aXiomatic CEO Details ESports Plans Beyond Team Liquid Acquisition

Another day, another large eSports acquisition. On the heels of the Sixers acquiring Team Dignitas and Team Apex, investment group aXiomatic has taken a controlling interest in Team Liquid. The ownership group includes a “who’s who” list from entertainment (Peter Guber, Tony Robbins), sports (Magic Johnson, Ted Leonsis) and technology (Ted Case, Eric Lefkofsky).

With more than 50 players competing on 10 different teams, Team Liquid has been around for 15 years. The company has competitive teams across StarCraft 2, League of Legends, Dota 2, Hearthstone, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, Halo, Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Bruce Stein, an executive who has been CEO and COO of Mattel Toys, Sony Interactive Entertainment and Kenner Products (Hasbro), serves as CEO of aXiomatic. Stein told [a]listdaily that this investment group (full list below) has been strategically designed to not only help Team Liquid, but the entire eSports ecosystem.

“The purpose of the group was not focused on getting investor cash, as much as it was to improve the reach and aptitude for the company,” Stein said. “We looked for people that brought to the mix a compliment to what (Team Liquid co-founders) Steve Arhancet and Victor Goossens have achieved in eSports. We have people with tech investor experience and portfolios, we have people who understand sports, and we have people who understand how to monetize audiences.”

Stein said one of the goals is how to make the audience and gamer experience richer. The company will try to combine best practices and best people from across multiple industries to eSports.

“ESports is a new frontier,” Stein said. “We brought people in who can construct businesses suited for an authentic voice in this industry, which is approaching a billion dollars.”

Team Liquid

Stein said one area aXiomatic will be able to help is working with brands and sponsors. He realizes that this eSports audience requires authentic engagement.

“If you try to force fit a corporate sponsor in a world where it doesn’t seem authentic you’re probably going to get less of the positive brand reference than what you’re looking for,” Stein said. “We’ll experiment with different places where sponsors who want to embrace eSports can be part of that. You have to be clever about what’s a good fit.”

Stein believes there’s enormous potential to craft a relationship between brands and eSports and players and teams, especially given the digital landscape. ESports is, after all, the first “sport” born online.

“The immediacy for marketing communication without the lag time you have in a lot of other sports is powerful,” Stein said. “It’s the first real sport where the audience and players have immediate 24/7 access to their passion. It’s also a global audience that opens up a world of 24/7 participation. This is a fundamental change that the industry has yet to fully embrace.”

Stein said the investment group began searching for an eSports team to partner with 10 months ago. Their announcement the day after the Sixers’ move into the space isn’t what prompted their interest in eSports.

“We did it because we had a team and a group that we believed could be collaborative,” Stein said. “My background is in consumer products, technology and content, and I see a big consumer products opportunity for developing products for gamers. We have inventors and manufacturing capabilities to customize products for this space. Ted and Peter bring global brand experience. We think Steve and Victor are a great complement to the investor group to be able to build out other verticals.”

Stein said aXiomatic was created as a holding company for a number of eSports enterprises. He envisions a consumer products enterprise, and potentially another focusing on the commercialization of IP, where investors like Dick Clark Productions and NextVR could play a role.

“We think there’s still an opportunity to engage with this audience that hasn’t been commercialized before,” Stein said.

First out of the gate for aXiomatic is to bring all of the group’s skills to Team Liquid to build the teams they want to compete in the games they’re in.

“They can create team environments and the right atmosphere that will be attractive to top players because they’ll see all of the resources we have with people from the Nationals, the Wizards, the Cubs and the Dodgers that can talk about best practices they use with their teams,” Stein said. “There’s a lot of information to share and learn from.”

After aXiomatic has a good handle on what Steve and Victor need, Stein said the team will begin looking at other verticals.

“We created separate entities so we can speak to any of the eSports pro teams about new opportunities,” Stein said.

The investing co-ownership group includes:

Monumental Sports & Entertainment – Monumental own and operates professional sports teams such as the NHL’s Washington Capitals, NBA’s Washington Wizards, and WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the AFL’s Washington Valor
Magic Johnson – Hall of Fame basketball player and serial entrepreneur
Steve Case – Chairman & CEO Revolution, Co-Founder of AOL
Donn Davis – Co-Founder of Revolution and Managing Partner of Revolution Growth
Dick Glover – Representing Mandalay Sports Media and their current President and CEO, former EVP of ESPN, former CEO Funny or Die.
Tony Robbins – Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and life & business strategist
NextVR – Industry leading VR company specializing in live VR sporting events for FOX Sports, NBC Sports, HBO/Golden Boy, etc.
Alan Shapiro – CEO of Dick Clark productions
Mike Mahan – President of Dick Clark Productions
Lon Rosen – EVP, Chief Marketing Officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers
Tucker Kain – CFO, Los Angeles Dodgers and Managing Director, Guggenheim Baseball
Rick Welts – President, COO of the Golden State Warriors
Brandon Schneider – SVP Business Development of the Golden State Warriors
Kirk Lacob – Assistant General Manager at Golden State Warriors, Co-founder of imoji
Harry Tsao – General Partner of Juvo Capital, Co-founder of Juvo+
Paul Schaeffer – Vice Chairman, COO of the Mandalay Entertainment Group
Jason Sugarman – Founder, Chairman, CEO of Valor Group Holdings
Blake Byers – General Partner of Google Ventures (GV)
Chad Byers – Co-founder and General Partner of Susa Ventures
Mark Scher – Founder, Principal of Scher Investment Group
Jordan Rambis – VP Development IDW, tech/esports consultant
Fred Schaufeld – Managing Director SWaN & Legend Venture Partners
Zachary Leonsis – VP and General Manager of Monumental Sports Network
Eric Lefkofsky – Co-founder of Groupon, Innerworkings, Echo, Uptake Technologies and Lightbank
Brad Keywell – Co-founder of Groupon, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Lightbank, CEO of Uptake Technologies.
Lerner Enterprises – Managing principal owners of the Washington Nationals MLB team, Owners of Lerner Enterprises
Tom Kartsotis – Founder, CEO of Bedrock Manufacturing (owner of Shinola and Filson), founder of FOSSIL
Russ Ramsey – Chairman, CEO of Ramsey Asset Management, co-founder of investment firm Friedman, Billings, Ramsey
Jeong Kim – Chairman of Kiswe Mobile; Former President of Bell Labs
Mark Ein – Chairman of Kastle System, CEO Capitol Acquisition Corp, Founder and Owner of World TeamTennis franchise the Washington Kastles
Crane Kenney – President Baseball Operations, Chicago Cubs
Larry Barden – Chair, Management Committee at Sidley Austin LLP
Dhani Jones – Entrepreneur; Investor; TV Host; Former NFL Linebacker
Tony Nader – Managing Director SWaN & Legend Venture Partners
Paul Strauss – EVP Mandalay Pictures

iBUYPOWER Expands ESports Focus With UC Irvine

Following the launch of their eSports scholarship program earlier this year, University of California, Irvine (UCI) has opened a dedicated eSports arena for the gaming community on campus. It’s the first eSports-focused facility at a public university in North America, and is by far the biggest school to date to make such a substantial investment in competitive gaming. The move has already attracted sponsors like iBUYPOWER, which has been a key endemic brand in eSports for years.

“We love the idea of collegiate gaming,” Tyrone Wang, eSports development manager at iBUYPOWER, told [a]listdaily. “We see eSports as a sport just like any other, one that requires dedication and discipline, and we believe players should be rewarded for their commitment with a path to higher education. We partnered with UCI because there were so many natural alignments, and quite frankly we wanted to be a part of something awesome.”

The company provided custom Intel-powered gaming PCs for the arena: the iBUYPOWER Revolt 2 and the iBUYPOWER Noctis 450. Having worked with different professional eSports organizations, Wang said the company understands their demanding needs. These are the same PCs—featuring Intel processors, Nvidia GTX 1080s and Asus gaming motherboards—that are used by ELeague and other eSports leagues.

“I truly believe collegiate eSports is the giant elephant in the room,” Wang said. “There are more gamers than there are traditional athletes. The level of interest and commitment shown by eSports players and students is simply at the point where they can no longer be ignored. The people are there, it is up to us, and the industry, to catch pace with the current generation of gamers.”

Mark Deppe, acting director of eSports at UCI, told [a]listdaily that sponsors like iBUYPOWER and Vertagear have been crucial to this program.

UCI Arena

“We’ve pitched this program as a cost-neutral initiative for the university, and our sponsors have provided substantial financial and in-kind support,” Deppe said. “You’ll see sponsor logos around the arena and on team jerseys.”

Most of UCI’s early sponsors—and Deppe said more will be announced in the coming months—are endemic to the gaming industry. Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. Located in Orange County, it’s the region’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.8 billion annually to the local economy.

“We think we’re building the best collegiate eSports program in the world, and we think our brands will get exposure to tens of thousands of collegiate eSports fans this year,” Deppe said. “In the near future, I think the audience will grow into the millions.”

Private college Robert Morris University also launched its eSports program several years ago with endemic brands, but recently added Quest Nutrition to the mix.

“When we see non-endemics spending dollars on the demographic we hold so dearly, it makes a lot of our efforts feel validated in all the right ways,” Wang said. “We’re extremely thankful because when it comes down to it, non-endemics are explosive media machines that can bring exposure to a lot of decision-makers and movers in the industry.”

Deppe said out of the gate, Riot Games’ League of Legends is the focal point for its eSports arena.

“Our decision to focus on LoL was based on the larger fan base on campus and our club teams’ previous competitive success,” Deppe said. “In the early days of LoL, our teams won back-to-back-to-back national championships. LoL is also the most popular game in the world, so it was a natural choice for us. Moving forward, we’ll add additional games based on community interest and popularity.”

College eSports is just the latest audience iBUYPOWER is targeting. Wang said the biggest takeaway the company has learned about how to market is the value of authenticity.

“ESports fans will either be your greatest allies, or your strongest detractors,” Wang said. “They have been truly invaluable in finding raw feedback and understanding, therefore it’s helped us to understand the value of transparency.”

Wang has watched the eSports landscape evolve over the last few years from a fragmented, glorified hobby, where gaming enthusiasts gathered to discuss strategies and the highest levels of play, to a commercialized critical mass level where platforms like serve as an online destination.

“The landscape has changed in that now the level of interest and sheer volume of traffic generate significant value from advertisers,” Wang said. “So the core passion is there, only now it can be ‘seen’ in the eyes of mainstream markets.”

