Zynga’s SponsoredPLAY Ushers In Gamified Ads

Seeing ads in mobile games — particularly free-to-play ones— is pretty commonplace these days. But Zynga is about to take advertising one step further with the introduction of gamified ads. The popular mobile and social game company has introduced SponsoredPLAY, an advertising product for social games. With it, in-game brand integrations will be included in certain titles, without getting in the way of the game experiences themselves. The photo below shows some involvement of this, with a salad dressing being advertised in one of the company’s match-three titles.

Progressive Insurance SponsoredPLAY

With this program, Zynga hopes to offer players value in the game they are playing, in exchange for engaging with brand advertisers. But, again, it’s in a non-obtrusive way — and some of the advertising could be rather ingenious when it comes to in-game content.

“At Zynga we believe the next wave in mobile advertising will be SponsoredPLAY. Social games are one of the top entertainment activities consumers participate in on their mobile devices, and SponsoredPLAY offers a new way for brands to reward and engage users in game,” said Julie Shumaker, Vice President of Global Brand Sales, Zynga. “Our new SponsoredPLAY engagement ad products deliver advertisers significant brand lift by offering players content that is rewarding, additive to gameplay and improves the overall gaming experience.”

Some brands are already on board with the program, including Progressive Insurance. With it, gamified ad engagements will take place in a number of FarmVille games, including FarmVille: Harvest Swap, FarmVille 2: Country Escape and FarmVille 2, among others. Social aspects will play a big part with this project, with Twitter integration included so that the games can help “spread organic buzz and increase engagement,” according to the press release.

According to Zynga,SponsoredPLAY beta saw a double digit increase in player opt-in interactions compared to interstitial video ads, five to seven times the engagement of static ads and two to four times the average key brand health metrics like recall, purchase intent and more. In addition to this, Zynga has emphasized the social integration aspect and spoke with [a]listdaily about how brands are utilizing it.

“In some instances, like a recent Naked Juice campaign, players tweeted an image of fruits and vegetables from their FarmVille: Harvest Swap game board with the hashtag #100kcrops. This engagement was designed to raise awareness for Naked Juice and Wholesome Wave’s #100kcrops campaign. In other instances, we may leverage other social platforms such as Instagram or Facebook to drive meaningful social interactions between our players and brand partners,” said Shumaker.

When asked how Zynga approaches these SponsoredPLAY executions to retain the players’ experience of the game and authenticity, Shumaker went on to say that SponsoredPLAY engagements are developed in close partnership to Zynga’s game teams.

“The engagements are true extensions of our games, and leverage the game’s mechanics, design and overall look and feel to deliver an authentic player experience. For our players, SponsoredPLAY engagements feel like a new level in the game versus an interruptive ad — and in turn for engaging with these ads our players are rewarded with new content and sometimes in-game currency.”

“Zynga has had a long commitment to leveraging data and analytics to deliver the most personalized gaming experiences,” said Dr. Amy Gershkoff, Chief Data Officer, Zynga. “We’re seeing that use of data and analytics come to life with the launch of SponsoredPLAY, which enables us to deliver the most consumer-centric ad experience to players while helping brands meet the right consumers, in the right games at the right time.”

As gaming continues to shift toward a more mainstream market with mobile, non-gaming brands are beginning to see the value of of gamification.

“Mobile gaming is fast becoming the new TV. According to ComScore, in August the average consumer in the US spent more than 630 minutes a month playing mobile games. For brand partners, it’s clear that mobile gaming is now a favorite activity for consumers around the world,” said Shumaker. “For brands, it’s about having a meaningful presence in games where millions of people are playing, connecting and competing every day.”

Twitter Continues To Expand Video Options

With Facebook and YouTube video services taking off with millions of daily views and a number of brands on board as partners, it’s no surprise that Twitter wants to get in on the action.

The company has announced that it will expand its Amplify services in an attempt to help creators monetize their work through videos posted to the site, according to this report from VentureBeat. Kicking off today, the program will allow video ads to run inside preferred content categories. It’s currently in beta, but could expand over the next few weeks to more advertisers and publishers.

Twitter Demo

As highlighted by the image above, publishers will now have the option of uploading their premium quality videos directly to the site, selecting a few content categories where they wish their pre-roll ads to run. From there, Twitter’s Amplify service will then put together the ads with the right programmers, so that no additional deals need to be arranged with the company.

