and make money.

“This is where IP could come in. IP can empower content providers and make them a bit closer to powerful platform companies,” Xu said.

He believed the story unfolds in both ways. On the other hand, online games themselves not only count on IP, but also provide value for IP.

“The value of IP comes from the user base and users’ willingness to pay the money. Multiplayer online games, thanks to long life cycle, can keep users playing and paying for the game for decades,” he explained.

Sin said IPs are usually obtained from two channels. The traditional approach is to work with global leading IP owners such as Disney on a game-by-game basis. Today, a more proactive approach for an ambitious game developer and publisher like his company is to invest in IP startups, including TV dramas and animations. “When they are incubated, we can work with them on games,” he added.

Kevin Lee Ka-tsun, founder and CEO of Redspots Creative, said his company has been working with large Chinese online platforms like Kugou and Bilibili, by providing its VR interactive technologies as solutions, and webcasters of those platforms can create their own VR figures and do live streaming through these figures.

Redspots Creative provides cutting edge technologies and tools for people with great ideas or good stories to tell, so people can create their own animations or comics and these are all IPs. 

Currently, the company, which owns 120 comic book IPs and more than 3,500 episodes of stories, is working with several workshops in Hong Kong.

Astralis eSports IPO

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Astralis is the first eSports team to file for an IPO. Our data shows why Wall Street should care.

Astralis Group ($ASTRALIS), an eSports team and media organization, is filing for an IPO. It's a little unheard of, considering eSports hasn't been around for that long, and they usually don't operate like startups. 

But this could be the first domino to fall that gets the rest going. eSports is a billion-dollar industry, and while Astralis is only looking to raise roughly $20 million in Denmark, expectations are that competitive gaming will double in value over the next few years.

Operating three brands in total (Astralis, Origen and Future FC), Astralis is expected to raise quite a lot of money. According to Astralis, they "have a proven business model with solid sponsorships, growing merchandise sale and increasing media revenue from the tournaments."

Haven't heard of Astralis before? Have no idea what eSports even are? Are you confused when you watch commercials on ESPN or TBS for competitive gaming? You're not alone.

Over the last two years, Astralis Gaming saw its Twitter following shoot up 64%. This is thanks to its strong lineup of players (@dev1ce@Xyp9x@dupreeh@gla1ve_csgo@MagiskCS, and @zonic) and stellar Counter-Strike play.

Over at Facebook, the unhip place for youngsters to gab, Astralis saw its likes go up by 20% since 2017 when they started getting hot.

If you're still scratching your head over the concept that colleges sign kids to eSports scholarships, let's do a quick rundown of some stats to show why more teams could file for IPOs in the future. This is all from the Astralis website:

  • In only 3 years Astralis has managed to capitalize on brand-building capabilities, bringing the brand to break even since August 2019.
  • In 2019, the number of eSports viewers around the globe is estimated to reach 443 million. In 2022 the number of eSports viewers is expected to reach 595 million.
  • Astralis Group’s team brands and media channels have a 100% borderless viewer base with endless opportunities reaching a global, growing audience.
  • The eSports market is a billion-dollar market expected to grow +20% p.a.
  • The eSports industry is progressing fast towards the lucrative maturity phase, and Astralis Group has the proven foundation to drive and monetize on this potential!

Straight from the horse's mouth; we couldn't have said it better ourselves.

eSports Broadcast Integration Challenges

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Esports integration brings a higher level of production challenges

The eSports industry continues to experience massive growth. Broadcasters want to be part of the action, but creating a studio to accommodate competitive gaming is a serious commitment. It’s a challenge to create engaging, interactive content with high production values, all while balancing an extraordinary number of video and audio sources.

Consider, for example, a typical five-on-five eSports competition. Ideally, you have a POV camera for each gamer, plus you’ll need a live feed from each of their consoles. That means you already have 20 video sources, plus you’ll need studio cameras to cover the commentators, audience, wide shots of the venue, etc. If you include a secondary studio, perhaps a “lounge” where players can socialize and watch other competitors in an informal setting, you’ll need even more cameras.

