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12/15/22: VALORANT orgs prepare to battle for partnership program; Virtus.pro hires new CEO; Ubisoft adjusts Rainbow Six esports circuit


Medias First Morning Read
Thursday December 15, 2022

Good morning! It’s Thursday and this is your early morning Esports brief.
The race for sought-after VALORANT partner positions is heating up as non-partner teams build out rosters to compete for two years of guaranteed partner status in various regional leagues. The battle is most intense in North America, where in the last week and a half three new contenders have emerged to fight for two slots in the VALORANT Champions Tour that will be conferred to VALORANT Challengers teams that make it through the Ascension tournament. The winner and runner-up from that event will earn two years of eligibility in the VCT, which is the top tier of VALORANT competition globally.

G2 Esports, new organization M80 and TSM have all signed VALORANT Challengers rosters. G2 and TSM, which missed out on VCT franchising, will hope to earn their way in with tier one-caliber rosters, while M80, which was just announced last week, will try to make a splash in its first year as an esports organization. M80 is the brainchild of former XSET chief operating officer Marco Mereu, who left XSET in September after co-founding the organization in 2020.

The trio of teams will also face tight competition from The Guard, another legacy VALORANT organization that has competed internationally and hopes to earn its way into the VCT’s two-year program. Luminaries of the young-but-popular esports such as former Sentinels stars Shahzeb “ShahZam” Khan and Michael “dapr” Gulino (G2), Alexander “Zander” Dituri (M80), James “hazed” Cobb and Nicholas “NaturE” Garrison (TSM) and Trent “Trent” Cairns highlight those rosters.

The depth of Challengers talent in North America will certainly be a storyline in the league’s first year or franchising, and it’s worth wondering what kind of success story Riot Games can build through its Tier 2 events with several organizations that already draw dedicated viewership in the Challenger ranks. It’s also worth considering what some of these organizations will do and how their commitment to VALORANT could be affected if they can’t scrape into the partner program this year.

COMPETITION

Rainbow Six Siege creator Ubisoft has partnered with tournament organizer BLAST as it adjusts the Rainbow Six global esports format going into 2023. The competitive season, known as the Rainbow Six Esports Global Circuit, will begin in March and include nine regional leagues: Asia, Brazil, Europe, Hispanic Latin America, Japan, North America, Oceania and Middle East-North Africa. The circuit will include Stage 1 competition from March to May 2023, followed by a three-month break before Stage 2 from September to November. Then, following another break, the game’s world championship, The Six Invitational, will take place in February 2024.

The Snapdragon Pro Series will host its Mobile Masters Brawl Stars competition to DreamHack Japan in May 2023. The tournament will bring together eight of the world’s best Brawl Stars teams to compete for a $200,000 prize pool and to become the first-ever SPS global champion. The event, put on by ESL FACEIT Group in partnership with Qualcomm, will take place May 13-14 in Tokyo with two teams apiece from North America; Europe and Middle East/North Africa; Asia Pacific; and India competing.

Former pro League of Legends player and coach Gabriel “Invert” Zoltan-Johan is creating a coaches association for North America’s League of Legends Championship Series and North American Collegiate League, according to The Jacob Wolf Report. The Esports Coaches Guild will be a non-profit organization that creates similar advocacy infrastructure to that of the players’ association for the LCS and NACL. “Having an equivalent for coaches and competitive staff, I find to be pretty important,” Zoltan-Johan told The Jacob Wolf Report. “The job itself has comparatively low job security, coaches don’t often have many rights, and often a lot of coaches are not represented by any sort of legal team or agent just because of potential conflict of interests that occur.”

Fortnite will continue its collegiate esports efforts with the Fortnite Collegiate Cup beginning in late January 2023. The event will feature a $50,000 prize pool available for U.S. and Canadian higher education students, with a solo tournament and trios event. More activations are expected later in the year via the Collegiate Carball Association’s partnership with eFuse, a tournament organization platform.

