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Hello, and welcome to the seventh issue of Thank you so much for subscribing. 

An update on the job front -- I’ve started as the Director of Esports + Gaming at United Entertainment Group, an incredibly forward-thinking global sports and entertainment marketing agency that shares my passion for bringing the world’s leading brands into interactive entertainment. And fear not! I’m thrilled to report this newsletter will continue to arrive in your inbox each week.

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

The Dallas Fuel have their first win since February, ATVI is shopping new deals for OW/OWL, the 2018 FIFA esports tournament season drew over 20 million players, Rainbow Six moves to league format, but stays true to its methodical growth strategy, ESL Pro League and MSI conclude, Epic announces a $100 million commitment to competitive prize pools in Fortnite, an English football club announces a gaming division, Fortnite Mobile for Android has a target launch timeline, aXiomatic raises a B round, a mobile esports startup from Y Combinator secures investment, Fortnite and Ninja break records, the Middle East continues to be at the forefront of esports, Blizzard awards the master toy license for Overwatch, Immortals adds Otter Pops to their growing list of partners, 500+ episodes of Doctor Who are coming to Twitch.


Big games this week

This was a positively huge week in esports, starting with...

ESL Pro League (CS:GO) May 15-May 20
Season 7 of the ESL Pro League culminated on Sunday in Texas with Danish org Astralis taking home the trophy after playing Team Liquid in the best-of-five grand final. The broadcast partner was also noteworthy; for the first time ever, EPL was streamed live on Facebook Watch. As mentioned, Facebook has been outbidding other streaming platforms for exclusivity on esports broadcasts, and ESL signed an exclusive broadcasting deal with them for all CS:GO events this year. YouTube was the exclusive streaming platform for ESL’s events in 2017. Reaction from the community has been mixed, with some taking to social media to voice frustrations with how long it took to locate the content. 

As a slight aside, I receive a lot of questions regarding esports players and performance-enhancing drugs, and a number of players were drug-tested throughout this event. ESL announced an anti-doping policy in 2015, and they remain one of very few tournament organizers to practice random drug testing. 

Astralis took home a prize pool of $750k. For those interested, Audi (Denmark) is the team's official kit sponsor.

MSI 2018 (League of Legends) May 3-May 20
The League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational concluded in Paris on Sunday, with Chinese team Royal Never Give Up defeating South Korean team Kingzone DragonX 3-1. This was a huge moment as South Korean teams are universally considered the best in the world, and Kingzone was expected to have a record-breaking win going into the match. As I mentioned last week, MSI is a global tournament that features one team from every professional league (Brazil, China, Commonwealth of Independent States, Europe, Japan, Korea, LatAm North, LatAm South, North America, Oceania, SE Asia, Vietnam, Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macau, and Turkey) so at times it feels reminiscent (in a really fun way) of World Cups, where there’s fanfare around specific regions. 

For a comprehensive overview of highlights, check out Red Bull’s recap.

Ownership and operation
Epic Games Will Provide $100,000,000 for Fornite: Battle Royale Esports Tournament Prize Pools In The First Year Of Competitive Play
Epic Games announced it will commit $100,000,000 (yes, you read that right) to competitive Fortnite tournaments this year (Year 1). For some context, the top 10 games in esports gave out a combined total of $91.2 million in prize money last year. This is not only a groundbreaking move in esports, but a hugely important moment for casual ranked play as well. Given the game's popularity with casual players -- and the lack of a formalized esports league as of yet -- this money could be disbursed fairly heavily across ranked play or community tournaments. Competitive Fortnite stands to be esports’ biggest breakthrough to the mainstream when you consider the incredible penetration the game has already achieved across popular culture. Now to (anxiously) await details about the league(s).

While we’re on the subject of Fortnite, I really liked this read from Bryce Blum that covers five things battle royale esports can learn from golf.

The role of traditional sports
Aston Villa FC Launches Gaming Division, Partners With EGL for FIFA Tournaments

Aston Villa FC, an English football club in the EFL League Championship, has announced a gaming division in partnership with the European Gaming League (EGL). The first event will be a FIFA 18 tournament this June. No details have been released beyond the upcoming FIFA tournaments, and it remains to be seen whether or not AVFC will be the first FC to actually sign players as opposed to partnering with leagues or tournament organizers. 

No European FC currently participates in any title outside soccer, but as the Overwatch League and the EU LCS seek to sell European franchises to FC owners, this may change. According to this recent report, Riot has already been in talks with Premier League clubs like Arsenal, Crystal Palace, and Swansea City. We all know soccer is the biggest sport on earth (estimated 4 billion fans worldwide) and the involvement of football clubs in titles beyond FIFA will drastically change the global landscape, exposing esports to a massive new audience. Exciting times.

More than just Candy Crush

'Fortnite: Battle Royale' Android Release Date: Epic Announces A Target
Though the announcement is light on details, Epic Games says they are circling summer to launch Fortnite on Android. In addition, the report provides some feature updates including voice chat functionality being added to mobile. If you’ll recall, Fortnite was earning an average of a million dollars a day in player transactions when it came to iOS in early April -- and with a huge number of active gamers on Android, this is sure to be a massive increase in revenue. 

A word of caution: there have been a number of Fortnite scams reported around Android (and around ways to farm V-Bucks, Fortnite's in-game currency), so be careful about what you (or your kids!) are opening or downloading on mobile.