With this ad system, publishers will be able to make money a bit easier through the streamlined advertising process, even with or without sponsored deals. A few estimates indicate that the revenue split would be along the lines of 70/30, with more money going to the publishers — that’s a higher average than most video sites offer these days.

This “direct upload” process could be a lot simpler for companies to advertise their wares, as they don’t have to go through big-name partners (like WWE, Fox and Dick Clark Productions) to get their video message out.

This ties in with Twitter’s launch of Auto Amplify, a program that allows brands and publishers to create campaigns together. With it, it’s drawn in a number of high-profile brands already, including the National Football League, the BBC and Neutrogena, amongst many others.

Will this be effective for Twitter in the long run While the audience may not be as large as Facebook Video and YouTube — at least, not yet — the simplification of setting up ads without needing to sign any major partnerships with either companies or publishers could be just the step some companies need to move forward. We’ll see just how effective it is as the program moves on in the next few months. Amplification, indeed.

Key Stats Behind Social Media’s Explosive Growth

Social networking has come a long way over the last ten years. In 2005, barely anyone managed to use the Internet for communication. Now, most adults can’t seem to get through the day without it.

This report from the Pew Research Center breaks down just how much social media has grown over the last ten years. Sixty-five percent of adults use social networking site to some extent, which is a long way from the seven percent that were using it ten years ago. This is through many uses, such as work, politics, or general social use, along with getting information in vital areas such as health, civic life and dating.


The chart above shows the slow but steady growth for social media, not just with adults but all Internet users. As you can see, both categories increased with each coming year, eventually reaching the high point they’re at now. And that’s not likely to slow down anytime soon, with the continued growth of sites like Twitter, Facebook and others.

As for breakdowns across demographic groups, PRC broke down the statistics below, taken straight from the report:

Age differences: Seniors make strides — Young adults (ages 18 to 29) are the most likely to use social media — fully 90 percent do. Still, usage among those 65 and older has more than tripled since 2010 when 11 percent used social media {link no longer active}. Today, 35% of all those 65 and older report using social media, compared with just 2% in 2005.

Gender differences: Women and men use social media at similar rates — Women were more likely than men to use social networking sites for a number of years, although since 2014 these differences have been modest. Today, 68 percent of all women use social media, compared with 62 percent of all men {link no longer active}.

Socio-economic differences: Those with higher education levels and household income lead the way – Over the past decade, it has consistently been the case that those in higher-income households were more likely to use social media. More than half (56 percent) of those living in the lowest-income households now use social media, though growth has leveled off in the past few years. Turning to educational attainment, a similar pattern is observed. Those with at least some college experience have been consistently more likely than those with a high school degree or less to use social media over the past decade. 2013 was the first year that more than half of those with a high school diploma or less used social media.

Racial and ethnic similarities: There are not notable differences by racial or ethnic group: 65 percent of whites, 65 percent of Hispanics and 56 percent of African-Americans use social media today {link no longer active}.

Community differences: More than half of rural residents now use social media — Those who live in rural areas are less likely than those in suburban and urban communities to use social media, a pattern consistent over the past decade. Today, 58 percent of rural residents, 68 percent of suburban residents, and 64 percent of urban residents use social media {link no longer active}.

Despite this information, however, young adults seem to be the most likely to use social media. Ages 18-29 seem to be the biggest demographic, with 90 percent of young adults using it, compared to 12 percent ten years ago. The chart below breaks down just where these groups differ from 2005 to today, and, as you can see, each one shows a significant increase.

chart 2

Then there are genders. Back in 2005, only eight percent of men and six percent of women used social media. Oh, how far it’s come since then.

chart 3

By today’s numbers, 68 percent of women and 62 percent of men say they use social media to an extent, although the differences are minor in the long run.

But what about education That’s broken down as well, with 70 percent of those with some form of college education and 54 percent of those with a high school diploma use social media to some extent. The chart below shows the differences with the groups, and they aren’t that far apart.

Chart 4

Finally, economics were measured, but, as provided by the chart below, the numbers aren’t all that different between those that make less than $30,000 a year and those that make over $75,000. Seventy-eight percent of those in the highest-income households use social media, while 56 percent in lower brackets use it. That is a 22-point difference, but, again, the increase is about the same.

chart 5

The full report, with even more statistics on use by community and race, can be found here.  {link no longer active}.