How Turtle Beach Adapts To The Evolving Gaming Audience

Turtle Beach has been making audio hardware and accessories for over forty years, and it is still considered one of the top brands in the gaming headset space. It has maintained a lead in the market by constantly innovating and adapting to the changing needs of gamers. Most prominently, the company has partnered with eSports teams OpTic Gaming and FaZe Clan to promote the recently launched Elite Pro gear. In addition to that, the company showcased the Stealth 350 VR at E3 and Gamescom this year, which is the first audio headset designed specifically for use with virtual reality devices.

MacLean Marshall, Turtle Beach director of PR and communications
MacLean Marshall, Turtle Beach director of PR and communications

MacLean Marshall, director of PR and communications at Turtle Beach, talked to [a]listdaily about the company’s past and future, especially in the crowded market of audio headsets and accessories.

“One thing is that Turtle Beach actually pioneered the console gaming headsets,” Marshall explained. “We were the first company out there to let anybody playing on a console (Xbox, PlayStation 2, etc.) to start talking to one another. Allowing gamers to communicate with each other evolved into today’s competitive gaming world, and also on the commentator front with streamers. We’ve seen the needs of a traditional gamer expand from someone who sits down by himself to play video games to someone who sits down to play with a selection of top-notch competitive players with a team. Beyond that are people who livestream themselves playing a game or commentate on someone else playing a game.”

When asked what the difference was between the enthusiast gaming audience and the eSports audience, Marshall said, “In my opinion, the eSports audience is its own contained sort of mindset. There is a subset of fans who are interested in watching eSports and being on that bandwagon, like how traditional sports fans have their favorite football or soccer team. But I think in the gaming space, it’s more contained to be sort of its own audience—where you have a hardcore gamer who is looking forward to the next big game, but not interested in following teams and players competitively. I think there’s still a line in the sand for the different audiences, and how we approach the eSports audience is more through our partnership with the eSports teams that we work with, which are OpTic Gaming and FaZe Clan.

“On the hardcore enthusiast side of things, obviously the eSports resonates, but also having more targeted messaging and campaigns that really speak to that person who is not necessarily interested in eSports but wants a kickass gaming headset.”

Marshall detailed how Turtle Beach came to partner with OpTic Gaming by bringing samples of the developing hardware to their house in Chicago.

“We really did take a gaming headset and redesigned the idea of the gaming headset for today’s audience and eSports athletes. Prior to this, there were a bunch of gaming headsets out there that were good use for competitive gaming, but there hadn’t been anything designed from the ground up to be an eSports headset, and that’s where we win with the Elite Pro,” he said.

OpTic was already familiar with the Turtle Beach brand because of its long history. “We have history in the console headset space—nearly everybody’s first console gaming headset was a Turtle Beach headset,” said Marshall. “It’s kind of neat, because there’s no BS with these guys. They’re either going to like it or they’re not.”

OpTic was impressed with the Elite Pro gear and were willing to discuss a partnership, and a similar story led to the FaZe Clan partnership. “That marked the start of a more integrated relationship with the pro teams,” Marshall said.

When asked about the kind of impact eSports has made on Turtle Beach’s designs, Marshall said: “Turtle Beach has a deep history of being innovative and being first to market with certain features. We were the very first company to have a 100 percent wireless headset for Xbox, and had three wireless headsets before any competitor had their first one out. This is our 41st year in business, and the company has a DNA that is rooted in evolving with the technical time frame. For the past decade or more, we have been focused on gaming headsets and we’re the leader in that space. We’re the gorilla in the corner when it comes to market share with over 40 percent of the market, which is bigger than the next three competitors combined.

“ESports is the next iteration of where the market is going, when it comes to headsets and accessories. Streaming is another big area of opportunity.”

Marshall further explained that eSports impacts Turtle Beach’s approach in creating products as well as what audience they’re speaking to and how they’re speaking to them. They speak to their eSports audience mostly through their partnership with OpTic and FaZe, because they’re aspirational to fans. “A fan will want to have the same headset the best teams are using, similar to any kind of accessory from traditional sports,” he said. “We kind of let the product sell itself. We put out the features and how they matter, and the team talks about it when they’re out and about.”

Turtle Beach currently has a number of cross promotional headsets, such as an officially branded Heroes of the Storm edition. We asked Marshall if the company was considering other cross promotions, particularly with branding from their eSports teams.

“The question is: would it make sense? To answer that, especially with the pro teams, is something that we’re actively talking to OpTic and FaZe about,” said Marshall. “You always have to take into account the cost of doing stuff, because what typically happens with any sort of licensed or branded product is that you see sales peak within the first three or four weeks, and then they drop off. We’ve started to kind of move away from one-off licensing for products. In 2015, we stopped our partnership with Activision for Call of Duty headsets. It worked great for a few years, but after a while, it didn’t resonate as well. That strategy has let us partner with OpTic and FaZe. We’ve taken money out of the ‘let’s partner with everybody’ mentality and focused it.

“For instance, we’re still partnered with Lucasfilm and some Star Wars properties. So last year, when both the Battlefront game and the movie came out, that was a smart partnership. We came out with two exclusive headsets for the game and movie. We’ll continue to evaluate those things.”

Considering how there are a multitude of gaming headsets on the market, including official ones from Microsoft and Sony for their respective consoles, we asked Marshall how Turtle Beach stayed ahead of the competition.