STREAMHATCHET
Top Thursday Night Football Games on Twitch

Amazon Prime Video has purchased the rights to stream this year’s Thursday Night Football on Prime Video. Amazon has also opted in to allow Twitch viewers to watch TNF live on their platform as well allowing viewers to stream Prime Time NFL games free of charge. Streaming live on Twitch helps reach a younger audience of football fans who have cut the cable cord and opt only for streaming services on their mobile devices or computers.

Through the first 14 weeks of the NFL season, 12 games have been streamed on Prime Video (the NFL’s opening game as well as the Thanksgiving Day games were not covered by Thursday Night Football). Over these 12 Games Thursday Night Football was able to generate 4.5M hours watched on Twitch.

SPONSORSHIP & ACTIVATION

UK-based esports organization Horizon Union has partnered with meal replacement product CTRL to make CTRL “the official meal replacement and functional food brand partner of Horizon.” Don’t be surprised if CTRL sounds familiar; the gaming-focused meal substitute creator is activating across a slew of brands in esports and gaming, including recent activations with The Esports Awards and Belong Gaming Arenas.

Complexity Gaming plans to begin an advertising campaign with Buddybet, a social-focused site “that has digitized the handshake bet.” The campaign is set to begin in December, according to a statement from Complexity, and will feature the organization’s content creators competing in challenges native to the platform as well as amplification on Complexity’s social media channels, including four live broadcasts of an event called the Buddybet Gaming Challenge in Q1 2023. “Buddybet is an innovative platform that lets friends challenge each other in a fun and social app,” Justin Kenna, the CEO of Complexity parent company GameSquare, said in a statement. “Partnering with Complexity showcases the depth of our product offering and the creative approach that GameSquare’s vertically integrated platform can provide to brands.”

Team BDS has partnered with automated moderation service Bodyguard.ai to help the esports organization monitor its social channels, and it’s using the announcement as a platform for speaking out against toxicity and harassment in gaming forums. Team BDS fields teams in League of Legends, Rainbow Six Siege, Rocket League and several other titles, and its creators and teams expect to make use of Bodyguard.ai to both moderate content and raise awareness. “We are thrilled to be able to work with such a formidable gaming enterprise to raise awareness about the need to address toxicity in the gaming arena and challenge the industry to make it a better, safer, freer environment for all,” Bodyguard.ai head of gaming Arnaud Chemin said in a statement.

Esports venue developer Glytch plans to create a Columbus, Ohio, location, according to a report from the Columbus Business Journal. The new arena is part of Glytch’s plan to expand to 32 locations in the next eight years. Glytch plans to open its first four arenas between 2024-25, with seating for between 1,500 to 3,000 people. Columbus will join a suite of previously planned venues including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and Bellevue, Washington, according to Sports Travel Magazine.

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YOUGOV LIVING DATA INSIGHTS
What types of games are American gamers playing?

Nearly two-fifths of American gamers play action / adventure games (eg. God of War, Red Dead Redemption) on a PC or console, which comfortably makes it the most popular genre in the market.

TEAMS

Virtus.pro announced Nikolai Petrossian as its new CEO, bringing the former head of ESforce Holding to the top position at the Russian esports organization. Petrossian will replace Aram Karamanukyan, who is departing as CEO after just three months on the job. Karamanukyan will remain onboard as an investor, he said in a statement. “We made a decision to go forward with a more experienced CEO, the one that will be able to take charge of all the little things and nuances of the esports business establishment, communicate with managers from every discipline on a daily basis and be effective at operations management,” Karamanukyan said. “Nikolai was an obvious choice.”

Former TSM jungler Mingyi “Spica” Lu will join FlyQuest for the upcoming LCS season. Spica, who earned LCS MVP honors in the summer split of 2021, will hope to turn an up-and-down career in North America into some more stable showings alongside veteran top laner Jeong “Impact” Eon-young. “I think for this upcoming year, I’m just really excited to prove myself,” Spica said in an announcement video from FlyQuest. “I think 2022 really wasn’t a great year for me, so when FlyQuest presented me with this really great roster, I was really excited.”

