Fnatic CEO Discusses Business Opportunities For ‘The New World Sport’

Fnatic is one of the most successful eSports teams in the world today. It’s also one of the most recognizable brands in eSports, with teams competing across 10 games, including League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm. These teams have competed in over 600 events and won over $7 million in prize money.

Founded in 2004 by Sam Matthews, who sold his car to send his team to compete at its first eSports event in Las Vegas, Fnatic is now a global company with its headquarters based in London and offices in Los Angeles, Berlin and Belgrade and gaming houses in LA, Berlin and Kuala Lumpur. It also opened its first Fnatic team store, called the Bunkr, in London last year—with plans to build more across the globe.

Wouter Sleijffers, CEO at Fnatic, was introduced to eSports through his work at online payments company, Skrill. He’s charged with building out the brand’s business opportunities, which includes a line of Fnatic Gear hardware and apparel. Reaching over 30 million fans monthly through its social media channels, Sleijffers talks about the opportunities eSports has opened up for teams in this exclusive interview with [a]listdaily.

Wouter Sleijffers, Fnatic CEO
Wouter Sleijffers, Fnatic CEO

How are you applying best practices from traditional sports teams, especially soccer clubs, as you build Fnatic?

We have little experience with the best practices in traditional sports teams. But in essence, you can see that the same logic and challenges apply. This means that (for example) I, personally take hardly any decisions that involve players, and leave that to the people we trust and are much better at making these decisions. We’re mostly busy with creating an environment where our pro gamers can be at their best, and there’s a lot happening behind the scenes that equally needs attention. Traditional sports and eSports are coming closer every day and with our recently launched venture with AS Roma, where Fnatic manages AS Roma’s FIFA team, we’ll both have access to our knowledge and best practices.

What’s your approach been with the Fnatic eSports store?

With Fnatic, we have a vision for ourselves and eSports, which we would rather call the “New World Sport.” The Fnatic Bunkr, our eSports store in London, brings that vision a step closer. It’s super exciting for our fans, pro gamers and everyone who loves competitive gaming, since we created a very cool store, with great eSport products and loads of events.

What can you learn from the success of traditional sports when it comes to jerseys, logos and merchandise?

Sports fans love team merchandise and it is no different for eSports fans. At the same time, we believe we can do better than that. We design, develop and engineer most of our products ourselves—100 percent Fnatic. Because eSports is something different and unlike anything we’ve seen before, the same goes for what we do at Fnatic.

What’s unique about eSports that can be applied to this type of merchandise marketing?

ESports has an immense global footprint and already has many heroes. Traditional advertising does not work anymore, but fans and enthusiasts still like to see the new things that the heroes and influencers are wearing and using. Being successful in competition is one, but doing and making things that people love regardless of the day-to-day results is another thing we’re pretty good at.

What have you seen thus far when it comes to sales of jerseys and merchandise aimed at females and children?

There’s definitely a demand for female and children jerseys and merchandise. A few things are relevant: don’t do the usual and certainly not stigmatize. You’ll likely want to develop and optimize your marketing and sales channels for it. For example, Fnatic female jerseys are more popular on Amazon than in our own shop. We’ve also recently introduced a Fnatic kit for children, where we likely need to do some more work on gifting.

Fnatic Rush Pro Keyboard

What’s the most challenging part of releasing the Fnatic Rush Pro gaming gear in the crowded peripheral and hardware market?

The question we get most is if we really made all of these products ourselves. The answer is yes, Fnatic Gear is designed and engineered by Fnatic. Besides all the years of eSports experience that goes into our products, Fnatic Gear is unique in that you don’t buy just a piece of hardware with technical (useless) features. Fnatic Gear is here to make your gameplay better, to let you tap into the experience of our Pro Gamers, get access to exclusive content and be our VIP at many of our events, and receive further goodies.

Fnatic duel headsetHow have you developed your own technology for that gaming gear?

We develop all of our current and future generation of products. The exception is our headset, the DUEL, which is a collaboration with headset company AIAIAI. This is because we loved their modular headset concept, which is a perfect fit for our vision that gaming hardware can be stylish and used for other purposes than gaming, such as music listening. So, with the DUEL, you buy at least two headsets in one, although multiple variations are possible.

Does having your own gear impact sponsorships with companies that make gaming mice?

It means that we can’t partner with everyone—as usually, these companies demand exclusivity with their product. As for ourselves, we like to give the choice to our pro gamers. If they prefer mice from another brand, they’re free to use them. It simply means we’ll need to put more work into continuing to make the best products.

What has entering the book business with ‘How to be a Professional Gamer‘ opened up for Fnatic?