To accommodate so many potential inputs, we recently built an eSports control room around a Ross Video 4 M/E Acuity switcher, along with a Ross Ultrix 144×144 router and EVS replay server. A Ross XPression with the Inception social management system handles CG and graphics, and easily integrates viewer feedback into live productions. A wall of multi-viewers was installed to monitor the dozens of potential sources.

Audio presents its own challenges. After all, each gamer needs a mic, each commentator needs a mic, and each game console needs a dedicated audio input. We addressed the quantity of sources with a Calrec Brio console with Dante AoIP connectivity.

Productions get more complicated when you manage the private communication between team members. Proper audio routing is vital to the integrity of the game. You can’t let one team hear the strategic communications from the other team.

We solved the audio routing issue by installing two completely separate intercom systems. The first, a Riedel Artist 128 matrix with Clear-Com FreeSpeak II wireless intercom system, is a dedicated intercom system for the production crew. The second Riedel system was configured (and officially sanctioned) to keep team communications separated between teams, but allows the audio from all players to be shared with the broadcast audience.

LED walls are common set pieces for eSports productions; they can show customized elements to create different on-screen looks for various competitions, as well as display highlights from the game action. Unfortunately, moire patterns on LED video walls and other on-set displays can be a huge problem. With physical and DSP filters to minimize or eliminate moire patterns, Ikegami cameras are leading the industry for eSports applications, so we chose HDK-99 cameras with FUJINON lenses for the main studio.

Integrators also need to be wary of potential sync issues. By its very nature, eSports creates a complex production chain. For example, from ingesting graphics-based content from multiple gaming consoles to distributing the live production, your encoders will be tested throughout the competition. Encoding is just one area where sync can fail. If the home audience is viewing video that is out of sync with the audio, you’ll get complaints. But if the team audio lags behind the game action, the competition could be invalidated and you could lose business.

Finally, don’t overlook storage. We outfitted master control with a Quantum SAN large enough to record a three-day tournament for 10 hours a day with up to 16 ISO cameras in real-time. Plus, we included a Quantum LTO-8 archive with 1 PB of tape storage.

eSports continues to grow in popularity, and it’s bringing video production to the next level. However, there is a noticeable lack of technical expertise specific to eSports in the industry. Broadcasters with facilities designed for news or talk shows may find themselves unprepared to handle the production requirements of eSports. The innate complexity of design brings with it a number of technological challenges. Systems integrators need to be ready to lead facility build efforts and answer questions that customers may not even know to ask.

Esports Rising 2019

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Esports Rising 2019: Industry Showing Sophisticated Growth

The growing sophistication of the esports industry was on full display at this year’s Lagardère Sports Esports Rising conference in Marina Del Rey, California. Many panels on Thursday touched on franchise valuations and what those numbers being tossed around means for the industry, particularly as there continues to be consolidation. Organizations and teams from across esports talked about creating sustainable business models and how that will be crucial to maintaining these rising team values.

Franchising was also a key topic, as we heard from a number of teams taking part in Overwatch LeagueLeague of Legends, and the upcoming Call of Duty League. Within that topic, a shift for OWL and CDL to a local-team model was also heavily debated.

Fashion Forward

One brand activation that had everyone buzzing at the conference was Louis Vuitton’s deal with Riot Games for the League of Legends World Championship (Worlds 2019), which was held in Paris last weekend. The fashion brand created a custom trophy case — similar to what it does for the FIFA World Cup — that housed the Summoner’s Cup, the LoL hardware given to the world champ. The French fashion brand also worked with Riot to produce in-game costumes designed by Louis Vuitton Artistic Director of Women’s Collections Nicolas Ghesquière. It’s another step forward in bringing a high-end, non-endemic global brand into the space.

