Hello, and welcome to the eleventh issue of thisweek.gg. Thank you so much for subscribing.
Apologies for missing last week; I’ll just say it was absolutely necessary after two back-to-back conventions.
As always, if you’d like clarification, detail, or wish to speak further about something you read here, my inbox is open: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find me on Twitter @lgflanagan.
And now...on to the news.
An overview of this week’s headlines
League of Legends becomes the first Twitch channel to ever break a billion total views; Bethesda is suing Warner Brothers over their Westworld mobile game; FC Bayern Munich President reportedly vetoes club’s plan to expand into esports; Ninja partners with Kyrie Irving’s underwear brand to release a Ninja-branded line; Goldman Sachs releases their esports report; Splyce raises $2.6 million via crowdfunding; the NHL enters esports with the NHL Gaming Championship; Call of Duty World League may franchise; the IOC will host an esports forum in July; Tencent is pushing Arena of Valor; UTA enters esports; Google is reportedly working on a streaming service; esports makes an appearance on Netflix; Tinder is partnering with Immortals.
NHL Gaming Championship
Traditionally, sports games have been behind in esports as games have massive active player bases that don’t necessarily translate to watching the esport. As esports continues to explode, the leagues who own the IP behind sports games are now involved, as we’ve seen with the NBA 2K league and others. The latest in this batch is the NHL, which hosted the NHL Gaming Championship at the Esports Arena in Las Vegas and saw participants playing EA Sports’ NHL 18 title. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman seems to be thinking about esports very differently; they don’t intend to compete with leagues like 2K — what they truly want is to use esports as a way to further deepen the connections fans have to the teams they love, thereby bringing them closer to hockey.
The NHL Gaming Championship saw a peak of 28,124 max concurrents, with a total viewer count of 382,516. According to the article, the average viewer stayed with the broadcast for more than 13 minutes. I’m so encouraged by these numbers and really excited by the turnout for qualifiers as well; if the league does pledge support, it will have massive implications for the future of the esport. NBC Sports was a partner of the series, hosting the U.S. regional event and helping with the broadcast production on Twitch. Many existing NHL sponsors elected to sponsor the Gaming Championship as well, including Bridgestone, Dunkin’ Donuts, Honda, and Geico, as well as broadcast partners NBC Sports, Sportsnet and Viasat.
The winner, 18-year-old Finn Erik Tammenpaa, took home a trophy and $50,000.
Ownership and operation
OWL owners granted first right of negotiation for possible Call of Duty franchising, sources say
Rumors have begun to circulate that Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues (what was formerly MLG) is starting to have more realistic conversations about franchising the Call of Duty World League. According to ESPN, current Overwatch League franchise owners are being given the first right of refusal for spots in the CoD league — which is interesting, because 10 of the current 12 franchises don’t actually have CoD teams. Supposedly ABEL is exploring how to integrate rosters from elsewhere for this reason. Part of what makes this so interesting is Call of Duty’s release cycle; with new installments being released every fall, the esport is constantly in flux, with teams jumping from installment to installment. Many (myself included) speculate that the franchised version of the league will play on the highly anticipated Black Ops 4, which will be released this fall. Treyarch has reiterated that BO4 is an installment built with longevity and replayability in mind, which makes it a natural choice. While the CoD World League has existed since 2016, the launch date for this new iteration has not been disclosed.
The role of traditional sports
International Olympic Committee to Host Esports Forum
The Olympics conversation is heating up as the IOC and GAISF announced plans to host an esports forum in July around the inclusion of esports as part of the Olympic Movement. Attendees include Blizzard Entertainment President Mike Morhaime, Riot Games CEO Nicolo Laurent, Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer, and the Head of Esports at Twitch, Justin Dellario, among others. This is being presented as an opportunity for the IOC/GAISF and industry leaders in esports to come together and foster a dialogue. The relationship between esports and the IOC is already underway; in February, the IOC partnered with Intel and ESL to host an IEM Starcraft II event before the PyeongChang Winter Games. The forum will take place in Lausanne, Switzerland at the end of July and I'm crossing my fingers for a livestream.
More than just Candy Crush
Tencent drums up an audience for its mobile esports game in the West
At E3 this year, ESL and AT&T had a co-branded stage where they held the playoffs for Tencent’s mobile game, Arena of Valor. This was a test and learn for both Tencent and AT&T as they weren’t sure about turnout given how much companies fight for consumer attention at tradeshows, but were pleasantly surprised by the positive response. While there wasn't a huge crowd, fans were engaged and I think the fact that Arena of Valor is a mobile title made it stand out at E3. The format for the competition was completely open, so casual players or groups of friends could try and qualify and it was actually one of the only places you could sit and watch esports on the show floor. As I’ve mentioned, mobile games are one of the single biggest areas for growth in esports — and AoV is the biggest title in the world thanks to their player base in China. My guess is Tencent is trying to beat Supercell to the punch on paving the way for mobile esports, and I’m very eager to see how it all shakes out. More to come!