The book business is not core to our activities. But of course, we don’t want to take away the chance for many of the eSports fans and aspirational pro gamers to read a great book about everything that goes into going pro in eSports. There’s a lot more that goes into it than one might think. Yet, it’s still the best job in the world to have!

What opportunities do you see for the store moving forward?

Although the store itself is a significant milestone in our mission, it’s really just a small seed we planted. When you set foot in the store, you realize that the opportunities are endless. Let’s say that, although we don’t have a stadium or arena with Fnatic, when we have launched multiple Bunkrs across the globe and make them all connected as much as eSports is, we’ll have the largest physical 24/7 eSports stadium for all kinds of competitive gaming fans in the world.

Football Stars And Twitter Wars: This Week In Game Promotions

It’s a brand-new week and time for some shiny, new games to go along with it. Double Fine Productions is bringing its first franchise to virtual reality on February 21 with Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin and gamers can dig into Adam Jensen’s past with a new Deus Ex: Mankind Divided “Criminal Past” DLC on February 23. This week, Ubisoft and Microsoft both take the lead in game promotions with late night comedy, a first-of-its-kind Twitter game and more.

For Honor

We might have been busy and very, very excited for the [a]list summit last week, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t notice this game’s marketing strategy . . .

Released on Valentine’s Day, this fighting game from Ubisoft pits players against one another as legendary warrior types throughout history—samurai, Vikings and medieval knights. Appealing to the PC market specifically, Ubisoft has teamed up with MSI and GeoForce to provide free copies of the game with the purchase of qualifying products. Through April 18, PC gamers can purchase either the MSI X99 graphics card, Z270 graphics card, H270 motherboard or GTX 10 series graphics card to receive a free copy of For Honor through Uplay.

The game received some welcome attention from Conan O’Brien when it was featured on Clueless Gamer on February 2. During a special Super Bowl edition of the segment, Conan was joined by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney, along with other special guests. Let’s just say things got pretty competitive.

Ubisoft hosted a livestream to celebrate For Honor’s launch, but encouraged players to watch other streams or host their own, thanks to a team-up with Amazon. Players with a Prime subscription were given free in-game items as well as other goodies when signing up for a free trial of Twitch Prime. On February 7, Twitch hosted “War of the Factions Live,” a competition that featured popular streamers and celebrities like Jason Momoa (Justice League, Game of Thrones), Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead) and UFC champion, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson.

Halo Wars 2

Releasing on February 21 is Microsoft’s sequel to Halo Warsa real-time strategy (RTS) game set in the sci-fi Halo universe. During E3 2016, a cinematic trailer was released revealing a new threat named Atriox—a Brute (big, bad hairy guy) who rose up against the Covenant (alien enemies from the franchise) and has been bad news for anyone crossing paths with him ever since. A number of subsequent trailers have been devoted to this new character—from the dramatic E3 reveal to Microsoft’s “Characters That Matter” promotions for the Xbox One.

In a first for Twitter, fans were invited play an exclusive card game via Direct Message (DM) from January 19 to February 16. The game called #TwitterHaloWars allowed users to interact with Isabel, the AI character from Halo Wars 2, as well as invite friends to play along. Players were then transported into a training module where they played battle cards against their friends (or the computer) in an escalating three-round war of attacks and counters. Battle winners were provided with unique gameplay GIFs to share, along with exclusive downloadable content in the form of custom vehicle skin packs for use in-game.

“By creating this community experience exclusively on Twitter, we are able to bring fans around the world a truly personalized gaming experience in real-time,” said Dan Ayoub, studio head for strategy games at 343 Industries, in a statement.

Halo wars 2

Those who purchased the Ultimate Edition got early access to Halo Wars 2 beginning on February 17. To celebrate the launch, a live show was broadcast the night before with giveaways, cosplay and footage from the game. Microsoft’s Major Nelson (Larry Hryb) co-hosted the celebration and is currently offering a giveaway on his own website to win an Xbox One S Halo Wars 2 Ultimate Edition Bundle, Halo Wars 2 Banished Official Wired Controller for Xbox One, a Halo Wars 2 Loot Crate, J!NX gift certificates and digital Xbox One codes for copies of the game.

The Halo franchise has always been a source of beautifully designed characters and locales, and this title is no different. To (literally) illustrate this fact Microsoft teamed up with three talented artists to create unique posters for the game, which will be given away from the official Twitter account.

Halo Wars 2 poster
Art by Grzegorz ‘Gabz’ Domaradzki (Source: Microsoft)

[a]list summit: Coca-Cola’s Strategy In Connecting With ESports Fans

Matt Wolf, vice president of entertainment, ventures and strategic alliances at the Coca-Cola Company is a gamer, but just a few years ago, that wasn’t so mainstream—or even widely understood. Wolf took on the monumental task of integrating a constantly moving, niche eSports audience into a century-old brand strategy and somehow made it all work out with tremendous results.