Immortals Taking the Gaming Stage

With eSports continuing to grow heavily in popularity on all fronts streaming, television and live tournaments it shouldn’t be a surprise that new ventures are getting introduced. Now, the world should prepare itself for the Immortals.

The new eSports organization was introduced earlier this week, with a number of media, gaming and tech investors announcing the acquisition and rebranding of Team 8 eSports. As a result, it’s set to shake up the eSports team, especially with placement in the North American League of Legends Championship Series, which is watched by millions of fans around the world.

The CEO of Immortals, Noah Whinston, talked about what the organization has in mind for success. “Immortals is starting with a League of Legends team, but expect to see us expanding rapidly into other top eSports like Counter-Strike and DOTA 2. We recognize that the best way to grow the Immortals franchise is to work in conjunction with other team owners across every title to help the entire eSports ecosystem expand in a healthy way. We look forward to industry-wide conversations about sustainable business practices, competitive regulation, and player treatment and representation.”

The organization has a number of reputable investors, including president of Lionsgate Interactive Ventures and Games, Peter Levin; co-owner and Chairman of the Memphis Grizzlies, Steve Kaplan; and Machine Shop Ventures, which works in conjunction with popular rock band Linkin Park. AMD will also play a major part with Immortals, as its marketing and technology partner.

“eSports and its legions of fans are a key audience for AMD, which makes our partnership with Immortals both important and exciting,” said Roy Talor, corporate vice president of Alliances and Content for Radeon Technologies Group, AMD, regarding the partnership. “As a leading designer of graphics processing units and essential technologies for eSports gamers of all levels, we are looking forward to future endeavors with the Immortals franchise.”

The roster for Immortals hasn’t been shaped up yet, but it’s expected to be released in the near future, in time for future League of Legends tournaments and other eSports events.

This is a pretty big deal for the eSports world, as a number of highly considered investors are taking part, looking to shake up the competitive gaming scene. Let’s see what kind of impact they make in the months ahead.

Is Instagram Going Pay to Play?

Instagram’s advertising has certainly picked up over the past few months, including mobile game ads that have managed to gain attention across a number of genres. However, according to a new study from Locowise, the recent drop in organic engagement could mean a significant change for the site, moving over to a “pay-to-play” platform.

Originally reported by SocialTimes, the report suggests that, even though Instagram ads are now open to whichever companies want to take part, they could be the only way for them to reach users on the site.

Looking across over 2,500 brand profiles, Locowise came up with the following results from the study, which are also pointed out in the chart below.

  • Follower growth for the month was 0.25%.
  • Engagement per post was 1.76% of the post’s audience.
  • Profiles posted a daily average of 2.62 posts.
  • 93% of posts were photos, and 7% were videos.
  • Photos drew an engagement rate of 1.85%, while the average engagement rate for videos was less than one percent (specifically, 0.9%).
  • Likes represented 98.12% of all interactions, and comments just 1.88%.


These numbers look like stark differences in the chart above, with organic growth and engagement both dropping off. But does this mean that the site will go “pay-to-play” with brands to try and pick things up

Regarding the results, Locowise stated, “The ads platform leverages all of the best aspects and features from Facebook’s ads, so if you’re already doing ads on Facebook, you will be very familiar with ads on Instagram, too. Instagram has announced that it is seeing ‘significant demand’ for ads, particularly in e-commerce, travel entertainment and retail.

“Some early numbers from a selected number of partners shows that the click-through rate on Instagram is 1.5 percent, compared with 0.84 percent on Facebook. The average CPM (cost per thousand impressions) is reported everywhere from $3 to $6.29. Videos costs as little as $.02 per view. A view counts when the video has been seen for at least three seconds, exactly the same on Facebook.”

At the moment, it’s unknown if Instagram looks to change its status quo when it comes to ads, but considering its current status with organic engagement, a change to its program could be instituted sooner rather than later.

How The BAND Connects 40 Million Gamers

Savvy game marketers understand that the long-term health of their business rests on the audience of game players, and helping them become a community rather than just a large number of people with no connections. Yet this is a difficult task, especially for mobile games. While game companies have created and maintained forums on PCs for years, that structure doesn’t lend itself to the way people are connecting today. Today’s gamers are connecting via smartphones, which make it hard to use traditional forums with lengthy text posts.

Moreover, the fast-paced world of gaming demands equally quick development of communications, where groups can form rapidly when games engage them. This is the situation that Camp Mobile’s BAND has stepped into. This mobile forum community app now reaches over 40 million people to help them communicate with other players. The CEO of Camp Mobile, Manho Won, spoke with [a]listdaily to explain how BAND is bringing gamers together.