League of Legends casting icon David “Phreak” Turley is retiring from broadcasting and will take a position at League developer Riot Games, the industry veteran announced. Turley, whose name is synonymous with North American League of Legends, will join the game design team for League of Legends at Riot.

Former VALORANT and League of Legends organization X7 Esports is shuttering, CEO Josh Kingett announced Wednesday. The team, Kingett said in a statement, was unable to secure additional funding for its operations after a “planned seed investment raise in January 2022 and again our re-attempt in April a few months later were derailed” by multiple economic factors. “Investors whom I can say we were very close to finalizing a deal with, instead chose to wait until the dust had settled amidst the new economic crisis,” Kingett said. “Given the circumstances, this was perfectly reasonable on their part despite the frustration with capital now unforthcoming.”

INDUSTRY

The Epic Games Store and other third-party app stores might have a home on iOS after all as Apple, preparing for the European Union’s Digital Markets Act, reconsiders its position on allowing alternatives. Bloomberg reports that the move would allow users to download software without using Apple’s App Store, “sidestepping Apple’s restrictions and the up-to-30% commission it imposes on payments.” The decision has ramifications for Epic and games like Fortnite, which was at the center of a 2020 lawsuit that sought to disrupt Apple’s first-party-only approach. The changes will only be in effect in Europe at first, according to Bloomberg, and are expected to go into effect in 2024, when EU regulators begin requiring compliance with the Digital Markets Act.

GameSquare Esports, the parent company of Complexity Gaming, has hit the Nasdaq via a definitive arrangement agreement with Engine Gaming that will bring the digital media company and streaming data analysis platform together. GameSquare shareholders will see 60% ownership of the combined company. “The merger immediately expands our scale, which we expect will help us on an accelerated path to profitability in 2023,” GameSquare CEO Justin Kenna, who will also hold that role for the combined company said. “As a combined organization, we will have an enhanced platform and expanded resources, including essential data and analytic solutions, to serve a broader base of global customers and accelerate growth.”

The next big thing in streaming could be … chessboxing? Last weekend’s Mogul Chessboxing Championship, put on by popular variety streamer Ludwig Ahgren’s Mogul Moves entity, was one of the more eyebrow-raising events on the streaming calendar this weekend. Ahgren’s event drew an in-person crowd at the 10,000-seat Galen Center at USC in Los Angeles and drew more than 315,000 peak viewers. Ahgren, who is also known for putting on a 31-day stream in 2021 that gave him the most-ever active subscriptions on Twitch at the time, continues to find ways to surprise and engage with viewers; it’s no wonder The Game Awards named him its Content Creator of the Year just ahead of his chessboxing event.

Infinite Reality, which owns esports organizations Rogue and the London Royal Ravens, has gone public via a business combination agreement with Newbury Street Acquisition Corporation. The agreement, according to a statement from the companies, will provide Infinite Reality with up to $128 million growth capital. “With this capital, iR will deliver a product suite that restores sovereign data ownership while accelerating and amplifying the value chain between audiences, creators, and brands in bespoke virtual environments,” Infinite Reality said in a statement. It’s unclear what impact, if any, the agreement could have on its esports subsidiaries, given the company’s focus on Web3 development and metaverse technologies.

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TRIVIA
Time to switch it up with some timely sports trivia. Which World Cup player scored the most goals during the two semifinal matchups this week? (Email [email protected] with your answer and be sure to include your name, company and city).

Answer to Our Last Trivia Question
What is the name of Bill Murray’s character in his classic holiday riff on A Christmas Carol? Answer: Frank Cross. Kudos: David Westberg/SAG•AFTRA Federal Credit Union, Burbank CA; Phyllis McQuillan/MSG Networks, New York

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