Wolf joined the fourteenth iteration of the [a]list summit Thursday at the Intercontinental Hotel in Los Angeles and dished details to a room filled with marketers across a gamut of industries and shared how the soft drink brand turned the tide in gaming with activations in FIFA and League of Legends.

“[ESports] is a niche, but it’s really, really big,” said Wolf. “As a consumer packaged goods brand, we understand that learning in this space when we did (activating for about three-to-four years) that it’s a green pasture. You can really reach the hearts and minds of the fans. If you go through the right channels with the game makers and the players, it really becomes a good run.

“What I was trying to do was prove to the Coca-Cola Company that gaming had the power to be a difference-maker for us in our marketing and communications. ESports, I felt, was a great first foot into that because it was still fairly new in North America and Europe at the time, and there weren’t a lot of big brands taking a crack at it. It was a bet.”


Just four years ago, when Wolf would quiz colleagues about eSports, no hands would go up. “This was four years ago,” he shared. “Getting into it early, we had to figure out our own blueprint. We had to figure out how to get into this space, how to do our brand justice, ensure that the volume of communication around our marketing was at a certain point . . . but at the same time, was meaningful and provided a value to the community. That was key.”

“We take a multi-pronged approach [to eSports]. We have our frontline marketing communication, which is the way we brand our product into the space. Then we have the relationships that we make with the influencers, which is key. You can’t really lean into this space and get that value back as a brand unless you’re really able to hit it from a content standpoint, an influencer standpoint, and from a social media standpoint.”

Coca-Cola wanted its message to be organic and not forced, something that Wolf attributes to patience and careful consideration.

“We came in humble, we took our time, learned and we didn’t hold ourselves to any one through-line that we had to stick with.”

[a]list summit: Experts Predict The Future Of ESports

Now that the world is beginning to take eSports seriously, what’s next? For those already at the frontline of innovation, change is coming.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more experimentation with different ways to distribute and deliver content for eSports and we’re going to see more growth,” observed Christina Alejandre, vice president and general manager of ELeague. “You have these games and these leagues that are firmly established ,so now it’s time to innovate [and] experiment.”

For Michael Tubman, sports and competition manager of Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants, TV plays a major role in how his brand participates—something that he predicts will continue to shift how eSports, in general, is viewed worldwide. “I think you’ll see more [eSports] going to linear TV as a complement,” he said. “ESports is digitally native and I think it always will be. It’s kind of the inverse of traditional sports, how they’re both trying to go in opposite directions as far as how they get at different customers.”

“Games will be a driving force for [social media widespread adoption of video] and eSports will be one of the spear points in that effort,” predicted Joost van Dreunen, CEO of analyst firm Superdata. “That’s going to fundamentally change the size of the market in terms of ad dollars available, but it’s also going to change the lay of the land. If you are designing a game that is a boxed, $60 thing that is sold to you through retail, those are very different design parameters than when it’s a game that needs to cater to an audience that has to be accessible but also have a sense of authenticity. That’s what these [social media] companies will be looking for.”

Oscar Miranda, business development manager for Wargaming America, likened eSports to professional baseball at the turn of the 20th century. It’s hard to imagine a time when America’s greatest pasttime wasn’t a professional, highly paid job—and professional gaming is headed in that direction.

“VR adds an interesting element to eSports because with VR, I no longer just have to watch on a 2D screen,” said Jan Goetgeluk, founder and CEO of Virtuix, noting the increasing possibilities for immersion into the competitions themselves. “I can put on a VR headset and be in the game [and] in the map. It’s much more engaging.”

“I see a broadening of the ways people watch eSports [and] engage,” added Bryan Chu, vice president of marketing for VReal. “When you get inside the game [with VR], it blurs the lines between viewer and broadcaster. You get a much bigger sense of presence and you start getting that connection between the fans, the athletes and the stars.”

“I see eSports, as it has over the past few years, moving toward the traditional sports space,” predicted Michael Flamberg, vice president and general manager of Nielsen Games. “Things are starting to get more organized and as brands get involved with it. It’s a natural evolution of making this more mainstream like a traditional sport. I think it’s going to eventually continue to move in that direction.”

Matt Idema Heads To WhatsApp As COO; Ralph Lauren Hires Jonathan Bottomley As First CMO

From virtual reality to consumer products and social media, here are some of the biggest job moves from the past week.

Ralph Lauren has a new chief marketing officer in Jonathan Bottomley and brand president for Men’s Polo, Purple Label and Double R in Tom Mendenhall.

