12/01/22: NYT report casts doubt on esports profitability; Fortnite and NFL launch in-game experience; FTC considering battle with Microsoft over ATVI deal
Thursday December 1, 2022
Good morning! It’s Thursday and this is your early morning Esports brief.
A New York Times story about the uncertain profitability of esports has made waves in the industry this week. “They certainly pitched us that the growth of these leagues would be meteoric,” Misfits founder and CEO Ben Spoont told the Times. “What has happened is that growth has not materialized as fast as we had hoped.”
A lack of reliable revenue streams that benefit traditional sports, such as consistent locale-based fans and linear TV deals, plays into the profitability question. So too has an overall shrink in investment in the space. But longtime supporters like Kirk Lacob, the son of Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob, have hope.
“I really believe that where there are eyeballs, where there’s usage, there’s eventually revenue,” Kirk Lacob said. That belief spurred Golden State’s creation of Golden Guardians and purchase of a League of Legends Championship Series franchise slot in 2017, and even amid uncertainty, their faith seems steadfast.
Nintendo has shut down the 2022 Smash World Tour championship and the event’s 2023 tournament circuit. In a statement, organizer VGBootcamp said Nintendo refused to grant it a license to run the circuit after the Smash Bros. developer initially suggested it could provide one. Smash World Tour was one of the few competitors of the Panda Cup, a Nintendo licensed Super Smash Bros. circuit. “We don’t know where everything will land quite yet with contracts, sponsor obligations, etc.,” Smash World Tour organizers said in a statement. “In short, we will be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars due to Nintendo’s actions.”
The Brawl Stars World Finals is now the most-watched mobile esports competition of all-time, according to data from Esports Charts. The tournament drew more than 394,000 peak viewers and an average of 200,000 viewers over almost 15 hours of airtime, with U.S. organization Tribe Gaming’s matchup against ZEST LATAM bringing in that top peak viewership number. Japanese esports org ZETA DIVISION won the title and the $400,000 championship prize, with sister team ZETA DIVISION ONE taking second and $200,000. Tribe finished third and brought home $80,000.
Europe’s League of Legends European Championship has rebranded and plans to expand to include the Middle East and Africa regions in 2023. The League of Legends EMEA Championship will include teams from Turkey and the Commonwealth of Independent States as well, the league announced, and keep the LEC moniker. The LEC will also expand to three splits instead of the traditional two, with Winter, Spring and Summer splits for its current 10 franchise partners.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive squad Heroic won the BLAST Premier Fall Finals with a 2-1 series victory over FaZe Clan on Sunday. Following a runner-up finish at the IEM Rio Major, Heroic managed to win a tightly contested matchup against FaZe to bring home the $200,000 prize for first place. Every match of the playoff bracket went to three games, making the Fall Finals one of the closest knockout rounds of the CS:GO circuit this year.
VALORANT Game Changers team G2 Gozen are the first-ever world championsin the game’s women’s esports circuit. The VALORANT Game Changers EMEA squad swept the competition en route to the finals but faced a tough test there from North American org Shopify Rebellion GC. A five-game series went the way of G2 Gozen, though, as did $180,000 of the tournament’s $500,000 prize pool. Team Liquid Brazil finished third at the event, with Cloud9 White finishing fourth.
The NHL is rebranding and expanding esports operations to better integrate into the hockey league’s traditional programming ahead of the sixth season of its competitive gaming circuit. Live Twitch streams, NHL Club tournaments, in-person events and content produced by NHL players are on the docket for 2023, the league said, as is a rebrand of the 2023 season to the EA SPORTS NHL 23 World Championship. The decision to ramp up, NHL Group Vice President of Business and Technology Partnerships Chris Golier said, will provide “more global opportunities for players to compete at the highest level” in NHL 23. “Expanded programming in NHL markets and participation from all 32 Clubs has always been our ultimate objective as we continue to grow the NHL gaming ecosystem,” Golier said in a statement.
STREAM HATCHET INSIGHTS
Disney+ Leads Twitch Chat Mentions of Video Streaming Services. Disney+ is November’s leader for video streaming services in Twitch chat, clocking in at 260K mentions last month. While also having the benefit of being attached to one of the top 10 most valuable brands in the world according to Forbes, Disney+ has also taken interest in the livestreaming space as a way to generate more awareness for the streaming service. Esports organization KOI, which is owned by Ibai Llanos, is sponsored by Disney+, which helps to generate more global interest for the streaming services in the Spanish Gaming community. Netflix was the runner-up for November with 201K mentions. This is a 19% decrease from the 249K mentions generated in October.
SPONSORSHIP & ACTIVATION
The NFL and Fortnite have partnered to bring a new interactive experience to Fortnite Creative. The NFL Zone, presented by Visa and created in partnership with Super Awesome, is expected to be a “multifaceted, dynamic metaverse experience,” according to a statement from the NFL. The NFL Zone will feature “The Hub,” which will include virtual tailgates and sponsorship activations as well as minigames. The league will also release team-inspired maps, beginning with the San Francisco 49ers’ map, beginning today. Competitions, content creator activations and other gameplay opportunities are on the way as well, the NFL said.
The Call of Duty League launched its team-focused cosmetics on Wednesday. All 12 franchises have in-game jerseys available for purchase in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II and Warzone 2.0. The team packs include primary and alternate uniforms as well as a suite of other cosmetics for $9.99. The annual in-game activation helps drum up attention for pro competition and an alternate revenue stream from dedicated fans. The CDL 2023 season begins Friday with Opening Weekend and online qualifiers for its first major tournament of Season 3.
