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Hi, and welcome to the fourteenth issue of Thank you for subscribing! 

As always, if you’d like clarification, detail, or wish to speak further about something you read here, my inbox is open: You can also find me on Twitter @lgflanagan. As a reminder: if you have esports and/or gaming questions, you can now ask me anything via this link and I’ll answer them at the end of the following issue. 

And now...on to the news. 

An overview of this week’s headlines

Nintendo hits 'start' on media agency review; PUBG Corp. Commits to Self-Funded Esports Program With Revenue Sharing and Pro Leagues; Hasbro CEO implies Dungeons & Dragons may become an esport; Ninja hosts a tourney with Red Bull in CHI; PUBG’s Global Invitational begins; Overwatch League Grand Finals kick off, ESPN source reveals S2 expansions; a comprehensive list of free and inexpensive mobile games for your time-killing pleasure; Meg Whitman invests, joins board of Immortals; TSM raises, Steph Curry and others participate in the round; Twitch introduces a Creator Camp; Sony Crackle and NRG announce a docuseries; esports sponsorship study reveals interesting findings; Fortnite turns 1; Twitter launches custom esports hashtag emojis.


Big games
Ninja Rise Till Dawn
On July 21st, Ninja hosted an event with Red Bull on the 99th floor of Willis Tower in Chicago. The event, Rise Till Dawn, was a Fortnite tournament set to start at sunset (8:21PM) and end at sunrise (5:35AM), with the duo racking up the most points taking home the $2600 prize. While this was not a record-breaking event from a viewership perspective, I still thought the focus on fan interaction and creativity of the time and place made this event completely unique. Anytime not spent playing the game was time Ninja, his wife JGhosty, and DrLupo spent snapping photos, signing autographs, and talking to fans who had come from near and far to take part. At this point, we’ve seen so many different Fortnite formats that everyone considering hosting one needs to iterate on the experience — and I thought an up-all-night tournament for an energy drink was right on-target.

PUBG Global Invitational
This week was the debut of the PUBG Global Invitational, which is taking place at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, Germany. The tournament is four days in total; Wednesday/Thursday (third-person perspective) and Saturday/Sunday (first-person perspective) and the 20 qualifying teams are competing for a $2 million prize pool. 

What I thought was most remarkable about the first-ever PGI was the production value of the event, which is bordering on the absurd. The circular stage (shoutout to the original battle-in-the-round, the H1PL) and lighting design alone were quite magnificent, but the projection on this cylindrical screen really made it a spectacle worthy of such a huge arena. That said, the arena frankly looked deserted on the broadcast, and as any booker will tell you, it’s far better to have a smaller, sold-out venue than a large, sparsely populated one. 

I will also say, the drama was a bit contrived...between the violinists and the acrobats who paratrooped in on cables and then engaged in staged combat with prop weapons and sound FX, it felt a little bit more like a sillier version of Sleep No More than an Olympic Opening Ceremony. Regardless, it was a genuine spectacle and I’m eager to see what they’ll do for the closing ceremony later this weekend. If it’s of interest, you can watch the full opening ceremony here. 

Combined for this week only
Between the Overwatch League Grand Finals starting tonight, leaks around next year’s franchise additions, and a piece from ESPN about how Blizzard convinced sports billionaires to buy into the Overwatch League, there’s a lot to say about OWL.

First things first: the Grand Finals. The match-up between the 5- and 6-seeds (one endemic esports org, one endemic sports org) is underway, and as I mentioned last week, tonight’s game aired during primetime(!!!!) on ESPN(!!!!). I recommend tuning in tomorrow (matches start at 1PM PT) no matter what your interest level; you’ll be floored by the rowdy crowd and wild energy inside a completely sold-out Barclays Center. I also highly recommend browsing Twitter to see the salty reactions of sports fans who didn’t quite know what they were getting when they turned on ESPN tonight. Speaking of Twitter, ESPN’s Darren Rovell just tweeted a screenshot of secondary ticket get-ins on ⁦Vivid Seats for⁩ Barclays Center events, and Saturday’s Overwatch League Grand Finals beat out get-ins for Bruno Mars, Elton John & WWE. 

Next up, expansion leaks. Yesterday, sources told ESPN the next two franchise slots confirmed for OWL are Paris and Guangzhou, China. The Guangzhou slot will be owned by Nenking Group, the umbrella company of Chinese billionaire Zhong Naixiong and the ownership group of Chinese Basketball Association team Guangzhou Long-Lions. Here’s a plot twist: the Paris slot will be owned by McCourt Global aka Frank McCourt, the former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and current owner of French FC Olympique de Marseille. As a reminder, slots for S2 are expected to sell for between $30-60 million depending on factors like population and player density within in the market. 

Lastly, I found this piece on how Blizzard convinced sports billionaires to buy into the Overwatch League really interesting. It follows the process of what it took to convince Bob Kraft to invest in a franchise, detailing what they were looking for (strong vision for the overall business), how the deal was done (handshakes and pizza), and how they decided to structure the team (take the Bill Belichick approach). On a personal note, I was in the arena for the World Cup at BlizzCon 2018, an event described in this piece as sort of a watershed moment for Bob and Jonathan Kraft. I find it incredible that from a skybox just upstairs, five of the biggest owners in traditional sports (the Krafts, the Kroenkes, Joe Lacob, Peter Guber, Wesley Edens) were quietly observing, contemplating their organization’s future in esports. 

More than just Candy Crush

Nothing terribly newsworthy in mobile this week, but did want to highlight this piece from Engadget on the best free and inexpensive mobile games. It’s a very comprehensive list of great mobile titles across genres (competitive, casual, puzzle, RPG, arcade, multiplayer) and if you’re looking for your next waiting-in-line activity, you might find it here.

Follow the money
Former eBay and HP CEO Meg Whitman Is Betting Big on the Future of Esports
Meg Whitman has made a first investment in esports through Immortals, an LA-based org run by Noah Whinston that includes investors like AEG and Lionsgate. Excluding VCs, there is not nearly as much tech money in esports as you would think, and this investment from Whitman is exciting given her background; I’m curious to see how active an investor she’ll be. Immortals is in an interesting phase; post-rejection from the LCS, they’re focusing their energy on their Overwatch League franchise, newer leagues like Clash Royale, and revitalizing their CS:GO team after their roster fell apart last year.

Esports Company TSM Raises $37 Million, Investors Include Stephen Curry, Steve Young
This week, Swift, the parent company of Team SoloMid (better known as TSM), announced it received $37 million in Series A funding. Ethan Kurzweil of Bessemer Venture Partners leads a group of investors that include three-time NBA champion Stephen Curry and AME Cloud Ventures, a fund started by Yahoo cofounder and billionaire Jerry Yang. TSM, which runs squads in 7 games, has been independent for quite some time, and performance-wise, they’ve always been an extremely solid team (among the best and most consistent in NA).

This is a classic esports story: Whinston and Dinh started these teams basically as teenagers and are now 24 and 26, respectively. They are sitting at the top of organizations that have gone from garages to state-of-the-art training facilities and cap tables that would rival some of the most prestigious companies in the world. What a time to be alive (and in esports). 

Streaming platforms and media rights
Twitch Introduces Creator Camp to Help Streamers Build a Following
This week, Twitch launched a Creator Camp geared toward helping educate streamers on the ins and outs of the platform, from features and tools to techniques around how streamers can build a brand, expand their reach, and engage with viewers. Maintaining gaming creators has gotten increasingly competitive, with Facebook, YouTube, and Mixer establishing partner programs to support (and attract) creators through more robust solutions for things like viewer experience and monetization. Twitch Creator Camp is clearly in response to the many public testimonials from creators who feel efforts to break out on Twitch are futile at best and extremely emotionally and physically taxing at worst.

This video that made it to the top of a Reddit thread reminded me of Ninja’s tweet following the Fortnite ProAm, which required him to miss two days on stream: 

Wanna know the struggles of streaming over other jobs? I left for less than 48 hours and lost 40,000 subscribers on twitch. I’ll be back today (Wednesday) grinding again.

Not only is this an incredibly hard lifestyle to maintain from a personal standpoint, but it also completely skews the way a streamer is able to evaluate paid opportunities like commercial endorsements or professional play; taking them off-stream for even a single service day can have a dramatic impact on their subscriber base, and I’d imagine it’s hard to discern how much money makes that worthwhile.

Esports reflected in global pop culture

Sony Crackle and NRG Esports Release Preview of Esports Docu-series Featuring HookGangGod
Streaming service Sony Crackle has released a preview of an esports docu-series that follows Dragonball FighterZ player HookGangGod, created in partnership with esports organization NRG. This is part of a larger partnership between Sony Crackle and NRG, which is representative of a larger trend I’m seeing with teams making content plays like this one. I attribute part of this to brands, who, in search of scale and reach in esports, need media. The growing demand for media assets is driving teams to generate inventory by creating their own content to be distributed via digital/OTT or, in some cases, linear. 

Brands and sponsorships
What Esports Viewers Say About Sponsorships
Working with Simmons Research, Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues (formerly Major League Gaming) recently conducted a study of Overwatch League viewers to gauge sentiment around the inaugural season of OWL. This recap from Brandon Snow (CRO of ABEL) in Adweek details what they believe to be the most salient findings, namely around attitudes toward brands. While this audience is fickle, they are not resistant to brand participation. Rather, they are actively looking for brands that support their passion for competitive gaming, and 72% of respondents believe that sponsors are critical to the success of esports. Of course, brands need to participate credibly and add value in order to engender love and trust within the demo, but my sincere hope is that as a result of this survey (and other case studies like it) that brands feel increasingly welcome in the space.

Games I’m playing and loving
It’s Fortnite’s first birthday, and Epic is doing too much fun stuff not to play this week. The in-game birthday event will be live until August 7th, and during that time you can drop in from a decked-out Battle Bus and participate in LTO challenges like dancing in front of birthday cakes hidden around the map. As an aside, I cannot wrap my head around the fact that this game is only 1; am I the only person who feels like this phenomenon has been going on for years at this point?

Because I needed somewhere to put memes
Twitter Gaming added hashtag emojis for many of the major esports orgs, so now you can cheer for them and have some extra flair on your TL. Into it. 

Also, this attempted Fortnite rescue is just about the funniest thing that has ever happened. Epic agreed and added a tombstone at the site of the incident to commemorate it. A Reddit-organized in-game funeral at said tombstone then went horribly awry, and everything about this is just peak internet. If you watch it, please do @ me so we can laugh together.

And with that, have a great weekend.


Copyright © Lauren Gaba Flanagan, All rights reserved.

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