Ralph Lauren said, “As we write our next chapter, we continue to add exceptionally strong leaders with the passion, energy, and talent to lead our Company into the future. Both Jonathan and Tom bring a fresh perspective and incredible depth of brand experience to Ralph Lauren. They each have impressive track records and we are looking forward to welcoming them into our leadership as our evolution continues.”

Former Marvel Entertainment CEO Peter Cuneo has joined Uncorporeal Systems as its chairman to accelerate market development for the virtual and augmented reality company.

“Peter is a gamechanger,” said Kul Wadhwa, Uncorporeal CEO. “With an esteemed career leading major companies working in everything from entertainment to consumer goods, Peter brings us an unparalleled understanding of what customers need to embrace VR and AR. When you add his shrewd operational acumen and extensive relationships at the highest levels of industry, Peter is an ideal partner to scale Uncorporeal’s technology.”

Caleres announced the appointment of two key leadership positions in their Famous Footwear division: Karlyn Mattson as chief merchandising officer and Chris Cavalline as senior vice president of eCommerce.

“We are continuing to fortify our leadership team in critical areas across the company,” said Diane Sullivan, CEO, president and chairman of Caleres. “Karlyn and Chris bring their expertise and talent to an already-strong team, allowing us to reinforce our ability to adjust to the constant and dynamic shifts in consumer buying patterns.”

Matt Idema, formerly Facebook’s vice president of product marketing, is headed to WhatsApp to expand their business as chief operating officer.

Amazon has hired Alex Luke as their global head of programming and content strategy for its music service. Luke formerly is an Apple and EMI Music executive.

Jill Easterbrook is joining clothing brand Boden as its chief executive. Easterbrook formerly worked as Tesco’s chief marketer and transformation officer.

Google Access—the Alphabet subsidiary that oversees Google Fiber—has a new leader in Gregory McCray.

Larry Jones, formerly the president for TV Land, is now the CEO for Blackthorn Media, a VR firm.

Tinder acquired start-up Wheel, which lets users share collaborative, video-based stories, and announced that Wheel CEO Paul Boukadakis will now be Tinder’s vice president of special initiatives, and CTO Chris Shaheen will serve in a senior role on the dating app’s engineering team.

Universal Brand Development has tapped Michelle Hagen as their new senior vice president of consumer products and retail development. Hagen previously was senior vice president of global partnership marketing for Universal Pictures.

[a]list summit: Creating Content To Elevate ESports Activations

A common thread among [a]list summit speakers this year was about the importance of storytelling through content. By tapping into the human interest side of eSports and casual gaming, brands learned lessons that transcended video game genres and demographics.

Heroes of the Dorm, for example, focuses on collegiate tournaments for Blizzard’s popular Heroes of the Storm title.

“One of the challenges that we have with collegiate tournaments, specifically, is that there’s a pretty high turnover of the players,” explained Adam Rosen, eSports business operations manager for Blizzard Entertainment. “One of the things that we had to focus on when we created Heroes of the Dorm was telling stories of that constant—the university. We found that it was pretty much a blessing in disguise. One of the reasons I think sports is so compelling is that we take a lot of interest in following the teams . . . following their stories and putting ourselves in their shoes. When a team is about to break the all-time record for consecutive wins, that’s something that we get behind and we root for. It’s interesting to us.

“We took a similar approach to Dorm where we said, ‘okay if we’re going to build storylines, we’re going to focus on two things.’ One of those things is stats, so we really dug deep within our games and really looked at the teams that are playing to create personas around them. We created strengths and weaknesses by how they perform in game . . . by doing that, we were able to really create identities around these teams that sometimes had players no one had heard of in their lives, but were suddenly interested because they had some sort of hook.


“Another thing we focused on was creating a really robust stream of content—telling stories within a single broadcast of a match [is difficult because] there isn’t a lot time. So we put a lot of emphasis on telling stories from start to the finish. We even made a documentary that was focused on the top four teams, their story [and] their path to that final stage. In doing so, we were able to shine a light on the human interest piece which we found really caused the audiences to connect with the teams in a way that hadn’t been done before.

“Our takeaway here is that by focusing on storytelling,” Rosen concluded, “we can focus on identities—and identities, at the end of the day, are what we connect with as fans.”

For the team behind ELeague—the eSports programming avenue by TBS—capturing the audience’s imagination through the players, too, became a vehicle for engagement.

“Storytelling is paramount to us,” explained Christina Alejandre, vice president of eSports and general manager for ELeague. “Overwatch [Open Grand Finals] was just a week-long tournament and we were working closely with Blizzard to find out who the different players and the different teams were—what stories to create around it. Even in a short turnaround time, we were able to create some of the stories.”

