EA Commissioner Explains Rise of FIFA Esports

This weekend, the best FIFA 17 players from around the globe are in Berlin competing for a piece of the $400,000 cash prize, including $160,000 first place purse. Over six million players competed in the FIFA FUT Champions Weekend League since the launch of FIFA 17, to secure one of the 192 live qualifications for the Season 1 and Season 2 Regional Finals. After six regional events, the top 32 players flew to Germany to crown a champion in the inaugural FIFA Ultimate Team Championship Series. Overall, $1.3 million will have been awarded through this series by this weekend.

The competition has been broadcast on YouTubeTwitch and Facebook, but the Finals will be broadcast across top sports networks around the world including ESPN, BT Sport, Movistar, MTG, and SPORT1, bringing competitive FIFA to more than 70 countries and millions of living rooms around the world. In the U.S., ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes will air the competition live on May 20 at 11 am EST. ESPN2 will air an exclusive pregame show at 10:30 am EST.

Brent Koning, FIFA Competitive Gaming Commissioner, told AListDaily that this new competition is the evolution of EA Sports’ FIFA franchise as an esport.

“Competitive FIFA has existed years before the FIFA Ultimate Team Championship Series was created, but it was very fragmented with concurrent tournaments, multiple winners, rule differences between tournaments,” Koning explained. “With the EA Competitive Gaming Division, along with the valuable support of FIFA, we’ve been able to consolidate tournaments, optimize the organizational structure and cultivate rapid growth. Competitive FIFA today is now mainstream entertainment – we’re talking millions of competitors, millions of spectators, mainstream sports broadcasts and more. It is amazing.”

Koning added that the ultimate goal for this competition was to move competitive FIFA into the mainstream across the globe. The FIFA Ultimate Team Championship will be watchable on mainstream sports broadcasts in roughly 70 percent of the FIFA player base’s home markets.

“We’re attracting not only millions of players, but millions of spectators as well,” Koning said. “To make competitive FIFA mainstream, you must capture a large, casual fan base who are already familiar with the sport of soccer’s rule sets. The best way to do this is to bring competitive FIFA to top-tier sports television – ESPN, BT Sport and more. We’re accomplishing this with the FIFA Ultimate Team Championship.”

More than six million players have competed in FUT Champions and thousands have played in the live events to get down to the top 32 video gamers. Konig said this inaugural series has taught him that community is king.

“They have been very supportive of competitive FIFA, and we are always looking for better ways to integrate content, showcase players, and make competitive FIFA more fun to watch and play,” Koning said.

Koning said the upcoming season of competitive FIFA will add brands and sponsors to the competition.

“With the goal of making stars of all of our players, we know we need to give them opportunities to compete, and that happens when you bring endemic and non-endemic brands into the fold,” Koning said. “Our goal is to make sure that we maintain a high level of competition, production quality, and create enough opportunity to support aspiring pros, our current pros, and drive the eco-system forward into the future.”

While the majority of esports games appeal to a global audience, FIFA crosses over with mainstream soccer (or football) fans worldwide. It’s easy to follow, and translates well to television broadcasts.

The extensive history of FIFA esports, coupled with the learnings of the EA Competitive Gaming Division with other titles, has helped in building out this new competitive series.

“Sharing best practices is important for any new team, be it at a large company like EA or a startup,” Koning explained. “I work with the central teams and other Commissioners at EA (for Madden and Battlefield) to make sure we are learning from each other, sharing successes and locating areas for improvement. We are lucky at EA to have a dedicated central team focused on implementing best practices across teams who speak to each other regularly. I don’t think you have the opportunity for collaboration as easily accessible in most companies.”

EA also has a longstanding relationship with FIFA. Koning said that organization sees the importance of esports and competitive gaming in soccer culture and it allows EA to work together with FIFA towards the common goal of spreading the love of soccer and competition worldwide.

Established soccer clubs like Manchester City, West Ham United and VFL Wolfsburg have invested in FIFA esports players, while Valencia launched a Rocket League team and Schalke bought a League of Legends roster.

“The level of integration varies by club, but is undoubtedly a way for them to engage with a younger, digitally-native demographic in a clean and low barrier of entry way,” Koning said. “At the end of the day, you put a ball in a net. That is universal.”

The Show Must Go On: TV Marketing Through Tie-In Games

What do TV audiences do when the show is over? Brands are keeping fans engaged through tie-in video games.

Fans of The Walking Dead who also play the official mobile game, No Man’s Land, can unlock weekly content that directly ties into the seventh season. In a real-time partnership between developer Next Games and AMC, fans will be able to unlock exclusive weekly content in the game that features new playable characters as they appear on the show bonus themes, special cuts and behind-the-scenes videos.

For The Walking Dead: Road to Survival tie-in mobile game, Scopely put influencers in the game to amplify promotion. Partnering with superfans PockySweets from Japan and MatPat (The Film Theorists) from the US, Scopely and Skybound gained the benefit of tens of millions of YouTube fans worldwide in addition to their own.

