NBC Sports Kicks Off Esports Plan With ‘Rocket League’ Tournaments

NBC Sports Group has officially jumped into the esports arena and the broadcast giant now follows Turner into the competitive gaming space. While TBS and its ELeague has focused on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Street Fighter V and Injustice 2, NBC is targeting Psyonix’s hit game Rocket League and is opening up competitive gaming to the masses this summer with the 2v2 Rocket League Tournament, which has a $100,000 prize pool.

Mike Prindiville, senior manager of NBC Sports Ventures, told AListDaily that the company has spent the past two years studying the esports landscape.

“We’re not just jumping in here—we’ve taken the time to get to know all of the games, teams and players,” Prindiville said. “We’re being thoughtful about our approach with NBC Sports and throughout NBC Universal. There’s a real groundswell of interest in esports across Telemundo, Syfy and our other connected assets.”

This interest has been percolating as esports titles like League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2 have commandeered global audiences. Even sports leagues like FIFA, the NFL and the NBA have officially entered this burgeoning business.

“Ultimately, when you look at Rocket League in the last two years, it’s skyrocketed from relative obscurity to huge exposure and ratings with over 32 million players,” Prindiville said. “We look at that game as a perfect entry point for NBC Sports because of our DNA with Premier League, Formula One and IndyCar and the opportunity to work with Psyonix on 2v2.”

The international tournament will begin on the FaceIt platform with regional online qualifiers, which will be divided into competitions for all eight NBC Sports Regional Networks (RSN), as well as additional American and European open qualifying regions. The tournament’s structure will utilize NBC Sports Regional Networks, Telemundo Deportes and NBCU International to run the regional qualifiers across the US and in Europe, which will be played on the FaceIt platform beginning on July 22.

The Regional Finals will be played at NBC Sports Regional Networks studios on the weekends of August 5-6 and August 12-13, and will be livestreamed on the NBC Sports app and Telemundo En Vivo app, as well as other social media platforms. Participating NBC Sports Regional Networks will televise the final hour of coverage from each of the Regional Finals.

The Grand Finals will feature 16 total teams competing on August 26-27 for the inaugural title and the $100,000 prize pool, which will be televised live in the US on NBCSN. The Grand Finals will also be broadcast on Syfy in the UK, Germany, Australia and multiple countries across Latin America, in addition to streaming outlets like FaceIt and RocketLeague.com.

Prindiville flew to Los Angeles to take in the Rocket League Season 3 World Championship at the Wiltern Theater on June 4. “I’ve been to some of the biggest soccer stadiums in the world, and atmosphere is such a key part to experiencing traditional sport,” Prindiville said. “The excitement at the Wiltern Theater mimicked a European soccer stadium, especially with the Europe vs. USA dynamic of the competition and fans chanting ‘USA!’”

NBC will open Rocket League to everyone with this new tournament. “We want everybody remotely interested in this game to have a chance, and we want to honor that Rocky-type storyline so that even a non-pro can get involved and make their way to the Finals,” Prindiville said. “We’re big about grass roots and community.”

On that same trip to LA, Prindiville met with Riot Games and took in some League of Legends competition. However, it remains to be seen whether NBC Sports will pursue televised tournaments of the popular game. For now, its focus is on Rocket League. “As our main entry point, we wanted a game that was 1v1 or 2v2 and was really relatable,” Prindiville said. “We think there’s great crossover from traditional sports to esports with this concept of flying cars playing soccer.”

What NBC Sports brings to the table, beyond a global broadcast audience, is a pedigree for storytelling. Prindiville said publishers and event organizers that he spoke with feel like there’s an opportunity for improved or bigger storytelling in esports. “That’s part of our DNA with the Olympics, Premier League and NBC Sunday Night Football,” Prindiville said. “That’s an important contribution we think we can provide to esports on top of the live broadcast component.”

It’s that live broadcast component that is attracting new advertisers to esports, thanks to the NBC Sports brand.

“We’re a media company and we’re looking to bring in those sponsors, whether endemic or non-endemic, through linear and digital,” Prindiville said. “Linear is more of a complement for esports, since the vast majority of this tournament content is going to live on digital. While a lot of endemics are looking to get on linear, a lot of non-endemics are interested in digital first and foremost. But linear adds more content and more potential impressions for the viewer.”

NBC Sports realizes esports is a digital-first offering, and Prindiville sees esports as a way for the company to build out an improved digital business and stream across its digital platforms, as well as traditional platforms where gamers are currently. “Digital is incredibly important for us and the future of sports,” Prindiville said.

Over the two years of esports research, Prindiville and his team have paid close attention to Turner Broadcasting and ELeague. He was especially impressed with how quickly ELeague competition has evolved.

“They listened to the esports audience and reacted quickly with changes,” Prindiville said. “It’s important to engage with and be involved with the community, and we’ll take a similar approach. Right now, our focus is on season one and getting that done right.”

While CS:GO and Overwatch are popular games for esports fans, Prindiville likes Rocket League because it translates well to broadcast TV.

“We think this game can do well on linear,” Prindiville said. “We’re not talking ratings, but on TV people immediately know what’s going on, and it’s something we feel traditional sports fans will find interesting to watch.”

Intel Doubles Down On Esports Investment

Intel has been active in the esports space for more than a decade, including marketing activations before the tech giant partnered with ESL to sponsor the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM). That global esports tournament is in the midst of its 12th season and has seen both attendance and livestreaming numbers increase as esports has emerged into a global phenomenon.

Lee Machen, director of developer relations at Intel, told AListDaily that the brand used E3 to kickstart new esports activations to expand its footprint with ESL and to incorporate virtual reality into its esports offerings.

“We’ve entered into a very broad expansion of our relationship with ESL from a technology partner standpoint, and we’re going to be powering not only the events that they run with us around Intel Extreme Masters, but all the events that ESL runs like DreamHack, ESL One and any other event that they’re involved with,” Machen explained. “We’re going to be right there with them on the PC side, on the server side, and on everything in-between. We’re going to be their broad-based technology partner.”

In addition to working with ESL on the technology side and as a title sponsor partner on Intel Extreme Masters, Machen said Intel will be very involved on the consumer-facing side at ESL One and DreamHack and other big properties to connect the brand with the global esports audience. The brand is front and center with the Intel Grand Slam, a new activation that awards one million dollars to a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team that wins four of ten ESL events.

“That’s going to add some attention and some excitement among the teams that play Counter-Strike at these events that we’re working on with ESL that will be qualified for that prize pool,” Machen said.

Intel’s recent announcements show that the company is in on esports for the long haul.

“When we got started in esports, nobody knew that it was going to grow into what it’s become today, where it’s rivaling traditional sports’ viewership,” Machen said. “We thought at the time that we had to be involved because esports was born out of PC gaming and it uses everything that we can provide on the platform. The level of growth that we’ve seen to this point—where we in a couple of years, there will be over half a billion people watching esports on an annual basis—I don’t think we had any idea it was going to grow to that extent. But the investments we’re making are in an attempt to continue to grow that audience and engagement as much as possible.”

Machen says esports remains a relatively young and enthusiastic community. By getting in early, Intel has been able to put its brand front and center with this community. “That’s hugely valuable to us and our brand, and the trust that we have with that category of customers,” Machen added.

IEM Katowice saw brands such as Sprite and Gillette tap into that PC gaming audience in Poland.

“Other brands that didn’t participate directly in esports like we have—companies like Gillette and Coke—coming on board is going to continue to grow, and it’s worth their time and their advertising investments to come into esports,” Machen said. “But in turn, that money then flows to the events and to the teams and brings more players and raises the level of competition to the point where it’s going to continue this cycle of growth. More money coming in fuels better and better competition, which in turn brings more fans, which is going to bring in more advertising dollars. So, we welcome anybody who wants to come aboard the esports bandwagon.”

For next season, Riot Games is selecting ten teams to join the developer with a $10 million franchise fee and participate in the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS).

“There’s a handful of top titles in esports today that aren’t going anywhere, and I’m not surprised that the owners of those titles are starting to get a little more protective of those titles and want to run those tournaments themselves because it’s getting more competitive as far as attention and team focus,” Machen said. “We’re going to continue to grow the sport, not just as far as viewers for the titles that are at the top today, but with new games and new types of titles that are going to continue to come in.”

One of the new pushes for Intel and esports is virtual reality. After offering playable VR games for attendees to IEM events last season, this season is taking things a step further with VR competition.

“We’re working with Oculus on two Oculus Touch titles, The Unspoken and Echo Arena, and we’re putting together a competition with several events that will ladder up to the Grand Finals in Katowice, Poland next year,” Machen said.

Intel is also sponsoring Oculus and making Echo Arena free to Oculus Rift owners for a limited time, which Machen hopes will bring additional interest into the competitive VR area. VR esports will also open up new opportunities for brands.

“The more time people spend in VR, the more things that exist in the real world are going to start to get built in VR as well,” Machen said. “From an advertising standpoint that would certainly be among the first to enter VR esports because that’s what powers a lot of the revenue around sports in general. I certainly see that becoming a thing as soon as there’s a big enough audience watching in VR to make it a worthwhile investment for some of the companies we discussed earlier, like Gillette.”

Technicolor Takes On A New Business Strategy With Immersive Entertainment

Technicolor, a 100-plus-year-old company who once upon a time was a Hollywood filmmaking behemoth, is applying a nascent system of storytelling—virtual reality—as part of its newest business strategy that aims on positioning them to work in tandem with brands and creators to curate premium content experiences.

The Technicolor Experience Center, a 10,000 square foot space in Culver City, California, is a hub for VR and immersive media for Technicolor and its brands. They work with filmmakers and production companies across movies, advertising and gaming to push the boundaries of immersive storytelling.

“We’re a community for technologists and creators to come and experience content, to get educated on what VR is,” Marcie Jastrow, senior vice president of immersive media and head of the Technicolor Experience Center, told AListDaily. “The whole idea is for us to build bridges, and by creating content, you learn where the gaps and bridges need to be made. We want to educate brands and the communities of creators.”

Technicolor teams worked on eleven diverse films screening at Cannes across major festival categories last month.

Gone are Technicolor’s days of highly saturated color processing—they produced their last frame in 2015. They are still, however, very much part of the color-science capabilities and image-processing pipeline. They still touch every aspect of film and broadcast—close to 70 percent of the movies made in Hollywood—and they’re now focused on advancing the content creation side of the emerging VR business.

Last week at E3, they partnered with Nokia, a company who is leveraging VR in a multitude of ways, to announce a VR content creation partnership around the Nokia OZO+ virtual reality camera and content creation tools. The two companies will collaborate on live-action, 360-degree projects and unveil a series of masterclass sessions for 360 filmmaking.

“If you’re working in a real-time game engine, it’s very different than what content creators have been building for the last 100 years,” says Jastrow, who in the last two months has secured deals with Vicon and Positron to further push the boundaries in the VR ecosystem. “VR gives you an incredible sense of empathy because you’re immersed in the experience. So if you’re a brand trying to connect closer to your consumer, they may want to use VR to get that connection quicker. It allows people to see the entire picture, and it allows you to move and interact with whatever content they’re trying to create.”

Technicolor also partnered with HP and NVIDIA for “Mars Home Planet,” a global project that unites engineers, architects, designers and students to design an urban area for a million people on Mars and bring it to life through VR.

“We’re really still at the birth of this industry and it’s going to take all of the partners to get together and really help build it and grow it and make it into something much larger than it is now,” Rick Champagne said in a podcast interview for journalists. “When you get together with a cross-disciplinary group of partners, and everybody’s looking at it from a different perspective, there’s so much knowledge you can gain from that experience. . . . Technicolor is a world-class technology leader and innovator through their research and innovation group, and universally known for their award-winning commercial work through The Mill and MPC. So, they’re an amazing partner really to help push the technology to its absolute limits.”

The Mill and MPC are Technicolor-owned advertising visual effects studios for branded content, advertising and marketing with such credits as the movie-inspired Alien: Covenant VR experience, and the VR/AR companion piece for the live-action short film Wonder Buffalo.

“What we’re seeing is the push for understanding VR and immersive media, and what would that mean to build those experience and push them out to the consumers,” says Jastrow, who manages a cross-functional team of artists, producers, engineers and technologists. “So we’re trying to help large brands understand how to use VR and push it out to the consumers.”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Google Pursues Brand Safety In A Polarizing World Of Content

Brand safety has aways been a concern for marketers, but in the wake of never-ending political and social debates, Google is fighting an uphill battle for trust. While YouTube is celebrated for its diversity in discussion and opinions, brands are demanding more control on what kind of messages their ads appear next to. Google is taking steps to reassure its advertisers across YouTube and the Google Display Network, but is that enough?

The world’s most popular video-sharing site came under fire earlier this year when it was discovered that ads were running next to extremist content. Ads were pulled, funds were diverted to other platforms like traditional TV and YouTube creators have suffered considerable drops in income.

“You’ve told us to do better when it comes to ad placement,” YouTube CEO Susan Mojcicki told the audience at Newfronts. “I want you to know that we have taken your feedback to heart. We work hard every day to earn our advertisers’ and agencies’ trust, and we apologize for letting some of you down. I’m here to say that we can and will do better.”

Taking Control

Speaking at a YouTube press breakfast at Cannes Lions on Tuesday, Matt Brittin, Google’s president of EMEA business operations, said that YouTube is “using the latest technology” to fight terrorist and extremist content.

“We’re using machine learning in the fight against this,” he said. “If someone uploads a video that we identify as unacceptable, we can fingerprint it . . . to stop them from being reposted.”

In other words, video content that YouTube’s algorithm or third-party deems “inappropriate” could be black-listed across not only YouTube, but “industry colleagues” like Facebook and Twitter.

Now comes the hard part—differentiating strong opinions from downright hate speech or terrorist sympathizers.

“In many cases,” Brittin said, “it’s a man talking to a camera about politics. [Inappropriate content] is quite hard to identify—it’s a nuanced decision in some cases.”

Determining which opinions are appropriate is much easier said than done, and opens the practice up to even more endless debate on the issues of freedom of expression. That being said, Google isn’t tackling this monumental task alone.

In April, Google unveiled plans to use comScore as a third-party measurement company to monitor where ads appear on YouTube. Marketers would receive “brand safety” reports to include a full list of specific videos next to which ads were shown, according to statements made to The Wall Street Journal.

Brittin admitted that previous ad controls were “too complicated,” and that YouTube is working with brands to ensure they know how to use them.

Guilty By Association

Now more than ever, socially conscious and digitally connected consumers want to know that their favorite brands share similar views—but taking a stand is far from risk-free.

A consumer study fielded by SSRS found that 58 percent dislike when brands get political and are more likely to avoid brands that take a position contrary to their beliefs. A separate study from the CMO Council found that 37 percent change how they think about a brand when an ad appears next to objectionable content. In addition, 10 percent said they would boycott the brand, and nine percent said they would be vocal or complain.

Regardless of its public controversies, ad spend on YouTube has remained fairly stable, according to ad-tracking firms Pathmatics and MediaRadar. In fact, MediaRadar found ads from six US brands boycotting YouTube appearing within the last month.

Google will weather this storm one way or another. Programmatic ad spend in the US will total $32.56 billion this year, according to forecasts by eMarketer. By 2018, nearly three quarters of all video ad dollars will transact programmatically.

Fake news and failed attempts at social justice advertising don’t help matters either, which makes it just one of the many reasons building marketing strategies is becoming more complicated than ever.

NCsoft Describes Strategy For Evolving As Global Game Company

With hundreds of thousands of fans in South Korea and Asia, Blade & Soul is one of NCsoft’s biggest esports games. The company is primarily known for publishing MMO games, particularly Lineage and Lineage II, and it has worked with Western developers such as ArenaNet to promote Guild Wars 2 as an esport, but Blade & Soul was developed internally and it has proven to be a very special case. The fast-paced free-to-play MMORPG, which has a story that’s heavily rooted in Wushu martial arts and Asian themes, launched in S. Korea in 2012 unexpectedly became a tremendous esports hit. The game released in the West early last year and since then, NCsoft has been releasing content updates to catch the Western version of it up with its Korean counterpart.

Julianne Harty, esports manager at NCsoft

“The play styles of the two regions are slightly different,” Julianne Harty, esports manager at NCsoft told AListDaily, comparing the Eastern and Western Blade & Soul players. “One of the things we identified very early on was understanding the differences between the Western and Eastern play styles. Koreans tend to play a very cautious and defensive game while North Americans are very aggressive.”

Blade & Soul marks NCsoft’s first step in growing its esports brand in the West, which is continued by the launch of Master X Master (MXM), a free-to-play MOBA game with a tag team mechanic, this week. But unlike all other internally developed NCsoft games, MXM is designed from the ground up with esports in mind and it is launching first in the West before coming to Asia.

The first North American Blade & Soul Invitational Tournament will take place on June 24 and 25, which is tied in with NCsoft’s global esports initiative. It is an online competition that will include the top 12 teams from the past season’s esports championships. Additionally, there will be Wildcard Tournaments in July in both Europe and North America. Wildcard winners will automatically make their way to the regional championships, which will be held at Gamescom in Europe and PAX West in North America. Those winners, in turn, will move on to the world championships.

Ben Conrad, senior director of communications at NCsoft, added that “one of the interesting things about the launch of Blade & Soul is that there were so many excited people for the title. There is a huge and passionate community that watched the success of the game in Asia and wanted it here in the West. It was one of the driving factors that helped it be so successful. We had over four million registered players on Blade & Soul within the first year, which is a very significant and rapid show of success for the game.”

Conrad also said that Asian Blade & Soul esports tournaments are very close and competitive, stating that “you can hear the audience suck in a breath, and that kind of intensity helped build excitement for an audience.”

Harty explained why she thought Blade and Soul caught on so quickly—so much so that it practically had a built-in audience when it released in the West. “I think it occupied a very new space in the MMO area,” said Harty. “It has a pure action combat system that differs from more Western style MMOs like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars. It eschewed a lot of the traditional combat styles so that you’re actively blocking and avoiding hits as a martial artist, dealing damage, and working in teams to understand the mechanics of the game rather than relying on roles to help you through the system. It’s a visceral combat experience that people have universally said is fantastic and it’s a flavor that our players find very appealing. Also, people know when a big play happens and when someone tags in. With all the people cheering, it’s hard to not get caught up in the excitement.”

When asked whether success in S. Korea and Asia usually helped pave the way for growth and adoption in the West, Harty said, “In my opinion, yes. It can be argued that the reason why League of Legends, StarCraft and various other titles got their foothold in the West was because Korea picked it up first. They showed the potential for the games at a competitive level and the internet and livestreaming made viewing those games more accessible, so our success in Asia lends itself to a good foothold here in the United States.”

That being said, it’s strange that MXM is following the reverse strategy by launching in the West first before moving to Asia. Sean Orlikowski, brand manager at NCsoft, told AListDaily that the reason for this shift is because two of the main game modes—5v5 competition and PVE cooperative play—are very popular in the West.

“Releasing here is strategic, and it is also to gather feedback,” said Orlikowski. “Our players have been great with giving us feedback. We’ve had players resonate positively with both the PVE side and with the 5v5 and it’s been a very even split between what modes people are playing.” Orlikowski also stated that NCsoft is very excited to have MXM be one of its first in-house games to launch in the West first.

“From a more strategic perspective, you shouldn’t be surprised to see more titles release in the West first,” Conrad added. “Not all, but it will not be as rare as it has been.”

Sean Orlikowski, brand manager at NCsoft

MXM is an action game at its core—it is built to be fun, fast and furious,” said Orlikowski, describing how the game would match up against established MOBA titles such as League of Legends and Dota 2. “The MOBA mode is just one aspect of it, and that’s a very congested genre. We’re not out to claim that we’re better than anybody—we’re just trying to be the best game that we can and offer something different. We’re doing that with multiple game modes, mini-games and PVE. One thing that I personally love is that we’ve added a social aspect to the game. We have a lobby system where people can interact with each other’s characters instead of looking at a list of people in a launcher before playing. You can sit and chat with people. We’ve had dance parties break out to someone’s favorite song on the jukebox, and conga lines have formed. People are having fun even though they’re not in any of our designed game modes. It’s a great community building aspect of the game.”

Orlikowski believes that emphasizing the game’s social aspects will go a long way toward growing its player base. “NCsoft has primarily been an MMO company. MXM is something new for us, and we’re really excited to branch out. I think that showing people that you can still have a social and fun experience, no matter what game mode you play, will be a nice tie that binds people from other games.”

We asked Orlikowski how MXM fit in with NCsoft’s catalogue of games, which have traditionally been very MMO-focused. Blade & Soul is, at its core, an MMO and even MXM has a very popular cooperative action role-playing component. “In general, I feel like MXM is a celebration of NCsoft’s 20 years, and it’s very fortuitous timing that it’s coming out on our 20th anniversary. We have a rich history of characters and games that we’ve put into MXM. There are characters from Blade & Soul, Guild Wars 2, Aion, Lineage and Lineage II. We’ve even made PVE stages that are modeled after our different games to unlock those characters. Most the characters and scenarios in MXM are brand new, but we’ve also brought this rich history into it.”

Chauncey Gammage, NCsoft’s SVP of human resources, was also on hand to comment about the company’s brand strategy moving forward.

“NCsoft sees itself as a global games company,” said Gammage. “We want to release titles on a global scale so that we can close gaps like the one we experienced with Blade & Soul when we launched it in North America. We want to have global launches, and this [MXM launch] helps us learn using mechanisms for feedback during the development process to make sure our games have the best opportunity to succeed in every market they’re going into.

“[Furthermore], NCsoft will continue to evolve as a multi-genre game company. You saw this with the opening of our mobile studio in San Mateo, California, and we’ll be excited to talk about those games when they come out. We love our rich DNA of MMORPGs, but we believe we’re growing and expanding to reach players in many different ways across many different types of games.”

Cheerio! General Mills Makes Former Coca-Cola Exec Its New CMO

General Mills has a new global chief marketing officer in Ivan Pollard, who will be filling the top marketing executive void left by Ann Simonds when she left the company last December.

Pollard was previously the senior vice president of strategic marketing for Coca-Cola North America, where he used data to help the soft-drinks maker efficiently spend $2 billion a year on advertising.

The hiring of Pollard will likely shift the General Mills’ focus toward more e-commerce and digital marketing tactics.

“I was drawn to General Mills by their beloved brands and the quality of their marketing talent, but I decided to join because of the good I see them doing in the world and the untapped opportunities I see for business growth. I’m excited to be part of their next chapter,” said Pollard.

Pollard will now be tasked with establishing General Mills’ first global marketing and media planning function for brands like Cheerios, Annie’s, Nature Valley and Pillsbury.

One of the areas of focus for Pollard will likely be overseeing the Yoplait brand, too, which contributed to company’s overall sales falling throughout last year.

But yogurt was not the only product mishap in the past year for General Mills. In May, the company dropped the Tiny Toast brand, an unsuccessful offshoot of the popular Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.

Pollard will begin his post on July 10 and report to CEO Jeff Harmening.

“Ivan’s diverse global experience brings us a fresh perspective on our brands and a deep understanding of how to operationalize integrated, modern marketing in the digital age,” said Harmening. “We have tremendous opportunities to unlock global growth by improving the effectiveness of our marketing efforts and our teams are eager to build on the work they have started.”

Campbell Soup hired Matt Pritchard to be vice president of its digital acceleration group, a division created in November to move the company toward digital personalization.

Pritchard previously worked on Kellogg’s European digital strategy and operations. Now he is tasked with handling Campbell’s online search capabilities and in-store messages to customers.

Apple has tapped two of Sony Pictures Television’s top executives, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, to run its video programming.

“We have exciting plans in store for customers and can’t wait for them to bring their expertise to Apple,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services.

Fox Television Group promoted Shannon Ryan to chief marketing officer, and Darren Schillace to executive vice president of marketing.

Ryan was previously in charge of creative services, special operations and experimental marketing across Fox. Schillace used to be senior vice president of marketing at ABC Entertainment.

NBC Universal hired Laura Lee as executive vice president of content, strategy and operations of NBCU Digital Enterprises. The former YouTube executive will now oversee partnerships with Snap, Vox Media and BuzzFeed.

“Laura’s deep experience in the digital space will be a great asset as we continue to create new monetization and premium content opportunities across NBCUniversal and expand our partnerships with new media and technology companies,” said Maggie Suniewick, president of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises.

Entertainment Studios has hired Dick Roberts as executive vice president of marketing and creative services. Roberts formally served as vice president of marketing and creative services for Sony Pictures.

“Dick’s extensive marketing talents and experience make him the perfect addition to the Entertainment Studios team as we continue to grow our global media company and invest in premium content,” said Entertainment Studios CEO Byron Allen, per Deadline.

Nike is expected to cut 1,400 jobs from its global workforce during what they’re describing as “a new company alignment.” The strategy, called “consumer direct offense,” will push for more one-to-one customer experiences. Nike president Trevor Edwards also plans to consolidate the company’s market geography structure from six regions to four.

Jonathan Goldsmith, best known as the “Most Interesting Man in the World,” is no longer the pitchman for beer brand Dos Equis, but he’s still staying thirsty, my friends, with tequila. Goldsmith is now the face and spokesman for Astral Tequila’s marketing and advertising campaigns.

Mars has tapped Sandeep Dadlani as their new chief digital officer and George Corbin as chief digital demand officer. Dadlani is now responsible for leading Mars’ digital transformation agenda, while Corbin will be incorporating e-commerce and digital businesses into the company.

“Digital is changing the way our consumers and customers experience our products and services. New expectations, competition, distribution channels and opportunities present themselves every day. As we use digital capability to transform our business, we’re delighted that Sandeep Dadlani and George Corbin will bring their depth of expertise in this area,” said Mars CEO and president Grant F. Reid.

AMC and SundanceTV have hired Justin Manfredi as senior vice president of marketing. Manfredi was previously the global senior director of digital marketing for Activision.

Mexican-inspired quick service restaurant Taco John’s is bringing Jimmy Orr as their new director of digital strategy. Orr, formerly of the LA Times, will be responsible for boosting Taco John’s online presence and creating digital campaigns.

Taco John’s also hired Tom Meyer as vice president of marketing for the brand. Meyer was previously the account director for KFC’s largest co-op and director of marketing for Del Taco.

USA Today Network hired award-winning journalist Robin Amer to launch an investigative podcast series for the network.

“The resurgence of podcasting has opened up a new avenue for innovative storytelling,” said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, USA Today’s chief transformation officer. “This addition combines our award-winning investigative journalism with exciting tune-in entertainment.”

Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick has resigned from the company following a series of negative PR reports for the ridesharing company in recent months.

“I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight,” said Kalanick.

Media platform Yahoo Esports, a media arm of Yahoo Sports, will no longer be updated, effective June 16. The move comes after Verizon acquired Yahoo and the creation of Oath, a new subsidiary combining the two company’s online assets.

“As Yahoo Sports becomes part of Oath, they are focusing on aligning with the new company strategy and are focused on growing the Yahoo Sports brand,” said Travis Gafford, Yahoo’s head of esports media.

Dustee Jenkins has stepped down as Target’s chief communications officer. She spent seven years at the big box retailer.

Clarivate Analytics announced that Julia Mair is joining the Philadelphia-based company as its new CMO.

(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated daily until Friday, June 23. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at editorial@alistdaily.com.)

Job Vacancies 

Director, Digital Programs, Martech & Personalization Starbucks Seattle, WA
Director, Strategic Partnership Marketing NBC Universal Universal City, CA
New Balance Boston, MA
Director, Brand Management Warner Music Group Nashville, TN
Director, Marketing Sony Music Entertainment New York, NY
Chief Marketing Officer Gibson Brands, Inc. Nashville, TN
Vice President of Marketing Feed the Children Oklahoma City, OK
NATPE Los Angeles, CA

Make sure to check back for updates on our Jobs Page.

Games Giant Tencent Is Positioning Brand For Both China And US Growth

Chinese media and entertainment conglomerate Tencent is looking to broaden its stateside reach and brand narrative by partnering with the Discovery Channel for a documentary covering the world’s largest mobile gaming developer’s history and culture in gaming.

Game Vision will dive deep into the role games have played in history, investigate the current state of gaming across applications and explore the opportunities tech presents for the future. The documentary will air in July on the American basic cable and satellite TV channel. It was produced in partnership with Tencent Interactive Entertainment Group.

Mars Hou, vice general manager of marketing for Tencent Interactive Entertainment

“Discovery Channel reached out and presented us a program that was a good content vehicle and promotion for traditional gaming in the US market,” Mars Hou, vice general manager of marketing for Tencent Interactive Entertainment, told AListDaily. “It’s a very important vertical for us to protect our tradition with the documentary and share our commentary on the growing gaming market. They have great experience from the storytelling side, and it will be great to take advantage of their platform. I think they’ll do a great job in presenting the Chinese gaming culture—from FPS to mobile—and sharing the Tencent brand story at the same time.”

Hou said the finished product will offer a comprehensive look at how gaming impacts the daily lives of consumers, and how it will continue to change the way they live and interact with the world and with technology, from virtual reality, to real life.

“Tencent is one of the leading companies in China, but we’re always looking at new growth areas in other markets in the US, Europe and other countries, too. We want to know [the 180.5 million] US gamers and their backgrounds, cultures and lifestyles a lot better,” Hou said. “It’s important for us know what they want. It will help identify what they’re looking for so that we can align it with our announcements and marketing for further success.”

Tencent has investments and holdings in industry megaliths as Riot Games, Supercell, Glu Mobile, Pocket Gems and CJ Games, makers of such titles like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Overwatch and Candy Crush. Already sitting comfortably at the epicenter of the global games market share and capturing more than 25 percent of China’s mobile app usage through WeChat, Tencent wants to get a better understanding of North American consumers, too.

The video game market reached a total of $109 billion in 2016, according to Newzoo’s latest report, and per usual, the Asia-Pacific region represents the largest gaming segment—earning nearly half (47 percent) of all global game revenues. North America is the second-largest region in the video game market, taking a 25 percent share of the market to earn $27 billion this year.

Tencent also dispatched their executives to E3 last week in Los Angeles to meet with other companies and carry on discussions that will shape the future of the games industry—especially in the burgeoning verticals of augmented and virtual reality.

“There are still big challenges to make VR more popular to the common gamer. It’s not very easy,” Hou said. “We must care about the user, and how to make the process easier.”

One area of growth the fourth largest internet company by revenue behind Facebook, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Amazon is also positioning themselves in is esports. Tencent has detailed a $14.6 billion investment over five years in which they’d create new leagues, tournaments, associations and esports-themed industrial parks in China.

“Our strategy is different from that of other companies because we are both developers and publishers of PC and mobile games and have access to big gamer communities. We give consumers a complete experience with access to all kinds of games,” said Hou. “A lot of mobile gaming companies from countries from around the world are getting into and marketing strong for the Chinese, Korean and Japanese markets. There are big-time players with esports and gaming communities in these countries. Publishers are taking advantage with paid-and-subscription services. It’s great for the development of mobile games. It’s a very important part of Tencent’s business.”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Twitch COO: Blizzard Esports Deal Creates “Interesting And Deeper Integrated Marketing Opportunities”

Twitch is about to put the “watch” in Overwatch.

The popular livestreaming platform has formed an exclusive worldwide partnership with Blizzard that includes third-party livestreaming rights to select Blizzard esports content through 2018. In addition, Twitch Prime subscribers will receive special game content such as a guaranteed Legendary Loot Box item for Overwatch. Blizzard’s license deal with Twitch will grant exclusive, third-party livestreaming rights to over 20 major esports events across Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, World of Warcraft, StarCraft II and Overwatch.

Other social media sites have been hard at work building their esports presence and just last year, Blizzard partnered with Facebook Live to stream its game content directly onto user feeds. Blizzard could very easily stream its content across as many social channels as possible, but they chose Twitch for the two-year license deal.

Twitch COO Kevin Lin attributes this decision to his company’s biggest asset—community.

“The thing that has defined Twitch as a platform is the size of the community and the connections they have made with each other using our native emote-driven language in chat,” Lin told AListDaily. “This is because we focus on building entire communities around games, not just events. We also spend a lot of time listening to our community and they have been pretty vocal about their dismay when esports events are not on our platform. On top of the community, Twitch Prime is an element that is 100 percent unique to our platform and it is loaded with perks, including guaranteeing a Legendary item for Overwatch.”

An eyeball-bursting 262 billion minutes of video were watched on Twitch last year across 2.2 million unique streamers, with Overwatch coming in as the most viewed new game of 2016.

While known for its video games, the livestreaming site isn’t afraid to branch out into other genres, offering livestreams of TV shows and other content to highly engaged audiences.

Twitch earns 37 percent of gaming video content (GVC) revenue despite only having 16 percent of the viewers, according to SuperData, making it an attractive platform for Blizzard, esports leagues and marketers alike.

“Brands will be able to engage for longer periods of time around each league’s audience,” Lin explained, “and with Blizzard and Twitch working together more closely, there will be more interesting and deeper integrated marketing opportunities.”

According to research from IHS Markit, esports is expected to become a $1 billion advertising industry by 2021, with video driving a majority of revenues along with influencer marketing and sponsorship.

Esports was a major focus at E3 2017 with brands like Twitch, ESL and Nintendo hosting live competitions for the expo’s tens of thousands of guests. Microsoft was also on-hand to show off its Mixer livestreaming platform, hoping to get a piece of that delicious livestreaming pie.


ESL CEO Explains Why They’re Bullish About ‘Quake Champions’

ESL continued to build on its US footprint with its partnership with the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) for the E3 Esports Zone Powered by ESL last week, a stage that featured Zenimax’s Quake Champions competition as well as Super Evil Megacorp’s Vainglory collegiate championship.

Craig Levine, CEO of ESL North America, told AListDaily that this more formal setting for esports evolved because the ESA heard from more game companies that are now developing titles with competitive features and esports in mind.

“What ESA heard from their members is that esports is a growing part of their business and they wanted to find a way to activate that at E3, the industry showcase,” Levine said. “This event allowed us to take existing games that are out there and showcase some high-level talent and competitions and blend it with that next generation up-and-coming game.”

The fact that the stage was open to the public—15,000 paying public attendees were at this year’s show—also played into this activation, which is part of a multi-year deal between ESL and ESA.

“If E3 didn’t have a public component this year, I don’t think it would have made sense to do this sort of esports activation,” Levine said. “We certainly could have looked to do something a little bit more of showcase, a little more shootout-oriented exhibition style, but having the opportunity for fans as they’re coming in and experiencing and seeing all the new games, to then also get a flavor of what the competitive horizon looks like, makes a lot of sense.”

Quake Champions was shown to CS:GO pro gamers behind closed doors at the Intel Extreme Masters Finals in Katowice, Poland earlier this year. Levine said ESL has been working closely with Zenimax and id Software for several months now.

“On a very personal level, our ESL leadership is comprised of gamers and we all grew up with Quake, so to have the opportunity to jump back in with that arena-style shooter was incredibly exciting,” Levine said. “There’s an opportunity in the esports landscape. You have great team shooters like Counter-Strike, which is a little bit slower than Quake Champions. You have MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2, you have RTS games like StarCraft and you have digital card games like Hearthstone. Now with Quake Champions, there’s the one-on-one gameplay and the new team mode.”

ESL has partnered with Zenimax to host the regional finals for Quake Champions in both Europe and North America to identify the top talent for both the one-on-one and four-on-four team format. They’ll also work together for the $1 million Quake World Championship at QuakeCon in Dallas.

“We’re really bullish on seeing where Quake Champions is today and the opportunity that it has to continue to grow [as an esport],” Levine added. “There’s been an incredible amount of interest from a lot of the existing esport organizations both in the US as well as in Europe. I fully expect there to be a lot of familiar team and player names in this QuakeCon competition.”

With Valve’s CS:GO continuing to dominate the first-person shooter competitive gaming landscape, Levine sees viewership overlap with Quake Champions but not cannibalization.

“What’s so unique about Counter-Strike is the established history, heritage and fandom around it with fans so deeply invested in their favorite players and teams,” Levine explained. “Quake has an opportunity to be an additive in a similar way that new games like Hearthstone or League of Legends created a new segment to appeal to. I don’t think one success is going to come at the expense of the other.”

With the esports audience expected to reach 500 million fans worldwide by 2020, and this year’s Intel Extreme Masters registering as the biggest esports event in ESL’s history with 173,000 attendees and 46 million viewers, Intel has expanded its ESL partnership.

“The Intel partnership is probably the most exciting announcement we’ve ever made as a company,” Levine said. “It really is a landmark deal for us. We’re working together with Intel as our global technology partner, so they’re going to be powering our events, our studios, our broadcasting operations, and really working together to continue to push esports overall.”

ESL and Intel are in the twelfth season of IEM, although Intel’s esports sponsorship predated that long-running global tournament.

“We’re also creating this Intel Grand Slam and the response has been absolutely incredible from the Counter-Strike community,” Levine said. “We’re taking 10 of the world’s biggest Counter-Strike tournaments from IEM, ESL One, ELS Pro League Finals and DreamHack Masters, and the first team that wins four of those competitions gets a million dollar prize bonus on top of the $200,000 to $250, 000 prize purse each of those events has. Counter-Strike has had the biggest growth, thanks to this open ecosystem. This is an opportunity to tie it together with a bigger narrative. Our ambition and hope with this is to create the equivalent of the Triple Crown [in horse racing].”

This expanded brand partnership also opens up new ways for companies to get involved in esports. Levine hopes this Intel deal serves as a blueprint for other companies to follow.

“When you see the accelerated investment and interest from different brands, seeing the success that Intel has had on the market since they entered it is a great example of great success,” Levine said. “They’re like the Nike of esports. They’re doing some incredible programs and they’re committed to the space.”

Although endemic to the tech space, Levine believes Intel’s mass market brand also paves the way for non-endemic brands. ESL has continued its partnership with Mountain Dew for a second season.

“Mountain Dew, Comcast, Totino’s and other non-endemic brands have had positive experiences and it’s our expectation to continue to work together with a lot of those great partners moving forward in different ways,” Levine said, pointing out the Gillette custom razor activation at IEM in Katowice earlier this year. “We have a great platform for brands to really get involved with esports touching everything from the big events to the broadcasts to the influencers in an authentic way. Esports is so quickly moving, so it takes a little bit longer for them to really understand and get comfortable with what that first stepping off point is. But we’re seeing continued interest and expect it to continue to grow.”

Global Game Market Reaches $106B; ‘Injustice 2’ Tops May Charts

The video game market reached a total of $109 billion in 2016—a 56 percent increase in just five years, according to Newzoo’s 2017 Global Games Market report. China leads the industry in terms of users and revenue followed by the United States, and mobile games have become the most popular platform—if only by one percent.

Gamers Around The Globe

The share of total revenues claimed by each region has remained almost unchanged since 2016, Newzoo observed. As usual, the Asia-Pacific region represents the largest gaming segment—earning nearly half (47 percent) of all global game revenues. In 2017, Newzoo predicts that Asia-Pacific will bring in $51.2 billion, which represents a 9.2 percent year-on-year increase.

North America is the second-largest region in the video game market, taking a 25 percent share of the market to earn $27 billion this year—a year-on-year increase of four percent. North America has a total of 180.5 million gamers, 58 percent of whom are payers spending an average of $256.10 each per year.

At 24 percent, the Europe, Middle East and Africa segment aren’t far behind and is growing at a higher rate of eight percent year-on-year. While Latin America represents only four percent of the global game market, the region is growing at a rate of 13.9 percent year-on-year and will reach $6.3 billion by 2020.

Platform Perspective

Move over consoles, mobile gaming (smartphone and tablet) is the largest segment in 2017, accounting for 42 percent of the total global market with $35.3 billion. The segment also has the most gamers, Newzoo reports, with 2.1 billion. Mobile is expected to hold its titles as the largest gaming segment, growing with a CAGR (2016-2020) of 13.9 percent to claim 50 percent of the market by 2020.

At 41 percent, consoles represent the second-largest segment with revenues of $33.5 billion 2017, followed by boxed/downloaded PC games (23 percent), tablet games (10 percent) and browser PC games at just four percent.

Browser game revenues will decrease by 9.3 percent to $4.5 billion as gamers continue their transition to mobile, Newzoo predicts. Boxed/downloaded PC games will experience a slight drop (1.3 percent) this year to $24.6 billion.

May Game Sales

US video game spending in May—which includes hardware, software and accessories—fell 11 percent compared to one year ago to $542 million, according to NPD Group. Led by the Sony PlayStation 4, hardware spending grew seven percent from May 2016 to $147 million.

“Nintendo Switch continues to be the primary catalyst for hardware spending gains, as it has since launching in March 2017,” said NPD’s VG industry analyst Mat Piscatella.

Software dollar sales in May fell 20 percent versus one year ago to $271 million due to a slim line-up of new game releases.

Injustice 2 was the best-selling game of the month across all platforms, followed by Mario Kart 8 and Grand Theft Auto V. NPD’s figures did not include digital sales for Mario Kart 8.