Manho WonManho Won

What was the driving force that led you to create BAND?

We realized that gamers did not really have a place where they could go and meet other gamers to play together. A lot of players were using web based forums like Reddit to post their ideas and content, or using messenger apps like LINE and Facebook Messenger. But, they are not the right solution. The main strength of BAND is its flexibility and the mobile accessibility. On BAND, you can make your own private guild or clan group and also public groups to talk with other random players. You have to use your single real profile photo and name on the messenger apps or Facebook, but on BAND you can use multiple profiles or your IGN on different groups. We wanted a place where people could go and find other like-minded people and freely share their thoughts on any kinds of topics.

How does BAND help moderate community chat for gamers on a mobile platform?

When streamers are broadcasting, often they are too focused on playing the game, so questions and comments from their audience tend to get left unanswered and buried in the stream chat services. With BAND, viewers can post their questions onto the board or use the chatroom to communicate with the streamer and other players. Streamers can easily leave comments and chat with their viewers on the go anytime 24/7 with their mobile devices, so they won’t be restricted to chatting just on PC.

Does BAND replace the functions that forums serve on web sites to bring communities together, or does it supplement those forums?

The game publishers provide their forum under the official web site. Players can get the official information like how to play, new updates and server maintenance notice from there. But, gamers use BAND to talk with others more frequently and intimately, to recruit new guild members or to easily set up the play dates by polling. If you search “Clash” on BAND, you can find out over 600 small or mid-size communities which look for other players publicly. BAND gives gamers the value that they cannot get from the web-based forum service.

How are streamers using BAND to help create, maintain, and grow their audiences?

Streamers on BAND can get the benefit of keeping close connections with their audience and getting the information and the event easily organized. The calendar event feature allows streamers to post and notify their viewers that when they are about to stream and when they do some giveaways event and community local meetups. The polling feature allows for anyone in the community to create a poll to ask questions to other players and to get some tips from them. Also, streamers can post their favorite videos and pictures to share with their communities. Streamers can communicate 24/7 with their viewers using BAND’s chatroom features, so there is always close contact with viewers. All of BAND’s features allow for streamers to keep a tight bond with their communities and help maintain and grow their audiences.


How does BAND work with game publishers Or is all the activity through BAND driven by the users?

Most of communities are generated by users. But, BAND can be very useful for game publishers too. We saw that some publishers set up the game community on BAND to get feedbacks and bug reports about their beta version from their test gamers. With BAND, game publishers can keep a close relationship with heavy and loyal gamers. The way BAND works with publishers now is to get feedback about the beta version, but we would like to eventually have game publishers create official BAND’s for their games.

Example: Kill Strain from Playstation Studio



What does the future hold for BAND?

BAND reached 40 million users globally and most of them are gamers. The future is looking bright for BAND because everything will be more fun if they play together. Also, there is no perfect solution for gamers to build a fun community. We eventually want to build the communication platform where anyone from game publishers, game streamers and game players can build their own community to enjoy games more.

Dean Takahashi: “Growing a Profitable Game Company Has Never Been Tougher”

Another GamesBeat is just around the corner and Dean Takahashi, veteran games journalist and lead writer for VentureBeat’s gaming-focused section has been hard at work organizing the annual industry event. Dean took time to answer a few burning questions we had about the event and its Game of Thrones theme and what trends will have the biggest impact on the industry this year.

GamesBeat is now in its seventh year and in that relatively short span of time in the scheme of things, the games industry has gone through so many changes. How has GamesBeat as an event evolved to stay on the crest of these changes?

When we started in 2009, social gaming on Facebook was hot, and many of our speakers reflected that. The heat shifted to mobile gaming on the iPhone, and our next conferences also followed that. Social casino games became hot. So did the next-generation consoles and League of Legends. Now it’s eSports and virtual reality. Each year, we try to anticipate the trends and the newsmakers, and we begin talking with potential speakers early. We know what’s hot because we write about that news every day. We see lots of fundings and acquisitions happen in China, and it’s not hard to detect the big wave of interest in that market. We also use an advisory board from the industry to tell us what’s going to be the next issue or theme to focus on. Our topic is always gaming, but covering what is at the leading edge of gaming keeps changing.

The focus this time is on gaming’s international explosion in and on sustainability in the business. What was behind the decision to focus on these key subjects?