Riot Head of Esports Partnerships Matt Archambault said of the deal during a panel session: “Seeing the trophy case in person blew my mind. .. [Louis Vuitton] drove the product and unique experience. We started with something they’d done in traditional sports and thought about how we can drive this in a way that will be positive.” The data was also there to support the success of the deal. Fans who clicked through or liked the Louis Vuitton Instagram content around LoL Worlds are “six times” more likely to enjoy luxury goods in general, said Zoomph President & co-founder Amir Zonozi.

What’s It All Worth?

“It only matters if it can be sold there.” That quote from New Meta Entertainment’s David Abrams encapsulated rising esports franchise valuations. Teams still have a journey ahead in creating long-term sustainable business models, and that was noted on a panel discussing the state of valuations and franchising. There was some pushback from Gen.G Esports’ Kent Wakeford, who noted reported franchise prices have risen for OWL and LoL teams. “You’re seeing appreciation of underlying assets,” he said.

Complexity Gaming’s Jason Lake said, “We’re trying to build generational sports properties. Many of the properties will probably be worth north of a billion dollars.”

OverActive Media’s Chris Overholt agreed on the lack of franchise valuation transparency. “They’re worth what someone is willing to pay for them,” he said. “Trying to peg them, you’re worth your latest round of financing. Until companies are public or we’re in a place where there’s need of greater transparency, it’s our job to take the theory and monetize the vision.” Team Liquid’s Steve Arhancet believes team valuations have little bearing on success or longevity. “There’s going to be a lot of esports teams that don’t make it,” he said. “They take money from the wrong place (and) are not able to monetize their assets and create a fan base.”

Growing Sponsor Rosters

Growing non-endemic sponsorships is a major goal of esports properties. But how do those non-endemics judge success? Bud Light Director of Sports Marketing Joe Barnes talked about creating a presence in the space beyond logo exposure, such as creating Bud Light-sponsored esports events and airing them on the brand’s Twitch channel. Bud Light also is starting to use its Twitch channel to bring in NFL players and stream them as they watch football games. Adidas’ Milos Ribic said that his brand views esports like soccer in that it’s a global sport with cultural relevance.

This is the third year of Jack in the Box’s deal with Envy Gaming, and OWL’s Sheena Dougher said that the QSR has learned more each year, culminating this year with a digital animated series called “Fuel House” that involved both the “Jack” mascot and the team’s players. Dougher said animation is esports fans’ “love language.” T1 Entertainment & Sports CEO Joe Marsh added, “You can take dollars once, but if you don’t make them feel the love in that first year, they’re not coming back.”

Adding non-endemic sponsors isn’t just for teams, as media brands are seeing solid results as well. Twitch Director of Sponsorships Chad De Luca said, “We have a lot of people that want to give us money. … Brands have seen success and are re-upping and that’s a true testament to success.” De Luca noted Twitch is looking to tap into another area largely untouched by esports — healthcare.

Follow The Numbers

The Esports Observer and law firm Foley & Lardner during the conference released results of the 2019 Esports Survey. Some of the key takeaways:

There has been a rise in esports investments expected from private equity and venture capital firms over the next year.

  • Advertising and sponsorships are expected to be esports’ primary revenue driver.
  • In-game purchases have moved past media rights as the second-largest expected revenue source.
  • Increased M&A activity across several categories, including streaming and broadcasting, events and tournaments, and franchised teams.
  • The U.S. and China are considered to be the most promising esports investment opportunities over the next five years.

Check out the full report here.

