Activision Blizzard’s Brand Message: ‘Innovation Never Goes Out Of Style’

Activision was making third-party games before they were cool . . . or existed, for that matter. Founded in 1979, Activision was the world’s first independent developer and distributor for console games, beginning with the Atari 2600. Three decades of game development has a way of teaching a thing or two, particularly about new technology and how it applies to beloved franchises.

From classics like Pitfall! in 1982 to mammoth franchises like World of Warcraft, Candy Crush Saga and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Activision—now Activision Blizzard—is behind many of the world’s most popular titles to date. Boasting an impressive $6.61 billion in 2016 (42 percent growth over 2015), the company is not only ruling the video game industry, but driving it.

A New Kind Of Athlete

“Professional gaming competitions are creating celebrities who are recognized and revered as athletes were in prior generations,” Activision Blizzard CEO, Bobby Kotick told Forbes. “Spectator gaming is becoming as popular as mainstream sports.”

Activision Blizzard acquired Major League Gaming (MLG) in late 2015, and has been making waves in the eSports scene ever since. The publisher’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major Championship (CS:GO Major) generated new viewership records during its March 30 to April 3, 2016 broadcast, with audiences generating 71 million video views and watching an incredible, record-breaking 45 million hours of live broadcast. CS:GO Major—the first held in North America—also set a new record of 1.6 million concurrent viewers across over-the-top (OTT), web, mobile and in-game streaming formats.

The CS:GO Major event was streamed live with enhanced features like real-time situational data. “Our product strategy is related not only to the live fan experience, but also the over-the-top streaming platform,” Mike Sepso, senior vice president at Activision Blizzard and former president and co-founder of MLG told [a]listdaily.

During Blizzcon 2016, Activision Blizzard surprised the world by announcing its Overwatch League, inspiring players of all skill levels to dream big. 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 Research.

The publisher is not only helping to drive the success of today’s highly-lucrative eSports industry, it’s changing the way publishers think about trends in the Chinese market. Overwatch sales exceeded all expectations in the region, proving that players are willing to pay for competitive games upfront—something once believed this lucrative demographic wouldn’t do. “China’s games market may be dominated by free-to-play MMO and mobile titles, but Overwatch’s success indicates the potential for premium games in the country is growing,” said SuperData Research CEO, Joost van Druenen in a report for August video game sales.

Streaming video games has become a major driver for publishers, creating a type of ecosystem in which games are made, then played by popular streamers and enjoyed by thousands of fans, which in turn drives sales. Activision Blizzard’s partnership with Facebook now allows players to stream Blizzard titles directly to the social network, further adding to this growing trend of “spectator gaming.”

Mobile Mastery

What makes someone a “gamer?” Whether a player is hardcore or casual, Activision Blizzard has undoubtedly cornered the market. At $41 billion, mobile games were by far the most lucrative form of interactive entertainment in 2016, surpassing retail games and free-to-play online games by $26 billion and $19 billion, respectively. In addition to its unstoppable Call of Duty franchise, the acquisition of King Games means that this publisher has access to some of the most lucrative casual franchises in the world, including Candy Crush Saga.

Activision Blizzard saw not just an opportunity in terms of revenue, but within the modern state of our industry. The publisher recognizes gamers of all preferences from matching puzzles on the train to taking on international opponents in a packed, eSports arena.


The Ability To Evolve

The company has evolved over the last few decades in technology and creating a thriving network of creativity. Activision Blizzard was recently named among Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For and currently employs over 9,000 people.

While it’s only natural (and necessary) to adopt new game development technologies, Activision Blizzard is leading the way in terms of other tools, as well. For Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the company released two interactive chat bots on Facebook that garnered over six million interactions almost immediately.

The interactive media giant isn’t limiting itself to video games, either. Through Activision Blizzard Studios, the company is expanding its reach to TV with Skylanders Academy on Netflix, and a Call of Duty film in the works. “Activision Blizzard Studios is yet another way we’re celebrating our players and fans, and we expect that our film and television productions will entertain and delight whole new audiences, as well,” said Activision Blizzard co-president, Nick Van Dyk during the Blizzcon announcement. Although the Warcraft movie was made before Activision Blizzard Studios was announced, the film likely helped bring the game back into people’s lives in time for the launch of the Legion expansion launch last summer.

“Our priority is audience focus—the recognition and appreciation that our audiences invest so much in our franchises and our responsibility to them to continually innovate within those,” said Kotick. “We feel a tremendous responsibility to our audiences to keep our franchises exciting.”

Wesley Snipes Stars In Standalone VR Short Film To Complement ‘The Recall’

One of the most decorated action movie actors of his generation is taking his talent from the big screen to virtual reality—all for the same project.

Wesley Snipes will star in The Recall VR Abduction, a 10-minute standalone short that exists in the same universe and cast as the upcoming Sci-Fi horror The Recall, a feature horror film that follows a group of friends who are abducted during a weekend cabin trip.

The guns-blazing Snipes, who saves the cast, is slated to virtually interact with the user through the eyes of another cast member played by R.J. Mitte (Walt Jr. of Breaking Bad) to pursue death-defying adventures in a world facing alien invasion. The transmedia experience places viewers in a story colored by extraterrestrial terror and lets users encounter Snipes’ mysterious character through the eyes of Mitte.