We’re going where the game industry is going and much of the news in the past year has focused on these topics. Gaming’s opportunity has never been bigger as mobile and online games find audiences all around the globe. At the same time, the competition has never been tougher. So even as opportunity abounds, the challenge of growing a profitable game company has never been tougher.

What should attendees expect from this year’s event?

They’ll hear plenty of thought-provoking talks from the leaders of the industry, across categories such as finance, monetization, virtual reality, augmented reality, game development, eSports, mobile gaming and consoles. We’ve also got more women speaking than ever before, and we’ll be probing into the uncomfortable topics related to Internet hate and the lack of diversity. We also have hopeful talks about the future of gaming technology, brands in games, creativity and user-generated content.

In your mind, what are the most important trends in gaming that will have the biggest impact on the industry?

I would say that the wheels of diversity have finally started rolling, and that will play out in many ways. We’ll have new focus in diversity of skills, ideas, game characters and audiences. We’re also just at the beginning stages of figuring out what is a true global gaming company.

The theme this year looks at gaming s many kingdoms or realms from mobile and console to PC and so forth. Is this comparison of the industry to Game of Thrones apt?

We chose Game of Thrones as our theme because the competition is cutthroat, particularly in mobile where the market has consolidated around a handful of winners, after a very Darwinian process that started out with great hopes for indie game makers. Game companies have to constantly adapt, and some are doing it by increasing their budgets for mobile game development and user acquisition. Others are adapting by moving into new markets such as virtual reality, or making sure that their games are eSports-friendly. We’ve also see that the U.S. and Japanese game makers are no longer dominant. With mobile, we’ve finally reached a true global market, and companies from Helsinki to China are now the potential leaders.

Study Shows Facebook Video Ads See Better ROI Than YouTube

We’ve talked at great length about the success of Facebook video, and while it still has yet to reach its true potential (it is less than two years old, after all), a new study suggests that it’s becoming more well-received in terms of video ads than its main competitor, YouTube.

As reported by Ad Age, the study, conducted by RBC Capital Markets, polled 1,000 advertising professionals. Out of those surveyed, 11 percent believe that Facebook video ads are “significantly” better than YouTube’s in terms of return investment. However, another 25% stated that its video ads were “somewhat better,” indicating that a majority does prefer how they’re set up.

Only six percent of those polled stated that YouTube’s ads were “significantly” better, while 15% indicated they were “somewhat better.”

Based on numbers compared from last year, fewer marketers indicated that they were going to “significantly” or “modestly” increase spending on YouTube ads, according to the report.

That’s a pretty big deal, especially considering that digital video ads will receive a tremendous amount of spending, to the tune of $7.77 billion, according to eMarketer.

The study also suggests that marketers will pick up their online advertising spend through the next few years, with interest in different platforms, including Instagram (leading with 72%), Pinterest (41%), SnapChat (36%) and Amazon (34%).

There’s still room for Facebook to grow, though. The study indicates that its overall ad dollar penetration still has room to expand, with 61% of marketers stating that they will increase ad spending with the social site. Instagram, owned by Facebook, could attract additional revenue as well.

That said, Google isn’t out of the running yet, as a number of marketers are pleased with the results that YouTube produce. 14% of those polled stated that 51% (or more) of their online marketing budgets go towards the site, while only seven percent said they won’t be pouring any more money into YouTube-based campaigns.

A good amount of digital advertising dollars seem to be coming from print and television, according to the study.

The same eMarketer report, which was published earlier this year, does suggest that the change in video spending will increase over the next few years, reaching $14.3 billion by 2019. With that, YouTube is expected to make a big chunk ($1.99 billion by 2017), and Facebook will likely see similar shares as it continues going head-to-head with its video competitor.

The video ad market is about to get more interesting, depending on what moves Facebook and YouTube make next

CastAR Lays Out Augmented Reality Vision

There’s been plenty of announcements and excitement over virtual reality (VR) during the past year, and with the impending arrival of several major platforms — Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, HTC/Valve Vive, and Samsung Gear VR — we will see some time next year how the consumer VR market begins to emerge. Yet there are drawbacks to VR, such as the complete immersion required, and the price of the hardware that may be in excess of $500 in some cases. Many analysts have speculated about the future size of the VR market, and while that may well be in the billions, many believe the market for Augmented Reality (AR) will be even greater, perhaps several times larger.