Seen & Heard

  • Riot Games’ Whalen Rozelle gave us fair warning he might have to bolt his panel quickly on Thursday. His wife is around two weeks away from having their second child, and you never know when that call might come.
  • Issues related to China these days can be complex and take time to discuss, so when SBJ’s Ben Fischer tried to close out the opening panel with that topic, Complexity’s Jason Lake immediately jumped in and joked to the crowd: “You’re gonna bring up China with 1 minute, 40 seconds left!?!”
  • Everyone has that favorite first video game, and the topic came up on one of our panels. Overwatch League’s Pete Emminger said he got his start playing Pong with his grandparents, while Mobalytics’ Amine Issa went for Super Mario Bros. on Nintendo. Zoomph’s Amir Zonosi said Mario was one of his early favorites, but it was Halo that really sparked his interest in gaming. What do they all play at home these days? Emminger and Zonosi both with Call of Duty Mobile and Issa went with Legends of Runeterra.
  • The end of the conference was perfectly timed up with the start of the Steelers-Browns “Thursday Night Football” game. Several attendees quickly gathered outside the ballroom, where a TV was waiting tuned to Fox to show the game (and what turned out to an interesting end).
  • The Pac-Man machine set up outside the conference ballroom by Lagardère Sports was a big hit among attendees, with the arcade game often having a line 4-5 people deep. The high score? That belonged to RG Sports Consulting’s Renee Gomila. No. 2 was The Adjency’s Ben Bueno, followed by Foley & Lardner Associate Kadmiel Perez.

Shifting Gears

Chris Overholt had a long run in traditional sports before taking the reins at OverActive Media, which runs Toronto-based teams in OWL, CDL, and European League of Legends. Overholt, who has had stints with MLSE, the Dolphins and NHL Panthers, spoke with us about the last 13 months, which has seen him take on a new segment of sports business.

They Said It

  • New Meta Entertainment Chair David Abrams made an interesting reference when noting how big personalities can change the trajectory of a sport: “A lot of people in this industry and in here weren’t born by 1979, but the NBA was in a very different place then. The NBA was on its ass. Two people changed that — Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. … Find someone who’s an influencer or someone who’s good at it and that changes the landscape and that’s where the money flows. I hope there are more people like Faker, across the board.”
  • 100 Thieves Head of Partnerships Matty Lee: “Pop culture is recognizing what’s going on in this little corner of the universe. Brands are seeing long-term value creation by these partnerships.”
  • Riot Games Director of Esports Research & Development Whalen Rozelle on the growth of esports: “There will be challenges just like traditional sports, just like the NBA setting fire to themselves for a brief second in China.”
  • Team Liquid co-owner Steve Arhancet: “There will be a lot (job) recruiters who say, ‘Hey, you played esports at college, you must be pretty smart.’”

Not-So-Quiet Riot

  • The conference concluded Friday morning with a tour of Riot Games HQ in West L.A. Beyond the expected tech-company amenities like a coffee bar and open-work space area (no offices), gaming areas occupy plenty of space at the Gensler-designed Riot campus, which has eight buildings in total for 1,800 full-time employees. There are also artistic designs spread throughout the campus which recreate some of the 145 characters from the LoL game.
  • Whereas North American gamers typically play from home, most in Asia go to public café-style settings, so Riot recreated one of these areas at HQ to expose employees to this different customer dynamic. There is also an esports-style setup for employees, where one room of five players can practice against another up to five players in another room.
  • Want that throwback feel? Riot has that covered as well for employees. There is one large lounge with older games like Dance Dance Revolution and spots for multiple older console-based games. Across the hall is a separate arcade setup — and it’s multiplayer games ONLY in order to encourage employee comradery. Gaming is so much a part of the DNA at Riot that employees receive $300 USD annually to spend on video games — and not just Riot titles. The company wants employees checking out titles from other publishers to keep up with all the latest industry trends.  
  • Following the tour, conference attendees listened to an info session with Riot Head of Esports Insights & Data Doug Watson, Manager of Esports Events Adam Mackasek and Global Head of Communications David Higdon. Execs discussed last weekend’s LoL World Championship in Paris and the many executions and activations around the event (they even got some love from the Eiffel Tower account on Twitter).

The Esports Phenomenon Brings New Challenges

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White Paper: The Esports Phenomenon Brings New Challenges and Opportunities in Media Tech

There are few current trends in media and entertainment as exciting and fast-growing as esports (an umbrella term encompassing competitive gaming across a number of distinct games). Growing out of the humble origins of arcade tournaments and online-game play-throughs, esports has experienced a meteoric rise recently, although tournaments have been broadcast by such channels as GIGA since the early 2000s.