Directed by Mauro Borrelli, it is complemented with multiple endings different from the feature. Scheduled for release prior to the feature, it also serves as rich marketing collateral to promote the film in a dynamic medium, effectively changing the way theatergoers hear about movies and rewriting the way movie producers package content.

“The cool thing is that for theater actors, or thespians, this is a great format, because shooting in VR is similar to shooting a play, or performing a play,” Snipes said of his first foray into VR. “You don’t have the luxury of cuts, and short takes, and do overs. You have to be on your game, and since everything is in the shot, everyone else needs to be on their game at the same time.”

The Minds Eye Entertainment feature film is scheduled for release later this summer.

Kevin DeWalt, producer of The Recall and CEO of Minds Eye Entertainment, a Canadian independent production and distribution company, as well as Travis Cloyd, an executive producer in virtual reality, joined [a]listdaily for a joint interview to discuss their innovative approach to making and marketing movies.

Josh Courtney (VR Producer), Wesley Snipes, Travis Cloyd (VR Producer)

Is this unique standalone VR experience a trend moviemakers will be increasingly adopting as a marketing tool moving forward?

Kevin: We are leading that trend. It’s exciting to be given this new technology at the forefront, and to be incorporating it into our film projects before other production companies realize and recognize what an asset it could be. There are many companies introducing new headsets, and the world of VR is becoming more and more accessible to the average viewer. It will be very useful in marketing and building awareness of The Recall. Also, it’s a great new channel for generating revenue.

How will you be marketing the 10-minute film? Are there any new social platforms you plan on testing?

Travis: We’re going to have the viral and behind-the-scenes 360 videos posted on platforms like Facebook and YouTube. We’re using these platforms to build momentum toward both the VR piece, and the film. We are balancing this 360-style promotion with standard marketing procedures, too. Anywhere we can get exposure, we’ll be advertising.

What was it like working with Wesley Snipes? As a whole, are mainstream actors embracing their craft in VR the same way? Or is it different?

Kevin: I don’t know how it could get any better. Wesley has been the best anyone could be. His thespian background helps him understand the complications that do exist in filming 360 and VR content, including less opportunities to cut the shot. He easily adapted to these challenges, and embraced them. Wesley is one of the first people to truly be embracing VR in terms of high profile actors, and we are excited to work with him as an actor and producer on the project.

Why is it imperative for brands to use 360-degree video and VR for their integrated marketing strategies?

Kevin: There are not a lot of films that are using 360, so that is a competitive advantage. We are able to go behind-the-scenes and show the average viewer what it’s like in a more immersive way. So it is a tremendously valuable item in the tool kit for marketing films.


What have you learned along the way about creating engaging VR experiences? What’s your special storytelling sauce?

Travis: There are more opportunities and physical spaces to distract, challenge and engage a viewer with the 360 perspective. In addition, immersive audio and carefully crafted music is key to elevating the storytelling experience. Finally, with the added space in the 360 perspective, you can tell multiple stories at once more easily. These three things—combined—are our secret sauce.

What needs to happen for VR to take the next step into the stratosphere?

Kevin: There needs to be better storytelling in VR content. Everything has been experiential, but nothing has been really story driven. We were excited to put an extra emphasis on story in our collaboration with Wesley Snipes for The Recall VR Abduction.

What is currently the biggest challenge for marketing VR?

Travis: Getting the average consumer to acclimate to the storytelling conventions of the platform and technology. The VR world is revolving and having to adapt with new cameras and headsets, and it’s just about getting used to watching the stories in a different way, and exciting viewers about the opportunity for a transmedia experience.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Cinedigm And WHAM Network Are Targeting ESports Gamers

Cinedigm and The Wham Network will launch The WHAM Network streaming channel in Q3 with a focus on gaming lifestyle and eSports. The companies will jointly operate and market the channel, which will be available across all major connected mobile devices, gaming consoles and set-top boxes. Additionally, the companies are in talks with other platforms, skinny bundle providers and cable operators in order to make the channel broadly available on all modes of distribution.

Founded in 2016 by Gary Kleinman with a dedicated team of native gamers, entertainment, media and advertising professionals, WHAM has over twenty original series slated for production, with a target of at least 160 hours of original programming in 2017.

“ESports and gaming are fast becoming a lifestyle and culture and there is a gap in the coverage of how gaming impacts not only professional gamers, but society as a whole,” Kleinman told [a]istdaily. “With the broad impact of gaming, it is prime time to cover news and information about the global world of gaming, coupled with original entertainment programming.”

Early content will range from news, celebrity gaming and documentaries to reality shows, gaming competitions and live event coverage. Kleinman described how the content will differ from current livestreaming giants like Twitch, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. “These platforms, for the most part, cover the games and competition themselves and do not focus solely on lifestyle and culture in the gaming world,” he said. “WHAM will cover (through an OTT environment) all of the gaming stories that impact and touch our lives—whether it is a gaming tournament, celebrity gaming or where and how to obtain gainful employment in the global business.”

Some of the shows in development for 2017 include Good Morning Gamers, Celebrity Gaming, The Grill, WhamFam, eOasis, Wham Live, The Quad, The New Best and I Know. “We are focused not only on the games and competition, but more importantly, on the stories that make up the lifestyle of gaming,” Kleinman said. “This includes how gaming reduces the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease to how gaming is utilized in early education to foster learning to what does it take to become a professional gamer.”

