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Hello, and welcome to the sixth issue of Thank you so much 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 retweeting Overwatch League memes @lgflanagan.

And now...onto the news. 

An overview of this week’s headlines

Gfinity appoints former UFC Brand Officer Garry Cook as Executive Chairman, the Overwatch League enters its final stage, Oculus and ESL renew their partnership on a VR esports league, the Supreme Court rules on sports betting, Tencent struggles to monetize PUBG Mobile in China, BITKRAFT expands their portfolio, Minute Media raises another round, SNL will host a marathon stream on Twitch, the Asian Games announces what esports titles will be included in the competition, a French org aligns with a sports agency, Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII announces a battle royale mode, and unsurprisingly, Fortnite is the game of choice in the Red Sox clubhouse. 


Big games this week

Stage 4 (the final stage) of the Overwatch League started this week, and it’s so hard to believe the season is nearly over. I was having a conversation this week reflecting on this inaugural year, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed the last few months of gameplay. I think it’s really delivered in terms of upsets, rivalries, fanfare, and overall excitement and I’m looking forward to what unfolds in the final stage, especially given the new meta. 

Speaking of the new meta, OWL Commissioner Nate Nanzer announced stage 4 would be played on patch 1.22, which is a different version of the game than the public is currently playing on (1.23). This highlights an issue completely unique to esports, which is that the games themselves are being modified throughout the competitive season. Between the addition of new content or heroes, bug fixes, and adjustments to hero abilities (balancing heroes that are either under/overpowered, etc.) the style of play can dramatically evolve depending on what changes are made by developers. There are many reasons why it’s best to have the competitive patch be the same as the live patch, but it risks tournament stability if players haven’t had adequate time to play on a given update, thus why the league made the decision to play Stage 4 on 1.22. We've got the old Hanzo for now, folks. 

You can catch all the Stage 4 action on Twitch.

Ownership and operation
Oculus and ESL Team Up for VR League: Season 2
Esports network ESL and Facebook-owned VR company Oculus announced a renewal of their partnership on the VR Challenger League, newly rebranded as VR League. The press release states that the second season of the league will soon kick off with new games and a revised, more flexible format, with competitors vying for a prize pool of over $220K. Oculus has explicitly stated their commitment to the growth of VR esports and plans to expand their participation in the ecosystem through both formalized leagues and grassroots communities.

The role of traditional sports
How the U.S. gambling decision will affect esports
On Monday, the US Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prohibited sports gambling, giving states the go-ahead to legalize sports betting -- and with it, esports betting. A record $4.8 billion was legally wagered at Nevada sportsbooks in 2017, but an estimated $150 billion was illegally wagered on sports by Americans as well, showing the unbelievable demand for legalization. Esports specifically, while it’s been a legal option on the Vegas menu since 2016, has a massive betting black market in the US. Watchdog organization ESIC (Esports Integrity Coalition) states the ruling is a huge step forward in preserving competitive integrity through regulation and protection. Fantasy esports betting has also been the subject of much conversation, and DraftKings' CRO and co-founder told CNBC that esports was their fastest-growing fantasy game category last year.

If you’re interested in a breakdown of how esports gambling works, here’s a fairly comprehensive look. Watch this space, and expect a proliferation of startups -- as well as major pushes from the companies that already exist. My other interest in this is around cryptocurrency, looking at betting sites like Unikrn that had ICOs and are looking for people to place wagers in a proprietary coin. 

More than just Candy Crush
PlayerUnknown: Tencent Can’t Make Money Off Top Mobile Games
Tencent, the rights holder/developer of PUBG mobile games, is reportedly having trouble monetizing the games in a critical market: China. Tencent licensed the PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds IP from the game’s developer, South Korean studio Bluehole Inc., and sources say that the delay is due to China’s unofficial economic sanctions against South Korea for their decision to install a U.S. missile-defense system. While the two versions of the game are free to play, Tencent can’t begin selling in-game items in the Chinese market until the government’s media regulator approves them. According to the article, analysts, industry insiders and a review of Chinese regulators’ websites suggests no games based on South Korean content have been approved by China’s media regulator since March of last year.

Tencent is extremely eager to get the in-game marketplace up and running in China as executives said Wednesday that the two PUBG Mobile titles had a combined 50 million daily active users, with 40 million of those in China. 

Follow the money
Quarterback Raises $2.5M in Seed Funding, Plans Expansion Into ‘Four to Five’ More Games
Quarterback is an esports fan engagement platform that essentially allows players and streamers to create their own fan-based leagues, or what they describe as a “fan glub gaming league.” Leagues created on Quarterback can host daily challenges, give out prizes and compete against fan clubs devoted to other streamers or players. They’ve recently announced a seed round led by BITKRAFT, an early stage investor and company-builder started by Jens Hilgers, a founder of what many consider to be the largest esports company in the world: ESL.  BITKRAFT, based in Berlin and LA, invests exclusively in esports-related startups and has a diverse portfolio, ranging from esports PR and communications to betting platforms and data services. I’ve found that exploring the portfolios of esports-focused funds is an interesting way to discover sectors of the industry that aren’t immediately obvious; it truly shows the incredible breadth of the ecosystem and I always find something new to get excited about.

