Mountain Dew, Doritos Are Hosting Xbox One X Online Auctions

Mountain Dew and Doritos are teaming up to help Microsoft market the Xbox One X console this fall ahead of the November 7 launch.

The two brands have launched a promotion that offers gamers the ability to collect codes on specially marked Doritos snacks and Mountain Dew flavors, including two new limited edition flavors of Game Fuel—Arctic Burst and Tropical Smash. The “Every 60 Seconds” promotion features an online auction program that will give gamers the opportunity to win one of thousands of Xbox One X consoles.

Chauncey Hamlett, senior director of marketing at Mountain Dew

The contest kicks off September 25, allowing customers to bank codes. Starting October 23, each code enters the player into a sweepstake to win an Xbox One X. Then between November 6 and December 15, those points can be used in daily online auctions to win the new console, games and other Xbox prizes.

Chauncey Hamlett, senior director of marketing at Mountain Dew, told AListDaily that the brand saw a lot of success last time it collaborated on an online auction. That promotion gave fans a chance to win an Xbox One in 2013.

“We got over eight million bids from consumers across the country during the ‘Every 2 Minutes’ program,” Hamlett recalled. “It was a campaign that stood out to us because our fans loved it—and we’re looking forward to bringing it back to give them access to one of the most anticipated gaming consoles of the decade. It was an easy decision for us.”

Millions of Mountain Dew products, including Game Fuel, and specially marked bags of Doritos, will include codes at retail.

“Today’s gamers are looking for exciting moments and access to the hottest releases, which is exactly what we’re providing them with through our ‘Every 60 Seconds’ program,” Hamlett said. “It’s fast-paced and provides a ton of opportunity for fans to get their hands on the new Xbox One X. We’ll also have the addition of some exciting offline ways to win an Xbox One X that taps into our fans’ competitive spirits.”

Hamlett said there will be a 360 campaign that connects with gamers across a variety of touchpoints, including in-store, social and digital media and experiential activation. In addition to the “Every 60 Seconds” program, the brand will be announcing other ways for consumers to get their hands on the new Xbox One X in the coming weeks.

Mountain Dew officially teased the campaign this past weekend at the NASCAR race in Richmond, where driver Chase Elliott drove his No. 24 Chevrolet SS with a custom “Every 60 Seconds” paint scheme.

“It’s always exciting when we see natural overlap between the platforms we support—NASCAR and gaming,” Hamlett explained. “In this case, we knew Chase had a history with gaming and saw a natural opportunity for him to be part of the program.”

Hamlett said the Dew and Doritos brands have always looked to make strong connections and drive awareness behind each of their programs with the core gaming community and mainstream consumers.

“Microsoft has been able to generate incredible demand for their Xbox console over the years from a similar type of audience, and we’re excited to be offering consumers a chance to get their hands on the new Xbox One X,” Hamlett added.

Since 2009, Mountain Dew has been active in the marketing of key games, which are typically featured on new Game Fuel flavors. Past games include Titanfall 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and Halo 4. The 20oz bottles and 12-packs of 12oz cans of Mountain Dew Game Fuel for this year will feature imagery from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment’s upcoming game Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Turn Ten Studios’ Forza Motorsport 7.

“As in years past, we want to make sure that the titles featured on Game Fuel flavors resonate with our gamers, and these are certainly two of the most highly anticipated games,” Hamlett said. “Mountain Dew Game Fuel and Doritos are the products gamers turn to most during the heat of competition and will continue to do so during the ‘Every 60 Seconds’ program. As we look to the future, we have some really exciting innovations planned for the Game Fuel line that will be a game changer for our fans.”

Earlier this year, Mountain Dew announced the sponsorship of three global esports powerhouses—Dignitas, Splyce and SK—and launched the second season of the Mountain Dew League, giving amateur esports competitors a chance to become pros.

“For more than a decade, our gaming fans have known that they can always expect the latest and greatest from Dew and Doritos, and we’ve been able to build a strong relationship with them throughout the years,” Hamlett said. “We were successful with the ‘Every 2 Minutes’ program in 2013, and look forward to even better success through the ‘Every 60 Seconds’ campaign in 2017.”

‘Windjammers’ Relaunch Comes To Life With Official Wham-O Flying Power Disc

French retro gaming publisher DotEmu capped off the summer with the release of Windjammers—a classic game that was originally made by SNK for its Neo Geo console in 1994—in August for the PlayStation 4 and Vita consoles. The company’s stated goal is to bring back the classics of yesteryear so that a new generation of gamers can rediscover them as gems on modern gaming systems, and the fast-paced arcade sports game fits the goal nicely.

But DotEmu doesn’t just want players to play the classic game, it wants them to live it like it’s 1994. To that end, the game publisher has partnered with Wham-O, creators of the original frisbee, hula hoop, hacky sack, slip ‘n slide and more, to bring the game to life with a real power disc—an authentic Windjammers-branded frisbee for sale exclusively on Fangamer alongside other Windjammers products.

In Windjammers, players hurl power discs into each other’s goal zones to score points, kind of like air hockey but with special moves. Although the gameplay is relatively simple (it only supports two players, and controls only require two buttons), the disc-throwing game’s challenge has won over the hearts of many classic game fans.

