Tribeca Virtual Reality Arcade Opens, Featuring OneRepublic’s Immersive Music Video

Earlier this year, the Tribeca Enterprises helped grow the field of virtual reality entertainment by introducing a VR Arcade at the Tribeca Film Festival, showcasing a multitude of experiences, in addition to premiering the acclaimed VR animated short, Invasion! The humorous film, featuring a bunny that repels an alien attack, became an instant hit and the creators at Baobab Studios are already working on a sequel while the VR short is being adapted to a 2D feature film.

Now Tribeca is taking VR entertainment to the next level by going beyond the confines of the festival and opening the free-to-use Tribeca Virtual Reality Arcade last weekend at the Westfield World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. The arcade, which uses Samsung Gear VR viewers, will be open for two more weekends from 12-8pm on November 11-13 and November 18-20, giving shoppers and tourists a chance to experience virtual reality, perhaps for the first time.

Featured experiences include Invasion!, which provides even more people a chance to experience life from an animated bunny’s point-of-view. It is accompanied by the first episode of Invisible, a supernatural serial drama created by famed director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow), 30 Ninjas, Jaunt VR, Samsung VR, and Condé Nast Entertainment. Cirque Du Soleil’s VR experience, KÀ: The Battle Within is also being showcased, taking viewers on an acrobatic dance journey. Lastly, there’s OneRepublic’s VR music video for “Kids.”

Kids,” OneRepublic’s newest hit single from the album Oh My My, has both a 360-degree video and a traditional 2D music video. However, what makes the VR version particularly impressive, in addition to the technology, is that it’s shot in one take using over 100 performers including the band. Director, Hal Kirkland, spoke with [a]listdaily from the Tribeca Virtual Reality Arcade debut about putting together the VR music video for “Kids” and discusses how he thinks the technology helps the music industry and bands engage with their audiences.

Hal Kirkland, director for "Kids" music video
Hal Kirkland, director for “Kids” music video

How did you come to work with OneRepublic to create a VR music video?

Originally, Universal Music and Interscope, who work with those artists directly, wanted to get into VR. Also, Nokia Ozo, the camera that we filmed it with, wanted to push their technology. So, a partnership was formed between those companies. They put the brief out there for people to present ideas, and luckily this was that idea that moved forward.

Working with VR technology must be challenging by itself. What inspired you to do a one-take video?

What inspired me was that it hadn’t really been done in this way before. I think that the idea came about after listening to the song and picking a really simple story about a girl and a guy and their relationship developing. I tried to imagine different ways to do this that hadn’t been attempted before and I think that because I was planning for a VR piece and a 2D piece that needed to happen in the same location, I wanted the VR piece to really push the viewer in a way that pushed the medium as well.

How did OneRepublic take to making the video?

OneRepublic were amazing. They were instrumental in this happening because of the complexity of the shoot. The fact that that we were trying to get a one-take, it relied on the precise choreography of over one hundred people. They were so into it and so supportive of the technology in general, and they turned up on time and got all the choreography immediately. Without their help, showmanship and professionalism, the entire piece wouldn’t have been possible.

Do you think VR will usher in a new wave of popularity for music videos?

Yeah, I think VR technology will definitely be used more and more in a music video context. Due to the complexity and expense of creating in this medium in a high-quality way, I think there will be a necessity for a certain level of dedication from the partners funding those kinds of creations. Music video-land tends to be low budget, “let’s do it in two weeks’ time,” [production]. A song will release and a label will say, “we need to get this song out immediately, where’s our film?”

In this instance, you need time to plan it out properly. You need the technical expertise and the planning from that side of things. For the quality to be created, you need a certain amount of budget as well. Every VR project is ultimately a VFX job, because you’re stitching together everything that you’ve filmed. It’s such a huge process that it can’t be done instantly.

What do you think will be the challenge in making VR content moving forward?

A challenge that a lot of people are facing right now is integrating narrative. I think it’s more than possible and it will be continually refined. The challenge is that VR, because it’s so new, is so immersive that it can also become distracting. It gives you that freedom to look in any direction, and the challenge is in using directorial techniques that allow you to feel that freedom and immersion while being directed toward the action you’re meant to be watching. Going forward in the industry will be about refining those two worlds, and I think that will be helped along by VR spreading even further and people’s perception of it getting more advanced.

Photo credit: Sam Deitch for BFA.com
Photo credit: Sam Deitch for BFA.com

How do you balance between focusing on the story and the band itself?

You’ve got to use almost old-school techniques. You’ve got to make what the key characters are doing compelling, and you’ve got to choreograph them with interesting enough action to hold viewing. I feel like you’ve got to plan your direction, almost like you’re choreographing stage action. You’ve also got to think about your world and construct it so you’re blocking what you don’t want people to see, but it doesn’t look as though you are. Or you’re creating a stage where you want the actor to move around and doesn’t seem limited. It’s a matter of planning that choreography ahead of time.