“We have a wide variety of headsets that fits every budget, whether they’re buying according to what they can afford, or on what features they want,” Marshall replied. “Whether it’s low-end, mid-end or high-end, we have the entire array that caters to everybody’s desires. We also continue to innovate, like with an all new streaming microphone coming out in October that’s completely new. It’s not even a headset, but it’s the first livestreaming microphone that’s plug-and-play compatible with Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and Mac.

As for keeping the brand going for over forty years, Marshall said: “I separate the audience into two different categories. You have a little bit of an older generation of core gamers who are in their thirties and forties and are either familiar [with the brand] or need to be reminded. Then you have the newer generation of gamers who are in their teens and twenties who are coming into the world of gaming accessories. Again, where we win is in the price you want to pay and the features you get.”

ESports and livestreaming aren’t the only areas of innovation. We asked Marshall what inspired the creation of the Stealth 350 VR headset.

“All you ever see is the visual side of things, and you never really see or hear about the audio side of the VR experience,” said Marshall. “The experience is 50 percent visual, and it’s also 50 percent audio. That experience you’re going to get is half driven by the audio experience. You look at all these VR devices, and they either come with no audio at all, or they come with small on-ear or in-ear [headphones]. Sure, they’ll deliver a decent audio experience, but is that going to be the best audio experience? Absolutely not. We saw an opportunity to take the overall experience further by taking the audio experience from good to amazing.”

So what would be needed for VR to truly take off? “What I would hate to see happen to VR is the same thing that happened to 3D TV. It was a flash in the pan,” said Marshall. “I think what is needed for VR to take off is simplicity and price. With VR, some are simple and straightforward, but others are more involved and need a multi-thousand dollar gaming rig setup. As we get further down the path, we’ll see simplicity take effect. Turn on your PlayStation, put on your stuff, and you’re going.”

Op-Ed: 3 Key Lessons From Nintendo’s Mobile Strategy

The most surprising announcement at the recent Apple Event wasn’t the new iPhones or the new Apple Watch, it was the fact that Nintendo is producing Super Mario Run for iPhones. The news boosted Nintendo’s stock and generated much speculation about Nintendo’s future plans. Taking a closer look at Nintendo’s present situation and likely future, there are three important lessons for marketers.

Use Brand Power Effectively

Nintendo creating a mobile game for Apple’s iPhone is certainly a great move that was very well received by Nintendo fans, Nintendo investors and media observers. Not much was shown of the actual gameplay of Super Mario Run, but we were told the game can be played with one hand and that it will not be ‘free-to-play’ in the usual sense. Nintendo later clarified that the game will be “free-to-start,” but that at some point, you will be asked to pay a one-time fee to unlock the remainder of the content. The positive response to Super Mario Run should be attributed mostly to the power of Nintendo’s Mario brand, rather than any detailed look at the game’s design or its value.

This is a prime example of what the power of a great brand can bring you when wielded in the proper way. Nintendo gained billions of dollars in market value and has perhaps tens of millions of downloads waiting to happen when Super Mario Run becomes available, all from the right announcement in the right time and place. Marketers should note well just how much impact the Mario brand has—it’s something to strive for with any game brand.

But important questions remain before we judge this game to be a winner before it arrives. What will the actual pricing be, and how will that compare to the play value of the game? The game’s success in terms of revenue will depend on this choice. Digital pricing can be changed if it’s not performing well, and Nintendo could test out different price points with short-term sales.

Nintendo’s first attempt at a mobile product, Miitomo, is less of a game than it is a social network, and it had strong initial success, but quickly declined. Currently, it’s somewhere around rank 1000 in terms of downloads according to App Annie. SurveyMonkey looked at the game after its first month and saw a high churn and low return engagement. “While we suspect that the Nintendo brand earned Miitomo many downloads, the game struggled to keep users interested,” SurveyMonkey noted. Super Mario Run will certainly earn plenty of downloads based on Nintendo’s brand, but the success of the game will depend on the quality of the game itself. Brand power alone cannot keep gamers engaged or get them to spend money.


Leverage Market Success When It Happens

The greatest success story for Nintendo this year has been a game it had no hand in designing or bringing to market: Pokémon GO. This game, created by Niantic Labs under license from The Pokémon Company (which is partly owned by Nintendo), had no input from Nintendo at all, and Nintendo gets no direct financial benefit from it. Niantic’s Pokémon GO has been a fantastic success, becoming the fastest mobile game ever to hit $500 million in revenue, taking just over 60 days. The fascinating thing about this success is the way it’s affected Nintendo products. Nintendo’s sales of the 3DS line and its latest Pokémon games shot up the month after the release of Pokémon GO.

Nintendo’s 3DS line saw an 83 percent increase in sales for August, with the Nintendo 2DS clocking an astounding 500 percent jump in sales. Nintendo also reported an increase of 57 percent for the sales of 3DS first-party games for August, including both physical and digital copies. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire reached the ninth and eleventh spots, respectively, on the retail sales chart last month.

This would seem to validate the feasibility of Nintendo’s prime desire for mobile games: To use mobile games to increase sales of Nintendo’s console hardware and software. This occurred without any marketing effort on Nintendo’s part. It was just the enormous success of Pokémon GO that caused the rise in associated hardware and software. Imagine if Nintendo was really trying, perhaps by putting in ads for Super Mario console games inside of Super Mario Run? Nintendo is already selling the Pokémon GO Plus accessory very briskly, showing how the company can capitalize on the success of a mobile game. It’s very interesting to note that a $35 peripheral is selling very well for a free-to-play game.