Still, the growth that media organizations have witnessed in the past half decade has been immensely impressive. In 2018, Newzoo predicted that, by 2021, esports will become a bigger industry than traditional professional athletics, and the industry will see its first $100 million media-rights deal (an incredibly ambitious forecast). In a follow-up piece published in early 2019, it predicts an audience of 645 million viewers by 2022.

With this evolution comes a wealth of opportunities for organizations driving growth across media technology, especially those that better enable remote production and help facilitate fast, global multichannel distribution. This dynamic vertical combines the broadcasting opportunities of live sports coverage and entertainment with exciting differentiating factors that demand the aforementioned capabilities. If media-tech enterprises want to seize on this boom, understanding the unique nature of esports production and distribution is important: there are some different challenges and opportunities compared with traditional sports productions.

Esports’ Rise on the Leaderboard Explained

Although gaming tournaments have been around since the 1970s, esports as we know it bloomed in the 1990s, in the time of games such as DOOM, Unreal Tournament, and Starcraft. Still, the rate at which esports has gone from niche hobby to mainstream phenomenon in more recent years is impressive, to say the least.

In a 2013 PCWorld article, writer Andrew Groen argued that the state of professional PC gaming could be attributed to its massive “economic rise of Asia.” Although esports had looked like a dying industry in the early 2000s, he suggested that the availability of free PC gaming centers and the prominence of competitive PC gaming in countries like South Korea not only helped to rescue esports but to position it for the mass appeal it’s currently enjoying.

Today, pro gaming is a dynamic and lucrative business on nearly every continent and shows no signs of slowing down. With a wide range of games — such as League of Legends (LoL), DOTA 2, the aforementioned Overwatch, Counter-Strike, and Fortnite — competitive-gaming enthusiasts can easily find a challenge that suits their individual tastes.

With the introduction of streaming-community services like Twitch, professional-gaming competitions are as accessible as the largest sports events (for example, the 2017 LoL semifinals had a viewership of more than 80 million people), and major brands like Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, DHL, Coca-Cola, and Spotify have arranged sponsorship deals with global leagues like OWL, ESL One, or IEM. And Disney XD, ESPN, and ABC have teamed up with the leagues to form broadcast partnerships. Brands are beginning to recognize esports as one of the best ways to market to younger demographics, who might otherwise be harder to reach, and it’s likely that these sponsorships will only increase in prevalence.

Bringing Content to the Masses

Now that it’s clear that esports is a big deal and only getting bigger, it’s essential that media-technology businesses understand what this means for them: how they fit into the emerging puzzle.

Recently, VentureBeat published the transcript of its esports panel at the 2019 National Association of Broadcasting (NAB) convention. The wide-ranging conversation explored the nuances of broadcasting esports competitions and how they superficially resemble regular sports broadcasting while exhibiting some fundamental differences (more-complex technology, the integration of additional workflows such as social-media promotion, etc.) in the production needs.

Matt Edelman, chief commercial officer, Super League Gaming, suggests, “If you’re interested in esports [and] relatively new to esports, it will help if you think of esports as sports.”

Although this is definitely a helpful way to consider its current cultural import, from a production and broadcast standpoint, there are some crucial distinctions. Certainly, some of the same technology and production equipment is used, but we see critical differentiators in production workflows. Esports events are often much longer, so that logging and metadata become key for postproduction and social-media teams. Furthermore, we have to consider the in-game workflows and the different limitations coming from the observer itself.

Although traditional sports and other live events have started to adopt at-home, or centralized, production, esports seems to be pushing that model further and faster to reduce production costs and streamline global workflows. Additionally, at-home production makes central archiving easier, allows postproduction and social-media teams to stay at home, involves less opex, and ensures that employees don’t have to travel unnecessarily.

With this model, much of the editing, creation of graphics, and addition of audio effects is done predominantly at a home facility away from the venue. This means that every single one of these massive events requires solutions that can facilitate constant, complex workflows that depend on swift and secure file transfers to and from the venue in near real time over public and private IP networks.

