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esports Updates

Call Duty League Overwatch Season 3

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Video game giant Activision hopes Overwatch Season 3, debut of Call of Duty league fuel esports boom

For the past two years or so, the employees overseeing the esports division at Activision/Blizzard — the video game giant — have worked toward a goal they dubbed “Project 2020.”

When the company launched the Overwatch League (OWL) in 2018, it had the third season for 2020 already circled. The new decade ushers in a new era for the league, as it attempts to go global with the 20 organizations that range from China to London to Vancouver, playing matches in a more traditional “home and away” environment. Some teams will be traveling more than 50,000 miles throughout the course of the season. 

That’s not all. Debuting in 2020 is the Call of Duty League, which features 12 inaugural teams that include many of the same North American cities involved in Overwatch. 

“We don’t really call it Project 2020 anymore,” CEO of Activision Esports and Overwatch commissioner Pete Vlastelica said. “We just call it work, because now is the time to do the thing we’ve been designing the last three years.”

In regards to Overwatch, the league’s philosophy is shifting from an operation role to a support role, providing teams with everything required to put on successful events, and ensuring they can properly market those events. 

“The exciting part for me is to sit back a bit and watch each team add their own flavor to the mix and produce events and experiences that are a little different than what others across the league are doing,” Vlastelica said. “Because that’s where I think innovation is going to happen.” 

For example, Toronto Defiant owner Chris Overholt comes from a traditional sports background in the NHL, and as the Canadian Olympic Committee’s chief marketing officer for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The principles in building fan excitement translate to esports, all the same, he said. 

“An Overwatch fan is not a Call of Duty fan is not a League of Legends fan,” Overholt said. “These are all subtly different in their own way. Their communities think about their teams and their leagues differently.” 

The inherent differences between the two games are viewed internally as assets. Hamilton compared Call of Duty fans to hip-hop listeners, while Overwatch fans can be likened to EDM aficionados. 

Overwatch has an audience split between the two hemispheres of about 50-50, Vlastelica said, thanks to its bright, colorful, optimistic, family-friendly and “cartoonish” world. Themes of inclusiveness and diversity among the hero characters players can select are appealing.

Meanwhile, Call of Duty has been around much longer and has more casual fan appeal because it’s easy to watch. Vlastelica sees a future in which Activision scales both leagues in two different ways. “I think Call of Duty has this real potential to become a mainstream esport in a way that, not just Overwatch, but frankly most esports games haven’t had the opportunity to do,” Vlastelica said.

Activision benefited by partnering with ownership groups that have traditional sports backgrounds, such as the Wilpon family in New York (Mets) and the Wilf family in Minnesota (Vikings). Ten of the 12 Call of Duty teams also have Overwatch counterparts, which streamlined the creation of that league, and Activision didn’t have to build out a new staff to launch. 

“Bringing the Call of Duty team into New York at the same time as the Overwatch League team was really very similar for us,” said Scott Wilpon, who is the co-founder of Andbox, the company that owns the New York Excelsior (OWL) and New York Subliners (CoD). “The challenge is just that none of this has ever been done before. Running large, local esports events is a very new business.” 

During opening weekend on Feb. 8-9, the Excelsior sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom in midtown Manhattan with about 1,600 spectators. This weekend, the Call of Duty tour heads to Atlanta, where local rappers Offset and Lil’ Yachty are expected to perform, according to Atlanta Esports Ventures CEO Paul Hamilton. 

These events are attracting a different type of fan who does not normally attend games or matches in a public, stadium-like setting.  “To see these people get together and meet each other, who had only met online, is incredible,” Hamilton said. 


The real Tokyo Olympics

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The real Tokyo Olympics: Esports and the future of Japanese soft power

 “ Since winning the international bid over seven years ago, the Tokyo Olympics has been all Japan can talk about.

The Olympics have lodged into the popular consciousness as a symbol of pride; but also of Japan’s changing role in the world. If the 1964 Tokyo Games announced Japan’s rapid modernization, these Olympics aim to reposition Japan as a cultural, if no longer economic, superpower.

But there is another Olympics taking place in Tokyo, just before the traditional one. And this event has far more importance to the future of Japanese soft power. The Intel World Open will be the first major video game tournament of the decade held in Japan. Boasting official support from the International Olympic Committee, the Intel World Open hosts national teams from around the globe, just like the traditional Olympics. These nations will compete in two of the most popular titles in esports — Street Fighter and Rocket League — before crowning the medalists in Tokyo’s central Olympic Games area.

The event marks the first formal crossover between the Olympics and competitive video games. And the Intel World Open is critically important to Japan’s global influence, arguably more so than the Olympics themselves.