The Biggest Risk Is To Take No Risks

The ultimate question is Nintendo’s strategy going forward. The launch of its new console system, codenamed NX, is slated for March 2017. We know that mobile games based on Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem are in the works. What shape will those take in terms of design and monetization? Animal Crossing by its very nature would seem to lend itself to in-app purchases over time. Yet it could still be sold as a premium, all-inclusive title. If Minecraft on mobile can sell over 20 million copies at $6.99, why can’t Nintendo’s games?

Nintendo is probably hoping to leverage its mobile titles into increased sales of the NX. If, as is rumored, the NX has a portable component, it seems logical that perhaps the very best way to ensure good NX sales would be to create a version of Pokémon GO for the NX console.

The long-term question is whether or not Nintendo stubbornly retains its loyalty to proprietary hardware. The incredible success of Pokémon GO makes you wonder why Nintendo wants to maintain a low-margin hardware business. Pokémon GO alone will likely generate somewhere around $2 billion in revenue for Niantic, with a net profit of perhaps $1.3 billion before royalties. That’s roughly ten years of profits for Nintendo based on last year’s numbers. Isn’t that a business to strive for?

Nintendo has been very conservative while the mobile games business has been rapidly growing. The company’s risks have all been within familiar boundaries, with the Wii U taking some chances but still being very recognizable to Wii fans.

The company has shied away from mobile until recently, and still doesn’t show any interest in dabbling with VR or AR. Mobile finally seems to have broken through Nintendo’s conservative bent. The stage appearance with Apple may mark the beginning of Nintendo’s full embrace of the mobile platform. Marketers should be watching carefully as Nintendo pursues its new direction.

What Snapchat’s Rebranding Means For The Photo Sharing App

Snapchat is now Snap Inc., a telling “picture” of the company’s plans for diversification. What started as a fun way to send silly messages to friends has grown into a social media giant and now a camera company valued at $18 billion by investors in 2016.

The first outside-the-app offering by Snap Inc. comes by way of an innovation called Spectacles—WiFi sunglasses that record up to 10 seconds of video on a wide angle lens, which can then be uploaded to Snapchat. A limited supply will be sold this fall for $129.99 per pair in a choice of three colors.

spectaclesThe expansion from social app to camera company makes sense—offering Snap Inc. a way to capitalize on photography, the very thing that drives its brand. Although the company has yet to reveal other products just yet, the Spectacles give us a good idea of where the brand is headed.

“We believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate,” reads the new Snap Inc. website. “Our products empower people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world and have fun together.” Snap Inc. has yet to define how they will “reinvent” the camera itself, but the statement implies innovation.

Spectacles, for example, allows users to capture and share memories while remaining hands-free. Lights on the glasses turn on to let others know when owners are recording. It is otherwise less bulky (and more fashionable) than a Go Pro camera strapped to one’s forehead, while remaining a low-cost alternative to Google Glasses. Memories are a major selling point for the new product, utilizing frontline marketing and nostalgia to create an emotional attachment to the brand.

Snapchat is largely becoming a hub for brands to reach users on an emotional or entertaining level, and the app now offers three new targeted ad offerings. Time will tell how these new cameras will benefit outside marketers, although they sure would be easy to use for a Snapchat scavenger hunt.

How Xyience Is Using Zero-Calorie Energy Drinks To Market Millennials

College-aged students oftentimes chug enough energy drinks over the course of a school semester to sink the Titanic. They are the prototypical demographic sugary goodness drink manufacturers are desperately trying to reach.

Xyience, the zero-calorie, zero-sugar energy drink owned by soft drink company Big Red, is doing things a tad differently by chasing the ever elusive “older” millennial with a new college football integrated marketing campaign headlined with ESPN reporter and brand spokesperson Samantha Ponder.


Cheeky TV commercials starring the journalist entitled “Pond Pondering with Sam Ponder” have already hit airwaves and will continue throughout the year. The campaign is combined with a social media contest inviting fans to submit their own “Pond Pondering” video script. Fans can also enter for a chance to win a trip to a college bowl game of their choice.

Xyience’s partnership with Ponder will be paired with the Campus Insiders original series “Inside the College Football Rankings” where it will serve as a digital destination for Xyience-sponsored programming and creating and delivering exclusive content across the Campus Insiders Network, and the Campus Insiders’ Facebook page

Thomas Oh, senior vice president of marketing at Big Red, joined [a]listdaily to pass over some details around their new college sports marketing platform.

Why is the new integrated marketing campaign featuring Samantha Ponder the best move for the brand?

Xyience is a zero-calorie, great-tasting, broadly appealing energy drink that was previously aligned with a somewhat polarizing platform in UFC and mixed martial arts. We decided to reposition the brand using a platform that is also broadly appealing—college sports. ‘ESPN’s College GameDay’ is the premier college football show and we thought that Samantha would be a fantastic ambassador for the brand because she’s a part of the demographic (older millennial, ages 27-to-37) that we’re targeting. We’re also extremely pleased that she’s a genuine fan of our product.

What kind of experiential marketing activations can college-aged consumers expect in the coming months?