How does an experience like the “Kids” music video help bands like OneRepublic engage with fans?

I think it helps OneRepublic engage with fans by inviting them into a world. Music videos have traditionally been great for us to get a sense of the characters and people inside them and whether or not it’s a persona or the real them. VR actually invites people into their world, temporarily. That’s a really interesting step for a band to do, because you can see the band members in front of you, and they appear to be physically next to you, wherever they are in that scene or story. That gives you a certain level of intimacy or closeness that establishes a stronger connection between the band and the audience.

Inside Disney’s Virtual Reality Strategy With SVP Kevin Mayer

The Walt Disney Company hosted its third annual Accelerator Demo Day last month at its Burbank, California headquarters to announce support of startups across a variety of verticals, including eSports, holographs, robotics, toy subscription services and mobile movie ticketing.

Another burgeoning business that is the breakout industry of 2016 is virtual reality, and Disney is positioning its corporation to be a leader in the space through their newest Accelerator in Jaunt—a movie studio that provides end-to-end solutions and produces short cinematic VR pieces. Disney previously led a $66 million investment round in Jaunt last September.

Granted, this isn’t Disney’s sole involvement in the space of cinematic storytelling. Earlier this year, Disney launched a VR app on Steam for the HTC Vive featuring content from franchises like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Captain America: Civil War. They also partnered with Nokia to use its $60,000 Ozo camera to shoot 360-degree video for Disney films—like the April premiere of The Jungle Book—as well as marketing materials for upcoming films like Blade Runner 2049. Disney’s ABC News also has been taking journalism and storytelling to the next level with their 360-degree feature reports.

Greenlight Insights predicts that the VR industry will explode to hit $38 billion in revenues by 2026. It’s critical for entertainment conglomerates like Disney to virtually reach their convoys of consumers from every corner of the world—and they understand that.

Kevin Mayer, senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer of The Walt Disney Company who oversees corporate strategy, business development, acquisitions, enterprise IT, innovation, brand and franchise management, and global corporate alliances, joined [a]listdaily to offer further insight into Disney’s stance on VR.

What is Disney’s strategy is selecting the startups for its Accelerator program? 

We try to bring in companies that we think have a connection to some of our businesses, and how they can benefit from it. How they can access our intellectual properties, or with our business systems. But we purposefully target companies that we think have a connection with Disney.

Kevin Mayer, senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer of The Walt Disney Company
Kevin Mayer, senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer of The Walt Disney Company

Is there one that you’re a particular fan of?

I can’t pick amongst my children. I love them all equally. (laughs)

Jaunt was one of the Accelerators. What makes them so appealing as a VR partner?  

What Jaunt does is particularly challenging because they take live-action video and stitch it together for a VR environment. They’re doing storytelling and trying to immerse people in sporting events. I think that’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out. There is a lot there. It’s really cool for someone who doesn’t have access to the sidelines to be at a sporting event. ESPN is a really interesting place for sports because sporting events are going to work well. Where [virtual reality] is going to go? What the business model is going to be? How we’re going to make money? What will audiences love? We just don’t know yet. We are really in experimentation mode.

How is Disney positioning itself in the current VR wave?

We don’t know where we are going yet with VR. We’re experimenting, to tell you the absolute truth. We don’t know the answer to that yet. It’s a new medium. It’s unclear where there will be resonance with audiences, and where there won’t be. I think it’s very easy to see how VR can be very successful to video games. Essentially, those have always been VR environments.

How do you personally see the VR industry developing in the next few years?

ss_83ad505bd94a0bd5bd25bedbe3979d89e1b7c2d7-1920x1080
Disney’s VR app on Steam for the HTC Vive.

I do think there are challenges in storytelling in an environment where you can’t control what the audience is essentially seeing. It’s going to take a breakthrough and a creative approach to directing an experience to the VR space, which is much different than a flat-screen movie where you know exactly what people are seeing. Someone will crack that code. Maybe we will crack it. I don’t know. There are certainly elements to a lot of [Disney] properties that lend themselves to that sort of experience in a really compelling way. The brands that we have, like Pixar, which is natively 3D and animated, Marvel and Star Wars, you can think of some fantastic experiences with them that will work well in the movie and storytelling space.

What kind of marketing is it going to take for the mass adoption of VR to come sooner rather than later?