Steven Roberts, executive chairman of ESL, identified Intel as a prime example of a brand that has tied authenticity and credibility to the community.

“They spent an enormous amount of time over the past 12 years moving forward to every season getting better and better at telling the story about how their silicon chips are the type of performance-enhancing tool that gamers should use,” said Roberts. “They do a really good job of including their OEM at every event so that people at the event can test drive [and] understand the latest technology.”

Super League Gaming partnered with movie theaters to bring local gamers together to play and compete—an amateur arena that CEO and chairman Ann Hand likens to little league baseball. Her brand teamed up with League of Legends developer Riot Games, who guided them in how to interact with the community—something Hand appreciates.

“These publishers know their community better than anybody,” she stressed. “You just have to listen to them, and trust them.”

[a]list summit: How To Engage With A Competitive Gaming Audience

This year’s [a]list summit focused almost entirely on the theme of eSports and competitive gaming. While everyone agreed that authenticity is the key to engaging with an eSports audience, there’s also the matter of where and how to engage with audiences—decisions that are just as important as the brand messages themselves.

Gaming Videos Are A Driving Force

The world of competitive video gaming, including eSports, is more expansive than one might think, as SuperData founder and CEO Joost van Dreunen explained at the [a]list summit from the InterContinental Hotel on Thursday. When considering how games are consumed, one must think beyond the actual players and account for audiences too. Van Dreunen continued by saying that viewers don’t just watch competitions, they also watch YouTube videos for how to get through levels. The entire livestreame and VOD universe falls under the umbrella term “gaming video content,” which has about 1.1 billion unique viewers worldwide across all devices.

Van Dreunen stated that eSports has two main categories: people who watch but don’t play, and people who watch and play. Those combined numbers surpass the actual playing audience. Traditionally, people were only interested in watching if they were buying the games. But now a much larger audience can be reached (about 234 million people worldwide) who fit into both categories, and competitive games are changing how to meet this audience.

For example, van Dreunen talked about how Riot games is making League of Legends more watchable. The developers have worked to decrease the clutter on the screen, making the game easier to understand. At the same time, as Facebook and Twitter move into the video space, “games will be a driving force in that and eSports will be one of the spear points in that effort,” he said.

Following The Player Journey

Amazon owns streaming platform Twitch, but that’s just one way it’s involved with the video game industry. It also has multiple developers under the Amazon Game Studios brand name. Steve Fowler, head of marketing for Amazon Game Studios, explained how the company is actively increasing its efforts to follow the entire player and customer journey from beginning to end. Amazon’s process follows an individual who first sees or hears about a game and then asks about it. Then it continues as they watch others play before actively becoming players themselves.

“It’s not just the player journey anymore, it’s also the viewer,” said Fowler, who also emphasized the importance of video during his panel. He asked his developers the hypothetical questions ‘what if, instead of active players being the sole measure of success, they considered the number of viewers? What kind of impact would that change in perspective have on game development?’

Fowler later shed light on the potential for video content in gaming. “You mostly watch League of Legends from the player’s perspective. Imagine if you had to watch the Super Bowl from Tom Brady’s perspective the entire time. It would get pretty stale. We have a long way to go, but I’m super excited because I think that there are unique things we can do that even traditional sports can’t do because we’re in interactive entertainment.”

Mobile Gamers Aren’t “Gamers” Yet

Mobile is a major force in the gaming industry, but its entry into eSports has been relatively slow in comparison to console and PC gaming. A panel featuring Uyen Uyen Ton Nu, director of marketing at Super Evil Megacorp (makers of Vainglory), and Casey Chafkin, chief marketing officer and founder of the mobile eSports platform Skillz, discussed the defining differences between the two types of players.

“Mobile gaming at large is still a fledgling, niche area. But the potential for mobile eSports is astronomical,” said Ton Nu. She explained how with billions of devices around the world able to run a game like Vainglory, the addressable audience is massive, and therefore, it had tremendous potential to grow in the eSports market. Ton Nu also cited Vainglory’s incredible user growth as an example of this potential.

However, Chafkin deems things a little differently. “What we see is not just a size difference, but a self-perception difference,” he said. “Mobile gamers don’t see themselves as gamers. The average player on Skillz is playing 58 minutes a day and they are self-described as non-gamers, or casual gamers. When we think about the maturity of the space and the audience, a lot of it has to do with where the audience sees themselves in their evolutionary history.”

Skillz users are often playing games that people wouldn’t normally consider to be an eSport–like a finger bowling or bubble popping game—competitively. “I think this speaks to the idea that competition is intrinsic in gaming,” said Chafkin.