ESports will be a big part of this new network, but streaming live events like the recent IEM Katowice or upcoming DreamHack Austin won’t be part of the game plan. “We see eSports as an integral part of programming from the story of the players, the dynamic of teams, college competition and the lifestyle of being a professional gamer,” Kleinman said. “We will not stream games.”

Kleinman said this new streaming network will open up opportunities for sponsors and companies interested in eSports and the gaming lifestyle. “Brands can create unique and customized messaging to the target audience with credible messages whether by sponsorship, brand partnerships, branded integration, sponsored content and syndicated content,” Kleinman said.

In addition to the streaming network, WHAM will host a consumer gaming festival in Los Angeles this October called Button Mash Live. Kleinman said this show will tie in sponsorships across the convention and digital channel through cross promotion, value add, additional messaging opportunities and unique experiences tying digital placement with experiential activation.

“The first event will be in the Los Angeles area and only for one day as a teaser for a three-day outdoor festival,” Kleinman said. “We are not at liberty to discuss participants and expect the festival to be limited to 35,000 people.”

The WHAM Network is the fourth channel from Cinedigm’s rapidly growing Digital Networks Group, which plans, launches and operates both owned-and-operated and partner networks. Currently, the company operates the factual network Docurama, the fandom lifestyle network CONtv, and the family-focused Dove Channel. Combined, the three channels have approximately 3.34 million app downloads, 610,000 registered users and approximately 80,000 active subscribers. The company plans to continue to pursue additional network partnerships in the coming months.

Why Prudential Produced A Film Series Documenting Pain And Perseverance

There is no subject more difficult in life to discuss than the death of a loved one.

Prudential Insurance is trying to turn a painful process of mourning the people who have passed a little easier with the introduction of a film series that explores love, loss, recovery and celebrates life, art and the regenerative power of the human spirit.

Masterpiece of Love is a Prudential-commissioned long-form film series that delves into the lives and heart-wrenching stories of four real policyholders who have endured personal losses. The stories are then transformed by four different artists who turn the stories of the survivors into unique works of art. The series that celebrates love appropriately commenced on Valentine’s Day. Each installment is about 20 minutes long and supports Prudential’s individual life-insurance policy business.

Gail Van Dalen, chief marketing officer at Prudential Individual Life Insurance, joined [a]listdaily to discuss why the financial services corporation is talking about death through an in-house artistic advertising series, and why the sensitive campaign was a difficult discussion that needed to take place.

Why was it important to launch this long-form video series? What is the story Prudential is trying to tell with Masterpiece of Love?

Prudential Individual Life Insurance, through its new campaign Masterpiece of Love, delves into emotional storytelling about the legacy our loved ones have left to us, and the legacy we want to leave behind to those we love. This is what our business is all about. We do more than sell insurance policies. We help people leave a legacy for their loved ones through life insurance. We provide financial assistance that helps people get through difficult times and keep moving forward in life. While the long-form film series format may be new for us, the message is closely aligned with Prudential’s purpose and legacy of helping people achieve financial security for 140 years.

Consumers have to confront mortality when considering life insurance, but these films celebrate life through art. Why are you now talking about death directly?

The film series features interviews with people who describe significant personal losses that changed their lives. But that is not the end of their stories. Next, we shared some personal items that hold great meaning with artists, who then created works of art based on the pieces. These interactions spark deep, meaningful conversations about not only the people who have died, but also the loved ones who are honoring their legacy. Life insurance is more about love and life, than death. And we can’t be afraid to have the real conversations about how people feel when they experience loss. It’s in these real conversations that we can help carry on the legacy that our loved ones have created for us and weave in our own beautiful story. The real stories of the survivors and how their lives have changed because of their loss gives meaning to life insurance. By embracing this, we give greater meaning to what we do.

What are your previous learnings with an inspirational marketing campaign? How are consumers responding to your brand-as-publisher initiative? 

Masterpiece of Love grew out of some social media posts we did last fall during Life Insurance Awareness Month. We saw tremendous engagement and response when we provided people a forum to talk about loved ones they had lost. We felt like we had struck a nerve and were providing a very powerful experience. And so the Masterpiece of Love campaign goes beyond the film series. We have also created an interactive, social sharing space where people can create their own works of art to honor those they’ve lost. Specifically, people can upload a picture of somebody they love who has died and add a brief story about their life. The picture is treated in an artistic way. And readers are responding—people have shared powerful, inspirational stories.

What is going to be Prudential’s social media and influencer marketing campaign strategy to promote the series and microsite?

Masterpiece of Love is being promoted through an integrated plan including earned media, employee communications, content partners, paid content distribution and search, and a robust social media activation plan, as well as several non-traditional tactics, like an exhibit and reception at the Newark Museum that unveiled the completed artwork. Prudential is leveraging Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram for both consumer and B2B audiences to encourage consumers to visit the website to view the films and share their own stories of love and loss as part of a larger digital story. Our content partner Upworthy contributed four original stories, released weekly on their website. The film content is also being distributed via YouTube, the Visible Measures network of sites, and Outbrain. Trailers promoting the series have run in more than 40 theater chains affiliated with America’s Movie Network, the largest in-cinema media company in the United States. And as part of that experience, theatergoers can Shazam-enable the 60-second video to link to two full-length shorts.