Windjammers is remembered by many as one of the greatest ‘versus’ games of all time,” Arnaud De Sousa, marketing and communication manager at DotEmu, told AListDaily. “Originally released on the Neo Geo arcade system, Windjammers perfectly blends sports and fighting games.”

De Sousa explained how the project to bring Windjammers to modern systems started two years ago, as it’s a game that DotEmu keeps close to its heart. Even though the team plays a lot of classic games at the office, Windjammers turned out to be the one that they played the most.

Given how the game features flying discs, it was only natural for DotEmu extend Windjammers into using frisbees. So, it contacted Wham-O to turn the idea into a reality.

“Wham-O is all about being active, going outside, having fun and enjoying time with your friends and family,” said a Wham-O representative. “We are super excited to be partnering with DotEmu at their relaunch of everyone’s favorite arcade games. Now, fans of the game can enjoy Windjammers both on the screen and with their friends and family in a backyard or on the beach.”

However, special moves are not included with the Windjammers frisbee. DotEmu worked with Wham-O to create an exact replica of the flying power disc from the game, meaning that it doesn’t glow in the dark, nor are there any lights or sounds built into the disc.

“We tried to preserve the key design features and patterns in order to appeal to the fans and frisbee enthusiasts,” said De Sousa, who is happy that the Windjammers disc has a place alongside Wham-O’s large variety of frisbee products.

DotEmu is working closely with social media influencers in the gaming community along with both professional and ameteur frisbee players to get spread the word about the real-life power disc. Furthermore, the company has been working with professional WWE SmackDown wrestler Austin Creed (Xavier Woods) as a brand ambassador for the Windjammers relaunch in addition to offering products such as t-shirts, pins and hats.

De Sousa recounted how, back in the 90s, the Neo Geo was a legendary platform that every kid wanted to own, calling it the “Rolls Royce of gaming.” Although the console didn’t sell well at the time because of a high price, fans still regard the console with fondness today. This sense of nostalgia, what De Sousa calls an “aura of fun,” is what DotEmu is looking to leverage as it promotes the relaunch of a 23-year-old game.

“There’s still a great fanbase that knows Windjammers and Neo Geo and knows what those names mean in terms of fun and a gaming experience,” said De Sousa. “Even though the game was first released in 1994, Windjammers is still been played today all around the world, from France to Japan and the US. There’s an amazing community of passionate gamers that keep the fire burning at the highest level.”

The game’s complexity and nostalgia factor has made Windjammers a longtime fan favorite in the fighting game community.

“Our goal is to help those various communities grow, have fun and push them to enjoy the game as much as possible,” said De Sousa. “Of course, we also want to bring a new generation to play Windjammers, but we think that the game speaks for itself. Play it once and you’re hooked!”

General Mills’ Reese’s Puffs Score Positive Brand Engagement With ‘NBA 2K18’

General Mills hopes to hit nothing but net with its latest video game marketing activation. The cereal maker has teamed up with game publisher 2K to promote NBA 2K18 alongside its Reese’s Puffs cereal. It’s the latest marketing activation targeting gamers, following last year’s sponsorship of Yahoo Esports Live.

Mike Siemienas, brand media relations manager at General Mills, told AListDaily that the Reese’s Puffs brand looks to “fuel the fandom” of consumers by focusing on sports gaming.

“The goal is to promote Reese’s Puffs by aligning with consumer passion points of sports,” Siemienas said. “NBA 2K is the top-rated sports video game in the US, and our Reese’s Puffs consumer is passionate about sports and gaming. They’re unapologetically all-in with their fandom. From filling out brackets to spending all day watching games with their friends and family, sports are social activities that fuel their lives.”

Siemienas said the NBA is known for its intense competition and iconic personalities that bridge the intersection between sports and popular culture. The NBA also provides a lifestyle element for fans, and through the NBA 2K franchise, delivers billions of impressions to one of the largest audiences in the world. NBA 2K has been the best selling and top-rated sports game in the US, with hundreds of millions of games played each month.

“Together, the NBA, NBA 2K and Reese’s Puffs will create unique and compelling platforms to generate awareness, engagement and trial (sampling) for Reese’s Puffs,” Siemienas said.

The Reese’s Puffs locker code promotion works across the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC versions of NBA 2K18. Specially marked boxes of Reese’s Puffs cereal contain a 25-digit code printed inside that unlocks 2,500 worth of in-game currency that will give players a jumpstart in building their custom MyTEAM when the game launches on September 19 with Kyrie Irving from the Boston Celtic on the cover.

2K developer Visual Concepts introduces a new career mode called The Neighborhood, which combines the MyPark, Pro-Am and MyCareer experiences in a shared world that explores the life of an NBA athlete both on the court and off. PS4 and Xbox One users can now download a free preview of this mode called The Prelude.

Greg Thomas, president of Visual Concepts, said in a statement that this new mode puts players at the center of a fully-immersive basketball environment to explore, socialize, and compete. The Neighborhood offers an online world for custom-made MyPlayers to live in a city block environment with locations like tattoo parlors and barber shops to visit, filled with other MyPlayers, characters and NBA players like Irving.

In-game currency plays a large role in the new game, allowing the Reese’s Puffs brand to connect with fans in a positive light. General Mills has been targeting gamers and NBA 2K fans all summer through samplings at a Reese’s Puffs branded lounge during the Dew NBA 3X Tour. The brand will also be activating at GameStop locations nationwide via sampling with the game’s launch.