Although some might see it as paradoxical, Chafkin explained that “mobile gamers don’t see themselves as part of the eSports ecosystem, even though they’re actively participating in competitions.”

However, as mobile gaming continues to mature with more people playing competitively, Chafkin believes that they are becoming the base level of a healthy sports ecosystem, which is the amateur level of competition.

Making An Impact

Finding an audience—especially in eSports—doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know how to engage with them.

“For a brand to really make an impact, it can’t be about them,” said Bill Young, head of strategic partnerships and sponsorships, eSports at Twitch, in explaining how brands should take an altruistic approach.

Later in his panel, Young delved into fan engagement on the livestreaming platform. “I think what makes Twitch unique is the chat feature,” he said. “There are other live video platforms and other communities, but the chat feature that accompanies live video is the heart and soul of the community itself. You’re not just talking to your friends and folks who like the same games, you’re also talking to the content creators themselves, and they respond.”

In a separate panel, Hunter Leigh, head of eSports operations at Yahoo, Walter Wang, director of eSports at HTC and Candace Brenner, vice president of marketing at J!NX, talked about creating strong engagement with an eSports audience.

In comparing the Yahoo Sports and Yahoo eSports audiences, Leigh said “it’s striking how different those audiences are. [The eSports demographic] is much younger. The average [traditional] sports fan is about 35 and the average eSports fan is about 23. It’s sort of TV versus PC. ESports is also overwhelmingly male—the demo is 18-to-34-year-old-men, which is great—except that it comes with a whole host of challenges that are even more different from sports.”

Leigh explained some of the challenges come from trying to engage with a tech-savvy group, as they have grown up with technology and PC gaming. Chief among the challenges is ad blocking. “Ad block rates in eSports are absurdly high,” said Leigh. “Think of the highest number any website told you about their ad block rate, double it, and you’re getting in the range of the average eSports ad blocker.”

He continued by saying, “you can’t serve ads to this audience. If you want to connect with the core eSports audience, you need to do it through some kind of integrated content and probably get yourself on Reddit. Ad blockers and Reddit are probably two of the most fundamental concepts in getting into this space that non-endemic brands need to understand. The difference between hitting on Reddit and not hitting on Reddit to an ‘advertising’ campaign . . . is dramatic, and authenticity is a key part of landing all of that.”

Although authenticity was discussed at great length at the [a]list summit, the members of the panel also expressed the importance of platform to help bring it forward.

“Each game has its own community, and you need to speak to it,” said Wang. “All, or most of them, go on Reddit. If we don’t hit Reddit, some of the content is just not worth making.”

“When you look at your viewership numbers after a piece of content, you know night-and-day whether something has hit Reddit or not,” said Leigh, further emphasizing the point. “The platforms in this space are well established and passively powerful. Reddit isn’t actively messaging eSports in one direction or another, it’s just kind of out there. YouTube is a giant website that’s doing a lot of different things, and eSports is a piece of it. Even Twitch, which is very gaming focused—eSports is a slice of them. They are platforms that are allowing content to come on to them. Working with them and getting real presence on them is the difference between making a piece of content that nobody sees and making a piece of content that everybody sees.”

Brenner helped sum up the conversation by stating, “you have to tap into what the heartbeat is. If you’re talking about creating really compelling content or campaigns, or just a connection, it’s about tapping the emotional aspect of whatever it is. . . . It’s really about collaborative conversation and pulling out of that brand in what we think will resonate with that audience.”

[a]list summit: How To Engage With An ESports And Gaming Audience

This year’s [a]list summit, now in its fourteenth installment, was dedicated to the fast-growing eSports and competitive gaming space, and how brands can use it to engage with the millennials—a demographic that’s almost impossible to reach through traditional media.

alist summit Christina Alajandre and Mike Tubman
Moderator Manny Anekal of TNL, Christina Alejandre and Mike Tubman

The first panel at the InterContinental Hotel in Los Angles on Thursday featured Christina Alejandre, general manager of ELeague and vice president of eSports at Turner Sports, and Mike Tubman, sports and competition manager at Buffalo Wild Wings.

In a longstanding partnership between ELeague and Buffalo Wild Wings, the restaurant chain shows televised eSports tournaments in its establishments, giving fans a place to congregate and cheer on their favorite teams.

When discussing the growing interest from non-endemic brands that are entering into eSports, Alejandre noted that “there has been a lot of education in the space. Some of it is attributed to ELeague, some of it to the growth of eSports in general. Now, it’s not about educating people eSports, but educating about how to reach out to partners and get the audience engaged with those partners.”

However, she followed by saying “if you’re a brand and you’re looking to get into eSports thinking, ‘okay, I’m just going to slap my label on and run a few commercials during the breaks,’ the eSports community isn’t going to embrace that.”