At key campuses around the country, Xyience will be sampling at tailgates throughout the season. We’d like as many consumers as possible to try our great-tasting product, and tying into football tailgates is a natural extension of our college sports platform.

What is the marketing and social media strategy you plan to execute with the campaign?

With Samantha, we have created custom content that we will be delivering through our social media channels as well as hers. We will also conduct a user-generated contest in which consumers can submit their own “Pond Ponderings.” We’ll select the best lines and Samantha will recreate the commercial, and then we’ll publish those via social media. We think it’ll be a fun prize for consumers to hear their ponderings as voiced by Samantha.


How did you identify college sports and older millennials as the consumer base Xyience needed to reach? 

Research showed that older millennials ages 27-to-37 was the demo that was increasing their consumption of energy drinks, which makes sense because they grew up with energy drinks and are now becoming parents and realizing more keenly their need for energy.

Aside from Samantha Ponder, who are some of the other influencers and athletes you’re currently working with?

Through our partnership with Campus Insiders, we have worked with Seth Davis, their college basketball expert. We’re also working closely this fall with their college football personalities—Shae Peppler, Jordan Cornette, Pete Fiutak and Bonnie Bernstein.

What is the best way to reach CrossFit athletes, color run participants and marathoners—a group of which is a big sample of your consumer base? 

Most of these consumers are also fans of college sports. These ‘active participants’ certainly appreciate the attributes that Xyience offers.

How do you separate yourselves from the likes of Monster, Rockstar or Red Bull, who all have loyal fan bases? What’s different?

The top-three brands have certainly done a fantastic job using action sports, motorsports and extreme imagery to market their products. If we followed suit, Xyience would not break through. That’s why we selected a platform like mainstream college sports that was untapped by those brands, and would appeal to a much broader audience.

Xyience was one of the UFC’s major sponsors until 2014. What did being the “official energy drink of the UFC” do in growing the brand, and how has the “less hardcore image” been received over the years?

The association with UFC definitely created awareness among fans of that sport. But we believed that we had an opportunity to broaden and ‘soften’ the message. So far, feedback from our distributor and retailer partners about our college sports marketing platform has been extremely positive. And more consumers are learning about our product with our broad messaging.

How would you describe the post-UFC state of Xyience?

We’re excited about the opportunity with Xyience. It’s definitely on trend—zero-calorie products are driving the growth in the energy drink category, and Xyience is not only the original zero-calorie energy drink, but all our stock-keeping units (SKU) are zero calorie. I believe our re-brand has been successful because we replaced a well-known platform with one that was even more well-known. It made perfect sense to our partners and now consumers are discovering how great our product is.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan


How Will Livestream ESL One New York ESports Tournament In VR

This year’s ESL One New York, which takes place this coming weekend (October 1-2) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, will be a milestone event. ESL has partnered with to bring the first Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) eSports tournament to be livestreamed in virtual reality. The event will bring virtual reality and 360-degree viewing to a variety of devices, including web browsers, Google Cardboard, the Samsung Gear VR and high-end headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Not only will viewers be able to engage with the tournament like never before, but they’ll also get a spectacular in-game point-of-view. That means they’ll see everything that the players are doing from within the game in real-time, synchronized with the ESL’s live 2D broadcast of the event. CEO Mitch Liu spoke with [a]listdaily about the partnership with ESL and how it will be bringing a whole new level of interaction with viewers with the world’s first VR eSports livestream.

Mitch Liu, CEO
Mitch Liu, CEO

How did and ESL come to partner for this event?

Well, that’s a great story. We were looking for user feedback in the CS:GO subreddit board with lots of great core gamers, and it turned out that an ESL team member was part of that community. They reached out to us, and once we showed them our technology and capabilities, they were blown away by it. Long story short, we decided to team up to do the first-ever VR 360 livestream of a major eSports event.

Why was ESL One New York chosen to be the first VR livestream?

We chose the upcoming ESL One event at the end of this month since it perfectly coincides with’s launch of our livestream platform. What better than to showcase it at one of the largest CS:GO events in the world and be part of that awesome experience?

What can viewers expect from the VR experience?

We’ll be integrating the 2D program feed directly from ESL broadcast source into our VR world, and rendering in real-time the 360 third-person point-of-view game world via our virtual cameras. Our machine-vision algorithms identify in real-time who the player is in the 2D program feed and automatically selects the most optimal virtual camera located on the game map so that both feeds will be in sync. The viewer is essentially immersed within the VR game world and can just sit back and enjoy a live CS:GO match like never before.

What are the challenges of livestreaming eSports in virtual reality, especially for so many different platforms?

The livestream technology in itself is super challenging, and to be able to compress everything within a real-time pipeline is something we’ve been working on for a year now, and we also patented the technology. Scaling the platform to support tens of thousands of concurrent users across our website, mobile apps supporting Panorama-360 mode, Cardboard and across all of our VR apps is a huge undertaking. As a go-to platform for all things eSports, 360 and VR as well as the destination site for all eSports fans, we must support low-end mobile devices all the way up to the Oculus Rift.

How will and ESL promote the VR livestream?

We’re relying mostly on ESL to help us on this front. They have millions of followers across their Twitter, Facebook and other social channels to spread the word pre-event. During the event, ESL will be promoting and the VR experience through analyst desk callouts during their live broadcast. Post event, we plan to create exciting highlight reels, replays with special effects and top plays by teams, players, etc. so fans can revisit their favorite moments at any time.

Philadelphia 76ers Exec Discusses ESports Play With Team Dignitas

While traditional sports owners have jumped into the eSports business in the past, it’s never been through the actual sports organization. The owners of the Philadelphia 76ers are the first to enter the eSports business by acquiring a pair of teams—Team Dignitas and Team Apex—and rolling them into the NBA organization’s structure. The Sixers intend to manage the day-to-day operations of Team Dignitas, sharing best practices in sponsorship, sales, branding, digital marketing, merchandising, publicity and more; as well as devote resources to player recruitment, development and wellness.

Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil [pictured above] told [a]listdaily that this acquisition gives the new Team Dignitas, which includes both the original team and Team Apex under one name, a competitive advantage by being able to enact the resources of the entire organization. “Myopically, we have more people in our sponsorship service sales and activation group than Dignitas and Team Apex have on their entire staff,” O’Neil said. “This is an opportunity to get all of the weight and resources and the actual workload and contacts of a major league professional sports franchise behind Team Dignitas, so we can catapult them into the upper echelon of the eSports space.”

The 76ers co-managing partner, David Blitzer and managing general partner, Josh Harris also own the New Jersey Devils NHL team, the Prudential Center in Newark and Premiere League soccer team Crystal Palace.

“Our sponsorship teams from our NBA and NHL franchises will drive sponsorship deals in the eSports space,” O’Neil said. “We’ll also have more resources for Team Dignitas to go out and attract more teams and new players.” Team Dignitas was originally formed in September 2003 with the merging of two Battlefield 1942 teams. The new Team Dignitas will field players across League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm and Smite.


Game industry veteran, Greg Richardson will serve as chairman of the new Team Dignitas. Michael O’Dell will lead team operations as president, alongside vice president and general manager Michael Slan. Richardson told [a]listdaily that eSports is a fast-moving and dynamic market.

“This announcement of the Sixers getting involved is big news,” Richardson said. “It allows us to take a front row seat with existing leagues, game publishers, teams, players and fans. Starting tomorrow, a large part of what we’re doing is exploring what opportunities there are for Team Dignitas and the entire eSports ecosystem.” He also stated that while over a quarter billion people watch eSports, the ecosystem is not monetizing very well. He believes the Sixers can help Team Dignitas and the entire eSports industry.

“This is a business that, in order to win, you need to go out and generate revenue, invest in players and create an environment where players want to play,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil said one of the focal points of the organization will roll over from traditional sports, which have had quite a jump in the number of years invested in the training of professional athletes. On September 23, the Sixers opened the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex, the largest and most technologically advanced training facility in professional sports. At 125,000-square-feet, the two-story training complex is home to two NBA regulation-size basketball courts, ten baskets, a 2,800-square-foot locker room, hydrotherapy room with a 40-foot lap pool and hydraulic training lift, organic player restaurant, and amenities designed for player health, wellness, communication and comfort.

“The way to become and remain dominant in any sport is to attract the best players in the world,” O’Neil said. “We’ll bring our sports background in health, hydration, nutrition and sleep to our eSports players.”

Richardson said Team Dignitas has gaming houses for its League of Legends teams in Southern California, but a lot of players across other games are spread out and play online. “Now we have the facilities to bring teams together for boot camps and training camps, which is a big win for the players we have today and a great way to try to attract world class free agents,” Richardson said. “We can help players be more successful, happier, and more healthy human beings.”

O’Neil said the NBA is the most dominant global league in the history of sports. Sixers games are available in 212 countries around the world and the NBA has League Pass, a digital passport to games around the league. “With eSports, our universe of potential fans and our business opportunities is now the entire world,” O’Neil said. “The Team Dignitas brand can be built in China, Singapore, the UK and North America. It’s upon us to dream big and build the infrastructure in a strong enough way to answer the opportunity.”

Richardson said Team Dignitas will continue to work directly with the fan base to collect feedback on what the community wants, as it always has. They’ll now have the added resources of a traditional sports organization to help with everything from merchandising to sports health. “ESports has an incredibly powerful and deep fan base,” O’Neil said. “LCS Worlds last year drew more people than the BCS national championship game. Yet, there’s some level of need to be validated from this group, which is what we can bring to the table. We understand the power and impact of this audience. We see this as an opportunity and there’s room for eSports to grow.”

The Sixers acquired the eSports franchises in partnership with NextEquity Partners, a growth equity and venture capital investment firm. The relationship between the Sixers, Team Dignitas and Team Apex was fostered by Tobias Sherman of WME-IMG, who represents Team Dignitas on new partner acquisitions.

From 360 To Spam: 5 Stats You Shouldn’t Miss This Week

360 Degrees Of Brand Recall

Are 360-degree video ads mere novelty? Nielson says no. Research in the company’s Media Lab found that people recalled brands in 360-degree video content up to 28 times more than brands in 30-second midroll ads. 360-degree content was on average eight times more effective for recall than traditional ad units, although there was some variance across brands. The Media Lab study also found that, compared to traditional ads, 360-degree video content positively affected purchase intent for up to three times as many consumers.

Phone Searches Lead To Sales

Google recently asked 1,000 users to take a survey several times a day for a week to help the company better understand how using a smartphone throughout the day meets various needs. The survey received more than 14,000 responses that painted a picture about how, when and why people pick up their phones. 92 percent of respondents who did research on their phone made a purchase within a day and 76 percent of those searching for something nearby visited a related business within a day.