Why is branded content currently in favor over traditional ads? Why does that kind of content outperform traditional pre-roll ads?

Branded content focuses on the customer’s needs and wants. Through stories, we can deliver valuable information and hopefully inspire new thoughts or actions. When consumers are ready it is still critical that we clearly explain the value of working with Prudential and the products, services and legacy of care that we provide. But branded content allows us to start with a focus on the consumer, instead of ourselves.

What emerging trends are you zeroing in on in order to explore and innovate the Prudential brand?

Customer experience has been and will continue to be a key focus for individual life as well as for the other businesses of Prudential. We are focused on meeting consumers where they are at and providing first-class service to help them make the best decisions for their situation.

Is there a new product or service that you think will influence future decisions?

We are always seeking to position life insurance as a key component of an overall financial plan. Now we are seeking to make it relevant, and less of a commodity. Continuing to understand the needs of consumers throughout their lifetime assists us with offering solutions to meet their needs.

What is the number one emerging trend for marketers in the insurance field this year?

Life insurance, by its nature, is deeply individualized, so the key to marketing is to reflect that individuality, to meet a prospective customer how, when and where they are to demonstrate that we can address their specific needs with our solutions. Continuing to focus on the consumer first in our conversations and striving for a deeper understanding of their needs will provide us with the ability to offer solutions throughout their lifetime versus leading with a sale of a policy.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

‘Earning’ Trust: Do Rewarded Ads Really Work For Brands?

Monetizing games and mobile apps can be a challenge, especially when it comes to balancing the need for revenue and user enjoyment. According to a recent survey, 51 percent of game publishers consider in-game advertisements to be a “necessary evil,” but only 17 percent see them as “worth it.”

Can advertising be not only “worth it,” but an opportunity for developers? Believe it or not, ads don’t have to be intrusive, and can even be fun.

Chances are, you’ve seen them before, whether you play mobile games or not. “Watch this video for an hour of uninterrupted listening,” they say, or “watch an ad for five extra moves!” Rewarded ads offer an interactive way for users to “pay” for use of an app without being intrusive like a pop-up ad or flashing banner . . . and it turns out that users love it. In fact, a recent study by NPD revealed that a majority of mobile game users prefer to earn in-game currency.

When Rovio removed rewarded ads from its game Angry Birds Transformers, the players were not happy. “There was backlash from that community saying ‘give us back our reward videos,’” Rovio executive vice president Wilhelm Taht told Gamasutra. A similar situation occurred when developer Hyper Hippo implemented rewarded ads into Adventure Capitalist, in that users were quick to report when the ads didn’t work.

Fortafy Games revealed that monetizing with rewarded video drove a 40 percent lift in ARPDAU, and according to a survey by Unity, 62 percent of developers witnessed higher retention.


Rewarded ads aren’t just for games, however—they are found on popular music streaming apps like Pandora and most recently, the highly-popular Line messenger app. Line offers free one-to-one and group messaging, voice and video calls. Line users are now able to earn “Line Points” for free by engaging with advertisements, serviced by Tapjoy. These points can be traded for premium in-app stickers, themes and other types of content on the Line messenger app to enhance the messaging experience.

“This partnership signifies the continuing shift away from traditional, interruptive advertising and towards rewarded advertising as the preferred method for the entire ecosystem,” Shannon Jessup, chief revenue officer of Tapjoy, told [a]listdaily. “It provides yet further evidence that rewarded ads aren’t just for gaming apps, and that publishers in any category can benefit from an ad model that delivers value for users and advertisers alike.”

Warner Brothers Goes Big With ‘Kong: Skull Island’ Marketing

Kong: Skull Island marks the fearsome theatrical return of a legendary monster. It’s been 12 years since the giant gorilla hit the big screen. Having been rebooted so many times, Warner Brothers and Legendary Entertainment needed to get the world excited for the king’s return in otherworldly ways.

A Legend Returns

Studio marketing efforts have been focused on the ferocity and sheer size of King Kong in the film—the largest one yet. To bring some perspective to just how massive the latest version is, denizens of Los Angeles can take a look at his 25-foot prints as they appear around the city. Footprints first appeared on the beach near LAX on March 3, then again at Capitol Records on March 5, outside LA Live on March 6 and near Runyon Canyon Park March 7. Those brave enough to investigate the sightings were given promotional T-shirts. Of course, social media posts about the sightings are a given.

Beginning in February, fans around the country were invited to use the hashtag #(city)LovesKong for a chance unlock an early screening in in their hometown. Sponsored hashtags are also available for #KongSkullIsland and #KongIsKing.

Creating A World

Kong is the undisputed king of Skull Island, a mysterious and dangerous place that time seems to have forgotten. Skull Island has been added to Google Maps, complete with “reviews” and Kong superimposed over a number of 360-degree photos. The location is connected to an interactive website that allows users to explore the island through team diaries, promotional trailers for the film and a peek at some of the other creatures living on the island.

A 360-degree experience has been created for Samsung VR called Destination Skull Island, that can also be viewed without a headset. The virtual adventure casts users as a member of the crew sent to Skull Island, where they come face-to-face with Kong, himself.