In case you’ve missed it, competitive video games — or esports — have caught on like wildfire around the world. The industry has exploded overnight on the back of billion-dollar investments from the world’s most influential companies, including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. Internationally, esports now boasts over 1 billion fans. And in America, competitive video games recently surpassed football to become the most-watched sport. The U.S. Navy even pulled its Superbowl commercials in favor of esports advertising.

But Japan has curiously lagged the world in competitive video games. The country rarely competes in — let alone wins — major esports tournaments. And the domestic scene has languished due to outdated gaming regulations that cap prizing — and hence the incentives to train and compete. In contrast, neighboring countries like China and South Korea dominate the international esports scene — exporting their country’s cultural cache around the globe with every victory.

It is doubly strange that Japan lags in esports because the country has historically led the video game industry. As late as 2002, Japan accounted for half of the global games market. But in recent years, domestic giants like Sony, Nintendo and Sega have all failed to launch successful esports properties, in part explaining a general decline in their global audience.

For Japan to position itself as a locus of soft power for 2020 and beyond, the country needs to invest in and succeed at esports. Beyond national pride, esports is a huge business — already exceeding $20 billion in revenue and growing 30 percent annually. By most measures, esports is the fastest rising media and entertainment property of all time. Japan must engage with the esports or risk losing out competitively, economically — and most critically — culturally.

This is why the Intel World Open is so important. It provides Japan an opportunity to demonstrate its esports talent to the world, at a time when all eyes are already on Tokyo. And as a first-of-its-kind event, it creates a rare opportunity for Japan to define a gaming legacy for the new millennium.

But Japanese success at the Intel World Open is about more than simply winning. Attendance, fan support and domestic media coverage of the event are all arguably more important. For the multibillion-dollar esports investments that regularly flow around the world to reach Japan, the country needs to demonstrate that its domestic esports market is both viable and primed for growth.

By 2030, esports will become both the most watched and the most played sport around the globe, reaching an estimated 3 billion fans. Given Japan’s legacy in gaming, the country deserves to occupy a marquee position in this digital phenomenon. So as you plan for the Tokyo Games, make the Intel World Open a part of your Olympic experience. Watch online, attend in person and encourage your friends to cheer.

In just a few short months there will be two Olympics in Tokyo. But only one has the potential to establish Japan as a leader in the next generation of sports. A victory at the Intel World Open could catalyze an entirely new domestic industry, and nurture a novel path for exporting the richness of Japanese culture to the rest of the world.


Counter-Strike league be esports’ WWE?

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Can new Counter-Strike league be esports’ WWE?

 “ It’s WWE meets esports. Kind of. That’s how organizers of a new Counter-Strike: Global Offense league are billing Flashpoint, which launched Wednesday.

The new league hopes to bring a different, nontraditional sports-based approach to what has quickly become an established genre, thanks to esports leagues run by Riot Games (the League of Legends competitive series) and Activision Blizzard (Overwatch League and Call of Duty League).

Unlike those other leagues, the game’s publisher, Valve Corporation, neither owns nor runs Flashpoint, which is funded by a consortium of esports organizations including MiBR (Immortals), Cloud9, OverActive Media, Gen.G, Dignitas and c0ntact Gaming. It is operated by FACEIT. The total prize pool will be “over $2 million” for 2020, according to a league statement. Flashpoint will have an open qualifying element, for which competition began Thursday.

“We want to break the box that esports has been in the over the last couple years,” said Kent Wakeford, co-founder of Gen.G Esports, which fields teams in both League of Legends and Overwatch League. Wakeford is also a founding member of Flashpoint.

“We are very used to seeing the players just behind the monitors and sometimes doing an interview onstage, but we really know very little about their characters and personalities, and who they are,” said Michele Attisani, Co-founder of FACEIT, referring to the current esports production aesthetic.

Attisani said that WWE is a “big piece of inspiration” for the league’s planned shows, and referenced how viewers getting to see wrestlers in the locker room, backstage and elsewhere in the venue is something they hope to implement. However, according to Attisani, regular season matches will “most probably not” take place in front a live crowd.

Careful to say that the league will not go so far as to script scenes, Wakeford said Flashpoint will feature, “inherent tension points that will cause people to be a lot bit more face-to-face,” which will be “fueled by casters.” 

One such opportunity for conflict will be when teams select who they compete against in a tournament, which is a part of the complicated, tournament-based competitive format the league has created. Attisani said team captains will have a chance to explain the reasoning behind their choice, as well as “banter” with opposing teams. 

Organizers are banking on these moments as a way to help distinguish Flashpoint from an established, Valve-supported CS:GO competitive scene. The league is also highlighting its endemic name-brand casters — as announcers are known within the esports community — including Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, formerly of the Overwatch League (and who is employed by Cloud9, which competes in the league) and Duncan “Thorin” Shields, a longtime esports journalist.