CastAR in use

The hardware competition for the AR market is already under way, though it is behind the VR market. Major players include Microsoft’s HoloLens (with development kits to be made available early next year for $3,000) and the still-mysterious Magic Leap, which has over $500 million in funding but has yet to talk much about what it’s planning. On a smaller scale, yet perhaps closer to market, is the hardware from CastAR, which recently landed $15 million in funding from Android creator Andy Rubin’s Playground Global investment firm.

Cast AR, formerly Technical Illusions, was founded by former Valve employees Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, who left to spin off the company after Valve decided not to pursue the technology. They’ve got some lightweight glasses that you use with a special reflective material that you can lay on a tabletop, and the result is magical — you can see an overlaid image generated by a computer. “Sometimes we try to use analogies like “remember Star Wars holographic chess ,” said Ellsworth.

The key to CastAR’s thinking is that they want the technology to be used broadly, not just for gaming but for design, engineering, and other fields. To their way of thinking, this means accessible hardware that’s not complex and has a low entry cost. “Among all the confusion about what separates AR from VR, what’s lost is fun,” said CEO David Henkel-Wallace. “People want a simple, accessible, fun solution that they can just pick up and play with their friends, without dealing with a bulky, uncomfortable headset, much less being tethered to a big computer. Our goal is to see CastAR on store shelves across North America, aligned with some recognizable brands in tabletop and interactive gaming. Playground’s support will help us get there.”

Ellsworth sees reaching a broad demographic as an important goal. “It’s hard to back up after you’ve catered to the hardcore people,” Ellsworth noted. “VR has done that, they have a perfect niche in really hardcore game players but we’re taking a different approach. We are going to hit the hardcore gamers. A hardcore gamer is going to go and play their intense VR thing but they’re also going to have fun playing Settlers Of Catan on CastAR. We’re going to get my father, we’re going to get people who are 40 years old, mothers, children that are eight years old crushing things with Tonka Trucks. I think we cover a broad spectrum.”

That broad market appeal is part of the reason that Rubin invested in the firm. “I was really intrigued by David, Jeri, and Rick’s approach to tackling the problem of how to drive mainstream adoption of AR,” said Rubin, the former Google executive and now managing director at Playground Global, in a statement.

Marketing AR is certainly one of the key issues ahead for CastAR. “I think it’s going to boil down to influencers out in the market are going to drive it,” said Ellsworth. “There’s going to be some early adopters and then they’re going to take it over to their friend’s house and their friend will be like ‘that was so fun, I’m going to go and get CastAR.'”

Of course, getting more people to pick up CastAR’s product is going to require some friendly pricing. The company isn’t saying yet what price point it’s looking to hit, but they definitely are aiming for consumers. “A $1,000 gaming PC to go with your lenses isn’t a consumer product,” Henkel-Wallace said. That may mean the emergence of several different versions of the hardware. “We don’t know if we’re going to be able to achieve something an eight year old can use but it’s on our radar,” said Ellsworth. “If we make it good for an eight year old does it make it so that someone who is eighty years old can’t use it It’s a balancing act. Somewhere farther down the road there could be customized versions, economy, kid versions that they can just break and destroy, and then the pro gamers that have to have the best.”

Fatal1ty On ESports Community: “Twitch Is Our ESPN”

When it comes to legends of eSports, the name Johnathan Fatal1ty Wendel is top of mind. One of the first eSports players to break through to the mainstream playing games like Quake III: Arena, Counter-Strike, and Unreal Tournament 2003. The 12-time world champion was able to parlay his success in pre-livestreaming days into coverage on MTV s True Life and CBS 60 Minutes. He also used his expertise as a gamer to launch Fatal1ty Gaming Gear, which creates and distributes PC gaming gear like mouse pads, motherboards, and sound cards.

While that business is still doing well, Fatal1ty is back in the spotlight as a coach in Legends of Gaming, the debut series of Endemol Beyond USA s YouTube channel, Smasher. The new online series pits popular YouTubers like The Jovenshire, Syndicate Project, Terroriser, and runJDrun in gaming competitions hosted by YouTube star Toby Turner. The collective cast of the show has over 43 million followers and is a new effort by Endemol Beyond USA to blend eSports with YouTube personalities. This concept is based off the UK Legends of Gaming series and has changed the format to focus on multiplayer competition instead of one-on-one competition.

Wendel talks about the new series, as well as the rise of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in this exclusive interview.