As with any film, a great deal of care and passion have gone into the concept and promotional artwork for Kong: Skull Island, which was celebrated during a pop-up gallery March 3 in New York. Three limited-edition posters were offered for sale, which quickly sold out.

Of course, what would a blockbuster film be without its Hollywood stars? In addition to the usual interview tours, Alamo Draft House Cinema hosted a Facebook Live Q&A session with Tom Middleston, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson to get fans excited and delve deeper into the characters they play.

While all this promotion is serious business, the actors didn’t mind having a little fun at their own expense with the help of Comedy Central and comedian Jeffrey Ross.

At the heart of Kong: Skull Island is a legacy that its filmmakers wanted to preserve.

“If anything, our Kong is meant to be a throwback to the ’33 version,” film director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts told Entertainment Weekly. “[Kong] was a movie monster, so we worked really hard to take some of the elements of the ’33 version—some of those exaggerated features, some of those cartoonish and iconic qualities, and then make them their own.”

With all this build-up, the legendary monster has a reputation to uphold . . . which he’ll need when he fights Godzilla in 2020.

Kong: Skull Island opens in theaters this Friday.

Why ‘DiRT Rally’ Made A Fast Turn Toward VR

DiRT Rally, developed by Codemasters, is regarded by many as one of the most realistic Rally Car racing games out right now. Launching in 2015 for PCs, then in April 2016 for consoles, the combination of high-end graphics, realistic physics and dynamic weather conditions gave off-road racing fans exactly what they craved.

Andy Gray, product manager at Codemasters
Andy Gray, product manager at Codemasters

Last July, Codemasters decided to take DiRT Rally‘s sense of realism to the next level by adding Oculus Rift support. Players could drive naturally, turning their heads to see the world around them, and play the whole game in VR. The upgrade was so popular that the developer decided to bring the update to the PlayStation 4 release. PlayStation VR (PSVR) support was added last month through a $13 premium add-on to the game.

When asked what initially inspired the VR update, Andy Gray, product manager at Codemasters, told [a]listdaily that “VR is a development that we have been following for some time.”

He continued by explaining how virtual reality worked to enhance the racing experience. “It is something that we are very interested in as we see it as a great fit for racing games,” said Gray. “It allows you so much more control and flexibility when you are driving. It becomes more natural and we are finding that, once people are used to it, they are able to go much quicker. You can see the inside of a bend and judge distances, braking points and look into a drift or slide with complete ease. It is very intuitive.”

Gray also discussed why the PSVR update was released as a paid DLC update. “Developing the game for PSVR obviously comes with a significant cost,” he said. “For example, we had to rework all of our art assets as you are now able to see areas of the car that we previously didn’t model in great detail.”


However, he asserts that the experience is well worth the price. “We feel this is a really compelling update,” said Gray. “Every car, every discipline and every location is fully playable in VR. Plus, we have the all new co-driver mode which allows a second player to give the co-driver calls using a controller and the social screen. There is an awful lot of content and we believe the pricing is fair considering what is on offer.”

Codemasters is renowned for its racing games, which include multiple games and spin-offs from the DiRT franchise, the annual F1 series and Grid Autosport. When asked whether or not VR support would be included in upcoming racing games such as DiRT 4 when it releases in June, Gray said, “We will continue to monitor the take up, response and reaction to DiRT Rally and VR in general and that will inform our future decisions. It is certainly a technology that we are interested in but it is a little too early for us to state that we will definitely support it on our upcoming titles.”

ESL Explains What Twitter Adds To ESports

Twitter has partnered with ESL and DreamHack to livestream eSports events and original content in 2017. More than 15 events in the ESL One, Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) and DreamHack circuits will be livestreamed globally on Twitter. The first ESL livestreamed event occurred this past weekend with IEM Katowice and DreamHack Austin in April will follow.

ESL will also produce live original content for Twitter, including a weekly 30-minute show featuring highlights and behind-the-scenes footage. The live content on Twitter, which is set to begin on March 4, will be available globally at, and The livestreams will also include advertising packages with TV-style ad spots combined with original highlight and recap clips that advertisers can sponsor and promote on Twitter.

The first ESL eSports show will debut this week with IEM Katowice with CS:GO being the focus, according to Johannes Schiefer, vice president of social media and editorial at ESL. He talks to [a]listdaily about what Twitter opens up for eSports in this exclusive interview.

Johannes Schiefer,
Johannes Schiefer, vice president of social media and editorial, ESL

Twitter currently works with traditional sports leagues to livestream games. What’s unique about eSports and social media?

The one thing that eSports has that differentiates it from sports is that there is a huge media world around sports with 24-hour channels and sports sections of newspapers. That doesn’t exist for eSports, so when people want to read about what’s going on, get the latest updates or discuss them, they go to social media. That’s where the traffic is around eSports.

A lot of that information is in the social digital space, and the conversation around eSports is particularly heavy on Twitter. All the big players are on Twitter. Every team is on Twitter. The amount of interaction, engagement and story development that takes place on Twitter is disproportionately large in eSports when compared to sports. So bringing the actual content to Twitter so that you can watch it where that conversation is taking place only makes sense.

How has ESL’s relationship evolved over the years?