Tubman expressed a similar sentiment when describing how Buffalo Wild Wings entered the space. “What we really want to do is embrace and show eSports, which is any game people have a passion around,” said Tubman.

In talking about the approach toward engaging audiences, Tubman said: “We’re not targeting messaging just for millennial males, or anything like that. We just want to embrace the sport, put it on our screens and work with great partners to get people in there to watch it.”

alist summit Steven Roberts
Steven Roberts, executive chairman of eSports at ESL

Later in the morning, Steven Roberts, executive chairman of eSports at ESL, took to the stage to dispel stereotypes about the competitive video game audience and how brands can engage with them.

“ESports is a little more like track and field than it is the NFL,” said Roberts. “There are different disciplines and they don’t necessarily cross over. [ESports] are all different disciplines, and not only do the fans not necessarily cross over, but the players don’t necessarily cross over.”

Roberts also discussed what the gaming audience really is like. “The perception of gamers and eSports enthusiasts being in their mom’s basements by themselves playing games should not be the perception any longer,” he said. “It’s very social and these enthusiasts have a great deal of disposable income. So, dispel that perception if that’s in your mind.”

Gaming enthusiasts are socializing online, talking—or trash talking—with friends while playing. “They actually come to our events to meet the people they’ve been communicating and competing with,” said Roberts, indicating that live tournaments are an ideal means of engaging directly audiences.

Roberts also discussed the growth of non-endemic brands moving into eSports, particularly those who come from the world of traditional sports.

“A lot of sports celebrities, [including] Rick Fox, Shaq and Magic Johnson are buying or investing in [eSports] teams because they understand the dynamics of a sport, they understand the passion that goes into it, and they understand what goes into a team,” said Roberts. “These teams have nutritionists, sports psychologists and fitness people—anything to perform at those highest levels. This is no different from an NBA team, and these people understand that. That opens the door for different types of engagements for brands.”

Coinciding with the rising interest from traditional sports figures in eSports is interest from traditional media, which may help bridge the gap between enthusiasts who are already engaged with the eSports scene, and newcomers.

“As storytelling gets better—we’ve had content on ESPN, Fox and BBC—you’ll start seeing much more of a traditional media acceptance of eSports as well,” said Roberts.

This sentiment is already embraced by TBS and ELeague—telling players’ stories and the struggles they face in competition engages with audiences, even when they don’t know much about the game.

“Storytelling is something that is paramount to us,” said Alajandre.

“I look at the [traditional] sports titles as things that are a little easier for traditional guests to latch on to and consume,” said Tubman, while discussing the diverse audience that comes into the restaurant’s chain locations.”There isn’t that learning curve you have with Counter-Strike or League of Legends, which is chaos on the screen if you don’t know what’s happening.”

[a]list summit: ESports Lessons And Opportunities Observed

The fourteenth iteration of the [a]list summit kicked off Thursday at the InterContinental Hotel in Los Angeles with some valuable advice for brands hoping to connect in meaningful ways with a young, engaged audience through competitive gaming.

Activision Blizzard’s recent partnership with Facebook is a prime example of how brands can gauge engagement through spending not money, but time. After all, it was recently reported that gamers spent more time playing Overwatch than the whole world spent on Facebook. Being able to stream this game across the most-popular social network is therefore beneficial to both parties.

“There’s some incredible time spent with your brand,” explained Chris Younger, Ayzenberg’s director of strategy, “and we’re not talking seconds here on a billboard, or an ad. We’re talking minutes [and] hours being spent within the category of competitive gaming.”

Steven Roberts, executive chairman of eSports at ESL, the largest eSports company in the world that is not a video game publisher, leads a production team that totals around 20,000 hours of live content across six studios around the world.

“Ensure that when you enter eSports with your brand, that it’s authentic, and it’s real and it’s something that the community embraces,” Roberts said.

Super League Gaming creates amateur eSports leagues around the country, bringing competitive gamers together across multiple genders and age groups. These non-professional players are what the company’s CEO and chairman Ann Hand calls “the base of the pyramid.”

Super League Gaming partners with movie theaters to transform otherwise empty venues into lively video game arenas.

Riot Games, whose world-leading title League of Legends is a wildly popular game for eSports competitions, partnered with the brand to bring communities together in entirely new ways.

“We can bring something that their community has been asking for,” Hand said about the partnership. “[The community has been] wanting that way, to physically, socially connect and deeply engage.”

There are tremendous opportunities for brands to engage with gamers both casual and hardcore.

How Imax Is Trying To Introduce Virtual Reality And ESports To The Masses

The Imax VR Centre in Los Angeles officially opened in January, and now, the company signed agreements to open four new pilot Imax VR locations in the coming months across the United States and China.