It’s not a marketing issue. It’s a product issue. I really think that if you can make a great product, then you can market it effectively. Word-of-mouth these days is how a great product is really marketed. If we can have a product breakthrough, it will market itself, and we will find the right business model to make it a big success.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

VR Arcades Usher In A New Age For Interactive Entertainment

Virtual reality, while still in its novelty stages, succeeds in wow factor but struggles with the idea of being social. Facebook hopes to change this at least in terms of group chat, but between cost and convenience, it’s not always possible for friends to experience VR as a group. While some amusement parks have already adopted this technology to enhance rides, China is leading the way with another method of public enjoyment—arcades.

China is currently experiencing a boom in the VR lounge/arcade industry, allowing consumers to try out the technology without investing in expensive hardware. EMAX, for example, hosts 179 VR kiosks across mainland China, South Korea and Taiwan. The Shenzhen-based startup makes its own headsets and software, opening retail shops for VR around the market. Currently, EMAX’s lounges do not offer VR games, but rather experiences like traveling through outer space.

VR Lounge, on the other hand, mimics the popular karaoke parlor business model by swapping microphones and songs for VR headsets and games. Customers sign up with a membership card and pay 100 yuan for a half-hour of play time. The company has even integrated its own user interface so that customers can select their own games, along with specially designed chairs to make certain games feel more immersive.

"AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 12: Festival goers experience Samsung Gear VR at The Samsung Studio at SXSW 2016 on March 12, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Samsung)"
Festival goers experience Samsung Gear VR at The Samsung Studio at SXSW 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Samsung)

Arcades offer an alternative revenue source for hardware manufacturers, developers and of course, entrepreneurs. Analysts expect the market for virtual reality in China to grow to $8.5 billion by 2020, benefiting largely by the $1.1 billion global VR spending spree.

Last month HTC unveiled its Viveport Arcade system, creating a revenue-sharing marketplace for public entertainment centers to access the latest interactive titles. Pilot programs for Viveport Arcade have already been deployed in a number of locations over the last few months and according to HTC, will soon expand to hundreds of gaming centers, amusement parks and karaoke bars across the globe. The company even released its own Vive-branded VR cafe in Shenzhen, China last week.

“VR has found a home with Chinese players as the majority of the market do not have the capability to support home based VR and already are happy to play their PC games in LAN Game centers sometimes called PC Bang sites,” Rikard Steiber, president of Viveport and senior vice president of VR at HTC, told Polygon. “Amusement venues and location-based entertainment sites have also grown in popularity in the Asian Dragon market—so it was logical that VR Arcades would be embryonic within this incubator.”

While the idea of an arcade may not have been the original plan for virtual reality, it just might be the industry’s saving grace if consumers can’t or won’t bring the technology into their homes.

China, in particular, is more than happy to pay for group experiences, creating memories, and therefore establishing brand loyalty through nostalgia.

‘Dishonored 2’ Promotions Assassinate The Competition This Week

This week in game industry launches, the PlayStation 4 Pro and NES Classic Edition are headed to market and one game’s release got enough fanfare for an Empress. Dishonored 2 has been on the minds of fans ever since its announcement at E3 2015, and Bethesda has taken full advantage of opportunities to build hype leading to its November 11 launch date. One of the biggest means of getting fans excited was by revealing the game’s second protagonist, Emily Kaldwin, the now grown-up princess from the first game. Players are able to choose between playing as Emily, heiress to the throne, or Corvo, her father and protagonist from the first game. Bethesda has been using hashtags to encourage these options with #TeamEmily or #TeamCorvo on Twitter since the announcement.

The Fine Art Of Marketing

dishonored 2Developer Arkane Studios places tremendous emphasis on the design of its game world, taking inspiration not from other games, but works of art. As part of the character creation process, the team at Arkane contracted French artist, Lucie Minne to mold several physical clay busts, which (along with other concept pieces) were so impressive they actually went on display at the Art Ludique in Paris.

In May 2016, Bethesda announced a Dishonored tie-in comic miniseries and novel trilogy. The four-part comic series debuted in August and the first novel, The Corroded Man, was published in September—just in time to catch up with the series’ lore before jumping in again. Launching with the game on November 11 is an art book published by Dark Horse Comics. The Art of Dishonored 2 featured an art contest from the end of June to mid-July, with five winning participants being featured in the book. Fans were able to meet the artistic director for Dishonored 2, Sébastien Mitton during Paris Games Week and get their own signed copy of the book.

‘Fan’ The Flames Of Hype

During PAX Australia, fans could download a Dishonored 2 app to compete in a treasure hunt and win prizes throughout the show. In London and at MCM Comic Con, Bethesda hosted a scavenger hunt that sent fans (literally) running toward locations to find replica “bone runes,” the collectible in-game currency used to obtain and upgrade abilities. Along with the runes, fans were able to obtain invitations to the Karnaca Supper Club—an immersive three-course meal set in the world of Dishonored 2. The activation, hosted by GrubHub, was a huge success and those who attended showed up in cosplay and posted dozens of times across social media. One couple even got engaged at the dinner table!