“We will promote the partnership on NBA and NBA 2K digital and social channels, as well as Reese’s Puffs social channels.” Siemienas said. “Throughout our combined activations and packaging promotions we’re expecting to reach millions of consumers.”

2K and General Mills teased Reese’s Puffs locker codes through a YouTube video. The NBA 2K team will continue to promote this partnership through a number of social media posts/channels throughout the program.

“We know that NBA 2K gamers are eager to get their teams going for the season and Reese’s Puffs can help them jumpstart their teams through our Locker Codes,” Siemienas said. “We hope that NBA 2K gamers will become more aware of Reese’s Puffs and have a chance to try it and love it.”

The codes will be valid through January 31, 2018. They also tie into the new NBA 2K18 feature “The Road to 99,” an overarching meta-game that rewards users for improving their MyPlayer’s overall rating, regardless of which modes they choose to play. Featuring a unified badge system across Pro-Am, Park and their NBA journey in MyCareer, gamers’ attributes, animations and badges all combine to define their play style on their road to a 99 overall rating.

The Reese’s Puffs brand has also been incorporated into the game, showing up in digital advertising at the scorer’s courtside table. That type of integration will connect with additional eyeballs next year with the launch of the inaugural season of the NBA 2K ELeague.

“We’re in the early stages of our partnership with the NBA and will continue to evaluate everything it has to offer, including the NBA 2K ELeague, for Reese’s Puffs,” Siemienas said.

Past gaming marketing activations across multiple General Mills brands has helped the company further connect its brands with gamers.

“We’ve learned that gamers love our brands, which has given us the confidence to continue to pursue partnerships like the NBA 2K promotion,” Siemienas said. “We know that these activations resonate with our consumers and provide value in key moments.”

‘The Walking Dead’ AR App Stalks Mobile Devices With Mountain Dew Partnership

Fans will have to wait until October 22 for Season Eight of The Walking Dead, but they can hang out with walkers (zombies) right now thanks to a partnership between AMC and Mountain Dew.

The Walking Dead Encounter—an augmented reality app created by Trigger and showcased at San Diego Comic-Con—is now available for download on iOS and Android mobile devices. Users can collect and overlay up to 20 “iconic walkers” from the show onto real-life camera images or videos. Scenes can then be shared on Facebook, Messenger, Twitter and other social media outlets.

AMC’s partnership with Mountain Dew lets users unlock new walkers by scanning specially-marked Mountain Dew products and by tuning in to commercials that air during new episodes of The Walking Dead. The companies created three different spots—featuring basketball, skateboarding and BMX—which will air throughout the first half of The Walking Dead’s season.

Portraits of popular The Walking Dead characters Rick Grimes, Michonne and Daryl Dixon will be featured on all single serve 20- and 12-ounce bottles of Mountain Dew. In addition, the characters will be printed on 12-pack outer cases of Mountain Dew, Diet Mountain Dew and Mountain Dew Pitch Black packaging.

“This is a meaningful first-of-its-kind partnership for The Walking Dead, but most exciting of all is that the fans are at the center of it,” Scott Collins, president of advertising sales for AMC Networks said in a press release. “With our partners at Mountain Dew, we’ve built something that includes extensive visibility for our series, closely aligned with their product, and the augmented reality app merges the real world, the world of the show and a popular beverage in an incredibly powerful and shareable way.”

With The Walking Dead Encounter, users can collect and pose with, but otherwise not interact with, walkers they find. An upcoming AR game, The Walking Dead: Our World by NextGames will allow users to actually fight walkers alongside other players, as well as characters from the show.

Mountain Dew has a long history of partnering with video game and film brands for package marketing, but bringing AR into the mix changes up the usual formula. “We’re bringing together two of the most passionate fan bases in the country,” Chauncey Hamlett, senior director of marketing for Mountain Dew said in a statement.

The Walking Dead‘s Season Eight premiere will be the 100th episode in the series. The series has been the number one show on television for the last five years running among viewers 18-49 and has no shortage of video game tie-ins, from mobile strategy titles to episodic adventures from Telltale Games.

Skybound Entertainment, the entertainment company founded by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, isn’t shy when it comes to adopting new technology for marketing.

“One of the things that we look at is, ‘how do we use the medium for its full benefit?’” David Alpert, CEO of Skybound Entertainment and executive producer of The Walking Dead told AListDaily. “And the thing that VR does is it gives us a sense of presence in a way that you don’t really feel in film and television.”

Editor’s note: Skybound Entertainment is separate from AMC’s partnership with Mountain Dew.

Geolocation Game Spreads Message Of Inclusion At PAX West

The Ad Council’s Game for Good (a gaming industry collaboration to benefit social causes) and the Emmy-award-winning Love Has No Labels campaigns returned to PAX West this year with an interactive twist. The League of Extraordinary Humans is a mobile geolocation game that celebrates “everyday superheroes” fighting for love and inclusion.

“To really have an impact on social issues, we need to meet people where they are spending their time. For millions across the country, that’s playing games online, on mobile or on consoles,” said Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council. “The League of Extraordinary Humans is just the first step in bringing our message of diversity to the gaming community, and we hope that it will help all gamers recognize their role in making the world a more accepting place.”