Shields is a controversial figure in the esports community as a result of his defense of a streamer’s use of an anti-gay slur. He was fired in 2018 by Germany-based ESL, another esports organizer, for comments disparaging Poland. “ESL does not stand by or tolerate acts of racism, xenophobia or other forms of discrimination,” said at the time. Mykles has defended Shields in the past.

The competitive space Flashpoint enters has been built to this point around Majors. These events are run by various organizers, which have included ELEAGUE, ESL, MLG, DreamHack and FACEIT and take place around the world. ELEAGUE was an early mover in trying to mainstream esports in the U.S., with a series on TBS starting in 2016. That show, which features a variety of games, does not have any current plans to feature CS: GO.

ESL is the biggest CS:GO tournament organizer and recently announced its new Pro Tour with DreamHack, which seeks to streamline the competitive landscape. The Pro Tour has a total prize pool of $5 million across 20 tournaments and leagues, including its multicontinent ESL Pro League, resulting in two “Masters Championship finals” annually.

Beyond other more established Counter Strike events, the new league will also have to bang it out with another esports league that features a realistic, first-person shooter video game. Activision’s Call of Duty League is based on one of the best-selling video game franchises of all-time, even though it has struggled with viewership. CDL has pinned its hopes on geolocated franchises, pop culture cache and an appeal to nonendemic audiences.

Flashpoint will be for “hardcore” Counter-Strike fans, Attisani said, pointing out that the game’s appeal provides a large target audience. According to Steam Charts, the game hit a new record for the average number of players on the Steam gaming platform last month at over 500,000 players.

“We’re not afraid of the size of the audience. We know the audience is there,” Attisani said. Wakeford said the league will not shy away from the violence inherent in CS:GO and will be aimed more at adults.

“If you take the Overwatch League, which we’re a member of and we love it, but their broadcast partners are Disney XD, they need to have something that fits for a Disney XD audience and is very plain, vanilla, ESPN-like,” he said. That is not who we are. … This is a game that has blood.


Bill to allow wagering on eSports

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Bill to allow wagering on eSports introduced

“ Looking to capitalize on New Jersey’s growing sports betting market, a state lawmaker has proposed allowing legal wagers on esports. 

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, introduced legislation Monday that would expand legalized sports betting to permanently include skill-based competitions such as electronic sports.

Esports is the next big thing when it comes to sporting events, said Caputo, chair of the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee and a former Atlantic City casino executive. With online sports betting now legal in our state and a rapidly expanding esports industry already in existence, the time is right for New Jersey to expand legal wagering beyond traditional sports.

During a committee hearing Monday, Caputo referenced esports’ surging global popularity as among the reasons for legalizing wagers through the framework of the state’s regulated sports betting apparatus.

“Throughout the country and the world, video game enthusiasts are flocking to see expert players compete in all kinds of digital games,” Caputo said. “Whether they follow along online or in person, hundreds of millions of people watch esports each year— and that number is only growing.”

According to Newzoo, an online gaming data provider, there were nearly 450 million eSports viewers in 2019, and the gaming competitions generated more than $1 billion in revenue from various streams, such as sponsorship, advertising, merchandise and tickets.

Last year, state gaming regulators at the Division of Gaming Enforcement permitted legalized esports wagers for the League of Legends World Championship. The DGE offered this on a one-time basis and imposed conditions, such as a $1,000 maximum bet and no in-game wagering.

Atlantic City has hosted several esports tournaments in recent years. Caesars Atlantic City hosted the city’s first esports event, Gears of War Pro Circuit, in 2017.Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City held the Rainbow Six Siege Pro League event in 2018. In 2019, Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall partnered with INGAME Esports and Caesars Entertainment to hold the Ultimate Gaming Championship’s Halo Classic tournament, and in June the venue will host an Overwatch tournament. Showboat Hotel Atlantic City has also hosted several esports tournaments.

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference will hold esports championship tournaments in conjunction with its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments to be held at Boardwalk Hall in March.

Stockton University’s esports team won the Eastern College Athletic Conference Fortnite championship and placed second in the League of Legends championship last April.


Wow Esports Is Heading To Youtube

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“ Activision Blizzard announced a deal with YouTube that would see the platform stream OWL, CDL, Hearthstone and, the reason we’re here WoW esports in 2020. 

Now, while the OWL and CDL took the headlines, a few sites picked up on the Hearthstone news but WoW… WoW was barely mentioned. Despite being the biggest MMORPG on the market, one of the top games on Twitch and  Activision Blizzard’s top-performing game on Twitch in 2020 ⁠— a lot of that being down to WoW Classic’s launch and the mega-success of the community-run Race to World First events.