We’ve been working with Twitter for quite a while. Twitter’s been featured in our shows and we’ve even had the Twitter mirror selfie booth that you’ve seen at the Golden Globes or the Oscars at our events. We’ve been slowly working with them over time to increase what we do. We use Twitter as part of our storytelling. We have all these instant highlights, and when something happens in the stream, two minutes later it’s on Twitter and on our channels. That’s something that we’ve been building with them together over the last two-and-a-half years, and this is just the next step.

What does Twitter open up for this show that will be unique?

You can tie the conversational part of engaging the actual audience with the show much better on Twitter. If you take a hashtag and ask fans to submit things and be part of the show—that’s a huge opportunity that really only exists there. We have this also in our actual broadcasts, where we ask fans to join the conversation @IEM, and people are tweeting in and then suddenly your tweet appears in the show or the caster reads the tweet and laughs about it.

What will be the focus of the Twitter show debut?

It’s probably going to be quite Counter-Strike heavy, simply because the amount of Counter-Strike content that we produce takes up the largest space. That doesn’t mean it won’t hit other games. It’s a product that’s going to evolve to see how it resonates with the community. But at least in the beginning, there’s going to be a lot of CS:GO.

Is the show going to be designed for a live interaction with the community?

It’s definitely where I would want to take it, yes. It’s not a finalized, and I don’t think anything in the show needs to be set in stone right now. I’m generally not a big fan of that kind of stuff anyway. But it’s important that, when designing any kind of entertainment content, you’re taking your distribution channels into account when you’re conceptualizing the product. Live interaction doesn’t necessarily need to happen during that show. We can have segments like Top Match and Top Highlights of the Week, where people can tweet in throughout the entire week for the chance to be in the show. Using the Twitter platform directly to build the content for the show is the unique opportunity there.

ESL runs multiple events and tournaments. Will the show cover all of them?

Yes. It allows us to cover all of our events and tournaments and then theoretically take any new games that come up and bring them into this because, at its core, it’s an eSports show. It’s not going to be a CS:GO show.

Moving forward is there a possibility that you have enough content to support two shows? One focusing on CS:GO while the other follows another game?

That would be my goal, yes. We’re not there at the regular produced eSports content yet, but it’s still early days and our goal should be to move into that direction.

In general, there’s not necessarily a lot of crossover with fans of different eSports games, right?

The challenge of making an eSports show is huge because there are very few eSports fans per se that are just eSports fans and will consume any type of eSports content. They exist, but most fans follow a particular game. It’s difficult to just have a generalist eSports show. But we’re trying to build compelling narratives around different games, different products and then package them so that people regardless of what game they’re watching can somehow still enjoy that concept.

Is there anything unique that you see from a sponsorship standpoint that Twitter and your livestreamed show opens up?

Because you’re reaching different or broader audiences, you’re able to integrate in different ways. One of the interesting things about eSports—in how teams and players and leagues have approached it—is that there’s a high amount of conversation and engagement with the fans, and that’s something that many sponsors are extremely interested in because we can integrate the sponsors into the conversation very easily. It’s not just about putting your logo on a wall.

Gillette a great example of a brand that has just come into the space and they’ve been really active in how they’ve approached this partnership. During the League weekend, you had all of the teams and all of the casters tweeting out pictures of their custom razors because Gillette went the distance and every player had a custom razor with his name on it.

All the fans here are running around with the razors and their social accounts have been interacting with ours, and they’re just really activating. I love what they’ve been doing and this is exactly what is so great also about eSports, because we’re so open to that and the players are so open to that, and building this entire engagement if the sponsors are capable of doing it.

This is something that wouldn’t happen with traditional sports?

Yeah. But that’s the great thing. If the brand is willing to speak that language, they will have that engagement with that audience. Gillette managed to build a lot of goodwill towards themselves by just going out and saying, “Hey look, we made you all custom razors.” And they’re tweeting them out and they’re loving the razors.

VREAL Helps Grow VR As New Broadcast Media

With VREAL, audiences can come together in a virtual space to watch content created in VR games. Unlike traditional streams, content creators can place virtual cameras inside a game to broadcast to 2D platforms such as Twitch, so viewers aren’t stuck seeing everything from the player’s point-of-view. Meanwhile, those with VR headsets can meet-up in a virtual hub space, interact with each other, jump into game broadcasts as a group, then move around the game space and interact with the streamer in fun ways.

The best demonstration of VREAL technology came with the launch of the Twitch show, ER VR, created by Hyper RPG and sponsored by Akamai and Alienware computers. In the live show, guests play the comedic game, Surgeon Simulator: Experience Reality as other fake doctors look on, offer commentary, and judge their performance.

VREAL CEO, Todd Hooper, and the company’s VP of marketing, Bryan Chu both sat down to chat with [a]listdaily. The two talked about the debut of ER VR and how the VREAL platform could help virtual reality further grow as an entertainment medium.

Todd Hooper, VREAL CEO
Todd Hooper, VREAL CEO

How would you say VREAL will help VR grow?

[Hooper]: If you look at the two big trends over the past five-to-ten years, we think that one of them is that VR is the future of gaming. Gamers have been waiting for this technology since reading science fiction. The other big trend is that games themselves have become media. Games aren’t just something that you just play, they’re something that you watch. Now, there are more people watching games at any time than playing them. The way people watch games today is on a flat screen using video, whether it’s live on demand. We think that VREAL is the way games will be viewed in VR in the future and sharing that content. But it’s not using [2D] video, we’re re-rendering that world around you. It’s fully immersive VR tech.