INVESTMENTS & STARTUPS
Follow the money
United Talent Agency Acquires Esports Companies Press X and Everyday Influencers
Talent agency UTA announced their acquisition of esports and gaming agency Press X as well as their management company Everyday Influencers. These acquisitions will add about 90 clients to the UTA roster, with broadcast and gaming talent ranging from League of Legends pros to specialty streamers. Press X CEO and co-founder Damon Lau will report to UTA Games head Ophir Lupu and UTA Ventures head Sam Wick. Once ICM made the first move during E3, I knew the floodgates were open — but I didn’t think it would happen so fast. This is the second deal in two weeks (the first being ICM) and rumor has it, there’s more to come. Let the record show I was trying to make esports happen at talent agencies before it was cool 🙃
Streaming platforms and media rights
Sources: Google Is Planning A Game Platform That Could Take On Xbox And PlayStation
Rumors have been circulating about what Google is doing in games for some time (remember when I told you about Arcade?) but it's recently been confirmed that they took meetings at both GDC and E3 to gauge interest in a gaming project codenamed Yeti. Sources say Yeti is a three-pronged approach to gaming that includes a streaming service, hardware, and a games studio of some kind. The streaming service aims to make even the highest-end games playable on cheap PCs, removing hardware barriers to entry, which would genuinely be revolutionary if they’re able to pull it off. For context, this is the latest in the arms race to create a cloud-based streaming model, with Microsoft having announced plans for a games subscription from the cloud at E3. Google may actually be able to pull off this monstrous feat considering they are the only company simultaneously working on streaming and bandwidth/connectivity issues.
Esports reflected in global pop culture
Vox’s Netflix show “Explained,” explained
In late May, news platform Vox released a show on Netflix called Explained, which aims to break down major topics of cultural conversation ranging from cryptocurrency to k-pop to the racial wealth gap. New episodes are released every Wednesday, and this week’s episode was about... esports! Minus the fact that they spell it eSports, it’s a really nicely packaged, well done overview that I highly recommend. Mainstream news often covers esports in a way that feels misinformed at best and mean-spirited at worst, so I was really pleased to see Vox put together something compelling and digestible.
Brands and sponsorships
Immortals x Tinder
Immortals, an LA-based team I laid out in detail here, announced they’ve acquired Brazilian org MIBR and picked up their Counter-Strike: Global Offensive roster. This comes after Immortals had been forced to dissolve their existing roster at the end of last year, and fans have been anxiously awaiting their return to CS:GO. Alongside this announcement, IAC-owned dating app Tinder was revealed as new partner for the team; their hope is to bring fans together through content and live experiences focused on Tinder’s premium subscription services, Tinder Plus and Tinder Gold. Tinder is the first dating app to play in esports, and I find the alignment fascinating. When I think about it, it makes sense; the overarching mission of esports teams and online dating is quite similar and, as Tinder’s Director of Global Business Development points out, centers on human connection through shared interests. I can’t see the Bumbles of the world in esports given how female-focused they are, but am eager to see if others like Hinge or The League follow suit.
Games I’m playing and loving
The latest installment in the Mario Tennis franchise, Mario Tennis Aces, came out this month on Nintendo Switch and I’m enjoying it despite my dislike of most sports or even sports-adjacent games. As the title suggests, it’s a tennis game, but you’re playing beloved characters from the Nintendo universe on some very unconventional courts. The play is actually pretty nuanced and mechanically interesting, and the court design is awesome. I like playing with more balanced characters (Mario, Daisy) but the faster and “trickier” characters are fun as well. As an aside, this may be just the thing to get my tennis-loving husband into videogames. I’ll keep you posted.
Because I needed somewhere to put memes
If you followed the news coming out of E3, you’ve seen that there was an uproar in the community about the fact that Waluigi, Luigi’s arch-rival, was not announced as a playable character in the new Super Smash Bros from Nintendo (this is completely serious by the way, it caused such a ruckus the Washington Post wrote about it). In this interview, Waypoint asks Reggie Fils-Aimé (COO, Nintendo of America President) the hard-hitting questions, namely around what's in store for Waluigi. I found myself laughing out loud at the interview, but in short — it’s up to Smash game director Masahiro Sakurai whether or not they now decide to include Waluigi in response to the fan freakout. I love the internet.
And with that, have a great weekend.