Created by Artifact Technologies (Battlekasters), The League of Extraordinary Humans is a collectible card game available on both iOS and Android devices. The app uses beacons strategically placed across the convention center to create a location-based experience and users received messages from the app that led them to six partner booths around PAX West—Twitch, Rooster Teeth, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Capcom and Xbox—where they completed two challenges designed to “deepen their understanding of implicit bias.”

Completing each challenge unlocked a digital trading card featuring the likeness and story of an “everyday superhero” who is fighting implicit bias. Each card was drawn by a comic book artist and overseen by industry veteran Dave Elliot (Maximum Force). Upon completing the game, select players won an exclusive Love Has No Labels official Pinny Arcade pin.

“Our challenge was to create a geo-gaming experience that would not only do justice to the Love Has No Labels campaign, but also to properly showcase the extraordinary group of real-life heroes we have transformed into collectible superhero cards,” said Brent Friedman, co-founder and chief creative officer at Artifact Technologies. “The end result feels like the perfect convergence of medium and message.”

Individuals featured on the cards are:

  • Jazz Jennings, an influential transgender teen and star of the hit TLC show I Am Jazz
  • Mike Begum, aka ‘BrolyLegs,’ a competitive gamer with a bone-muscle deficiency
  • Diana Nyad, a swimmer who completed a 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida at age 64
  • Grace Dolan-Sandrino, a transgender advocate
  • Anne Munition, a vocal LGBTQ gaming influencer
  • Benjamin Williams, co-founder of the PAX Diversity Lounge
  • Hana Mangat, a teenager who started a Sikh club at her school
  • August De Los Reyes, an advocate for inclusive design for people with disabilities
  • Marley Diaz, the 12-year-old founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks
  • Giana Glantz, creator of the app Gender Avengers
  • Matt and Jack, two brothers who co-founded an inclusive production company to spread information about Special Olympics Kansas
  • Isabella Catarina, a fashion designer who created specialized clothing to help aging Americans dress themselves
“With each ‘everyday superhero’, we looked to identify ordinary people who have each done something extraordinary to change the lives of individuals within six discriminated classes (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or ability),” said Steven Lai, vice president of talent and content strategy at ION and advisor to the Game for Good committee. “We were thrilled to include Mike Begum aka ‘BrolyLegs’ as a shining example of determination and a strong influence in driving inclusion within the competitive gaming landscape.”

“When I was first contacted about this game, I was thrilled about sharing my story and being involved with so many extraordinary people,” said BrolyLegs. “I’m so excited to be a part of this opportunity at PAX and want to show everyone that Love Has No Labels!”

In addition to the game, Love Has No Labels hosted a booth in the PAX Diversity Lounge and two panels on implicit bias and the role of diversity in gaming.

IBM Guides Tennis Through The Digital Age With Ace Innovations

When tennis fans think about Tuesday night’s US Open competition, they’ll probably focus on how the 36-year-old Roger Federer, who is still recovering from a back injury, defeated the 19-year-old American Frances Taifoe in a five-set match. However, the event was also exciting from a technical standpoint because it was where IBM announced Watson Media, a cognitive learning platform that aims to shake up how digital content is created and presented to audiences.

IBM has renewed its longstanding partnership with the USTA, which started 28 years ago (long before there was the internet), and it will continue to help lead the organization through the digital era by preparing for the next phase. That includes dealing with the information overload that comes with being a sport that features multiple events and must deliver content to a global audience within a short time frame.

“The reality is that we’re a pop-up event,” Lew Sherr, USTA’s chief revenue officer, said at a media presentation held at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday. “We exist here for three weeks, and then we revert back to being a public park where people can rent courts, and most of what you see here is closed up and stored for a year.”

He then likened the US Open to packing an entire NBA season into a few weeks while broadcasting it to 201 countries and territories.

The Next Phase Of Digital

Based on the Watson cognitive learning platform, Watson Media offers a set of solutions that are targeted at the media and entertainment industry to solve key challenges. Specifically, it makes sure customers are happy with their platforms and products, improves operational efficiency and helps them monetize in new ways.

In the case of events like the US Open, Watson is being put to work in a variety of ways, including the Slam Tracker, an analytics tool that provides deeper insights into matches. But most notably, it helps create and organize highlight clips (Cognitive Highlights) from an ocean of footage and a multitude of matches to identify the best moments to put on digital platforms and social media. It does so by measuring and recognizing three criteria: point score (and at what point in the game it is), player gestures and crowd cheering.

“Heineken, for example, is able to distribute highlights over Twitter,” said Sherr. “We’re getting smarter and smarter about finding ways to connect our partners in a different realm—not just on-site with signs on the court and booths with giveaways. It’s about how we can leverage these platforms to reach hundreds of millions of people, and that changes the game for all of us. We think of ourselves much differently.”

Another means of engagement is through the Cognitive Concierge, which uses natural language capabilities to help users find what they’re looking for. For example, users can tell it that they’re hungry and it will help make recommendations. Users can also ask questions like where to buy tickets and what those tickets give access to. In addition to being a great feature for fans, it is also a means of generating revenue for the USTA. American Express is one of the sponsors for the Cognitive Concierge as part of its fan experiences at the US Open.