Imax and Guangzhou JinYi Media Corporation, one of the largest exhibitors in China, will install a pilot Imax VR Centre in Shanghai at the Shanghai Hongkou Plaza multiplex. Imax and AMC Theatres will open a pilot centre in New York, while Imax and Regal Entertainment Group will open establishments at two of Regal’s locations in New York City and California.

Rob Lister, chief legal officer and chief business development officer at Imax, told [a]listdaily that the company is trying to get people to experience VR for the first time.

“With 70 percent of people in our LA centre, it’s their first time experiencing VR,” Lister said. “The home consumer proposition is still expensive for most people. We think the location destination approach makes sense to bring people in and let them experience VR. There are a lot of things we can do there you can’t do at home. And our fourteen 12’ x 12’ pod configuration is conducive to multiplayer experiences.”

The pilot centers currently incorporate HTC Vive and Starbreeze’s Star VR technology, which has been specifically modified for location-based entertainment. Customers pay $7-to-$10 to play experiences like Starbreeze’s John Wick Chronicles and Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight and Rabbids VR-Ride.

“We’re taking an end-to-end approach to the platform,” Lister said. “We’re not just creating content or centers to exhibit content, we’re developing a VR camera with Google to capture VR content to use our relationships with Hollywood creators, we’re partnering with HTC and Starbreeze to aggregate the best tech to feature in centers. And we’re opening six pilot centers, maybe a couple more, in the coming months to exhibit content.”

Lister said Imax is also investing $50 million in new VR content with nine international investors.

“There’s still a chicken-and-egg issue with VR content not being as compelling as it needs to be, and there not being as many headsets being sold to get the big content makers creating for VR,” Lister said.

IMAX VR Centre - Star Wars Trials On Tatooine

Lister believes Imax is perfectly situated to help solve this problem because the company works with filmmakers like Michael Bay, Christopher Nolan, James Camera and J.J. Abrams as partners on the film side.

“We can introduce them to this medium, where they can trust the quality and incentivize them to make VR content for us,” Lister said. “Our VR fund is investing in AAA content and we can help co-finance early stage VR pieces.”

Imax has partnered with Skydance Interactive to release a pair of upcoming VR games that tie into movie launches—similar to how Imax worked with Lionsgate on John Wick Chapter 2 and John Wick Chronicles.

Life VR, set for release March 24, is based on the upcoming feature film starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds. The film-driven VR experience will take players deep inside of the sci-fi thriller genre. This July, Archangel, Skydance’s first original title, drops players into the cockpit of a six-story-high war-machine, a one-of-a-kind weapon that must stop a tyrannical corporation from taking over a post-apocalyptic America.

Imax will also release Ubisoft’s Star Trek: Crew Commander across its locations in the coming months. Like John Wick Chronicles, that game will also be available on home VR platforms. Imax is getting specially modified versions of games. For example, Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight game has been designed as a three-player experience where customers can team up with players in the pods next to them.

Another area Imax is interested in exploring is virtual reality eSports designed for customers.

“ESports is a really cool initiative where I could see people in one Imax location competing with people in another, and then maybe the winner gets to compete with a group in another centre,” Lister said. “That’s very ‘eSports-y’, where great gamers are competing instead of great athletes.”

In addition to its focus on multiplayer experiences, Lister said Imax is focusing on social platforms to generate word-of-mouth.

“We’re allowing customers to share their VR experiences across social media platforms so they can send their experience to friends,” Lister said.

Imax has joined Warner Brothers/Time Warner, Twentieth Century Fox, Metro-GoldwynMayer (MGM), Westfield Corporation, Bold Capital Partners and Steven Spielberg as first round investors in Dreamscape Immersive, a new tetherless room-scale VR technology. Imax and Dreamscape are also contemplating a strategic partnership that will bring Dreamscape’s technology into Imax-branded properties in the future, which would offer multiple VR platforms under one roof and a wide range of experiences from Hollywood as well as original IPs.

“We believe allowing customers to explore VR experiences untethered in a large room environment is going to open up a lot of interesting opportunities,” Lister said.

Lister is confident that Imax VR can grow into a global network, following in the footsteps of IMAX movie theaters.

“Even though we’re in a pilot phase testing six centers, we’re using this time to understand consumer preferences and pricing,” Lister said. “If we can solve that and demonstrate a good product, our strategy is to leverage our exhibitor network around the world. We can go into the UK and China and roll out a few hundred with exhibitor partners and use under-utilized space in the multiplex or lobby to set up VR and help exhibitors attract some Millennials that have abandoned movies and bring them back to the multiplex.”