“A successful branded game needs to innovate in design and features to reach beyond the core and attract new fans,” Jamie Berger, VP of Marketing at Scopely told AListDaily. “If you are a fan of the comics and download Road to Survival because it’s a Walking Dead game that’s great. If you then join an in-game faction and recruit a friend of yours who may only be a casual fan of the IP then you are able to create sustainable growth within the existing audience.”

Netflix has fans on the run with an 8-bit arcade in which players can assume the role of one of four characters from popular Netflix shows like Stranger ThingsOrange Is The New BlackMarco Polo or Narcos. The game, playable online, challenges users to navigate their respective character through environments related to theirs, jumping to avoid enemies and collecting items like frozen waffles (Stranger Things) or roosters (Orange Is The New Black).

recent study by Deep Focus found that 84 percent of Gen Z respondents browse an internet-connected device while watching TV. In fact, those ages 18-to-24 spend nearly 19.5 hours on apps or the internet through a smartphone each week.

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Series took place between seasons three and five, and Prison Break: Conspiracy was a prequel to the award-winning show.

Tie-in games open new marketing avenues and enhance the viewing experience, bridging gaps between seasons while attracting new fans, especially when friends invite them to play.

‘The Martian VR Experience’ Is One Big Leap For Twentieth Century Fox

After multiple delays, Fox Innovation Lab launched The Martian VR Experience for PlayStation VR and HTC Vive on November 15. The $20 experience was created by RSA Films and The Virtual Reality Company, executive produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Robert Stromberg. The interactive experience was built using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 technology and marks the first public release from the Fox Innovation Lab.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Fox Innovation Lab president, Mike Dunn, told [a]listdaily that The Martian VR Experience blurs the line between games and movies. “Games are bringing more emotion to gameplay and we’re bringing some interactivity to our film VR experiences,” Dunn said.

Following the plot of Scott’s Oscar-nominated film, users can interact with the surface of Mars, steer at zero gravity through space, drive a rover across the red planet and play basketball with potatoes in a variety of mini-games as a virtual Mark Watney. The experience uses footage from the film starring Matt Damon to connect these interactive elements.

Dunn said the Fox Innovation Lab first explored virtual reality with a Wild 360-degree experience from Felix and Paul Studios featuring Reese Witherspoon. “We did a test shoot on Wild and proved to our studio and creative execs that VR can be a narrative emotional experience,” Dunn said. “The Martian matched the target early adopter VR audience and we felt we could take them to Mars in a new way.”

Robert Stromberg, co-founder and chief creative officer of The Virtual Reality Company, explained to [a]listdaily that multiple companies were involved in the development of this experience. “It’s still a new frontier of where everybody is jostling for all of these answers on how to make VR work,” he said. “We worked with the Q Department for sound and The Third Floor for the game controls. You have to have the right companies and specialties in a specific order, just as you would put together production on a film.”

Stromberg said additional mini-games were added to the experience after the positive reception they received. Dunn also added that the team targeted a 25-30 minute experience that is broken up into interactive segments, which can be replayed. “We weren’t sure if consumers would be comfortable in headsets more than 25-30 minutes at that time,” Dunn said.

The goal was always to create a VR experience that could be sold directly to consumers. “Some of the other studios are focused on the marketing angle of VR, but we wanted to create a commercial experience and help to shape the marketplace,” Dunn said.

The Martian VR Experience, which debuted at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), was accepted into the prestigious New Frontier Program at Sundance and is the recipient of the Cannes Silver Lion in Digital Craft as well as the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) Next VR Award. The VR experience missed the theatrical window as well as two home entertainment windows, in part, because the hardware wasn’t ready. Now that PS VR has launched, The Martian VR Experience is available across two platforms.

The Fox Innovation Lab did release a non-interactive teaser of The Martian VR Experience on Samsung Gear VR, which became one of the most-watched VR experiences on that platform.

“For future products, we’d like to have a mobile experience that could be played untethered,” Dunn said. “We’re very bullish on the expansion of mobile VR.”

The Fox Innovation Lab was established to drive the advancement of groundbreaking technology and new consumer experiences across all platforms and distribution models. The Lab works closely with production, marketing and distribution across all Twentieth Century Fox divisions as well as key external partners to advance next generation technologies including 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range, mobile content experiences, and virtual, augmented and mixed reality, all featuring immersive audio.

The Fox Innovation Lab also serves as a research hub, demonstrating and testing technologies with consumers throughout the development process to obtain qualitative data and hands-on feedback in order to bring innovative and premium products to market. Dunn said that all current VR, AR and mixed reality platforms, as well as some future platforms, are tested inside the lab.

“The idea behind the lab is to get out in front of media on the horizon and actually partake in those media,” Dunn said. “We started very early with VR, and we hope that we’ll be out in front of that media in terms of knowledge and production capabilities, and also introduce established and upcoming filmmakers in that media.”

Dunn believes the key filmmakers participating in VR today are going to try to push the emotional boundaries of storytelling. “At first, entering VR as more like a video game, but talking with Stromberg and Felix and Paul, they’re going to bring emotion to this medium. It’s an art form, nevertheless, and these guys have game.”

Additionally, the lab is working with filmmakers across North America, Europe and China. “There are a lot of filmmakers very interested in this medium,” Dunn said.