“For an organization like ours, we’re in the business of growing the game of tennis,” said Sherr. “We’re not in the technology business, and we’re not even in the events business. As an organization, we exist to grow the game of tennis, encourage people to play and improve the quality of life . . .  As an organization, our goal is to be the greatest sports and entertainment event in the world—and certainly in tennis, we are the spectacular slam—and there’s a responsibility to provide technology that allows folks to do that.”

Kirsten Corio, USTA’s managing director of digital strategy, added that, “We have to deliver content in near real-time across the suite of digital platforms—across, the official website, as well as the US Open apps that we’ve continually innovated to bring more features to life for fans, giving them all this data at their fingertips.”

To this end, the US Open app offers push notifications so that fans know when highlights or information about their favorite players are up.

How Watson Enhances Media

The US Open attracts over 700,000 people each year, and that doesn’t include the digital audience. Sherr recounted how when the event first began, sponsors such as American Express were entirely local to New York City. As time passed, national and international brands such as Emirates Airlines and Mercedes-Benz joined.

“We view ourselves a global property like the World Cup or the Olympics,” said Sherr. He also stated that IBM’s technology allows the USTA to engage with fans all over the world, and that engagement has created revenue opportunities.

David Kulczar, senior offering manager for Watson Media

David Kulczar, senior offering manager for Watson Media, told AListDaily that the platform was bringing five core solutions to events. These include Cognitive Highlights, automated closed captioning (which is key to video production, especially as they cover more channels and events), automatic content search and discovery for clips that span decades, personalized recommendations like the Cognitive Concierge and logo identification.

Logo identification may be of particular interest for brands.

“If I were an advertiser, I could understand when my product placements are in frame and whether it’s working,” said Kulczar. “They can know for certain at what point it was in frame and for how long. That’s another key solution where we can help people monetize and understand the value of their ad spend.”

Kulczaralso said that Watson is learning more about the fans themselves through activities on the Fan Insights and Audience Insights applications. “We’re looking at consumer habits and trying to use those habits to help us identify how we can better appeal to consumers within a fan experience inside a stadium,” he said.

The long-term goal for Watson Media is to expand fully and be widely accepted in media and entertainment looking to other verticals. “Every major industry uses video, and I think they can all benefit from the automation solutions that we’re bringing to market,” Kulczar explained.

Engaging With The Right Language

Cognitive Highlights form a strong foundation for how AI platforms can engage audiences, but Noah Syken, IBM’s vice president of sports and entertainment partnerships, discussed the power of natural language recognition.

Noah Syken, VP of sports and entertainment partnerships at IBM

“Part of the Watson capability is to understand natural language—understand how people talk,” Syken told AListDaily. “From a marketing standpoint, we’re using this already to understand what kind of language that is going to resonate with certain audiences, and interacting with audiences using the right language. If athletes understood who their fans were, how they communicated and what’s important to them through natural language, they could put content out there that resonates more strongly without having to guess how to interact. That notion of language recognition, understanding the intent of language and applying that to marketing capabilities and fan interactions—whether it’s the USTA or Roger Federer—I think the same capabilities apply.”

Syken also noted how the Cognitive Concierge as a powerful way for brands to connect with audiences.

“For many years, American Express has been a sponsor of the US Open and the fan experience,” said Syken. “But the USTA wants to offer new products and solutions to Amex, so there’s the notion of making the fan experience even better and more personalized, delivering more value to fans and partners.”

According to Syken, Watson Media aims to give media companies more value from their content. A part of how it can help do that is by providing a deeper level of understanding of the content within the media as Watson creates highlight clips, automatically sorts out the best ones and cross references them according to various topics. Syken suggested the sponsors might want to integrate their brands with the conversations that arise from that kind of organization.

“With tons of video happening out there—that deeper understanding of what’s happening within the videos, and connecting particular brands with particular flavors of content that go to a deeper level than search intent is one way to think about sponsor opportunities.”

Perhaps Sherr summed up the importance of Watson Media best.

“It’s not just the lobster rolls and champagne that we try to monetize here at the Open; it’s trying to find ways to monetize those digital experiences. Or, if nothing else, deliver more value and bring folks in and let them experience the event with the hope that they may want to come here on site.”

Electronic Arts Opens ‘Madden NFL’ Esports Playbook

The NFL is finally going all-in on esports. While Electronic Arts has been at the forefront of competitive gaming with its Madden NFL video game franchise for decades, and the game has been the centerpiece of esports through Madden Bowls and Madden Challenges for over 15 years, the NFL has committed all 32 clubs to the Madden NFL Club Championship this year. It’s part of the Madden NFL Championship Series (MCS), which EA launched last year.

The competition kicks off on August 23 with online qualifiers on Madden NFL 18 in the Madden Ultimate Team Champions mode. After registering online, gamers across the country can compete for a chance to represent their local NFL team in a competition that will fly out the top 32 players (one per team) to compete in the Madden NFL Club Championship Live Finals. That competition will commence at the NFL Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida and culminate at the NFL Experience Driven by GMC in Minneapolis, Minnesota ahead of Super Bowl LII.

Madden Championship Series commissioner Matt Marcou told AListDaily that last year’s NFL Club Series competition, which featured eight NFL clubs, paved the way for the entire NFL to officially commit to esports for the first time.