Furthermore, we see much faster adoption of cloud-based workflows in the esports industry as well. That isn´t really a big surprise, when we consider that all the multiplayer games are living in the cloud already. With major publishers operating their own private WANs around the world, it´s just a natural step to shift more and more traditional broadcasting jobs into the cloud. A good example is Blizzard’s OWL production. Blizzard uses AWS Services to add localized graphics for different MRLs and regions and to transcode up to 37 individual video streams.

The ability of broadcasters to handle all these components and production conditions as quickly as possible is absolutely essential for, as VentureBeat notes, the battle for eyeballs, which is particularly hectic with esports. In addition, social-media relevance demands deployment of content ASAP. Even posting content five minutes late can make it less desirable.

Moreover, although a football or basketball game might be broadcast only on a single channel because of exclusive media-rights deals, esports events are often broadcast on multiple channels across multiple platforms without geo-blocking. Therefore, being able to move content quickly and create dynamic and attention-grabbing coverage under the real-time pressures of a given tournament is vital.

The final component that makes esports such fertile ground for media-technology businesses is the timeframe in which events take place. Since the debut of Twitch, gamers have been able to stream uninterrupted for days, and esports competitions can last an entire weekend or longer. Gaming fans are used to tuning in for extended periods, and, whereas a basketball game might just take up a solid three hours of someone’s afternoon, esports enthusiasts tune in and out or even watch for an entire day. This means broadcasters are constantly moving files over a long period of time, and they demand solutions that can handle such conditions.

Gaming Around the World

Another crucial element for media-technology organizations to consider is that esports is a global phenomenon (the 2019 Newzoo article estimates that 57% of esports enthusiasts are in the Asia-Pacific region), and the way in which fans tune in reflects that.

Whereas football fans might have a favorite local club or cricket fans a regional rivalry, esports fans largely follow individual players. Geographic loyalty or team obsession is much less prevalent in this vertical, so, even if you live in Dubai, you could be dedicatedly following a gamer based in Tokyo (although organizations like Blizzard are trying to get fans invested in local teams through leagues like OWL). Compounding this, beneath the esports umbrella, there are enthusiasts who care about only one game out of the dozens that currently drive esports’ popularity.

Esports also serves the purpose of educating or engaging new gamers with the mechanics of games at which they might still be novices. Said EA Head of Broadcasting Joe Lynch, speaking on the NAB panel, “Going by all these stats that we’ve looked at, the vast majority of the people who are watching are watching to learn. … As broadcasters and storytellers, we have to spend a lot of time teaching. NFL football games don’t do that. … They’ll do a little to explain the basic rules so you can enjoy the game, but they’re not going to go into the minutiae. … Those are the things we have to do as storytellers, and that part is really different.”

What does all this mean for distribution? Well, on a basic level, the distribution net for esports is far wider than for any other type of sports. If I’m an Overwatch super fan, I’m going to tune into OWL competitions no matter where in the world they are, time difference be damned. And, if I can’t check out a tournament because that time difference is a factor, I’m going to want (or expect) that I can watch that tournament at a different time, at my convenience.

Esports Is Here To Stay

The bottom line is simple: esports isn’t going anywhere. In 2018 alone, the industry saw $4.5 billion in investment.

The market, as it stands, is experiencing immense growth and a heretofore undreamt-of level of legitimacy, and with that comes a trove of needs and opportunities that media-technology businesses should be paying extremely close attention to.

At-home production and global distribution are elemental to esports, and with that comes an incredible demand for solutions that can support the workflows and the omnichannel content push that defines the industry. This will continue to be a growth driver for media technology and, certainly, for Signiant, as we provide intelligent file-transfer solutions to the entire value chain, including the game developers themselves, the broadcasters, and online streaming services.

No matter what your niche is, it would be absolutely foolish to dismiss esports as a fad. In the past, pro gaming might have been seen as a temporary craze or a fringe hobby, but the past half decade has done wonders to disprove that assumption. Dubai even announced construction of the first esports-exclusive stadium in the Middle East.