GameStop CEO Discusses Nintendo NX, New Consoles And VR

GameStop is undergoing a retail transition as it expands its ThinkGeek footprint, doubles down on independent game publishing through GameTrust, and continues to develop original mobile and social games through Kongregate. But the retailer remains focused on its core business of selling new and used games, as is evident with its new TV and online push for pre-owned games through its “Goat” campaign.

At the recent GameStop Investors Day in Dallas, we sat down with GameStop CEO Paul Raines to talk about new game consoles, Nintendo’s mobile play, and how important retail is for virtual reality platforms in this exclusive interview.

What role do you see new consoles from Sony and Microsoft playing for GameStop?

We expect to be pretty dominant on new consoles, and the reason we’re dominant is because we have the PowerUp Rewards program with 46 million members around the world. We have those people on file, and we know how much trade credit they have at home that they bought from us. So it’s easy to market to them and say, “Hey Mr. Gaudiosi, you’ve got $48. Why don’t you bring that in and trade it against the new Xbox or PlayStation?” So we anticipate that we’ll see some new consoles in the next few years. We don’t like to talk about that because our partners get upset if we jump ahead, so we’ll let them disclose that. Consoles are good for us any way you slice it.

Are you seeing excitement through PowerUp Rewards members around the Nintendo NX?

There is some excitement around NX. Lately here, we’ve been hearing a lot more buzz than we have in the past. Nintendo is interesting in that they really are able to keep things as quiet as they can for a while. And then they just lost their leader, so they’ve gone through a mourning period and so forth. NX sounds exciting. We’re looking forward to it. They’re very innovative in everything that they do. I hope that they come out with something exciting and innovative. I think we’ll be dominant distributor of that platform.

Even though the Wii U didn’t repeat the Wii’s success?

Wii U was disappointing to everybody, including them. They made some bold bets, and maybe some of them didn’t work out. But they have a lot of creativity there. They’re a very innovative group of people, so we never count out Nintendo. Even now it’s incredible how strong some of their IP is—Pokémon, for example. We could have a Pokémon weekend this weekend at GameStop and we would break sales records just because every time they put out a new game they have a very loyal fan base. Super Mario, Zelda, all those IPs have a huge, loyal fan base.

That fan base is going to potentially get bigger with their mobile reach. Do you think Nintendo mobile games will get new fans interested in other Nintendo products?

Yeah, there are a lot of people who have never played a Super Mario game on a DS. A lot of the kids today have grown up only playing small games on their phones. As you introduce that exciting Nintendo IP and those characters, they’re going to want more of that. We think that will push them into our stores to see the big games. They’ll go, “Wow, there’s actually a game I can play for months and months instead of a few days.” That will be good for us. It will be very good for Nintendo, and we’re very positive on it.

Virtual reality is hot right now with the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. What role do you feel VR will play with your business moving forward?

VR is exciting from just the pure gameplay experience. It fulfills a lot of your dreams and fantasies about gameplay because you no longer have to stare at the screen. You can look anywhere. You can see who’s behind you. You can see who’s above you. So it’s exciting technology. It will require higher processing power. That’s why Oculus and HTC require these high-end PCs that are going to process and render all those graphics. Sony is able to use their PS4, so that’s good.

We’ve seen all of the VR players and a few that haven’t come out yet. We’re excited about it. The other thing is VR has applications that go beyond gaming. I’ve seen some sports applications that are unbelievable, travel applications. I even saw an augmented reality Microsoft display, which was a medical thing where you train people on how to diagnose the heart.

With HoloLens?

Yeah, HoloLens. So we’re excited about all of it. We believe Sony, specifically, will be the dominant player because they have the most titles. One thing about gaming is you have to have great technology and also great IP that people know about. I’m a guy who loves Uncharted. So if you tell me: “Come in and buy our VR headset,” I’ll want to test it first and think about it. But if you said” Come in for the Uncharted 5 game in VR,” that’s a whole different story. Sony has the IP advantage. They also have the install base advantage with the millions of PlayStations out there.

Having said all of that, Oculus is a fantastic technology, as is HTC Vive. So we’re excited about all of it. We think it’s all going to work. Some may work faster than others, and some may be more of a leading edge product, while others may be more of a mainstream product. We have to wait and see how all that plays out.

What roles do you see demos playing for these VR devices?

We’re doing a lot of work on that right now. There are a lot of ideas floating around. First of all, we have a significant part of our footprint that’s big enough for us to do VR demos in. A lot of people say, “Well, you’ve only got 1,500 square foot stores,” but that is the average. We have hundreds of stores that are well over 2,000 square feet, so we can demo in hundreds of stores in the U.S. We can also do some events around the U.S. and different markets working in tandem with Sony—as we’ve done with Nintendo in the past. We could also do traveling exhibits in cooperation with Sony, where you go to malls and demo in cooperation with GameStop.

We’re working hard on a lot of exciting ways to demo the product. I don’t think that will be a barrier to us dominating our competitors. The big boxes always want to demo everything in their store, and we like getting the hands on the product. We also think that our associates are very knowledgeable. They really are the secret weapon for us to teach people how to play, how to use the VR, how to set it up, etc.