Follow the money
Team Liquid parent aXiomatic raises $25 million in Series B investment
aXiomatic, the parent group of Team Liquid, has raised $25 million in a series B round. Led by Golden State Warriors board member (and co-founder of Oaktree Capital) Bruce Karsh, the round includes additional investment from existing aXiomatic board members like Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. aXiomatic is a fund that invests in interactive entertainment and esports, and is run by some of the biggest names in traditional sports. According to ESPN Esports’ Jacob Wolf, this is the third Tier 1 org to raise $25 million+ in funding over the last 8 months. Others include Cloud9 and Team SoloMid.

Emerging companies in the space
Gamelynx raises $1.2 million to make esports games on mobile (updated)
Gamelynx, a startup creating competitive team-based games for mobile, has raised $1.2 million. The company is looking to make esports more accessible and global by designing mobile games with hardcore gamers -- and esports -- in mind. Investors include Y Combinator (they were part of the summer 2017 group) and Riot Games, among others. The technical hurdles associated with this are not insignificant; it requires high-end networking technology that’s also light on data use. Details on launch to come later this year.

This idea of mobile-first competitive multiplayer games has really proliferated recently, as opposed to just porting already-successful PC/Console games to mobile. There is a lot of excitement around the future of mobile esports; from the first-ever mobile league in Supercell’s Clash Royale to the WeChat mobile games from Tencent, this is a space to watch.

Streaming platforms and media rights
Fortnite breaks records...again! (Top 10 Most Watched Esports Channels of the Week, May 14 – May 20, 2018)
New Twitch records have been set by both Ninja and Fortnite, possibly driven by the announcement from Epic I mentioned above. 

Some truly astonishing numbers from my friend + esports data queen Jordan Fragen: 
From May 14th - May 20th, 31.9 million hours of Fortnite were watched on Twitch, a 4.6% increase in watch time from the week prior. Ninja also set a personal best, generating 8.4 million hours watched, just over a quarter (26%) of the total amount. 

As mentioned, while Epic has announced a commitment of prize money, they’ve yet to announce any sort of owned league or tournament -- so people are getting creative with ways to watch competitive Fortnite. For example, Friday Fortnite is an incredibly popular way to watch outside Ninja’s channel; it’s a community tournament organized by YouTuber KEEMSTAR and online tournament platform UMG Media. Many of the platform’s biggest streamers have joined in on Friday Fortnite -- think Ninja, Shroud, Nickmercs, Dr. DisRespect -- driving a massive amount of eyeballs. 

Esports reflected in global pop culture
Arab Esport Federation and Global Esport Resources announce 11 country agreement to consolidate Esport activities
The Arab Esport Federation (AEF) and Global Esport Resources (GER) have announced a partnership in which GER -- an esports strategy, planning, and execution company -- will own and operate a centralized hub to manage the esports and gaming ventures of the AEF’s 11 member countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, and United Arab Emirates). AEF, headquartered in Riyadh, is focused on the development of esports and gaming in the region as well as crafting a unified strategy to engage youth and encourage participation in international competitions. The hub will include handling local, national, and international tournaments, merchandising, sponsorships, streaming/media rights, and team activities. 

It’s hard to articulate how awesomely interesting I think this is. The AEF counts 80 million active gamers across 11 countries and collectively, the revenue from the gaming industry within said countries is an estimated $3 billion for 2017.  Not to say that this market has been entirely underserved in esports, but it’s certainly outside the most-talked about regions (APAC, NA, EU) and yet it boasts some of the most progressive (and in some cases, government-supported) esports programs in the world.  I cannot wait to see the results of this partnership, which is set to kick off in the next two months.

Brands and sponsorships
Overwatch Lego Sets Are Coming Amid Several New Merchandise Deals

This week marked the 2018 Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, and the ATVI team brought a full suite of new partnerships, including...Overwatch LEGO sets! In addition to LEGO, the master toy license for the Overwatch brand has been awarded to Hasbro, who stated there will be "a wide range of play experiences including a NERF product line, games and more." It looks like Overwatch NERF Blasters will be the first product produced, coming to market in 2019 aka not soon enough. Blizzard has a huge merchandise practice with existing agreements for toys, clothing, and collectibles -- but they’ve stated specifically that they’re planning for a massive expansion in licensing Overwatch. Overwatch’s art style is incredibly friendly and accessible while boasting some of the most diverse and distinct heroes (and weaponry) I’ve seen in any game. Coupled with the game’s broad mainstream appeal and the popularity of the OWL, it’s ripe for opportunity in this space.

Otter Pops x Immortals
While very few details are available at this time, Immortals announced a deal with -- wait for it -- Otter Pops! Remember those slushy popsicles from your Little League days? I can’t wait to see what this partnership entails beyond sampling opportunities for the frozen treat brand. 

Immortals has been on a very aggressive signing streak since I started this newsletter. In just seven weeks, they’ve announced Mountain Dew, K-Swiss, Microsoft, and Otter Pops, appearing in 4 of the last 7 issues.

Games I’m playing and loving
Monument Valley II, an indie puzzle game from Ustwo, is a mobile game in which every level is essentially an interactive Escher creation. If you’re the type who likes a more meditative, relaxing game experience -- I can’t recommend it enough. I don’t play many mobile games, but this is one I often find myself reaching for. 

Because I needed somewhere to put memes
The most important piece of news I may ever deliver on TWGG is this: there is a Doctor Who marathon coming to Twitch. The 500+ classic episodes, starting from the show’s inaugural season in 1963, will be available on Twitch starting May 29. 

Next, while I think CoD is one of the most reliably popular franchises out there -- especially with Treyarch on the dev side -- I liked Julie Muncy’s eulogy for the Call of Duty single-player campaign mode.

And with that, have a great weekend.


Copyright © Lauren Gaba Flanagan, All rights reserved.

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