Emerging companies in the space
Minute Media raises $17 million for sports and esports digital publishing platform
Minute Media is a NY-based global media company that operates three digital properties powered by a proprietary technology platform. Combined, 12UP (sports/entertainment focused), DBLTAP (esports-focused), and 90min (football-focused) reach more than 80 million monthly unique users. Their CEO credits their product/tech-first approach to media as their key to success during what has been a challenging time for the publishing and content industries. Esports content companies generally struggle to monetize at scale, facing factors like adblockers, resistance to consume content outside sites like Reddit and Twitter, and an unwillingness to pay for premium content.

They’ve raised a total of $77 million to date, and participants in this round include Goldman Sachs and existing investor Battery Ventures, among others.

Streaming platforms and media rights
‘Saturday Night Live’ 48-Hour Marathon to Stream on Twitch
To promote the season finale, NBC announced a 48-Hour SNL marathon is coming to Twitch starting May 17th. Tina Fey will host with Nicki Minaj as the musical guest, and sketches will include highlights from this season as well as many of Fey’s sketches, classic segments, ad parodies, impressions and digital shorts. 

Twitch is making a concerted effort to broaden its content offering, looking to create social viewing experiences for audiences both in and outside gaming. Twitch has run many similar marathons in recent years for shows ranging from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to Julia Child’s The French Chef.

Esports reflected in global pop culture
Asian Games 2018 Confirms List of Esports, Includes Two Mobile Titles
As mentioned in a previous issue discussing whether or not esports will be part of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, I mentioned the Asian Games would be formally introducing esports later this year. Well, they’ve officially announced what titles will be featured, and the list is as follows: League of Legends (Riot), Hearthstone (Blizzard), Starcraft II (Blizzard), Pro Evolution Soccer (Konami), Clash Royale (Supercell), and Arena of Valor (Tencent). Two of these games are mobile titles -- Clash Royale and Arena of Valor -- both of which are hugely popular in Asia. Though the Asian Games are officially sanctioned by the IOC, inclusion in the games has no bearing on whether or not esports will be part of the Olympics. 

The Asian Games is considered the second largest multi-sport competition in the world. The 2018 games will take place in Indonesia starting August 18th. 

Brands and sponsorships
This week, this section will not be highlighting sponsorships but rather a new trend I’ve observed: the alignment of esports teams with sales-focused marketing and sports agencies. I’ve noticed more orgs are starting to sign with traditional agencies as opposed to running sponsorships through an internal apparatus, and I’m really interested to see what new brands enter the arena as a result.

An example from this week is this news of French esports organization Team Vitality formalizing a partnership with European sports marketing agency Infront. Infront will market and represent Vitality’s sponsorship opportunities, applying their traditional sports background to the esports org. Vitality’s existing partners include OMEN by HP, adidas, Volvic, Renault Sport, Twitch, Quersus, and Burn Controllers.

What's flashing in the pan
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 will feature a Fortnite-style battle royale mode
Activision announced Thursday that the new Call of Duty title, Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII (no, I don’t know why it’s not IV), will feature a battle royale mode called Blackout. This is clearly in direct response to the explosive recent success of battle royale games like PUBG and, of course, Fortnite, but will undoubtedly be an experience only Treyarch can deliver. Blackout will replace one of the three traditional pillars of the game and will be their biggest map ever, featuring 10 years of Black Ops universe features. I don’t play much CoD myself, but the fact that you can traverse the map with land, sea, and air vehicles is awesome and genuinely a massive differentiator from other BR titles. The game comes out on October 12, with more details to be released at E3. I'm personally eager to hear more about the adaptation to mobile, given the success of both Fortnite and PUBG.

Games I’m playing and loving
So I’m still playing a lot of Fortnite, but I feel compelled to share a game that has been on steady rotation since I got it in November. Super Mario Odyssey, a Nintendo title made for their latest console, the Switch, is a weird and wonderful celebration of all Mario titles that came before it. In the same way a meal can be so delicious it forces you to eat slowly because you don’t want it to end, this is a game so good I conscientiously didn’t allow myself to play through too quickly despite the fact that I knew for sure there’d be DLC. If you don’t already have a Switch, I really believe it’s worth getting for this + The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild alone. It’s the definition of family fun and will bring back years of happy memories. 

Because I needed somewhere to put memes
So this is technically from last week, but people are still talking about the flurry of speculation around the Fortnite habits of the Boston Red Sox, specifically pitcher David Price. A recent article from the Boston Globe entitled Game on: Is David Price’s ailment linked to video gaming? actually made me laugh out loud. An excerpt:

Could things get any more hideous for Boston’s $217 million starter? Price is forever walking around Fenway with a target on his back because of his salary, his playoff history, his Dennis Eckersley ambush, and all the other quotes and stunts that indicate he is ill-equipped for Boston baseball. And now he misses a start in New York because of a condition that possibly was brought on by playing too many video games?

If you needed more reason to believe Fortnite has taken over the universe, MLB reporter Ian Browne later tweeted “Price said he will no longer play Fortnite at the ballpark because he is aware the topic has been a distraction last couple of days.” 

And with that, have a great weekend.


Copyright © Lauren Gaba Flanagan, All rights reserved.

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