“At EA, we learned that the feedback was positive and [NFL Club Series was] regarded as one of the coolest competitive offerings we’d put forth,” Marcou said. “That helped us want to push the program forward. Those eight clubs got deep insight into what competitive gaming is all about and how it’s a parallel to the competition they create with the NFL. Those clubs were over the moon about the series and that excitement served as a catalyst to encourage the rest of the clubs to follow suit. Most importantly, the clubs learned that this is a business they want to be in.”

With involvement from every club across the NFL, this is the largest competitive gaming commitment ever by a US professional sports league. The NBA and 2K will launch NBA 2K ELeague next year, and the inaugural season will feature 17 of 30 teams, with plans for all teams to join up eventually.

EA Sports is also expanding its FIFA esports offering this year. Marcou has seen esports emerge as a business unto itself.

“When we were running the Madden Challenge 10 years ago, it was experimental marketing,” Marcou said. “Now, thanks to changes in technology and in the market, instead of competitive gaming being a marketing initiative, it can be grown into a viable business outside of selling copies of the game.”

The Madden NFL Club Championship is one of three Madden NFL Championship Series EA Majors, the other two are the Madden NFL Classic on October 20-21 and the Madden NFL Challenge on December 15-16. EA hosted four EA Majors last year and the Madden Club Championship is replacing the Madden Bowl. EA Majors are the pinnacles of the Madden NFL Championship Series with only the top players qualifying. Additionally, the Madden NFL Championship Series purse has risen to $1.15 million for the season, up from $1 million in its inaugural season.

“The NFL is completely supporting us,” Marcou said. “We’re working hand-in-hand. The NFL has brought in an overall interest by bringing the clubs into this, as well as additional support to further this concept and bring it up to the EA Majors level.”

In a press release, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “Competitive gaming and esports are one of the most exciting ways to engage a larger, younger and digitally savvy NFL audience. Collaborating with EA to create the Madden NFL Club Championship presents a unique opportunity to capture the excitement of NFL action and the passion of our fans with competition that anyone can participate in.”

Marcou said each club decides how they want to activate in their own market. Last year the Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars and 49ers activated in their stadiums, while the Vikings held its esports event in the Mall of America and the Seahawks held theirs at the Seattle Pop Culture Museum.

“Last year, each club was allowed to bring in their athletes as they saw fit,” Marcou said. “With all 32 clubs involved now, we’ll see how each best figures out how to craft the experience for competitors and leverage their location and athletes. There is more opportunity for athletes at these competitions, but hopefully this opens up additional opportunities for EA as we’re running our Majors.”

Having 32 local markets invest in esports will open up new opportunities for local brands and sponsors, which is a similar approach Activision Blizzard is taking with its upcoming Overwatch League. Marcou said Madden creates more bite-sized opportunities for local club sponsors to get involved. Each club will have free range to integrate sponsors into their activities. Last year, the Patriots activated with Friendly’s ice cream and integrated that product into the competition, while Gillette, Buffalo Wild Wings and Snickers were also part of the event.

When it comes to national sponsorships, Marcou added that this competition creates more opportunity across the board.

“There’s no better opportunity than working with the official marketing partners of the NFL,” Marcou said.

While EA worked with McDonald’s last year for the Pro Bowl portion of the competition, Marcou said sponsors for this year have not yet been finalized. Nor have the digital and television partners for this season’s competition.

Epic Games CEO Explains How Game Technology Is Impacting The Entertainment World

Tim Sweeney delivers the opening keynote for the inaugural Devcom Developer Conference at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany on August 22. His company Epic Games has had a blockbuster release with Fortnite, on the heels of last year’s release of Paragonand Unreal Engine 4 technology currently powers the top four games on Valve’s Steam platform.

Speaking with AListDaily, the founder and CEO of Epic Games took some time to discuss the new opportunities video game technology like Unreal Engine 4 is opening up for new industries like Hollywood and automakers, and how small game teams are developing huge hits with the technology, in this exclusive interview.

How are you seeing Unreal Engine 4 impact the video game industry?

The trend is that several years into this indie developer revolution that powered a lot of this, we’re seeing a real flight in quality. Instead of a million games a year competing for the Top 10 charts on iOS, we’re seeing more developers moving to PC, pushing high-end graphics and really innovative and deep gameplay in interesting ways. And we’re seeing new ideas and new types of games and new form factors, including the birth of some new genres of games that didn’t exist previously. It’s a really exciting time.

What do you think has been the key to the Unreal Engine’s success?

At Epic we’re game developer, and the Unreal Engine is an engine written by game developers for game developers. It really aims to solve the hard problem of enabling you to build a high-quality competitive game and then ship it efficiently. We make all the trade-offs necessary as we’re building the engine and our own games to achieve that. Of course, as a game developer, we’re on the line for it. If something sucks for you about the Unreal Engine, it sucks for us too, and we’re going to fix it right away. So, it’s a very pure business model that’s based on helping other developers succeed with the technology.

Coming out of the SIGGRAPH convention, what’s new with Unreal Engine 4?

SIGGRAPH is the graphics industry’s high-end event, where all the elite graphics nerds get together and talk about the state of the industry. We’re seeing a lot of amazing things happening in gaming and outside of gaming. We showed the Fortnite trailer running in real-time at Epic’s SIGGRAPH Real-Time Live event. It’s the first time you’ve seen a movie or a television show quality real-time animation running live in a game engine, and the production values there were really astonishing. We also showed “The Human Race,” this General Motors real-time car commercial running live in the Unreal Engine. It brings a photo-realistic car and sequences it together with mixed reality footage shot by a camera to create a really compelling experience, where can configure your car and then see it live in a car commercial.