The end of Blizzard’s deal with NetEase led to suspension of “most Blizzard game services” in China with no immediate path to bringing the titles back to the Chinese fanbase following the close of the agreement in January 2023. Blizzard has already suspended new sales of its titles in the country, according to a statement, including an esports title with important ties to the country: Overwatch 2. The Overwatch League and its multiple Chinese franchise partners will likely be affected. “Without a local partner to operate Blizzard games in China, Blizzard will be suspending service and support for our Blizzard games when our licensing agreements with NetEase expires on Jan. 23, 2023,” an OWL spokesperson told Dexerto. “As Blizzard explores alternatives to NetEase there could be an impact to the future of our esports business in the region.”
Esports organization Ninjas in Pyjamas has partnered with Red Bull as a jersey sponsor in its latest fashion-focused move. NiP also brought in FILA to produce jerseys and merchandise in early November. The Red Bull deal will go beyond jersey logos, NiP said in a statement, but details on what that could mean are unclear.
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YOUGOV LIVING DATA INSIGHTS
American esports fans seek the wider picture in brand communications.
Three quarters of American esports fans (73%) say they consider it “very important” or “somewhat important” that brands adopt a clear or transparent stance on the wider issues in society. By comparison, only half of all US adults feel the same way (53%).
Amid rumors of his retirement, League of Legends pro Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok announced he has re-signed with T1 for three years. The South Korean star, who is widely considered the best League player of all time, announced his decision Monday. T1 is coming off a runner-up finish at the League of Legends World Championship this year, where the team lost to South Korean rival DRX in one of the most memorable finals in recent memory. DRX won the series 3-2 to keep Faker from a record fourth Worlds title.
The Overwatch League’s Paris Eternal hired the league’s first-ever woman coach in Diana “Empress” W. The U.S. native has seen notable success at the Contenders level of play and guided teams in Europe and North America to consistent top-three finishes across multiple events and seasons. The Eternal is set to move its franchise to Las Vegas in 2023, which will allow the new coach to make the most of her connections in the domestic Contenders scene.
In other star League player news, Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon has decided to retire, ending a career that included a 2020 world championship with South Korea’s DWG KIA and a notable stint with China’s FunPlus Phoenix. Nuguri returned to DWG KIA in 2022 after two years with FPX, and after the team’s quarterfinal exit from Worlds 2022 was cut from the roster.
A report from Esports Insider casts doubt on the future of esports org Renegades, which currently fields no teams in the space after cutting its Apex Legends team in October. Renegades, which still features merchandise from its now-defunct Rocket League team’s run to the title’s world championship tournament, has yet to comment on the future of the organization or its plans. The org is still sponsored by partners such as Respawn, Nvidia, Twitch and Champion, according to its website. The uncertain financial future of esports as well as an unstable business environment have contributed to the cuts, former employees told Esports Insider. “The [co-owner] wanted RNG to run like 100 Thieves with 5% of the budget,” one employee told the publication.
The Call of Duty League’s Boston Breach announced it will host CDL Major 2 at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway. This will be the first CDL major hosted in Boston. The venue has a capacity of just over 5,000 people and opened Aug. 29, 2022. The indoor facility operated by Live Nation is just outside of Fenway Park, the home of the MLB’s
Boston Red Sox.
Betting company Rivalry announced its first-ever profitable month, but there’s still work to do for the wagering platform after a record quarter and October surge. Rivalry, which has esports betting as a pillar of its business, finished out Q3 with $5.2 million in revenue and a betting handle, or amount of money wagered through the platform, of $51.8 million. That $51.8 million is an 83% increase from Q2 and 203% increase year-over-year for Rivalry. Rivalry’s traditional betting platforms, as well as its release of an online casino that contributed 30% of the betting handle and 15% of Q3 revenue, also led the company to a strong October and $1.5 million in gross profit. That said, the momentum of the past few months comes with ongoing inflation of operating losses and expenses, and Rivalry saw net losses of $4.34 million for Q3. If the company’s growth continues, though, those concerns could abate, making Rivalry a one-of-a-kind platform in the space financially.
The Federal Trade Commission is likely to attempt to block Microsoft’s $69 billion deal to take over Activision-Blizzard, according to a report from Politico. The FTC’s antitrust lawsuit is not guaranteed to go through, according to the report, though an official case could move forward “as soon as next month,” sources told Politico. Opposition to the deal from Sony, the primary gaming competitor to Microsoft’s Xbox, has been a spark for ongoing arguments.
Guild Esports faced shakeups at the executive level last week with CEO Kal Hourd leaving the company. Chief Marketing Officer Jasmine Skee, who joined Guild in March 2022, will take over Hourd’s position. Guild also announced changes to its board of directors, with former board member Mike Edwards leaving his position and Guild co-founder Jocelin Caldwell taking on Edwards’ non-executive director role.
Riot and Ubisoft will work together to protect players from harmful voice and text chat via Zero Harm in Comms, a research project that will draw on AI and deep learning “to train Ubisoft and Riot’s systems to detect and mitigate disruptive behavior.” The system is designed to remove personally identifiable information and then review and identify harmful statements in audio or text chat. The project began in early 2022, according to the companies, with future results and related announcements expected in 2023.
READYUP EVENTS OF THE WEEK
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Answer to Our Last Trivia Question
The latest game in the Pokémon franchise releases on Friday; when did the first two titles in the series release in the U.S., and what platform did they release on? Answer: 1998 on Nintendo Game Boy. Kudos: David Westberg/SAG•AFTRA Federal Credit Union, Burbank CACynopsis TeamKerry Smith
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