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Hello, and welcome to the fourth issue of Thank you so much for subscribing. Hope you'll forgive how late this is arriving in your inbox; it was a big week of conferences and meetings.

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 retweeting Overwatch League memes @lgflanagan.

And now...onto the news. 

An overview of this week’s headlines

Lots of team-related activity, between Mobile TeleSystems reportedly paying $5 million to acquire esports team Gambit and Splyce receiving $1.5 million in funding, Red Bull Conquest begins, NBA 2K league debuts, the Milken Institute Global Conference takes place in LA, Amazon announces another Mobile Masters, Imagine Dragons invests in esports, Google is building a secret mobile gaming startup, Ninja achieves diamond status on YouTube, an esports team signs on to promote Deadpool 2 in Germany, and lots and lots of sponsorship announcements.


Big games this week

Saturday marked the beginning of Red Bull Conquest, a summer-long fighting game circuit meant to inspire competitors to come out and represent their local scene. Red Bull has long been involved in the FGC (aka Fighting Game Community), which essentially refers to the esports scene and community around games like Street Fighter, Tekken, and Super Smash Bros. Regional qualifiers determine which teams have the best players in Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, TEKKEN 7, and Guilty Gear Xrd REV2, and they will ultimately face off to determine which region in the US is the best in fighting games. Conquest runs through November and will hit Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle, with National Finals to take place in Washington D.C. 

Ownership and operation
NBA 2K League Gets Solid Early Reviews; On-Air Talent Praised
The NBA 2K league debuted this week with some very competitive match-ups but a modest audience, with early viewership numbers stating that at peak, just over 13,000 viewers tuned in on Twitch. Despite that, I came away from these early games seeing so much potential, and as my friend Jordan Fragen wisely pointed out, the NBA Playoffs could be cannibalizing 2K. The broadcast talent was particularly noteworthy, with strong performances from hosts and casters alike, some of whom come from traditional sports broadcasting and all of whom bring extensive knowledge of IRL basketball. The league’s debut came with a brand new build of the game engineered specifically for the esport and has not yet been rolled out to the public. 

The role of traditional sports
Last week marked the Milken Institute 2018 Global Conference here in LA, and unsurprisingly, esports was a major topic of conversation. A dedicated panel on Wednesday morning entitled eSports: Will Competitive Gaming Be the Next Major Sport? included the Director of Esports at Tencent America, the EVP/CSO of AEG, and the commissioner of the Overwatch League, among others. I’m still awaiting video of the panel, but in researching I came across a Cheddar interview with Steve Ballmer discussing his interest in esports. While he believes most revenue in esports will ultimately accrue to the publishers/parties who own the IP, he believes the biggest potential for sports lies in the live experience. In the interview, Ballmer explicitly states that their plans for a newly designed Clippers arena must work for three things: basketball, concerts, and esports. 

More than just Candy Crush
Amazon’s next mobile game tournament will have $100,000 in prizes
Amazon has announced that they are bringing back their Mobile Masters Tournament, set to take place from June 23-24 at the Amazon streaming studio in Seattle. The tournament will include amateurs and pros competing in games including Power Rangers: Legacy Wars, Survival Arena, World of Tanks Blitz, and Critical Ops. The qualifiers will be powered by GameOn, Amazon’s cross-platform competitive gaming service, with the goal being to help developers scale and solidify competitive play. 

Follow the money
Imagine Dragons Invests in Esports Company ReKTGlobal and Team Rogue
Two members of rock band Imagine Dragons have invested in esports through esports infrastructure services company ReKTGlobal, which owns Rogue. Daniel Platzman and Wayne Sermon join fellow musician Steve Aoki as co-owners of the Las Vegas-based team, which currently plays across five games with ambitions for more. Imagine Dragons is no stranger to esports, having written and performed an original song for the League of Legends World Championships at the Seoul World Cup Stadium in 2014. As an aside, Vegas has been dead-set on becoming the premiere destination for esports in North America and Rogue as an organization is highly invested in the future of Vegas esports. 

Emerging companies in the space
Google Wunderkind Is Building a Secret Social-Gaming Startup
So this isn’t quite esports, but I’m just too intrigued not to share the latest news coming out of Google. Michael Sayman, a former Facebooker, is purportedly leading the charge on a social gaming startup called Arcade. Google has confirmed its existence and said their focus is on “mobile gaming with friends,” with some speculating that this may be inspired by the success of trivia app HQ.  With newly released insights reports predicting that mobile will make up half of all gaming revenue set to be generated in 2018, it makes complete sense that Google is looking to invest in interactive beyond the Play store. 