How is real-time 3D impacting virtual reality?

On the digital human front. We feel like the area where today’s graphics technology falls short in photo realism is rendering humans, especially human animation. So, we worked together with Mike Seymour (Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars; Spider) and some partners to create a real-time motion capture setup and demonstrate Mike’s face being captured in VR in real-time and projected it into a VR scene—interviewing people with full facial motion capture and a very realistic response. We feel like this is the most realistic human rig that’s ever been created that runs in real-time, and it’s just the very beginning of this big effort at Epic. Over the coming years, it’s going to get closer and closer to reality.

Unreal Engine 4 also is powering NBC Universal’s Zafari. How is Unreal Engine 4 invading Hollywood?

Zafari is an animated real-time kid’s TV show created by Digital Dimension. It features these very realistic animated animals with fur and a very interesting storyline behind it all. But it’s also the first high-quality television animated series that’s authored in real-time. It’s powered by Unreal and it shows that the television and movie industries are starting to move away from their offline CG production, where it takes hours to render each frame, and moving to game engines. The quality of graphics that they can get out of game engines are approaching the levels that they see in film. You’re seeing adoption across a really wide range of products. Star Wars: Rogue One included real-time pixels rendered out of the Unreal Engine for one of the droids, just to prove that the technology was possible. We’re seeing widespread adoption across television. There is some sports broadcasting work that’s going to come out powered by Unreal Engine, all running in real-time, that really highlights how game engines have grown beyond games and they’re not just engines.

How does the new TV show out of Norway, Lost in Time, tie into this technology?

The Future Group Team in Norway has been producing this really amazing kid-oriented television show that’s actually a game show. People get together and compete in a real-time competition using computer graphics and it’s broadcast live to the world. So, they’re sitting there in front of a green screen doing things like driving cars or flying space ships, and then the CG is just edited in real-time. The audience and participants all see this really interesting, completely live interactive experience. It merges computer graphics with reality in some interesting ways. This isn’t Epic entering some weird new market. What we’re seeing is all these different industries that use computer graphics, from gaming to television production and film to enterprise, all coming together and converging on a common feature set for a new digital content—that transcends all of this and brings it all together in industry ways.

Brands Court Esports Fans With Scripted Shows

Esports sells out arenas, attracts traditional sports players and is being considered for the 2024 Olympics. Competitive gaming has planted itself firmly in pop culture, making it the subject of a new arena—scripted TV.

Art imitates life, and video games occasionally make their way onto popular TV programs as a one-time theme. Gaming-related episodes have appeared on TV shows like Law & Order: SVU and Elementary. The latter even cast real esports professionals for an episode in February about the murder of a former pro gamer.

In other words, gaming has traditionally been a cameo appearance, not the star—but that’s all changing.

Debuting August 30 on YouTube Red, Good Game is a six-episode series that follows a team of gamers trying to become stars in the world of esports. The show stars YouTube personalities Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan (Game Grumps) as two of the main esports players trying to make it big.

YouTube is a natural outlet for a show of this type, considering two of the top five YouTube channels are game related. Believe it or not, gaming has become a spectator sport—with 48 percent of YouTube gamers saying they spend more time watching gaming videos than actually playing.

The top video-hosting site penned a multi-year partnership with leading esports platform FaceIt, creators of the Esports Championship Series (ECS) earlier this year. YouTube is now the exclusive livestreaming home to ECS, which features Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).

“YouTube has the biggest gaming audience. It’s time to introduce more gamers to esports,” Ryan Wyatt, global head of gaming content at YouTube, told AlistDaily. “We have a lot of people on YouTube who don’t know what esports is. We feel we’re well-positioned to expand this audience.”

Game video content (GVC) is the new TV. SuperData found that more people watch GVC than HBO, Netflix, ESPN and Hulu combined, and the audience for this content is twice the size of the US population. Could esports-centric content win viewers back?

Disney is tapping into this engaged audience with D|XP and a new partnership with ESL. Two new series are in development—ESL Brawlers and ESL Speedrunners, each consisting of seven, 30-minute shows.

“From ESL’s perspective, as esports has gone more mainstream, it makes sense to expand its audience reach to those tuning in on linear TV,” Nik Adams, ESL’s senior vice president of global media rights and distribution told AListDaily. “Given the demographic, esports has traditionally reached a digitally native audience. However, the industry is continually evolving and this deal represents a great way for traditional media companies to adopt this growing area of entertainment . . . Disney’s D|XP is the perfect platform for us to continue creating original programming, and this time, to specifically engage their audience.”

With so many non-endemic brands entering the esports space with sponsorships, branded content is another way of reaching the gaming audience.

Last year, Geico created a comedy series around its sponsored team, SoloMid (TSM). The real-life gamers, known for competing in League of Legends, all live and practice in the same house—as is common in the industry during competition season.

Geico’s series TSM’s New Neighbor tells the story of Russell, an obnoxious neighbor who barges his way into their home and comedy ensues. Russell suspects that the boys are hackers because of their high-tech equipment, but makes himself right at home when he learns their true identities and it seems they will never be rid of him.