How have you seen YouTube open up new opportunities for gamers?

Back when I played professionally you had to be best in the world to make a living playing games. Now gamers can find new ways to be pros through having entertainment personalities on YouTube without being the best game player.

Why did you always remain an independent pro gamer?

I was offered to be on teams, but I chose not to because of the value I saw in owning my own IP and owning myself. In 2002 I launched Fatal1ty Gaming Gear and today we still sell products worldwide. We have new Monster Headphones deal this year. I was on a different path than anyone else because I had a vision to make a brand for gamers.

When you look at eSports today, teams own the players. The players will join because of security of salaries. You don t see lone wolves any more like I was. The Syndicate Project is a guy who kept all his rights for himself. Even YouTube personalities own their likeness and their IP, but they re a different kind of entertainment property. For the gamers today, it s hard to break out in the pro circuit.

What impact has livestreaming had on eSports?

When I played in all the early tournaments, you could download the demos from those matches. The spoiler had already happened and you knew who won. It doesn t have the excitement of who s going to win and who s going to lose. In my era, I was able to capture MTV, 60 Minutes and Time and get my story told through video, which was the only outlet we had back then.

Pizza Hut is the primary sponsor for Legends of Gaming. What has eSports opened up for sponsors and advertisers?

Back then we had the eyeballs, but it wasn t as crazy as today with Twitch and YouTube and what we re doing with Legends of Gaming. It s opened up the door for the blue chip sponsors like Pizza Hut to connect with this audience.

What do you feel separates Legends of Gaming from anything out there?

It s a show that s very unique and has different people that specialize in different types of games. You have famous YouTubers competing against one another in an eSports platform. It will bring more eSports viewers. It ll show the competition side. League of Legends fans will be interested in this show for sure, but overall it s going to be entertaining and competitive for a lot of people. You don t know what s going to happen next.

When people watch Legends of Gaming they re going to be inspired by the action and the fun that they see, and they ll end up wanting to play and compete as well. This show is going to inspire a new generation of eSports players.

What games are you focusing on for this show?

We re focusing on a wide range of games from shooters like CS:GO and Doom 3 to FIFA 16 to Hearthstone to random games like #IDARB — games that are competitive, but not necessarily eSports.

What do you feel will differentiate your Fatal1ty Monster headphones from the competition?

I ve been selling headphones for over 10 years with Creative Labs and we ve been selling 10,000 to 30,000 headphones a month for a long time. All the stuff we invented for my headphones you see in other headphones now. We can bring something unique to that gaming space and bring that Fatality brand to gamers like we ve been doing now for over 12 years. This has been my business since 2002.

It s my legacy and my true story. A lot of these companies that are trying to get into eSports are suits who want to get into this space because there s an audience and money there now, whereas I m a gamer from eSports that started my own company. I was the highest paid gamer for 10 to 12 years. The brand became its own star. When you think Fat1lity, you think gaming. That s a credibility I bring to Monster. They wouldn t get into eSports by themselves. Monster doesn t have a gaming division or anything to give them credibility. I want to work with their engineers and designers and develop a Fatality product. I ve done all of my partnerships the last 12 years this way.

What are your thoughts on the $6.5 million the top team took home from the $18 million The International this year?

The prize money behind Dota 2 and League of Legends is amazing. I made like $110,000 in my first year and in 2005 I made over $200,000. Then DirecTV came to me and wanted me to be their Championship Gaming Series, so I left the pro scene to do that. The eSports scene died shortly after that. I made a smooth transition to promoting eSports. I ve been promoting eSports my whole life. We did deals with DirecTV to have Fatal1ty commercials and helped us get into Best Buy and other retailers.

What role do you feel TV will play in eSports with ESPN and TBS getting involved?

It s interesting because all of these gamers are fine watching their TV shows on the Internet. It doesn t have to be on CBS or ESPN. TV has been trying to dive into our world for a long time. But Twitch is our ESPN. We watch eSports on the Internet. The only reason for eSports to go on national TV is to get more eyeballs.

Where do you see eSports five years from now?

ESports is always getting bigger every year. Five years from now, I believe that gaming will become more recreational, much like what you see with other sports. For example, I m a tennis player and I play on a league. I believe we ll have rec leagues for gaming. Gaming and eSports will become more recreational and competitive, event for the casual player who just wants to be a part of a team. It s the evolution of what we do as eSports players. ESports really is the sport of the 21st century.