But hey, franchised Leagues and all that. So, let’s talk about it and what it might mean for WoW in 2020 and beyond. The multi-year deal will see the above mentioned Activision Blizzard games streamed exclusively on YouTube. For WoW, this firstly confirms that WoW esports is indeed back in 2020 and that it now has a new home. For the next few years at least.


This is going to be the big question. WoW is undoubtedly a popular game and does well on Twitch. The esports, however, are less popular. Now, to use some purely anecdotal evidence; I run a WoW guild with around 30-35 dedicated “semi-hardcore” WoW raiders. Most of those interested are only into the MDI (WoW’s PvE ‘Games Done Quick’ style of esports.), with fewer interested in the AWC (3v3 Arena battles).

The problem is getting those millions of WoW players to have any interest in the game’s esports. With WoW being a less popular esport, the community that it does have becomes all the more important. This is where YouTube starts to cause problems. With the stream no longer on Twitch, fans will no longer be able to cheer on their favorite players or teams.

Now, this is the same for the CDL and OWL. However, with the vast majority of MDI and AWC players being full-time streamers, their own communities make up the vast majority of the viewership when they’re playing. Oh and that community that we mentioned, the one that drives WoW esports forward; those people they watch on YouTube will be streaming on Twitch. This adds another barrier between seeing your favorite player perform and being able to support them directly. It’s a point that was highlighted by top WoW Streamer Asmongold on Twitter.

Another major problem is communication. I highlighted this in a previous article in late 2019. The gist of the issue is; Blizzard has no communication with its competitors, the news came completely out of left-field. (Again, we don’t officially know anything about WoW esports in 2020). Blizzard has routinely mishandled WoW esports, the community, and its players. To highlight this point BlizzCon saw teams who flew to the event to compete, knocked out in the “pre-BlizzCon” qualifier. Which was played off-stream.


This issue was brought to light by Method General Manager Shanna Sarr who spoke about it in a Twitlonger at the: Facilities for players were severely lacking. Only one day of practice facilities were provided to players before competition commenced on Thursday, October 31. Players were flown in on Sunday, no food was provided (except one lunch) until Wednesday, and players had to scramble to book PC cafes out of pocket, sometimes traveling up to 30 minutes each way by Uber to ensure they weren’t sharing a cafe with competing teams… Once the practice facility was open, chairs were uncomfortable, minimal snacks and drinks were provided, and meal options were non-existent for those with special diets. Time-based breakfast coupons meant that some teams (and casters) missed that meal entirely if they couldn’t show up in their scheduled window to eat.

It certainly doesn’t sound like a $600k event, does it? But that was just some of the issues, once we got into the actual games the problems continued. Shanna continued by saying: “ Opening week was deleted, matches were not streamed. Fans, who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to support these players, could not even watch the opening rounds for AWC or MDI. These were condensed into one day, offline, on Thursday (the day before BlizzCon). Teams had to play these rounds surrounded by other teams who were playing and practicing.”

Lastly, Shanna spoke to our earlier point about organizations and players’ loss of earnings and exposure. “Organizations rely on their signed players having visibility during competitions in order to secure sponsorships were left with half the event being behind closed doors. The opportunity for these players to grow their personal brands by having their matches streamed was cut in half – don’t underestimate the importance here: WoW Esports does not pay enough, on its own, to be a full-time job. Most who chose the path of being a pro player in WoW need sponsorship and/or streaming to support themselves.”


We’ll probably see lower viewership, though YouTube can mitigate this if it improves searchability and promotion of esports on the platform. In its current state, however, YouTube is still an inferior platform for streaming. Games like Overwatch and Call of Duty can take the loss in views and still pull 80k+, WoW will struggle.

It’s also unlikely that the loss of views will be as heavily mitigated by the money involved in the deal. WoW esports saw a huge rise in prize pools in 2019, but that was all down to the community. Blizzard provided none of the BlizzCon Finals prize pool.

2019 saw WoW esports gain some ground, with community involvement and integration within the game itself. This deal, while hugely profitable for Blizzard, might set the scene back. With Shadowlands not likely to arrive until late in 2020, the current expansion Battle for Azeroth is likely to dominate the majority of the year. The game will spend the majority of 2020 in the same state that it begins.

Ultimately, it feels like the void between WoW esports and the community who enjoys it has grown to a near unrecoverable level. While WoW esports will continue in 2020, it’s hard to see 2021 looking good if none of the things mentioned above are dealt with. 

The WoW community wants to love the scene, they truly do care. Unfortunately, Blizzard doesn’t seem to. This will probably mean more community-run events continue to be the most relevant. Things like Classic Dueler’s League and the Race to World First are more in line with what the community wants. The RWF, in particular, will likely continue in 2020 to dominate Twitch and be the talk of the community.