According to Newzoo’s 2017 Global Esports Market Report, the global esports audience will reach 385 million in 2017—made up of 191 million esports enthusiasts and a further 194 million occasional viewers.

That’s a whole lot of fans to entertain, and scripted TV could be just the way to do it.

AR Game ‘Recoil’ Comes To Life Through SkyRocket And TheCHIVE

Recoil developer Skyrocket has teamed up with photo entertainment site theCHIVE to create a series of videos and community events around what they hope to be the biggest retail launch of this holiday season.

Recoil is one of those games you have to try to fully understand. Players attach their smartphones to plastic weapons both physically and with Bluetooth, then connect to a provided WiFi router to track movements and damage. It’s essentially the cops and robbers game you played as a kid, souped up with modern technology. The AR game can be played indoors or outdoors in an area ranging up to 500 feet. While the game is already at retailers, Skyrocket will begin an aggressive marketing push beginning August 15.

In an interview with AListDaily, Albert Briggs, vice president of sales and brand strategy at theCHIVE, and Craig Mitchell, senior director at Skyrocket, discussed millennial marketing, building a community around a brand and how cool guys never look at explosions.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of depth and strategy to a game like Recoil that we want to show off to a lot of people,” said Mitchell. “I think there’s a big part of building credibility to this product early on. It ties into our strategy of why we showed it to IGN and why we showed it to Gizmodo and CNET and taking it to [San Diego] Comic-Con. We’re building credibility around the product so it’s not perceived as, ‘Oh it looks like laser tag.'”

To help build this credibility and show Recoil in action, Skyrocket teamed up with theCHIVE, whose previous partnerships include Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Dead Rising 4.

“We’ve got a pretty long history of working with video games,” said Briggs. “TheCHIVE is an environment that appeals very heavily to millennial men, and gaming tends to be a big part of their lives. When people come to theCHIVE, they’re not only coming to laugh, but they’re also coming to get a good amount of relative, relatable gaming information.”

With its brand message, “making the world 10 percent happier,” theCHIVE partners with brands to create content it knows its followers will enjoy.

Since Recoil is played in the real world, Briggs explained how this particular campaign will be different. “When we approach a game like [Recoil], there are elements of the campaign that live digitally online, where a lot of people are going to purchase this game,” he said. “But also experiential—off-site elements so people can actually experience and play the game with our other community members and other ‘Chivers’ out there.”

In addition to community events, theCHIVE is creating what it calls “the ultimate war room” in its home base of Austin, Texas. It’s an indoor environment complete with couches, big screens and (of course) air conditioning to watch the action from afar. The company is also planning internal promotion around the Austin city area, timed with an upcoming college football game.

“We know that, in speaking to a younger audience, they want to be wowed and they want an experience that is truly unique,” Briggs continued. “If a brand or an advertiser can come in and say, ‘let’s be additives to that experience,’ then that’s truly the best way to reach someone. We’ve been seeing that in the masses in the last year-and-a-half of brands coming to theCHIVE saying, ‘we know that your community is very loyal and awesome and we want to add to that experience.’ I think Skyrocket nailed it with this program.”

For Skyrocket, partnering with such an engaged community has great potential for its new game.

TheCHIVE has been such a great partner with us,” says Mitchell. “The fun part of this product is that we think it appeals to so many different audiences. We’re going after gamers [and] we’re going after tech-focused people, because this is really a new piece of technology, and play pattern that’s going to apply to that group. TheCHIVE is gonna be great because I think it’s going to get a few different audiences like dads playing with their kids, and a younger audience that’s going to take advantage of that larger, 16-player experience—getting people outside.

“We joke that for certain audiences, Recoil is going to turn into an awesome drinking game and I think that kind of aligns with theCHIVE‘s audience. Our directive to them is to have a lot of fun with the product and show it off in a lot of interesting environments.”

Recoil is similar to games like laser tag or Nerf, but at the same time, completely different. To help illustrate Skyrocket’s vision for turning anywhere into a battlefield, Skyrocket worked with creative agency Battery to build a brand strategy and campaign, starting with a character that would train “new recruits.” Veteran actor Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) embodies the role of Striker—a grizzled general preparing today’s youth to become “Recoil soldiers.”

Separate from theCHIVE partnership, a new spot starring Madsen will debut on August 15. While filming, Mitchell and his team were particularly impressed with the actor’s professionalism.

“There’s a giant explosion in the shot 100 feet away from [Madsen],” Mitchell says. “He’s leaning against this tree and we set off this massive explosion next to him. I was there and I remember we all jumped out of our seats—it was that loud and it took everybody off guard—and there’s Madsen with his back turned, eyes on the camera when the explosion goes off and he does not flinch. You don’t even notice a twinge on his face and I thought, ‘Man this guy is a professional.'”

Mitchell says that technology has changed how we interact with each other, and while it has brought about many great things, it also led to “people staring at their phones all day.”

“I love that there are companies out there that are trying to take technology to improve our lives and improve interaction and get people going outside,” he said. “I think Pokémon GO was such a great example of that—taking the play pattern that people are doing that is interacting with their phone, but also getting them off the couch, interacting with their friends and going outside. I really think Recoil is a further evolution of that play pattern. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that over the next few years and that’s a great thing.”