The esports wave is sweeping the world, and media-technology organizations should be paying attention. When it comes to production and distribution, the chances are immense.

If you’re committed to innovation, you’ll go where the innovators are.

A Snapshot Of Venture And Startup Activity In Esports

A Snapshot Of Venture And Startup Activity In Esports 900 506 esctoday

A Snapshot Of Venture And Startup Activity In Esports

It’s now common knowledge that competitive gaming, better known as esports, is a real industry. Recent numbers underscore the fact.

A short time ago, the 2019 League of Legends world finals wrapped up in a Paris arena that had previously hosted Metallica and Ariana Grande. But the packed venue could hold a mere half percent of the four million max concurrent viewers that tuned in to the competition online. The biggest pieces of a multi-million dollar prize pool were up for grabs as FunPlus Phoenix, a Chinese team, walked 3-0 over G2 Esports, a European team.

The event was a good reminder that esports is not merely a digital phenomenon, but also a global events business. Holding that in mind, let’s quickly look at esports companies working to support players, tournaments, and the live-side of competitive gaming that have recently raised money. It’s been too long since we last checked in on esports companies and the investors who are powering their growth.

Quick Hits

We have a few rounds to go over, so let’s proceed in order of smallest to largest.

eFuse, a company that deals with the nitty-gritty corporate side of esports, raised a $1.4 million Seed round earlier this month. The money came from the Ohio Innovation Fund, an Ohio-based investing group. Unsurprisingly, eFuse is based in Ohio as well. According to its release, the company helps with esports “talent recruitment, traditional job placement, and the sourcing of sponsorship deals.”

Given that esports has been lauded more for its ability to attract attention more than the industry has been praised for its ability to generate revenue, companies like eFuse may have a key role to play in the market, provided that their ability to help groups come to sponsorship deals

Moving along, Mainline raised $6.8 million two weeks ago from Work America Capital, its second round. Crunchbase News reported at the time that “Mainline has developed a white-label tournament platform that specializes in hosting and helping brands ‘manage, monetize and market their esports programs.'” Again, I’d note that there is an emphasis on monetization.

But the biggest, recent esports-related round that caught our eye was Vindex’s $60 million raise from late October. Vindex, launched by Major League Gaming alums Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sepso, is what DiGiovanni called a “holding company” in a note to Crunchbase News. Inside its portfolio today are Next Generation Esports (focused on esports production), and Esports Engine (focused on esports operations).

The company will introduce “additional verticals” according to DiGiovanni in 2020. Notably, the founder said that Vindex is “profitable today and are focused on healthy sustainable business opportunities across all of our verticals,” while being focused on helping “partners extract as much value as possible from their esports activities.” In DiGiovanni’s view, value could constitute either revenue or “reach,” or, we presume, both.

The dollar amount that Vindex put together was notable, and that it’s also working to help esports professionalize and generate more revenue is also worth remembering; each of the newly-funded startups we looked at has at least one eye on making money, it seems. That’s good news for esports.

Ahead

There’s more on the horizon. Artist Capital Management put together a $100 million fund to invest in esports, VentureBeat reported. The new capital pool from ACM is dubbed the “Artists Esports Edge Fund.” Astute readers of Crunchbase News will recall that we covered a $35 million Series B investment raised by esports organization 100 Thieves back in July. Artist Capital Management led that round.

Capping this small roundup, esports has become so busy that there are new products like Juked.gg being built to help keep fans in the know.

And because it’s Friday, today Crunchbase News learned that there are a number of members of Congress who are ranked in competitive League of Legends. Obviously, it’s time for a Camp David LAN party.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias.

Students Start Careers In eSports

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Colleges are helping students start careers in esports

New York (CNN Business) - Colleges have long helped students get jobs in finance, education and other industries. But now a handful of US-based universities are playing a role in launching careers in the competitive video gaming world.