Can both premium VR headset and mobile users come together using VREAL?

[Hooper]: The platform is designed to scale to many people watching content. Certainly, there is some content that is better suited for the desktop for high-end, and some content better suited for the low-end. What we’re seeing today is that most people who stream games today are doing it from PCs, not mobile. Generally, if you look on Twitch or YouTube, most of those people are creating content on PCs, not mobile phones or consoles, so that’s why we’re starting there.

How do you create the excitement of VR on a 2D platform such as Twitch?

[Hooper]: In the past, you’ve been limited to a single viewpoint. So, when I’m playing Surgeon Simulator, you’re seeing my viewpoint, and every time I move my head, you see things move around. That’s nauseating at best and it’s infuriating to watch that. VREAL lets you pull that viewpoint away from the player and put the cameras around the room. So, when you watch ER VR, you get all sorts of views–almost like there was a film crew in the operating theatre. You get the view above the patient, you can see the player, and you’re not locked into the player’s point-of-view. Generally, when you go to a movie, you want to see the actor, you don’t want to see from the actor’s eyes.

If you are filming a movie, you wouldn’t go in with just a single camera held to your head.  You’d set up a bunch of different cameras and angles. We’re effectively enabling streamers to do that. As long as you give the streamers the tools to create something great, they’ll amaze you with their creativity.

[Chu]: If you’re watching something through a screen, that’s your entire world. It doesn’t matter if what’s on the other side of the camera is Times Square, Seattle, San Francisco or a VR space. The idea of conveying VR to you, as a viewer watching in 2D, is conveying that the space is real. It isn’t about the headset feed. Strapping a GoPro to my head doesn’t give you a sense of immersion and space. The way for me to communicate space to you already exists. It is to treat it like the real world and position multiple cameras, with multiple views and dramatic angles. That’s the way you’re ready to consume it. Up until now, we haven’t been able to do that in virtual spaces. By being able to inhabit the space by putting in cameras, VREAL is able to transform virtual worlds into “real” worlds.

Will the conversations in the hub space be audible and in real-time?

[Hooper]: We’re still evolving how that’s going to be for general public experience. The vision for right now is that it’s where you go to meet your friends. You’re not going to drop 1,000 people in there. That’s the place you go when I send you a link to watch a stream. We effectively come into this place as friends and then go into the game together.

Bryan Chu, VREAL VP of marketing
Bryan Chu, VREAL VP of marketing

What are some of the social features?

[Hooper]: When you’re in VR, you have head tracking and hand to tracking. I do look you in the eyes, wave at you, and interact physically. We have voice so you can speak with people and emotes to express your emotions. You can also move around the space and stand in different groups. Even though you might be sitting at your desk, you feel like you move around [in the virtual space] to different groups for a bit of privacy. We also let you take video and photos—everyone wants their photo taken in VR. Most things lend themselves to social sharing on Twitter or other platforms.

[Chu]: The social features continue to evolve as we move forward. That platform is it rolling out monolithically. We just launched the recording client that we’ve been working on with key partners like Hyper RPG. They give us valuable feedback on what they want to capture. That’s our approach: we work with customers to help them help us define the experiences that they find most valuable.

How will VR interaction work when there are a lot of viewers?

[Chu]: Imagine a stadium with infinite box seats. Each box seat holds a quantity of people—say, somewhere between one and ten. That’s our group of friends, and that’s who you going to interact with. The developer also controls that viewing experience. For example, in Surgeon Simulator, the space is a very tight. A box with more than four people will impact the viewing experience. But maybe a game with wide open vistas will have eight people. So, imagine being able to walk into a concert and turning it into a small park experience.

We can also do a “main stage” event that’s viewable to everybody. A host will put on a show and there will be people watching in native VR and the host can interact with them there. Meanwhile, we have a camera crew broadcasting to Twitch and YouTube. So, through one experience, we’re able to provide something for people in VR and 2D audiences with highly interactive social experiences.

[Hooper]: You feel like you’re having a personal experience just with that streamer, but in fact there are multiple instances with groups.

How would you describe ER VR?

[Chu]: ER VR is the first show using the VREAL platform, coming from Hyper RPG using Bossa Studios’ Surgeon Simulator. It’s the first show filmed in VR and broadcast to Twitch as a 2D show, turning a VR space into a sound stage.

What inspired the creation of the show?

[Hooper]: Zack [Eubank] is the president of Hyper RPG. We just brought him in and gave him a demo, showing him some of the stuff we were working on. I think that planted the seed. He came back and pitched us on an idea for a weekly show. He would bring in a guest doctor every week and have pretend doctors judge them.  I think it’s really fun and it’s effectively the first time the VREAL tech is being shown publicly. We’re very happy with it.

[Chu]: It’s a great way to show how, once you are able to get inside the game, you can create a huge variety of content. Normally, when you’re streaming a game, you’re basically held prisoner by the player camera. There’s only so much you can do when creating interesting programming around that. But because VREAL is integrated and has cameras inside the game, they are able to put on a show that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. They can basically film a comedy hospital drama inside an operating theater. Hyper RPG came up with this concept, but others might do something different.