Streaming platforms and media rights
Ninja Surpasses a Major Milestone on YouTube
Twitch streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins acquired the coveted Diamond Play Button on YouTube this week, having surpassed 10 million subscribers as of this morning. To put this in perspective, Ninja first crossed the 1 million subscriber threshold on January 25th, which means he’s gained over 9 million subscribers in just over 3 months. Blevins, a former Halo pro, is credited with the meteoric rise of the title. He’s the most followed person on Twitch, has just under 2 million followers on Twitter, and 3.6 million followers on Instagram.

Esports reflected in global pop culture
Unicorns of Love to Promote Deadpool 2 in Germany
Unicorns of Love, a League of Legends team from the EU, is partnering with Twentieth Century Fox to promote Deadpool 2. The scope of the partnership includes social media and fan activations, but most notably, it includes two of its members recording lines for the German language version of the movie. The voiceover in particular is just an incredibly fun and clever concept; kudos to both UOL and Fox for doing something so creatively compelling. 

Brands and sponsorships
Boston Uprising x Gillette
Bob Kraft’s Overwatch League team, the Boston Uprising, have announced a partnership with Gillette to make the razor brand the team’s official shaving product supplier. The scope of the partnership includes Gillette branding on practice jerseys and throughout the practice facility as well as digital and social content initiatives. While Gillette is the first official sponsor of the Uprising, those of you who know Boston sports will know that Gillette has been a partner of Kraft Sports & Entertainment for nearly 20 years via Gillette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots and Revolution.

Fnatic x Best Buy
European esports org Fnatic has announced they will be debuting a line of gaming peripherals (keyboards, mice) with consumer electronics chain Best Buy as their exclusive US retailer. The line, which includes two keyboards and two mice, will be available at 330 Best Buy locations. This is the first official esports partnership for Best Buy.

Immortals/LA Valiant x Microsoft
Immortals (inclusive of their Overwatch League franchise, the LA Valiant) announced this week they will be partnering with Microsoft, adding them to their rapidly growing roster of sponsors. While there are few details available at the moment, the partnership will be anchored in live events, starting with a joint event series focused on increasing access to esports. For those who may not know, the Overwatch League plans to transition into a home/away model by 2020, and the LA Valiant previously announced tentative plans to make the Microsoft Theatre their home arena.

North x Adidas
North, a European esports team created through collaboration between FC Copenhagen and Nordisk Film, have announced they will be partnering with adidas for at least the duration of 2018. Due to the existing relationship between adidas and FC Copenhagen, this partnership comes as no surprise, and North’s jerseys actually already have the adidas logo on the top left. In addition to the existing kit sponsorship, the German sportswear brand will outfit North’s players both on- and off- stage and will undoubtedly produce some content as well. North currently competes exclusively in CS:GO but has plans for expansion. 

What’s flashing in the pan
All We Want to Do Is Watch Each Other Play Video Games
Because Fortnite is still the next Fortnite, let’s talk about Fortnite. Really, I want to discuss this New York Times article that at least 15 people forwarded me.

Esports are often (read: always) conflated with videogames, leading to dubious stats and outrageous viewership numbers and market size estimates that simply aren’t right. The entire point of this newsletter is so that you, the reader, are genuinely informed, especially if you’re making business decisions in this space. Which brings me to my point: Fortnite is not esports. Don’t believe someone if they show you Fortnite’s growth as a measurement for the popularity of esports. Fortnite, at the moment, is a videogame. A great one, no doubt. A hugely, astronomically popular one, to be sure. But as of right now, while all of these topics are being discussed and players are already being recruited by the likes of TSM and FaZe Clan, Fortnite is not yet an esport. But it will be, and it’ll be great. And you'll know, because you read this newsletter.

Games I’m playing and loving
Cuphead, an indie game from Studio MDHR, is a hard as hell run and gun sidescroller with possibly the coolest art I’ve ever seen. Hand drawn in the rubber hose animation style, it’s got this vintage feel and every frame is genuinely a masterpiece. 

Because I needed somewhere to put memes
There are a lot of really interesting below-the-line jobs in esports, and I loved this article on the makeup artists in the Overwatch League who make sure players and broadcast talent look their best on camera. 

Have a great weekend.


Copyright © Lauren Gaba Flanagan, All rights reserved.

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