Schools such as University of California Berkeley, University of California Irvine and the University of Utah are connecting students with positions in esports — not just to encourage competitive playing but for sales, business and admin roles. The message companies want to send to kids is that you don't have to be a gamer to work in gaming.

Although professional players can rise through the ranks over time, often raking in six figure salaries, the career path into an office job in esports is less clear. A lot of these jobs didn't exist before, as esports organizations transition from startup culture to become larger enterprises. More established companies are offering health benefits and 401Ks alongside those desk jobs.
At some other colleges, such as Baruch College in New York and American University in Washington, DC, students run clubs where they can compete on a collegiate level. But many schools don't offer esports networking opportunities and extracurricular activities are entirely student run.
"We are taking a different approach," said Andy Phelps, a professor and director of American University's GameLab, a graduate level games program. "The teams here have been club-oriented and student run, so it's not a direct university owned and pushed enterprise."
At UCBerkeley, over a hundred students gathered on Halloween to network with professional Fortnite players, Twitch streamers and an esports CEO. Panelistsdescribed traversing unconventional paths to get to their current jobs.
Other California schools, including UC Santa Barbara and Irvine, are holding similar events this month. Pro esports organization Team SoloMid, partly known for its League of Legends competitive play, will be recruiting at those schools for its summer 2020 internships and the potential for full-time positions. TSM is also looking to partner with Stanford and UCLA.
Some students such as 20-year-old Julia Shen, an English major at UC Berkeley, worry about finding jobs in esports as the industry is still searching for sustainable business models.
"Esports is such an unstable career path," Shen, the leader of student group, Cal Women in Gaming, told CNN Business. "It's the industry where parents are like, 'Oh, you probably shouldn't do that.' But it's nice that these companies are willing to put in the time to help."
TSM's efforts are guided by its new head of human resources, John Ponce.

"There was no HR before me," said Ponce, who said he's received dozens of LinkedIn messages from students looking for a job in esports. "We're going to get the bulk of our talent from college students who want to get to esports."

Twenty-year-old Jayden Diaz, a Twitch streamer known as YourPrincess, is one college student whose career blossomed by streaming her game play in the evenings. She worked at Target on the weekends to subsidize her living costs but quit after two years to stream full time. Over time, people tuned into the Amazon-owned livestreaming platform Twitch to watch Diaz play "League of Legends."

Although she started off making as little as $1 a month streaming, she built up a a massive audience and found financial success through user donations and subscriptions. "One day of streaming covered one month of working at Target," she told CNN Business.

She declined to share how much she makes now, but said she's become financially independent from her family through streaming. She has brand deals with Dr. Pepper and Xfinity, which her esports organization helped her secure.

Students who stream through Twitch have an additional route to making money and starting a career, but it can be hard to get started. Diaz's advice to new streamers is to stick with it even when few people tune into watch.

"Once you have 10 to 20 people always there on your channel, it's like a party," she said. "If only a couple people are there, [other people won't] show up. But if there's 10, 20 people, maybe more people will want to come."

At the Berkeley event, Nicole LaPointe Jameson, CEO of Evil Geniuses, one of the oldest esports organizations, shared how she got her start in the industry without becoming a player.

"I worked in private equity," said Jameson, who told students her esports company is looking for talent in finance, marketing and business. "Where my strengths really fall is on the business and operational management side of things."

UC Irvine was among the first schools in the world to build a specialized esports program in 2016. Mark Deppe, director of Irvine's esports program, told CNN Business that part of the challenge in developing the program has been addressing negative associations.

"Some people believe video games are the scourge of society — and there's a huge generational gap between young people who play games and other folks who think it's a waste of time," Deppe said. "So in addition to building this business and all the stresses that come with that, we have to address the fair critiques and defend against the unfair ones."

Even as pro esports organizations open their doors to college students, for many, there remains an aspirational element to working in games.
"It's a pipe dream for a career, but it can't hurt if I'm involved and I put my foot in the door," said Julian Pagliaccio, 22, a Berkeley senior majoring in mechanical engineering.