[Hooper]: That same concept can be used for show that’s humorous, competitive or whatever you feel like doing. Again, we’re creating the tools and the platform for those creative people to do what they do best.

Will you still consider it great success for VR if more people end up preferring to watch content through Twitch than from a headset?

[Hooper]: Definitely. Twitch is a great partner, and we’ve worked closely with them on ER VR. The fact is, it evangelize VR and gives people a way to experience it before they get their own headset. Today, 99 percent of that audience is on Twitch and YouTube, not a VR headset. We see that as the onramp to the future, where more gamers VR.

[Chu]: I think we’re witnessing the birth of a new media. I always draw the analogy of the radio world and the birth of television. Those first television shows were basically a radio shows but with cameras. People didn’t really understand how to use it or what they could do with it. What you’ll see is that, as people learn the medium and what to do, not only will the content creators get more sophisticated but the audience will get more sophisticated too. We as audiences evolve along with the media. It becomes a journey that everyone goes on together.

The thing about the VREAL approach is that we partner with developers and content creators to serve audiences to consume content that they want in the best way that’s possible. Ultimately, that means we raise the bar. The aspiration has always been to create virtual worlds that are more compelling than the real world with games. Now we are able to do that.

What are your thoughts on how VR technology has grown so far?

[Hooper]: We always thought it would be a long-term transition. It wasn’t going to be last year or this year that everyone suddenly has a VR headset. We think it will be three to five years before it becomes mainstream. I think the first year went great—hundreds of thousands of people bought headsets. So, clearly gamers are interested. There’s more work to be done on hardware, and more work to be done on content, but I think we’re off to a very good start. Anyone who thought there would be tens of millions of headsets sold in the first year were probably being a little overoptimistic.

We’ve always been realistic and we’re taking our time. But there’s more hardware coming to market. The reality is that you’ve got Facebook, Google, Valve, HTC, Microsoft and possibly Apple all lining up behind VR. So, it’s a thing. It’s here, and it may take a little while to make a headset that fits every possible person, but we’ll get there.

Why Google Is Making Big Bets On VR And AR As The Future Of Computing

Delivering compelling content in virtual and augmented reality continues to be a burgeoning motive for brands looking to build robust marketing missions.

Ever since Google allowed for mobile-driven, 360-degree videos to work its magic on YouTube, a laundry list of marketers have experimented with the immersive technology to help total hundreds of thousands of 360 videos available on a platform that boasts over one billion hours of daily video consumption around the globe—a figure that is on pace to bypass traditional TV consumption.

“YouTube has an incredibly wide reach and makes 2D, 360-degree and VR video accessible on desktop, mobile and in a headset (like Cardboard or Daydream). With the launch of YouTube VR on Daydream, we’ve seen great interest in immersive video growth from Daydream users,” Aaron Luber, head of content partnerships for Google and YouTube, told [a]listdaily. “We have been very happy with the performance of VR video content and YouTube in the first few months of Daydream following the YouTube VR launch.

During the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week, Google leveraged the mobile gaming side of VR by announcing titles from top developers will be joining their Daydream lineup. Daydream users are spending approximately 40 minutes per week using the devices, with video-watching being the top category of entertainment.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, Google announced that it had shipped more than 10 million Cardboard VR viewers, and that Cardboard app downloads had exceeded over 160 million downloads—30 of those apps have over one million downloads.


Overall, however, sales of VR headsets have seemingly been sluggish, something Google is actively working on fixing to leverage their six Daydream-ready phones.

“We are making significant bets on VR and AR as the future of computing,” Luber said. “We are focusing on making this technology as accessible to as many people as possible thru mobile devices (that work with Cardboard and Daydream). We need to keep a realistic viewpoint on what the industry needs to grow—there is still a lot of work to be done across hardware, software, development and monetization, but we are dedicated to investing time and resources here for the future.”

Daydream was built based off of the lessons learned from Cardboard, and last month, Google brought virtual worlds to browsers by allowing users to begin experiencing VR on the web with Chrome.

YouTube is continuing to position the company as a viable alternative for TV advertisers looking to reach young people and cord-cutters as the lines between TV and online video continue to blur, further evidenced by the recent announcement of YouTube TV, a new $35 online cable bundle with 40 networks. They are also initiating auditing metrics with third party data collection partnerships to ease advertiser concerns, and cutting the unskippable 30-second unit.

Luber said brands have been doing an incredible job embracing their VR technology as they continue to learn and iterate.

“Brands and advertisers need to go through this learning phase as content creators to determine what works for them, their content and their audience,” Luber said. “We’ve been very impressed with the likes of The New York Times, BMW and Lowes—just to name a few. For brands looking to get started, I’d suggest experimenting with 360-degree video. The cost of production is getting less expensive, and the amount of amazing creators in the ecosystem is growing rapidly. It’s easier than ever to get started—upload video to YouTube and have huge reach and distribution.

Luber said he’s seen incredible growth in 360 and VR video over the past two years since introducing 360 formats to YouTube.

“360 and VR video is unique for brands and advertisers because it offers their audience a really immersive experience that can tie them closely to their brand and messages,” Luber said. “The cameras, tools and best practices are getting easier and more accessible. We are excited to see the continued growth in this category and we definitely think now is the time for all creators to be getting into 360/VR video as a way to reach a very engaged audience.”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan