What Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League Means For Brands

Activision Blizzard is changing the esports landscape with its upcoming Overwatch League, which borrows from best practices that traditional sports have capitalized on for many decades. The Overwatch League’s global city-based team structure sets up a way to connect local fans with teams as they compete in home arenas in Season 2, while Season 1 will take place in LA.

The first batch of teams are based in Boston (owned by Robert Kraft, Chairman and CEO of the New England Patriots), New York (owned by Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets), Los Angeles (owned by Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals), San Francisco (owned by Andy Miller, Chairman and founder of NRG Esports and co-owner of the Sacramento Kings), Shanghai (owned by NetEase) and Seoul (owned by Kabam). Additional cities will be added before the action kicks off this fall.

Nate Nanzer, commissioner of the Overwatch League, told AListDaily that this infrastructure allows teams to build roots and generational fandom, while having a home arena unlocks additional revenue from concession, ticket and merchandise sales and local sponsorships.

“In addition to receiving a share of global revenues from media rights, contracts, sponsorship, both physical and virtual merchandise and in-game items, teams also have a structure built to encourage local entrepreneurship to build local businesses,” Nanzer explained. “The structure keeps the lion’s share of local sponsorships and tickets at the team level.”

Nanzer points out that while local-level sponsorship dollars are big revenue drivers in traditional sports, they haven’t existed in esports until this league.

“The Overwatch League opens up a lot of opportunities for local and regional brands that haven’t had a clear path into esports,” Nanzer added.

Heading into the second season of the league, when each team has established a home base (which will range from traditional stadiums to theaters and other venues in each city), there will be opportunities for local and regional branding to connect with the local fans as well as those who tune into livestreams. Nanzer believes that over time, teams will rely on purpose-built venues for esports.

Another opportunity to connect local businesses with local fans comes in the form of amateur esports events.

“Team owners have the rights to put on five amateur events each year and monetize them while engaging with the local community and building an audience around Overwatch,” Nanzer said. “We’re building out the entire sport of Overwatch from amateur, to semi-pro, to pro.”

Collegiate events will also remain a piece of this ecosystem. Blizzard’s on-going Tespa Collegiate Series for Overwatch has seen many schools, including UC Irvine, offering scholarship programs to participating student-athletes. Nanzer said collegiate Overwatch programs in Korea and China are also being built out.

Overwatch has over 30 million players and the game continues to attract new fans. That’s good news for brands on the worldwide stage, as well.

“Our sponsorships provide a compelling opportunity for global brands to partner with a truly global league and get in the door at the early stages,” Nanzer said, noting that additional teams in Europe and other cities will be added to the Season 1 roster. “It’s unique for esports to have a home and away format with Shanghai vs. LA in the regular season. Traditional sports don’t offer that type of competition. Brands are used to just dealing with teams in the top media markets in the world.”

The average age of Overwatch players is in their early twenties, which is also a key demographic many brands are targeting these days across multiple verticals.

“While audiences are aging in traditional sports, we have digital natives who consume content differently from the generations before them,” Nanzer explained. “We’ve seen a lot of interest in this content from digital, social and linear broadcasters. Our distribution platform will account for a mix of platforms. This is content that is being produced for a digital native audience and I expect digital will make up a large portion of our broadcast strategy.”

TBS has featured Overwatch competition as part of its ELeague, ESPN has aired multiple Blizzard esports competitions over the past few years, and NBC Sports recently jumped into the competitive game with Rocket League.

While Overwatch League content will appear on Activision-owned MLG.TV, Nanzer said it will not be the exclusive platform where all of that content lives.

“We’re looking to distribute the Overwatch League content broadly,” Nanzer said. “It’s strategically important to have our own distribution channel for content. The Twitch deal Blizzard signed covers a lot of our content, but that does not include the Overwatch League shows that we’re looking to connect with gamers across multiple platforms.”

The good news for brands is that Activision Blizzard isn’t the only company going this route, thanks to Riot Games’ move to franchise the structured approach.

“Since we announced the Overwatch League back in November, other games are taking a similar approach,” Nanzer said. “That stems from the fact that teams really need stability to grow. It’s hard to attract and keep sponsors on board when there are no guaranteed spots to stay in the league, and you have to make decisions in the moment to stay in the league. We think creating that consistency is vital to have these teams grow and thrive. It’s a step in right direction for esports.”


Hulu And Bleacher Report Hire New CMOs

Kelly Campbell has been appointed as Hulu’s new chief marketing officer. Campbell, who joins the company after serving as managing director of global growth marketing for Google Cloud, will be tasked with setting and driving Hulu’s overall marketing strategy across SVOD and live TV services and will oversee Hulu’s brand marketing, performance marketing, media, content marketing, creative, entertainment publicity and consumer research teams. Campbell will report to Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins.

“Kelly is a respected, data-driven marketing expert who has consistently proven her ability to develop effective strategies and build strong, high-performing teams,” said Hopkins. “With her deep background in performance marketing and in building strong connections between brands and their consumers, she’s going to be an invaluable addition to Hulu as we enter the next chapter of our business.”

According to the press release from Hulu, “Campbell will work closely with the company’s technology, distribution, content and product leadership to drive Hulu’s subscription acquisition efforts and elevate awareness of Hulu’s brand and content offerings. She is also charged with developing the strategic vision and voice behind Hulu’s consumer marketing campaigns.”

Howard Mittman, a 12-year veteran at Condé Nast, is leaving the publisher to join Turner-owned sports website Bleacher Report as chief revenue officer and its first CMO. According to Bloomberg, Mittman will work on new advertising opportunities for brands such as AT&T Inc., Gatorade and Ford Motor Co. Mittman will report to CEO Dave Finocchio.

Blue Apron has had a shaky start since its IPO in June—most notably after Amazon acquired Whole Foods and started its own meal-kit delivery service. And now, COO and senior advisor Matt Wadiak is forced to hit the chopping block as a result, the freshly minted public announced.

“As a co-founder and member of our executive leadership team, Matt Wadiak has played an instrumental role in driving forward Blue Apron’s mission to make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone,” said CEO Matt Salzberg. “His contributions to the company have been immeasurable and we thank Matt for his unwavering dedication over the past five years.” 

In a corresponding move, Tim Smith, vice president of supply chain, was promoted to senior vice president of consumer products.

“We recognize that everyone has varying needs and preferences when it comes to home cooking,” Smith said. “The goal of the consumer products team is to consistently deliver new and differentiated products under the strong Blue Apron brand we’ve built. We believe this will enable us to cater to more households, and in turn expand our community of passionate home cooks.”

Twentieth Century Fox Film has a new senior vice president of worldwide theatrical marketing in Pia Chaozon, who will be tasked with both global development and execution for marketing initiatives across Fox films.

“From both a strategic and execution standpoint, Pia’s innovative thinking and proven track record will be invaluable assets for our entire marketing group,” said Jonathan Helfgot, executive vice president of marketing. “As we continue to find new and more effective ways to engage consumers, she will play a key leadership role in ensuring our content resonates with consumers around the world.”

Before joining Fox, Chaozon held numerous senior marketing roles at Netflix, where she most recently was head of international originals marketing. Previous to that, Chaozon worked for HBO as director of consumer marketing for original series.

Katie Stern has been named general manager for Game Developers Conference (GDC) events.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be joining up with GDC to help the game industry and the event keep growing and flourishing,” said Stern. “I very much look forward to talking to the community about what’s next for the event over the next few years.”

In a corresponding move, Victoria Petersen, who has directly programed much of the content at the show for the last five years, will step into an overall content lead role for GDC as lead conference manager.

GDC, an event that serves gaming professionals, returns to the Moscone Center in San Francisco from March 19, 2018.

Meggan Scavio has been appointed by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’ (AIAS) board of directors to the position of president and CEO. The former GDC boss will now oversee the DICE Summit.

“Meggan has deep roots in bringing our industry’s best and brightest together—across discipline and company lines—to share knowledge and celebrate the labor of love that advances the art of gamemaking,” said Min Kim, chairman of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences and co-founder at Bonfire Studios. “The AIAS Board deeply respects her contributions at the GDC, and we’re looking forward to seeing her at the helm of the AIAS—to continue her story of bringing our industry together.”

Ramon Laguarta has been appointed as PepsiCo’s president. According to the company, Laguarta “will shape PepsiCo’s corporate strategy, work closely with business units to deliver top line growth, drive productivity to enable this growth and invest in new areas of disruptive innovation, all in support of the company’s previously announced Performance with Purpose 2025 agenda.”

Mike Newquist is leaving Ticketmaster after two years and is joining the UFC as its new vice president of event marketing. The world’s preeminent MMA outfit also promoted Stacey Allen to vice president of consumer products.

Vimeo appointed Anjali Sud as its new CEO. Sud has been with Vimeo since 2014, where she was initially hired to lead marketing and drove revenue growth through customer acquisition and retention, expansion and brand building.

“Vimeo is entering an exciting chapter with a renewed focus on the core value that makes our brand special and beloved around the globe—being the No. 1 platform to empower video creators,” said Sud. “With a world-class brand, exceptional product and thriving community, we are uniquely positioned to define new standards of storytelling and lead the $10 billion video creator market.”

Groupon has named Aaron Cooper as president of North America. Cooper first joined Groupon in 2010 and served as CMO.

“Aaron has deep, scale e-commerce experience and is a true champion of our mission to become the daily habit in local,” said Groupon CEO Rich Williams. “Aaron understands the enormous opportunity that we have in front us and has both the operational and strategic strengths to help expand our marketplace for merchants and customers.”

“Bringing our three North American businesses under the same roof will enable us to take a more holistic view of our business and maximize resources on behalf of our customers and merchants,” said Cooper. “We’ll continue to take all of the ways Groupon makes life less boring and present them to our customers in a way that excites them and keeps them coming back over and over again.”

Sony Pictures has tapped a trio of executives to new roles for their TV production division. Jeff Frost was promoted to president of Sony Pictures TV Studios, and drama development heads Jason Clodfelter and Chris Parnell have been promoted to co-presidents with a focus on creative matters. The announcement was made by recently minted CEO Tony Vinciquerra.

“Jeff, Chris and Jason are the perfect team to run our US television business,” Vinciquerra said. “Over the last several weeks, I have been able to see first-hand the strong leadership qualities possessed by Jeff, Chris and Jason, the high energy and vitality of everyone in their groups and throughout SPT and the outstanding collaboration that exists between them all. I am confident they will not only grow our robust television business, but also strengthen the integration between SPT and SPE’s other lines of business and with the other Sony Group companies.”

Sanjay Gupta is joining Uber India as their new head of marketing to further strengthen the ridesharing company’s brand and presence in the country.

“I’m excited to join Uber at such an opportune time,” Gupta said. “Uber is redefining urban mobility and has created a unique experience for riders and driver partners across the country. I’m looking forward to working with the super-talented team at Uber and take it to its next phase of growth in India.”

Jennifer Gillon is joining Retro Fitness as their new marketing director. The national fitness chain is looking to expand into new markets. They currently have 155 gyms open in 16 states.

“Jennifer comes to Retro Fitness loaded with an arsenal of knowledge in guest journey design, communication cadence, creative development, franchisee relations and field marketing,” said Retro Fitness CEO and founder Eric Casaburi. “She’s demonstrated a proven ability to launch local and national campaigns based on consumer insight and possesses strong strategic analysis skills when designing and implementing financial, media, and marketing plans. We expect big things from her and know she is ready to infuse her ideas into our already fast-growing fitness brand to influence our overall success.”

Gillon spent the previous seven years at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, most recently as program manager, customer relationship marketing.

Influencer Jake Paul, who exited Disney Channel’s Bizaardvark mid-season on Saturday, is joining music streaming network LiveXLive Studios as its newest contributing social editor and content creator.

“Jake Paul has quickly demonstrated that he can create music-related content that resonates with young audiences by the millions,” said Robert Ellin, founder and CEO of LiveXLive. “With his music career launching at the same time that we’re expanding our original content production and live music streaming deals, this couldn’t be a better match.”

LiveXLive is developing and launching music news programming, documentaries, specials and long-and-short-form content, which are designed to complement live streams for music festivals and events.

Jeff Marcoux has been hired to serve as TeleTech’s vice president of product marketing. Marcoux formerly was a senior executive interface to Microsoft clients’ CMOs.

ELeague co-founder WME|IMG is losing four of its esports staff members. Tobias Sherman, global head of esports, Lilia Russo Sherman, director of strategy and engagement, Imari Oliver, vice president of esports sales and global partnerships and agent Simon Abitbol have all left the entertainment and sports agency after two years.

Genius Brands International has promoted Deb Pierson to senior vice president of global content distribution and marketing, and Lloyd Mintz to senior vice president of worldwide consumer products.

Dave Riggs has been hired by CSE Talent to serve as executive vice president of talent marketing for the company.

Rex Jackson has been promoted from vice president of marketing and sales to general manager for Legoland Florida.

Apple is adding to its marketing muscle by tapping Dwayne Johnson for a new commercial promoting Siri.

(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated daily until Friday, July 28. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at editorial@alistdaily.com.)

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

Lionsgate And Unity Unlock Marketing And Monetization Model For VR Ads

Brands are experimenting to discover the right pieces to the virtual reality puzzle and figure out how the visceral vertical can provide viable non-linear value in their marketing pipelines.

One of the leaders of this movement is the world of cinema professionals, who are working toward creating premium tie-in experiences for big-budget movies.

Movie megalith Lionsgate, along with Unity, the world’s largest VR development company, might have formed their own tangram by way of “Virtual Room,” an interactive VR advertisement and storytelling format for the forthcoming film Jigsaw.

The immersive ad format and short-form experience gives players and horror buffs the ability to interact with objects as they learn more about the new film and decide how they save themselves from impending doom and gloom. The film is set to hit theaters on October 27. The VR feature is seemingly a perfect fit for the eighth and latest installment in the Saw horror franchise, which involves escape-room horror.

“We’re always looking for new and innovative ways of shining a spotlight on our upcoming film releases and engaging the passionate fans who seek them out,” David Edwards, senior vice president of digital marketing at Lionsgate, told AListDaily. “The rich film vocabulary that the Saw franchise has amassed throughout its storied history, and the new directions taken in this October’s Jigsaw—to embrace and evolve those iconic story elements—are an ideal fit for the VR medium. . . . With this immersive ad opportunity specifically, and through our Jigsaw marketing campaign in total, we’re incredibly excited for the chance to frighten, delight and intrigue horror fans, steadily preparing them in the months and weeks to come for a new vision of Saw.

Virtual Room is part of a pilot program designed to showcase Unity’s capabilities in bringing engaging VR ads to the forefront.

“Unity is enabling advertising in two ways through the Virtual Room program—by using our engine to make the advertiser creative, and using our network of content developers and apps to distribute that experience,” Agatha Bochenek, head of mobile and VR and AR advertising at Unity Technologies, told AListDaily. “The Virtual Room ad format will be a sandbox environment for brands to build their stories with high-quality content, and will include objects and interactions that reflect the brand and ultimately drive positive awareness and engagement.”

Bochenek believes Virtual Room is equivalent to the 30-second ad spot of VR and will become an integrated part of the moviemaking process in the future, expecting it to stretch across a diverse portfolio where a user can either be immersed in a children’s movie while being surrounded by a cartoon-like world, or a film where they’re thrown straight into an action sequence.

The challenge of developing such VR advertising will be to use it respectfully so that doesn’t overwhelm users, Bochenek says. “It will be a fascinating evolution to see, and I’m excited about it from a consumer perspective as well.”

The partnership with Lionsgate to create such experiences also open new avenues for Unity developers to monetize content, which till now has been limited to micro transactions and in-app purchases.

“Our secret sauce is putting development tools and technologies into the hands of the world’s greatest storytellers—the brands themselves,” Bochenek says. “Whether it’s fear, thrill, amusement, love, awe, or simply escapism, the immersive storytelling format of a movie is incredibly powerful. And movie ads or trailers are meant to evoke similar feelings in a shorter form. When you compare a flat screen to being within a VR experience, people can feel so much more. It can create a stronger emotional connection, and be a very powerful way of engaging a user to convey a key message, encouraging more people to want to see the film.”

The interactive experience is created within the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) emerging ad experience guidelines.

“In a new space, it’s common to experiment and approach things differently. And while innovation is crucial to the success of a new medium, the many options can be daunting,” Bochenek says. “The IAB, and the members of the VR committee, including Unity, want to ensure the ad experience is scaleable and assure successful parameters to meet advertiser ROI. The best way to do that is to create standards that allow for creativity without the potential failure of an unproven idea.”

Lionsgate has long embraced VR and AR from a marketing perspective. They have launched promotional VR efforts for past film releases, often alongside major technology partners like Samsung and Qualcomm, ranging from games to complex and fully interactive room-scale experiences to simpler, behind-the-scenes 360-degree and 3D video features.

“Cinemagoers have always wanted to enter into the worlds of their favorite films,” Edwards says. “VR allows for exactly that.”

‘Atomic Blonde’ Kicks Its Marketing Into High Gear

Atomic Blonde kicks and punches its way into theaters Thursday, so Universal Pictures has been fueling the hype for the debut of its femme fatale with female-centric marketing surrounding Charlize Theron as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton with campaign slogans like, “fight like a girl” and “a woman’s place is on top.”

Based on the graphic novel The Coldest CityAtomic Blonde takes place in 1989 Germany on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Universal embraced the neon 1980s aesthetic with its advertisements, combining black-and-white images with neon pink. Fans were able to create their own on the official website, complete with their own custom alias. For every Atomic Blonde alias image shared on social media and tagged #AtomicBlonde, Universal will donate $1 to the It Gets Better Foundation, supporting LGBTQ youth.

Stoli Vodka and Universal Pictures partnered on a co-branded multimedia campaign that includes a number of TV spots, print, digital and social media content. The US campaign includes a 1980s-themed Pandora digital station, featuring music from the Atomic Blonde soundtrack and of course, plenty of screen time for the spirits brand. The “Atomic Blonde”—Stoli on ice with a lemon twist—has been named the official drink of the film. Stoli is also holding a sweepstake for fans. The grand prize winner will receive a trip for two to Germany to visit the Berlin Spy Museum.

An 8-bit online game was also introduced online, in which players must fight their way through wave after wave of attackers. Atomic Blonde is directed by David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick, so there’s a good chance a whole lot of people in this film are going to get punched in the face. Behind-the-scenes featurettes, including Theron’s fight training, have been shared leading up to the film’s premiere—highlighting the fact that the leading actress performs her own choreography.

A special Snapchat Lens was also released that dresses users with blonde hair and dark sunglasses. The film also made itself known at two of the biggest fan conventions this year with an IGN party at E3 in June and with a screening at San Diego Comic-Con that was complemented with with a free happy hour.

Following the success of DC’s Wonder Woman, audiences are prepped for a powerful female lead, but the record-breaking comic book film is a hard act to follow in terms of revenue. Atomic Blonde is projected to gross around $20 million for its opening weekend.

Ready At Dawn Explains How ‘Lone Echo’ Moves VR Industry And Esports Forward

Oculus is currently in the middle of its “Summer of Rift” campaign, which features a limited price reduction to $399 of the Rift VR headset.

But what’s the point of buying a new headset when you don’t know what games to get? Oculus has that area covered, too, with free gameplay trials of some of its hottest games, particularly Lone Echo, which launched last week exclusively for the Rift.

Lone Echo was developed by Ready at Dawn Studios, which made a name for itself with the Victorian Era, supernatural sci-fi horror action game The Order: 1886 for PlayStation 4. What makes Lone Echo an especially interesting game for Oculus users is that it’s actually two games merged into one. There’s the single-player story, where players take the role of a sentient AI named Jack who uses a robotic body to explore a space station alongside the computer-controlled human character Captain Olivia Rhodes. Then there is the multiplayer component, Echo Arena, which is a kind of VR sport that Oculus is presenting as an esport like it has with The Unspoken.

Echo Arena was awarded Best VR Game at E3 this year, where professional esports teams The Immortals and Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) went head-to-head. In it, teams of four compete against each other in a zero gravity arena by passing a disc and stunning opposing players to score goals. Ru Weerasuriya, founder, president, studio head and creative director at Ready at Dawn Studios, described it to AListDaily as “a full-contact VR sport set in the Lone Echo world. It’s a mix of rugby-meets-ultimate frisbee—all mixed together.”

Both games are under the Lone Echo brand, and the multiplayer mode was created when the developer decided to explore the social aspects of VR. Echo Arena is included with Lone Echo, but it’s also offered as a standalone game that will be free to play until October courtesy of a partnership with Intel.

“We wanted to give something to the VR community,” said Weerasuriya. “Intel, Ready at Dawn and Oculus decided to make it free for three months so everybody could jump in and play.”

Ru Weerasuriya, founder, president, studio head and creative director at Ready at Dawn Studios

Lone Echo came from a conversation Weerasuriya had with Oculus’ vice president of content, Jason Rubin, where they discussed transitioning content from short VR apps to full-length AAA games. Although Lone Echo won’t necessarily be the same length as a Call of Duty game, Weerasuriya said that it will help bridge the gap and pave the way for more AAA VR games.

In addition to presenting the game at tentpole events like E3, Weerasuriya said that Ready at Dawn and Oculus have been promoting Echo Arena through non-traditional means.

“We’re accustomed to making games and using traditional marketing and PR means like TV trailers,” he explained. “This time, it was through Oculus Connect and building a community as soon as we started the beta. We were surprised to see how the community attached to it an evangelized the game. As that happened, we realized that we wanted this to build up through the grassroots and players. It’s a very refreshing way to approach our players.”

As for getting more people to try VR for the first time, Weerasuriya said that “there are many entry points, depending on which platform you want to use, and there are some cool experiences for Gear VR. Luckily for us, there are enough competitors in the market between all the different platforms so that you can get a start with VR.”

Weerasuriya talked about how Oculus has been working to lower the barrier to entry for VR, stating that even viewers like the Samsung Gear VR may be a good starting point for many, as it provides a sense of immersion that proves how VR isn’t just another gimmick as it might have been in the past.

Additionally, the lowered price of the Oculus Rift has made it possible for many to adopt premium VR, but there’s still a ways to go before we see mass adoption.

“We’ve seen a whole bunch of players jump into Echo Arena because they got a Rift recently,” said Weerasuriya. “I think what’s keeping people from getting into VR now is the accessibility of the technology, but there are VR cafés coming up. It’s hard to convey VR through traditional means, so we need word-of-mouth to drive it right now.”

Games like Echo Arena will be critical to the success of VR because of its social elements. Coincidentally, Ready at Dawn’s first experience with VR was through Sony’s Project Morpheus, which later became PlayStation VR. Weerasuriya told a story about the connection he felt to an avatar that handed him something.

“That person felt real to me,” Weerasuriya explained. “So, we went back and realized that it’s one thing to have a presence inside a world, but it’s another thing to have immersion, which Oculus Touch gives you—the tactile feeling of being inside the world. Once those ingredients were there, we wondered what would happen if we added more people to the experience. So, we thought about the kinds of connections we wanted to build with players through the gameplay mechanics we built in Lone Echo. That turned into Echo Arena, a game where social interaction—speaking, gesturing and grabbing onto someone—matters. That social interaction is what builds it as a sport.”

However, the story leads to the question of why the developer decided to work with Oculus. Weerasuriya stated that it came down to creating diversity in the VR space.

“Let’s say that everybody that went into VR did similar things. You’d have a stale ecosystem. Facebook and Oculus want to build diversity. Deciding to work with Oculus was because Jason [Rubin] was there and understood that diversity needed to exist. We could bring something the VR didn’t yet have. For us, it was about exploring some of the themes that we had in past games but in VR and having a computer controlled player that you could interact with.”

Weerasuriya has been asked on numerous occasions whether The Order was being made in VR, which it isn’t, but fans will definitely see some elements in Lone Echo.

The bigger challenge for Lone Echo was presenting the game’s single-player experience and its entirely different multiplayer mode.

“That has been very interesting and tricky because we originally started by just showing Lone Echo at E3 last year. However, Echo Arena was ready to be shown, so we had to think about how people were going to perceive it. Would they understand that they’re both part of the same game?

“Having them be part of the same IP helped, and once we put people in Lone Echo and moved them to Echo Arena, they understood that all the mechanics were the same. The commonality made it easy to show both games, but we purposefully chose not to show them together over the past few months for one specific reason—we wanted to hold a little bit of secrecy behind the Lone Echo experience so that players could discover the story without too much being revealed.”

The focus then shifted to promoting Echo Arena, because it was likely to attract more people to VR due to the social aspects. Although the game only just recently launched, it is already being promoted as an esport, which could be a risky move.

“We started by saying that Echo Arena needed to be supported by the community, and it will decide whether it becomes an esport. It was hard for us to say that we were going to make a game that was going to be an esport. But with that said, as we were working on it, everyone who saw the game said we were building an esport.

“As much as I wanted to hold true to having the community make the game an esport, having Intel come and talk to us about what they wanted to do with the game—and Oculus encouraging us to embrace the idea—made us think that maybe we could release it to the world as an esport. Intel wanted to do a VR challenge series as we were putting in features like spectator mode, and things seemed to align perfectly. Ultimately, whether or not the game survives will be up to the players, but we invited The Immortals and CLG to play at E3 this year, and it was cool to see esports teams gravitate to it. We’re embracing how people are seeing Echo Arena as an esport, and we’re going to support it as much as the community wants us to.”

Echo Arena supports custom uniforms, so there are branding opportunities there for teams and sponsors. The Immortals and CLG were able to put their uniforms onto their avatars during their E3 match.

So, how will Weerasuriya and company measure success for Lone Echo and Echo Arena, given the limited player base?

“Our bar for success this early on in VR is if people embrace some of the barriers that we’ve been able to break,” Weerasuriya said. “We hope that everyone who gets their hands on this game will celebrate some of the work we’ve put in with the movement models, the immersion, AI, face capturing for the single player story, and the competitive aspect with Echo Arena. That’s our measure of success because we’re at the start of the cycle and the user base needs to grow over the next few years.

“We want people to feel like there’s a future to VR. Maybe someday someone will take something from Lone Echo and do something different with it. That’s how our industry, our games and VR content grows. We’re in the wild west right now—it’s all new. So, having those things become the staples in VR is a measurement for success. The other measurement is how communities will grow around Echo Arena, and we’ve already seen that with the beta. The ultimate measure of success is having your players become your fans and your biggest promoters.”

Mira’s Prism Smart Glasses Opens AR Doors To Brands For Social Activations

Augmented reality start-up Mira debuted its new Prism smart glasses to attendees at VR Con at San Diego Comic-Con over the weekend. The untethered headset will launch this fall and work with Apple iPhones. It will come bundled with a remote control and a suite of games and apps. It’s currently available for pre-order at $99 and will be sold at retail for $149.

Users open an app on their iPhone, slide the phone into the Prism headset and begin exploring interactive holographic content. Prism’s clear lenses enable users to remain present, setting the Mira experience apart from the isolation inherent in portable VR headsets.

“We’re guaranteeing about a dozen AR apps from games to web browsers and 3D design tools at launch,” Ben Taft, co-founder and CEO of Mira, told AListDaily. “We’re also allowing third-party developers to publish their own apps in the app store, some of which will be free and others will be available for purchase.”

Mira has partnered with immersive content studios, including Funktronic Labs, Big Red Button Entertainment and Fuzzy Logic, to create an initial suite of AR experiences for developers to learn from and consumers to play. These experiences range from solo challenges to multiplayer games, including mixed-reality puzzles, holographic chess and digital warship battles. The remote tracks acceleration and rotation and includes a touchpad, trigger and two buttons; it can be used as a fishing rod, laser pointer, paintbrush, steering wheel and magic wand.

“These are studios that have built a handful of VR and AR experiences that we fell in love with, so we reached out to them and asked them to be part of this program with us,” Taft said. “We’ve been working with them to create this first wave of experiences and really shape the platform together.”

Outside of its mass market price point, Prism is marketing its Spectator Mode, which allows users to collaborate and explore in AR. This feature also allows anyone to record video or capture photos of their friends’ experience and share via social media across iPhones and iPads.

“AR is inherently social and inherently shareable, especially with the feature that we built that allows you to share your experience in real-time with someone else, or the fact that you and I can both put on a headset and share an experience together,” Taft said. “That sort of social nature and viral nature allows people to really understand the experience outside of just trying it. They can join in even without a headset, and that shareable aspect of Prism is going to let more people understand the experience before putting on the headset.”

This social and viral component is something Prism is opening up to brands.

“A lot of brands we’re in talks with right now are interested in this shareable component,” Taft explained. “We have an amazing studio pipeline set up so brands that are interested can come to us and we have a handful of vetted 3D content studio partners who are already familiar with our software and the headset, and we pair them with the brand and help them create an experience on top of our platform.”

Mira recently raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Sequoia Capital, Troy Capital Partners, S-Cubed Capital, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Jaunt VR founder Jens Christensen and artist/tech investor will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas.

will.i.am was at VR Con to announce that he invested in Mira because he’s going to incorporate AR into his 2018 global tour. Once AR becomes a part of a concert experience, this will open up new opportunities for brands to literally get into concertgoers’ faces, and also introduce new opportunities to reward fans through everything from sponsored content to contests.

Powered by the Unity 3D game engine, Mira is releasing a software developer kit, enabling creators to develop unique experiences or retool existing VR or gaming assets for use on the Prism headset. Taft said Prism Developer Editions will be sent to studios a few months before the consumer launch of the headset.

“Interested developers can create sophisticated, multiplayer experiences that extend interactions beyond the screen and can easily publish their work to a mass market reaching millions of mobile users,” Taft explained.

The recently announced Apple ARKit will allow developers to create content for Prism.

“ARKit is going to create a wave of experiences that anyone can look at through an iPhone,” Taft said. “It’s going to educate people on a mass scale about the difference between AR and VR.  They’re going to understand virtual objects superimposed in the real world. You can imagine walking around outside and playing a game on your smartphone and then coming home and sliding it into the Prism and bringing that same experience more to life in the environment around you. We’re encouraging all our developers to think about how content lives both in the phone world and in the headset world, and more importantly how they interface with each other.”

Despite Brand Safety Concerns, Google’s Parent Company Alphabet Leads In Global Ad Revenue

Google and YouTube’s parent company Alphabet released its earnings for the second quarter and despite the recent stretch of brand safety concerns, it has come out on top.

The company reported revenues of $3.5 billion in net income on sales of $26 billion. The profit would have been much larger except for a record $2.7 billion European Commission antitrust fine. Despite these concerns for brand safety, specifically with YouTube earlier this year, Google still leads the world in digital ad sales.

Concerns over brand safety had companies pulling out of YouTube ads at a staggering rate. 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 suffered considerable drops in income, too.

Google was charged by European regulators with favoring certain results that were part of its special product advertising program. Alphabet recorded the massive anti-competitive behavior fine as an operating loss in the second quarter, despite the possibility of an appeal.

Regardless of the fine, Alphabet’s reported revenue increased by 23 percent versus the second quarter of 2016 and 23 percent on a constant currency basis.

Alphabet is expected to make $73.8 billion dollars in net digital ad sales in 2017, according to eMarketer. Google represents 33 percent of the world’s $223.7 billion in digital ad revenue this year. Facebook is scheduled to release its earnings Wednesday. They currently sit a distant second at $36 billion.

“You’ve told us to do better when it comes to ad placement,” YouTube CEO Susan Mojcicki said during 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.”

These San Diego Comic-Con VR Activations Brought Franchises To Life

The San Diego Comic-Con is an interactive playground for pop culture fans, and this year’s event included experiential marketing that extended to AR/VR. Visitors to SDCC and the surrounding area were treated to a number of virtual experiences to promote everything from TV and gaming to the biggest upcoming films.

Walking Dead, Posing Fans

AMC partnered with Mountain Dew to create The Walking Dead Encounter—an AR app that allowed fans to pose with virtual walkers (zombies) and take pictures to share on social media. The encounter was part of AMC’s Fan Hub, complete with replica sets from the hit TV series, photo ops and wandering walkers to keep fans on their toes as they wait for Season Eight to air this fall.

Legion Of Fans

FX gave Legion fans the chance to try out the HoloLens and step into the mind of show protagonist, David Haller. Sessions: The Legion Mixed Reality Experience combined actors, environments and augmented reality to recreate key scenes in the show’s first season, as well as a sneak peek at Season Two. Naturally, the experience became a photo op for social sharing.

Marveling At VR

Of course, Marvel was a major presence at the largest comic fan gathering of the year and had its newly announced VR game in tow. Marvel Powers United VR lets players assume the role of some of Marvel’s famous super heroes including Deadpool, Rocket Raccoon, Captain Marvel and The Incredible Hulk. Fans lined up to strap on an Oculus Rift headset and try the game for themselves before it releases in 2018.

Demigorgons, Zombies And Ghosts—Oh, My

In anticipation for Season 2 of Stranger Things, Netflix brought its VR/360-degree experience to the nearby Hilton Gaslamp—transporting fans to the infamous living room of Joyce Byers with Christmas lights and all. The experience was nominated for an Emmy this year in the Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media Within A Scripted Program category.

Universal brought its VR movie tie-in experience The Mummy: Prodigium Strike—a shooting game where players are equipped with a plastic VR rifle and are challenged to repel a horde of zombies.

Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul was on display at the nearby Omni Hotel, where guests could step into the terrifying world of Paramount’s popular horror franchise.

Creepy Clowns And Replicant Hunting

Speaking of scary, those looking to tackle their fear of clowns could venture onto a creepy bus for FLOAT: A Cinematic VR Experience to promote the upcoming remake of Stephen King’s IT.

Perhaps the most talked-about and elaborate VR activation was Warner Bros.’ Blade Runner 2049 Experience. Inside a small theater, guests donned Gear VR headsets and were whisked away on a futuristic car chase through the city in pursuit of a replicant driver. Rumble seats, headphones and wind made the experience totally immersive until the users’ Spinners (flying cars) crash land onto the street. When the VR headsets were removed, users found themselves inside the recreated world of Blade Runner 2049, complete with elaborate sets and actors. Visitors were screened to make sure they weren’t replicants as colorful characters hung out in a noodle restaurant or lingered nearby.

The experience featured an art gallery that included props from both the new and original films and a Johnnie Walker bar serving whisky in test tubes.

As VR matures and becomes more widely adopted, experiences like these will keep fans talking for many more Comic-Cons to come.

Evil Controllers Looks To Compete In Esports Gaming Market

Ten years ago, Adam Coe was a typical Halo 2 gamer playing in his freshman college dorm room. It was the desire to improve his game that inspired him to create his first custom controller at the age of 19.

Back then, esports was still establishing itself and Coe didn’t know anything about circuitry or hardware modding, but he was able to teach himself using the internet. Afterward, he founded Evil Controllers and became a CEO. The company modifies existing Xbox and PlayStation gamepads with enhancements such as buttons and paddles on the back so that players can perform multiple actions at once, and changeable custom length thumbsticks for improved control. The goal is to provide esports players and gaming enthusiasts with better equipment for markedly greater performance.

Adam Coe, CEO and founder of Evil Controllers

The company plans on launching the Evil Shift controller later this summer, which features small multidirectional paddles on the back for multitasking. The controller is named as such because “we’re focusing on the way the [back] paddle shifts as well as shifting the brand into esports and addressing a need for improvement for esports controllers,” Coe told AListDaily.

Microsoft has already caught on with the professional gaming audience with its Elite Wireless Controller for the Xbox One, and there are rival companies that offer specialized controllers for competitive play. However, Coe believes that there is still room for improvement, and Evil Shift offers modifications to the Elite controller to make customizations easier. For example, Coe demonstrated how he could switch out the modifications on the Evil Shift and customize its functions without having to connect with an external utility program or use a special tool so that they can be quickly adjusted to suit different games and play styles.

Flexibility and customization is the cornerstone of Evil philosophy. Coe explained how the Evil Shift will avoid falling victim to design obsolescence, even as the company continues to work with esports players to improve it.

“The consumer can invest in an Evil Shift and know that when new games come out and new challenges happen, we’ll have solutions,” he said. “They’ll be able to buy [modification] packs without having to buy an entirely new controller. We’ll always be able to maintain and keep up with designs. The idea is that you’ll always be able to update your controller with the latest and greatest technology when it comes to paddle design and thumbsticks.”

Coe said Evil Controllers’ strategy for growing in the esports market included participating in events and getting Evil Shift into the hands of as many consumers as possible and getting feedback. Evil Shift will also be meeting with professional teams for sponsorship partnerships in addition to engaging with the community. The company has already built a following of over 300,000 Facebook fans over the past 10 years.

“We’ll be utilizing all of our resources to maximize the release of the [Evil Shift] controller,” said Coe.

Since the company focuses on modifying first-party controllers, it doesn’t necessarily have to compete with Microsoft’s Elite Wireless Controller. Players can expect the same build quality and circuitry that they’re accustomed to—but improved. The company plans to focus on the design aspects and how the Evil Controller adds more features to their favorite gamepads.

“We hope that getting the word out about those comparisons will be enough to make consumers realize that just because Microsoft made an esports controller doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best or greatest,” said Coe. “There are always improvements and things will always change. We’re very excited about the Evil Shift paddles and the fact that they can be hit from any direction. We feel that it’s a major game changer when you compare it to the Elite Controller.”

The company describes the Evil Shift as having a revolutionary design, but from a marketing perspective, it will be treated as an evolution of what is available now for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Coe said that the company is particularly excited for the Shift controller on PlayStation because there isn’t a leader in the esports controller space for that console yet.

While professional esports players are Evil’s primary users, the controller may also appeal to a more mainstream gaming audience.

“The beauty of the Evil Shift is that it’s beneficial to esports players, but the design aspects make for a more comfortable gaming experience,” said Coe. “So, even if you’re not a hardcore gamer, you’ll still find benefit from performing multiple functions at once. As games come out with more features, players will need to press more buttons. Controllers have evolved from two-or-three buttons to 20 [in some cases]. More casual gamers can play games more easily and comfortably, giving them the ability to grow into being more hardcore gamers.”

How will Evil Controllers reach mainstream gaming audiences and raise awareness that they can improve on their stock controllers?

“By utilizing media outlets and being at tournaments,” Coe said. “We feel that the Evil Controller is superior to the ones out there. We’ve built a customer database over the past 10 years, and they love the controller and feel that it’s better. That, in turn, makes them want to tell other gamers about the controller for a better gaming experience. That’s one way we’ve been organically reaching gamers that aren’t necessarily attending esports events, or watching games on Twitch.”

Brightlocker Community Platform Connects Game Developers With Audiences

BrightLocker wants to help game developers connect directly with their fans. The Austin, Texas-based startup has launched a new platform designed to extend game brands directly with gamers, building a community through exclusive content. The platform also allows developers to crowdfund projects, as well as generate revenue from things like merchandise and inside access to the game development process.

John Burns, COO of Brightlocker, told AListDaily that the person who built this platform previously created the PlayStation Network. Burns spent over 20 years in the games industry at companies like Electronic Arts, Activision and Trion.

“Brightlocker has a lot of experience in direct-to-consumer platforms,” Burns said. “The mission we embarked on 12 months ago was to enable and empower developers to connect more with their players by building a variety of technology platforms.”

Burns said Brightlocker’s platform enables developers to have a deeper and interactive experience with fans and players. The platform takes elements that already exist in the ecosystem—like Twitch—but enables fans to have a deep engagement with their favorite developers and a closer relationship with the development process.

Brightlocker is already working with developers like Descendent Studios (Descent: Underground), Edge Case Games (Fractured Space), Bitbox Studio (Life is Feudal), Dark Tonic Studios (Legends of the Brawl), Bolder Games (Red), Mechanical Boss (Solar Gun), Mirum Studio (Guards!) and No Moon Studios (Midnight) to connect with consumers. There will be hundreds of games on the platform over the course of this year, based on conversations the company has had since GDC this year.

“Developers can use Brightlocker to acquire new players, connect with and engage with long-term and new fans in making development decisions, and even crowdfund games,” Burns explained.

From the consumer perspective, Burns said Brightlocker allows fans to interact with their favorite games all in one place.

“By engaging with their favorite games, players can get a lot of exclusive content with both physical and in-game items. They can earn influence through guided choices, where a player can help make choices in the game development process, and they participate through interactivity, which will be incorporated into our own livestream technology on the platform,” Burns said.

One developer, which is fairly early on in the development process, will offer a variety of choices for gamers every three days. Another developer will have an artist livestreaming every Tuesday, while the executive producer will livestream every Friday.

“We’re agnostic when it comes to livestreaming platforms, but we believe our platform brings a richness to the experience that doesn’t exist on other platforms,” Burns explained. “Facebook and Twitch have big audiences and we won’t be competing with those platforms on day one, but we’ll have a strong audience early on and we expect it to grow exponentially.”

While everything on Brightlocker will be flexible for developers to price, including things like a one-on-one livestream with a game producer or getting a copy of the game or swag, Burns said the typical subscription will be $4.99 and $9.99 per month.

“Some elements are free, and there will be a lot of offerings from game developers that don’t require a subscription or microtransaction,” Burns said. “Some things will require a one-time payment and others will be based on a subscription.”

Brightlocker also incorporates a crowdfunding option, although this model differs from other companies.

“We looked at the space and felt it needed to evolve,” Burns said. “If someone comes to our platform, they can subscribe to a game they like or they can microtransact to the various benefits. This allows developers to crowdfund through microtransactions without requiring players to give out a large amount of money. Players can feel comfortable that they have a long-term relationship with the developer. There’s no equity funding.”

Brightlocker will support all types of game developers, from early concept to post launch, as well as all platforms including PC, console, mobile and VR.