Pre-ordering Dishonored 2 grants players access to the full game a day early as well as a copy of Dishonored: Definitive Edition for free. Placing said order at GameStop also granted customers a limited edition, reversible mask. A special collector’s edition, perfect for generating influencer-made unboxing videos, features a replica of Corvo Attano’s signature mask, a replica of Emily Kaldwin’s ring, a Delilah Kaldwin propaganda poster and a metal collector’s edition case.

Leading up to the launch, Bethesda has hosted a number of live streams and character spotlight videos, as well as a chat on Reddit with game designer, Harvey Smith. Together with a new live-action trailer, Dishonored 2 fans are as ready as they’ll ever be to jump back into the action this Friday.

https://youtu.be/-2JvtKTSWxU

Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro Launches 4K Gaming Era

Sony Interactive Entertainment has the clear lead in this generation of console wars with over 46 million PlayStation 4s in homes around the world. On the heels of launching a new platform with PlayStation VR, Sony is entering the mid-generation battleground first with PlayStation 4 Pro. The PS4 Pro, available November 10 for $400, beats Microsoft’s mid-generation Xbox One (dubbed Project Scorpio) to retail shelves by a full year. With it, Sony is targeting its core gamers, as well as early adopters who have upgraded to 4K HDR TVs.

Inside the console, the PS4 Pro has more than double the GPU power of the standard PS4 and boosted the clock-rate of the CPU. In addition to supporting 4K gaming and high dynamic range (HDR), PS4 Pro will also make some older games look better. Over 50 games will have PS4 Pro enhancements, including Activision’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare 4 Remastered, Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 1 and FIFA 17 and Square Enix’ Rise of the Tomb Raider and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Securities, believes Sony will sell 2.5 million PS4 Pros this year, which is roughly 30 percent of its overall PS4 sales for the quarter.

Chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, Shawn Layden, talks to [a]listdaily about the company’s upgrade to 4K gaming in this exclusive interview.

What does PlayStation 4 Pro open up for PSVR games?

It’s important to say that PSVR is fully compatible and playable with every PlayStation 4 that’s out there on the market today, and being sold through the holidays into next year. PS4 Pro will also support PSVR, but the experience you’re going to have is going to be virtually identical to that you have on a regular PS4. There’s an advantage you get with draw distance and being able to populate the far end of the screen [on PS4 Pro], but your up-close gameplay will be identical.

The video game industry was one reason that high definition TV became mainstream. What role do you see the video game industry playing in getting 4K to become mainstream?

It’s very flattering for you to say that we had such a nice role to play in getting HDTV adoption. I’m not exactly sure if that’s true, [but] I’d love to embrace that if it were. 4K is just an expression of the constant climb of the marketplace for owners to have a greater visual experience, higher fidelity, and higher resolution as the march of time continues on. We want to be able, in the gaming sector, to support those [early adopter] fans as well as those who wish to go to 4K.

Sony also helped usher in the age of the Blu-ray. Why did you leave a 4K Ultra HD player out of the PS4 Pro?

We looked at all the technologies around 4K. We looked at what the current behaviors and uses by PS4 owners in the market are and they got some interesting data back which shows that greater than 90 percent of video viewed on the current PlayStation 4 is streamed. So users are watching Netflix, Hulu, our own PlayStation Vue service and YouTube here in America. We decided that we’re looking at a streaming generation and we made our choices about design to optimize for the best 4K streaming experience.

What synergy opportunities does 4K open up between your interactive division and the consumer electronics division that are trying to sell Bravia 4K TVs?

Here in the Sony family, we do a lot of cooperative activities with our companies in and out of consumer electronics at retail and in the big box stores. That’s where we’ll be together all the time. PS4 Pro’s 4K support will be part of the marketing for both us and the consumer electronics side. We work together with Sony Electronics to help us determine what our mission goals are and how we go to market.

Given the current lead Sony has in the current console space, what drives your direction?

It goes back to our banner headline: a place to play. We want to continue to deliver on that promise. We want to continue where we have the technology available and we can bring out something like PS4 Pro. We want to get it out there into the hands of developers so they can develop content for that technology and bring that to customers worldwide.

Our fan base continues to grow. They keep wanting greater gaming experiences from us. That’s what drives them. It drives me, certainly, at the Worldwide Studios. We’ve got to keep the great games coming to make good on that promise, so that’s what drives us.

How Jaunt Grabbed Disney’s Attention In Virtual Reality

Nearly one year after The Walt Disney Company led a $66 million investment round in Jaunt, the entertainment conglomerate is further supporting the virtual reality startup through its Accelerator program, which was announced last month at the Disney Studios in Burbank, California.

The Palo Alto-based movie studio that provides end-to-end solutions and produces short cinematic VR pieces is going behind the scenes this season to film ESPN’s College GameDay stops in VR—tailgates, interviews, sideline action, the signs, et al. They also have licensed Disney Research’s VR video technology and will be collaborating with Disney Research to integrate it into Jaunt’s Cloud Services.

technology-3-banner

“We’re looking to bring commitment to new ideas and new people and technological innovation to our company, and to help them get off the ground by giving them an environment and the kind of support startup companies often need to succeed,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger. “Obviously, there is great mutual benefit for all of us. We are in businesses that are unbelievably dynamic and always changing.”

“We’re happy to discover Jaunt, which creates VR experiences that are so much like being there that ESPN and Disney took notice, took an interest, and got excited,” added ESPN president John Skipper.

George Kliavkoff, who in September was appointed CEO for Jaunt, told [a]listdaily that they’ll be collaborating with every single division of Disney in order to make VR become the next big thing in video.

“For us it’s great because Disney has terrific IPs, and we can match it with our great technology and storytelling together. I honestly can’t think of a premium content partner that we want to work with,” said Kliavkoff.

With its sights fully set on bringing fans closer to the game and capitalizing on cinematic storytelling, and letting them be their own director, of sorts, ESPN and Jaunt produced a four-minute, 360-degree piece of the Oct. 1 matchup between Clemson and Louisville, immersing viewers inside and outside of Memorial Stadium. Throughout the rest of the season, Jaunt and ESPN crews will be working together to film in VR at the College GameDay stops.

“At our core, we’re a media company with the force of Silicon Valley technology and innovation behind it. What we have what no one else does is the end-to-end solution. We have the best camera technology and software. Most importantly, though, we have great storytellers in our studio,” Kliavkoff said. “The key component of what we’re doing with College GameDay is that we’re actual putting the fan there, and spending the weekend on campus doing everything they would be doing if they were there—including going to the GameDay set, watching the cheerleaders and the game, and enjoying the celebration after the game. There are some stories that are just better told as if you were there rather than staring at a flat screen.”

Jaunt, who has raised more than $100 million to date and launched a joint venture to create Jaunt China in May, will also be producing a consumer VR tour of Shanghai Disneyland. 

Jaunt founder Arthur van Hoff is particularly excited about the venture in Asia, telling [a]listdaily, “China is a huge market that is excited about VR. We are already on the ground there and producing content for the Chinese market. Some of that content will be coming to the US as well and that’s a huge differentiator and an unfair advantage that we have. The goal for us is to take people to places they cannot go to. That’s a huge opportunity.”

Disney has been running its Accelerator program for the past three years. The most successful one was Sphero, creators of the BB-8 gyroscopic toy to tie into Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sphero CEO Paul Berberian said the toy sold out worldwide within one hour last holiday season.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-12-41-37-pm
Some of the content Jaunt has produced.

With all of the major VR headsets currently available on the market, what will it take for the platform to steal the show this holiday season with consumers? According to van Hoff, it needs promotion.

“VR by itself is relatively new,” he says. “Next year is all going to be about adoption, and by next Christmas, there will be even better devices. On top of that, the phone that you are going to buy next year is going to be VR ready. That is a huge opportunity for us, because mobile is the entry point. The devices are here now. People are going to buy them and have the experiences and they going to learn about it. VR is still really limited to the early adopters. We need to get past that.”

Jaunt, which has 80 percent of their traffic come from mobile, is also paying attention to flat-screen viewers who can’t afford VR hardware with Compass, which leverages the aggregate of positional data available from VR headset viewing to bring web viewers an auto guided experience based on established points of interest. It’s already been implemented for their “Escape the Living Dead,” “Home Turf: The Needles,” “INVASION! Sneak Peek,” and “Zoolander Infinity.”

Kliavkoff and company are anxiously waiting for the VR tide to roll in and hit a new crescendo.

“The great part is that all of the platforms that everyone is already spending a tremendous amount of time on—YouTube, Facebook—they’re already very heavily invested in VR and they see it as the next computing platform,” he says. “So we’re going to ride that wave with Disney.”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Op-Ed: ESports Key To Another 25 Years For Blizzard

Last weekend’s BlizzCon was perhaps one of the most momentous in the company’s history. Not only is it the 10th anniversary of the convention, it also marks the 25th anniversary of Blizzard Entertainment, and it also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the beloved Diablo series. Beyond those milestones, BlizzCon has grown and transformed in spectacular ways over the past decade. Not only is it a convention where fans can celebrate all things Blizzard, but it has become a major eSports destination for a company that helped originate the industry when it released StarCraft in 1998.

President and CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, Mike Morhaime, wasn’t exaggerating when he described BlizzCon as “The NFL of Blizzard Games,” during the opening ceremony. The championship tournaments for StarCraft II, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, World of Warcraft Arena, and (for the first time) the Overwatch World Cup all took place at the event.

Morhaime also stated that over $2.7 million would be given away over the weekend alone, and that pro-gamers took home more than $8 million in Blizzard tournaments this year. Additionally, Arizona State University’s “Real Dream Team” won the 2016 Heroes of the Dorm tournament last spring, which aired on ESPN2, winning full tuition for the remainder of their college careers while furthering Blizzard’s attention on collegiate eSports and impacting the future of sports heroes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-p5V4nQU5k

But perhaps the biggest news was the announcement of the Overwatch League, which “represents a true, next-generation eSports experience,” according to Morhaime. “There will be a combine where players attend tryouts and will be evaluated by team owners and coaches across a series of tests. Teams will be formed around major cities to support the growth of a regional fan base. There will be regular schedules, professional contracts, free agency, baseline minimum salaries and benefits—providing more stability for teams and players.”

Season one begins in 2017, and it will mark another milestone for not only Blizzard but the eSports industry in general. Although the shooter isn’t even a year old, Overwatch is Blizzard’s fastest game to exceed 20 million players worldwide. Given the game’s tremendous success at launch, and the how organizations such as ELeague have already adopted it for tournaments, creating an official Blizzard eSports league isn’t an unexpected move—just the scope of it is.

If Blizzard excels at one thing lately, it’s in creating games that are, more often than not, adopted for eSports. It’s an area that has received major attention since the original StarCraft became a kind of national sport in South Korea in the ‘90s. When StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty was first announced from Seoul in 2007, the developers pointed out how the gameplay and balance were designed specifically to suit eSports play. This was still years before platforms such as Twitch launched in 2011, helping to grow the global popularity of eSports. Now Overwatch remains one of the most streamed games on Twitch, and its popularity is likely to expand even further when the new league begins.

Given how five out of its six biggest games have a competitive element, it’s no wonder why Blizzard has become one of the most eSports-focused developers in the world, and it’s ultimately the key to Blizzard’s success for the next 25 years. Although the company has sometimes been criticized for not pioneering new game genres as it did with Diablo, it is exceptionally proficient at doing something that’s arguably much better: taking hardcore genres such as MMOs, MOBAs (which Warcraft III happened to help originate) and first-person shooters and making them approachable for a wider audience. This strategy, accompanied by relatively long beta test periods and word-of-mouth promotion, has served the company tremendously well in building a massive fan base for its games. However, eSports takes that to another level by getting both viewers and players involved in the action. With eSports, a fan base grows to include both players and viewers who may have never even tried the game.

Games like Overwatch, which is easily understood and enjoyed by both players and audiences, regardless of skill level, can help make the game stay relevant for years, when most other shooters would fade from memory. Furthermore, celebrating the game every year at BlizzCon continues its popularity because the event takes fandom beyond the games to the players themselves. It’s a virtuous circle, where fans celebrate the games and the company celebrates the fans.

Blizzard made a big bet when it hosted the first BlizzCon in 2005, becoming one of the first gaming conventions dedicated to a single developer. There were times when the future of the convention seemed uncertain, especially when none were hosted in 2006 and 2012. But with all the eSports tournaments, BlizzCon continues to be an ever-growing annual event that will keep the game development company loved by millions around the world for many years to come.


Learn everything you need to know to invest in today’s fastest-growing media channel—Competitive Gaming and eSports on 2.16.17 in Los Angeles. Go to alistsummit.com for more info.

Nielsen: Brand Loyalty Grows With ESports Involvement

It’s no secret that eSports are here to stay. The industry has become a revenue-making machine—$892 million and rising—so brands from all industries are taking notice. Nielsen has released its 2016 eSports Report, offering insight into the world of eSports enthusiasts; who they are, what they watch and what other things they’re into.

US ESports Fans: Who Are They?

Nielsen reports that 14 percent of all Americans 13 and over are eSports fans—a major increase from eight percent last year. Of these fans, 77 percent are male and 61 percent are millennials. Just as the video game industry has matured in technology and sophistication, its fan base has matured as well, particularly when it comes to competition. While movies like Tron and The Last Starfighter made children dream of becoming the best video game players around, eSports has finally made that dream come true and the world is watching.

This rising fan base is giving whole new meaning to “The Big Game,” as eSports fans are twice as likely to stream traditional sporting events online as non-eSports fans. In fact, 52 percent of these avid gaming fans are just as enthusiastic about the NFL. Nielsen notes a parallel between video game and traditional sports fans, particularly in the realm of combat/fighting sports, racing and US/European soccer. “The eSports audience is at least three times as likely to be an avid fan of these three sports,” Nielsen said in the report, “which is noteworthy given that these parallel three of the most popular genres of sports video games.”

NielsenTables
Source: Nielsen

ESports fans devote a lot of time to their passion—roughly four hours per week on related activities or entertainment. Of those that participated in Nielsen’s study, 71 percent stream events online, 40 percent have viewed an event on TV and 23 percent have attended an event in person. Today’s fans are more connected, particularly millennials—a fact that may have nurtured eSports engagement.

“While we do not necessarily see a heavy trend toward consumption of eSports livestreaming on smartphones,” Nicole Pike, director of games at Nielsen told [a]listdaily, “one thing that has increased notably this year versus 2015 is the number of different content types eSports fans are consuming. Whereas last year it was common for many fans to only engage with eSports in a singular way (say, just viewing or just reading news), in 2016 the number of touch points a given fan has with eSports is higher. The ‘anywhere, anytime’ convenience of smartphones is certainly a contributor to this, with the end result being a more engaged, dialed-in fan base.”

For brands that want to reach this demographic, there’s good news—fans of both eSports and traditional sports appreciate direct involvement in their passion. Opinions of brands that participate in traditional sports rose 12 percent in Nielsen’s study, while purchase intent rose seven percent and brand loyalty rose eight percent when brands integrated eSports.

As the popularity of competitive gaming continues to rise, traditional sports players and team owners are investing in the future. While eSports have generally been associated with first-person shooters or MOBAs, mobile developers are getting in on the action, too. Meanwhile, from within the industry, publishers are stepping up their game even further with Nintendo’s hopeful new console and Activision Blizzard’s just-announced Overwatch League.


Learn everything you need to know to invest in today’s fastest-growing media channel—Competitive Gaming and eSports on 2.16.17 in Los Angeles. Go to alistsummit.com for more info.

HyperX Strategically Partners With NBA Players

HyperX is taking advantage of the recent trend of real-life athletes investing in eSports. The gaming accessories company first signed Utah Jazz All-Star, Gordon Hayward, a die-hard gamer and former Halo pro player. Most recently, the gaming accessory company (a division of Kingston Technology) signed Boston Celtics player Jonas Jerebko through his Detroit Renegades eSports team.

HyperX director of marketing, Daniel Kelley, told [a]listdaily that the recent entry into eSports by the likes of the Philadelphia Sixers and aXiomatic (which includes Magic Johnson and the owners of the Chicago Cubs) has changed the dynamic of eSports.

“The NBA is out in front more than other sports, and will continue to get more involved in eSports,” Kelley said. “At HyperX, we’re trying to get wider awareness of us building really good products for those who like to game.”

HyperX has been supporting the eSports community for over a decade. The company markets products like the HyperX Alloy FPS keyboard and the HyperX Cloud Stinger gaming headset. HyperX also sponsors over 30 eSports teams, including Rick Fox’s eSports team. Kelley said the new deal with Jerebko’s Renegades is similar in structure to the one with Fox.

 Jonas Jerebko
Jonas Jerebko, pro basketball player and owner of the Detroit Renegades

“When we started talking to Jonas, it made sense to bring him on as part of the organization and team,” Kelley said. “Primarily due to Jonas and his own passion for eSports, he sees eSports growing to greater heights. We’re sponsoring an up-and-coming team, but Jonas also has all these other fans from the NBA.”

Kelley said active players like Jerebko and former greats like Fox elevate the conversation to the larger media, taking note of what’s going on in the greater eSports space. As eSports continues to grow, the stage is getting bigger. “Representative athletes and personalities that are doing right by eSports and helping to eliminate the stigma that it’s not a sport is what we’re interested in having,” Kelley said. “We’re interested in working with these traditional athletes getting involved in eSports.”

Kelley said that on paper, the Renegades deal is similar to Echo Fox, in that HyperX is sponsoring the team itself. But because Jonas wants what’s best for the team, he’s willing to throw in support from his personal brand as much as he can. “It’s a little organic in that nature,” Kelly said. “We don’t need to sign separate agreements, although that may be in the future. Jonas sees us as a strategic partner in Renegades’ future success. He wants to represent HyperX as much as he can.”

Although Hayward doesn’t own an eSports team, Kelley said the NBA star epitomizes the “crossover athlete,” and has a history and passion for eSports. “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship in that his name and brand is so positive and seen by so many fans of the NBA, and notably the Jazz,” Kelly said. “It gives us a great additional leg of our brand. His ability to communicate about eSports and represent it to mainstream media and his fans is so genuine and solid.”

Kelley admits that signing Hayward was a little bit of a gamble for the company, but in hindsight, it was a great investment of time and sponsorship dollars because he’s so passionate about the scene and where it’s going. “It gives a lot of great opportunities to do fun things together,” Kelley said. “We had Gordon at an in-store event where he was playing games along with fans, and he joked that he can tell his wife that he has to play games because he’s sponsored by HyperX.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMoUTPrBnOg

HyperX is also one of the primary sponsors of Turner and WME/IMG’s ELeague, which is in the midst of Season 2 of its CS:GO tournament. Kelley said he looks at ELeague as a long-term investment. “We know that any new league will have its own learnings and ways to adapt as it grows,” Kelley said. “We’re pleased with the production value and their aggressiveness to grow the types of games over the next couple of years and seasons. They have a strong and growing following. It might not be at the highest levels from the initial expectations, but it’s solid, and we’re looking forward to where the seasons are going.”

HyperX debuted a new commercial over the weekend on ELeague, which markets the fact that the company makes really good gaming gear for the hardcore and casual PC and console gamer. “We want as much wide-reaching awareness for the brand,” Kelley said. “ELeague’s TV component has helped us reach a wider audience and explain who we are. And when they’re in a retail environment, they’ll hopefully think of us.”

Kelley said that the company is seeing a positive effect from the commercials through ELeague, which is the only television programming they’ve targeted to date. The commercials direct gamers to buy HyperX products at Best Buy or Amazon. “Our commercial for the first season of ELeague was more high-level, showing an array of headsets to highlight the variety of products,” Kelley said. “Our second commercial is more focused on Cloud Stinger, but we leverage that we’re the official headset sponsor of ELeague in the last 10 seconds.”

The messaging of the new spot is that HyperX has been a sponsor of eSports for a long time. “We have a lot of the best teams and organizations in the HyperX family,” Kelley said. “We have players putting on our headsets and we represent our brand and the DNA that we’re part of eSports.”


Learn everything you need to know to invest in today’s fastest-growing media channel—Competitive Gaming and eSports on 2.16.17 in Los Angeles. Go to alistsummit.com for more info.

Blizzard Wows Fans With ‘Overwatch’ League And The Debut Of Sombra

BlizzCon 2016 kicked off on Friday, attracting over 25,000 visitors from 60 countries and even more viewers across 70 broadcasts in 19 languages. This event marks three major anniversaries for Blizzard Entertainment: the company’s 25th anniversary, the 20th anniversary of Diablo and the 10th BlizzCon, which has grown more than six times since its inaugural year.

What ESports Dreams Are Made Of

Beginning with StarCraft, Blizzard has been a major player in the rise of eSports from its humble beginnings to the $892 million eSports market it is today—and the company continues that tradition by introducing the all-new Overwatch League. “The Overwatch League represents not only the pinnacle of Overwatch competition, but also a genuine career opportunity for the most-skilled Overwatch players,” Blizzard CEO, Mike Morhaime, said on stage at the opening ceremony. “We’re building a league that’s accessible to players and fans, sustainable and exciting for everyone involved.”

The Overwatch League offers gaming hopefuls the chance to compete and join local city teams in a rise to greatness. Structured much like a traditional eSports league, players will have contracts, benefits and guaranteed salaries to make the publisher’s break-out new game a viable career option.

As Activision Blizzard’s second-most-popular streaming title, Overwatch attracts over 8 million monthly active players and an average concurrent viewer count of over 21,000, according to SuperData. According to the company’s quarterly earnings report, Overwatch pulled in more than $500 million in sales and reached 20 million players in October, helping push revenue to a record setting quarterly result.

Sombra (Finally) Makes Her Debut

Feigning technical difficulties, Blizzard interrupted its own presentation by getting “hacked” by its latest hero, Sombra. This feisty new character appeared on-screen in an animated short that revealed her assisting teammates, Widowmaker and Reaper, as part of the villainous Talon organization. Blizzard has been building hype for the character since summer with a month-long alternate reality game that Blizzard began in the announcement video for Ana in July. Since then, Blizzard has left a detailed trail of coded messages, encrypted images and a three-month-long countdown timer.

Blizzard continues to grow as a major force in the eSports community, and the introduction of Sombra will only stoke that fire. Combined online viewing of Activision Blizzard’s titles accounts for 28.9 percent of total game stream viewership. SuperData reports that consumer audiences have spent 104 million hours watching the publisher’s game content online in September—an impressive increase of 63 percent from the same month last year.


Learn everything you need to know to invest in today’s fastest-growing media channel—Competitive Gaming and eSports on 2.16.17 in Los Angeles. Go to alistsummit.com for more info.