Shop ‘Til You Drop This Holiday Season

Economists at Deloitte predict total 2016 holiday sales to exceed $1 trillion a 3.6 to 4 percent increase in November through January holiday sales (excluding motor vehicles and gasoline) over last year’s shopping season. The company also forecasts a 17-to-19 percent increase in e-commerce sales, reaching $96 to $98 billion during the 2016 holiday season. The emergence of e-commerce will not only be a major factor in online sales, but also those made offline. Deloitte predicts that digital interactions will influence two-thirds of every dollar spent in-store this season.


When It Comes To Marketing, Netflix Doesn’t Mess Around

Streaming video is rising in popularity, but when it comes to getting the word out, Netflix is serious about its marketing campaigns. For the end of August, Netflix was by far the number one marketer with their new show, The Get Down, according to data by Media Radar. Netflix marketed 21 programs the week of August 21 across 75 websites, created 23 unique video ads across 14 TV networks and aired eight unique TV spots while they were at it.

Spam, Spam, Spam, SMS Messaging And Spam

For SMS users, spam is on the menu whether you like it or not. Recent findings from the Mobile Messaging Fraud Report 2016 have revealed that 26 percent of chat app users receive an unwanted message every day and 49 percent receive a minimum of one a week. Chat apps are also getting bombarded with unwanted messages, according to the report. 28 percent of consumers receive an unsolicited SMS message every day, with 58 percent reporting one every week. 33 percent of those surveyed said these messages were attempts to get them to disclose personal data like bank details or online passwords.

Wargaming Takes On Mobile ESports With ‘World of Tanks Blitz’

Wargaming is expanding its eSports business beyond its core World of Tanks PC game, which has grown a strong global audience over the past few years. The publisher recently ran a successful one-day tournament featuring sixteen World of Tanks Blitz teams as a final test before slowly jumping into eSports with it. Now Wargaming is gearing up for its first Blitz Twister Cup.

The tournament will kick off with online preliminary matches starting September 26 across four regions with the best team from each region competing at a live offline event later this year. As many as ten players can register per team for the 7-vs.-7 competition.

Carlo Delallana, senior producer on World of Tanks Blitz told [a]listdaily that everything is handled on the client inside of the mobile game. “We give them all the tools to register for the tournament and they’ll get pinged before a match.”

Although this is Wargaming’s first step into mobile eSports, it’s part of a detailed road map that was laid out last year by the eSports team. The development team has added training rooms to the game and the ability to seamlessly launch tournaments. “We’ll add more features to expand things like camera controls so casters can fly the camera around and comment on the match,” Delallana said. “We’ll also add built-in livestreaming support in a future update.”

Even without built-in support, Delallana said players are using Mobcrush and Twitch on their own to stream games today. Wargaming will livestream the Blitz Twister Cup just as they’ve livestreamed the League competitive tournament.

“We’ve been able to learn a lot from the World of Tanks (eSports) league,” Delallana said. “There are a lot of similar things from the tool standpoint. We do have some functionality in Blitz that’s exclusive to us, which makes it easier to set tournaments up quickly.”

World of Tanks Blitz

While the World of Tanks eSport has grown established teams over the years, there’s only a small percentage of crossover between the mobile game and its big brother, according to Delallana. “If you’re a primarily a mobile player you’ll stick with Blitz, so I think we’ll get some new folks coming into the competitive scene,” Delallana said. “Blitz is an interesting product in the Tanks line-up. We’re targeting a different consumer, although very much in our space. There is a way for us to expand that eSports audience.”

One key element Delallana said will help grow Blitz as an eSport is the ability to watch the competition from within the game. That’s something Activision has done with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and it’s on the roadmap for Blitz, although not necessarily for this year. “If you can fire up Blitz and watch eSports directly from within the game, folks would never have to leave the client,” Delallana said.

Just as Wargaming has built out the presentation around its Grand Finals event for World of Tanks, this first official eSports outing is a learning experience.

“The theatrics of the live event is something we’re going to figure out,” Delallana said. “This first iteration is to debut Blitz and say we’ve arrived as an eSport. As the mobile eSports following gets bigger, the theatricality of the event will evolve.”

Delallana is bullish on eSports, given the success Blizzard Entertainment has had with Hearthstone and Super Evil Megacorp has had with Vainglory. “A lot of people watch Twitch on mobile devices, so the audience is already there,” Delallana said. “Those gamers might want to start rooting for mobile eSports over time.”

This first tournament will offer in-game gold for participants, so there’s an incentive for players who are competitive. Moving forward, Delallana said real cash prizes will become part of Blitz eSports. Real money will also help establish an ecosystem, which has already evolved with Hearthstone and Vainglory in the mobile arena.

“Once you debut an eSport, there will be teams and individuals and rising stars,” Delallana said. “This will be our first opportunity to see these global players emerge, and we want to make sure we give them the opportunities to explore Blitz competitively as a career choice.”

Blitz also opens up new sponsorship opportunities for brands interested in reaching mobile gamers. Wargaming recently held a Rise of Continents asynchronous competition across all its World of Tanks Blitz servers and Sennheiser headphones were awarded to winners.

“So we’ve dabbled in sponsored competitive events outside of the eSports environment and we hope to expand that opportunity when we properly debut Blitz,” Delallana said.