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Hi, and welcome to the twelfth 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.

And now...on to the news. 

An overview of this week’s headlines

Friday Fortnite is now averaging over 600k viewers; Overwatch World Cup rosters are announced; gameplay wraps up at the Cathedral of Counter-Strike, ESL One Cologne, and Na’Vi are crowned the 2018 champions; Gfinity appoints former Manchester City FC exec as Global COO; NHL Commissioner states they want all teams involved in esports next year; former Hearthstone lead Ben Brode reveals his new studio; Kotaku esports vertical Compete shuts down amongst Univision budget cuts; Overwatch League playoffs are underway; a new league is announced; McLaren announces the next iteration of their esports program; Pokémon Go hits their highest viewership since the game’s peak in 2016; Overwatch League announces a linear broadcast deal with Disney/ESPN; an esports corporate park is coming to Shanghai; Ninja partners with Uber Eats; Crash Bandicoot comes to Switch; Overwatch’s 28th playable hero is revealed.


Big games
Overwatch League Playoffs
Wednesday marked the first day of the Overwatch League Playoffs, with all games being played here in LA before the Grand Finals at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This guide from The Verge is quite comprehensive and tells you how and where to watch, and I highly recommend tuning in to whatever matches you can. If you’re wondering who to root for, the London Spitfire, Los Angeles Gladiators, Philadelphia Fusion, and Boston Uprising are competing for the chance to play against one and two seeds New York Excelsior and Los Angeles Valiant. You may know that I worked on the Overwatch League promotional campaign and launch strategy, so the fact that playoffs have arrived is making me rather sentimental — and the fact that there’s a chance the inaugural season culminates in a classic NY vs. LA matchup is so exciting. If you’ll let me wax poetic, this first season of a first-of-its-kind league produced even more rivalries, upsets, fanfare, and memes than I could’ve possibly imagined, and I’m thrilled about how well it’s done. 

Ownership and operation
World Showdown of Esports
Tournament Organizer ESP Gaming announced a new multi-game-genre esports league: the World Showdown of Esports. The WSOE is a tournament series featuring the world’s best players from a variety of genres and games across mobile, PC and console pitted against each other in a one-night-only format. Many in the industry are talking about “fight night” formats to include trappings characteristic of MMA and boxing — like fight cards and grudge matches — for esports. This makes a lot of sense — especially given how involved Vegas is — but the most interesting aspect of this model for me is the question of whether or not the pay-per-view model can translate. Something to keep an eye on. 

The first WSOE will take place this fall at ESP's 10,000-square-foot PokerGO Studio at ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, and they are starting with PUBG. Official announcements regarding additional games, teams, and prize pools will come at the end of the summer. 

The role of traditional sports
McLaren's expanded esports program includes mobile racing games
Last year, British supercar brand McLaren entered esports in search of their next Formula 1 simulator driver and held the World’s Fastest Gamer competition to great reception. This week, McLaren announced the next iteration of their esports strategy: the McLaren Shadow Project. The Shadow Project is a global virtual racing program that mirrors the real-world equivalent of the McLaren F1 racing circuit. Competitors are fighting for a spot on the McLaren Shadow Esports Team to race online against the best teams in the world as well as access to their talent development program. Succession of qualifiers starts between August and October, and will run through January 2019. Scoring system and exact McLaren model choices will be revealed in the coming weeks. Sponsors for Shadow include Alienware, HTC, Logitech and Sparco. 

True to form, what McLaren does in esports is possibly (read: definitely) the sexiest, most sophisticated version of competitive gaming we are ever going to get. They are taking esports deathly seriously; the science, design, production quality, and overall investment are nothing short of astonishing and I cannot wait for Shadow Project to get underway. If this hasn’t excited you, stop what you’re doing and check out the trailer. I’ve watched it so many times I’m pretty sure they’ve unlocked a new ad threshold.

More than just Candy Crush

Pokémon Go
While it may not be on your radar as it hasn’t been in the news as much as it once was, a new report from Superdata states that in May of 2018, the player base for Niantic’s mobile game Pokémon Go increased to the highest level since the game’s peak in 2016. This summer, Niantic is hosting Pokémon Go Fest, with events in Germany, Chicago, and Japan. This game is still so popular that 170k people attended the German event — a Safari Zone challenge — just this week(!!!!) Through real-world events and new features, Pokémon Go has managed to maintain a tremendous level of fandom despite the many traditional and mobile games presently trending around the world. Location-based AR is starting to become more popular now that Google Maps is opening up their platform to developers, so I’d expect a proliferation of these games in the future (Jurassic World Alive is already there). 

Follow the money
This has been a quiet week in esports investing, so nothing here in today's issue. I’ll be back next Friday with more. 

Streaming platforms and media rights
Live on ESPN: Is esports finally ready for its crossover moment?
Shoutout to my awesomely supportive mom for sharing this article with me (hi Mom, love you). 
In time for the start of the Overwatch League Playoffs, Activision Blizzard announced a multiyear agreement with Disney/ESPN Networks; the Overwatch League playoffs will air on DisneyXD and various ESPN channels, with ESPN's flagship broadcasting the first day of the finals live from New York on July 28. This is not the first time esports has been broadcast on television, in fact, quite the contrary — TBS, CW, NFL Network, Disney XD, and ESPN2 have all aired at least one or two events at this point — but this moment feels like something entirely different: namely that it’s primetime on ESPN proper. There is no doubt in my mind traditional sports fans will react angrily to such a thing; even broadcasting Heroes of the Dorm (a college tournament for a different Blizzard title) on ESPN2 caused such a stir it became a top trending topic in the US on Twitter. While it may vex sports fans who turn on ESPN the night of the 28th, the hope is that some of them stay and are intrigued enough to become casual fans, exposing a huge new audience to esports. While esports lives mostly on streaming services and doesn’t need linear broadcast in order to hit the high viewership numbers we’ve all come to expect, it serves as a declaration from the most important platform in sports that they believe esports is ready for primetime. 

Esports reflected in global pop culture

Tencent to open esports-centered business park in Shanghai
China’s esports fanbase is mind-bendingly massive, and soon Shanghai will be home to a huge number of esports-related businesses as well. The city has announced plans for an industrial office park aimed at both local and international esports companies, and will be built in cooperation with — no surprise here — Tencent. Side note: if you aren’t familiar with the extent of Tencent’s involvement in esports, here’s a primer. Plans for the park include a 6,000 seat esports arena built for the purpose of bringing both domestic and international competition to the city. The park is set to open in 2020, and will house a total of 100 companies. 

Brands and sponsorships
Ninja’s Signing Streak
Streamer superstar Ninja has announced three brand partnerships in the last month; Red Bull (more to come on this after the tournament on the 21st) PSD Underwear, and most recently, Uber Eats. Generally, I think food delivery is such a natural category for streaming; it doesn’t distract from the game, but your audience is present for the entire process; they hear you order, watch you play until it’s arrived, and then listen to you talk through whether or not you like what you’re eating. Uber capitalized on this; in announcing this partnership, Ninja’s wife brought in an Uber Eats bag. Inside the bag were two boxes of donuts and a note he read on-camera, explaining that for every kill he got in Fortnite, he would have to eat a Ninja-blue donut, which in turn made for an ongoing challenge (and lots of screen time for Stan’s Donuts).  It was genuinely one of the cleverest streamer integrations I’ve seen, and it seems there’s more to come — over the next year, Ninja will be sharing his love of food with viewers, including surprise discounts and giveaways along the way. 

Games I’m playing and loving
Along with Spyro and Banjo Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot was possibly my single favorite game growing up — so when I heard remastered versions of the first three titles were coming to Switch, I was thrilled. The Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy became available on June 29th, and I’ve been playing it nonstop since. Crash Bandicoot, originally developed by Naughty Dog (Sony-owned dev behind games like Uncharted + The Last of Us) is a pretty unconventional platformer with fantastic art and music that will engage you for hours. Even if this weren’t a remaster, I’d tell you to play it for the sake of nostalgia, but the vividness of the lush jungle landscapes and the crisp drums really put it over the edge.

Because I needed somewhere to put memes
Overwatch announced a new tank hero, and he’s...a hamster. Wrecking Ball — Christian name Hammond — is the 28th hero in the Overwatch universe. He is a genetically modified hamster who rolls around in a mech (hence Wrecking Ball) and the internet is having a lot of fun with it. If you find yourself wanting to watch his origin story, here it is.

And with that, have a great weekend.


Copyright © Lauren Gaba Flanagan, All rights reserved.

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