When it comes to gaming peripherals, standing out isn’t just a matter of designing quality hardware or growing brand loyalty. Sometimes, it takes a little (or a lot) of flash to stand out on livestreams. That’s why Razer has been making its devices more attractive by working to bring Chroma lighting technology directly to popular games.
Razer Chroma lighting effects are built into a variety of products, including notebooks, keyboards, mice, headsets, gamepads and more. Users have tools to customize their lighting profiles with different colors and patterns to best suit their personalities, but Razer has also partnered with developers to create profiles specifically designed to enhance their games.
In addition to big-budget PC games such as Overwatch, Rise of the Tomb Raider,Diablo III and others that integrate Razer keyboard lighting by flashing different colors at key moments, Razer is also working with independent studios that are looking to push experiences to the next level with games like Move or Die.
“Move or Die is a very colorful game, so it was a natural fit with the Razer Chroma peripherals,” Nicolae Berbece, lead developer and founder of Those Awesome Guys, told AListDaily. “On top of that, it’s a four-player party game where everyone can play using a single keyboard, and that is a perfect opportunity to basically turn the keyboard into a rainbow. It’s a stupid thing to do, but who are we to stop that from happening?”
Move or Die is all about rules—or rather, constantly changing them. The game, which bills itself as “the four-player friendship ruining party game” changes its gameplay mechanics every 20 seconds. Furthermore, Twitch users can impact the game by using comments to distract players, choose game modes or otherwise throw random elements into the match. The quirky game has earned praise from both critics and users on Metacritic and Steam, and players have grown accustomed to—and perhaps even enjoy—the mocking humor in the game’s trailers, videos and blog updates.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that the developer is more than willing to try out new enhancements.
“Razer approached us showing interest in having Chroma features added to Move or Die, and we basically said, ‘FUCK YEAH!’” said Berbece.
That enthusiasm showed with the Chroma implementation, which supports multiple Razer devices. The keyboard highlights the individual controls for each of the four players while headphones pulse in rhythm with the soundtrack. During the course of a match, Razer Chroma keyboards, mice and illuminated mouse pads will flash different colors at key moments such as player deaths, wins and when items are unlocked—all underscoring the party game’s fast-paced action.
Those Awesome Guys continue to engage its community through regular game updates, which sometimes add new modes for fans to get angry over, or include features like letting AI chatbots troll the human players using the in-game chat box. Other promotional partnerships include having the characters from the Adult Swim (Cartoon Network) Rick and Morty television show in the game.
Oomba hopes to take esports national. The software startup, which includes Atari founder Nolan Bushnell as a co-founder, has purchased the chain of nine GameWorks arcade locations with esports in mind. Oomba CEO Michael Williams told AListDaily the plan is to open nine new locations in 2018 and nine more in 2019 with the goal of getting to 32 locations in two-and-a-half years.
“Many existing LAN centers in America are just PCs on a table,” Williams said. “For GameWorks, it has to be nicer than that. Inspired by Asian esports arenas, we want to make it as fun as possible and enjoyable for people to play games as well as watch others play.”
Williams said Oomba is upgrading the existing 30,000 square feet GameWorks locations in Cincinnati, Ohio, Las Vegas, Nevada, Newport, Kentucky, Laguna Hills, California, Schaumburg, Illinois, Seattle, Washington, Chesapeake, Virginia and Denver, Colorado to establish a level playing field for the brand. Only three locations have LAN centers right now, and those need to have the wiring upgraded. Eventually, LAN centers will be added across all current locations.
“As we build new GameWorks, we’ll design these with esports in mind,” Williams explained. “We’ll have esports sections and the stadiums will be larger with seating for 1,000 to 1,500 people.”
All current and future locations will serve food, which is one of the reasons GameWorks has been a profitable business. Williams is approaching the business of esports like traditional sports.
“Esports must monetize the way sports do,” said Williams. “The single largest source of revenue in the sports stadium is concessions, and we see GameWorks as the stadiums for esports.”
Oomba will begin signing pro esports teams when it has eight GameWorks locations retrofitted, and the company is already in early talks with Team Liquid.
“We’re going to go nuts when we get to 16 locations,” Williams added. “We’re already trying to attract events. We’re going to get there as fast as we can.”
Williams said Oomba isn’t trying to compete with MSG or Staples Center, since those major stadiums will be used for world championship events. He envisions GameWorks as the practice field for teams or minor league esports.
“We may be better suited for Rocket League or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and we’ll host competitions that are more local or more frequent,” Williams said. “GameWorks will be a place to rub elbows with celebrity players. For example, when DreamHack is in Denver, there’s a good chance they’ll do some kind of GameWorks party and gather before the tournament.”
Williams believes GameWorks’ new esports business will open up sponsorship opportunities for brands like HP and Dell, which are active in the space.
“We can talk to these brands about what they want to do and use GameWorks as a showcase for new technology,” Williams said. “We can become a really good place to announce the next big game before it comes out.”
GameWorks is marketing to gamers with a new slogan: “Every night is game night at GameWorks.” In addition to esports, some locations feature bowling alleys and most offer tabletop gaming. The company is adding Magic: The Gathering tournaments. Moving forward, Williams wants to add more virtual reality gaming.
“I can’t think of a better place for VR,” Williams explained. “We’ve been talking to HTC and different VR providers, and very quickly we’ll be getting into that space with player vs. player VR. We always love tournaments. There are some amazing VR games out there and we have the space for people to come in and compete in VR tournaments and competitions. We’re also looking at getting drone racing inside GameWorks.”
Oomba launched five years ago as a cloud-based software company, which built out the infrastructure to run any type of tournament from the cloud. The company has been serving the board game space since 2014, replacing pen and paper with cloud-based tournaments. Now it’s moving into video game competitions and esports.
“Our software solves the problems of managing live events by handling registration, knowing where players are and tracking leaderboards,” Williams said. “Tournament organizer can run and manage an event and we get access to the information, so we can become a repository for people’s rankings and ratings. We want to be the home for stats. Overwatch and League of Legends don’t need us, but we can become a place where players can brag about their rankings, and our software is free to the public.”
Nike’s new NBA jerseys not only look cool, but they also unlock exclusive in-game virtual currency in 2K’s NBA 2K18. Each NBA team will get four new Nike jerseys this season, including the new Statement jersey. Through the NikeConnect app, gamers can scan the tag on the front left side of the jerseys to receive in-game boosts.
Alfie Brody, vice president of marketing for NBA 2K, said the origin of this unique blending of the real and virtual worlds came from a brainstorm with Nike about the most dedicated NBA 2K gamers.
“We’re leveraging our engaged and very fanatical fan base by rewarding them for buying new NBA jerseys through new content for MyTeam and MyPlayer,” Brody said. “We know our fans consumer content in different ways, and now new technology is allowing us to connect the jerseys they buy with our game.”
When gamers go to any retailer and buy a Top 20 player NBA jersey (as established by the NBA), they can download NikeConnect and swipe the barcode, which links to the NBA 2K API. Then, when they start NBA 2K18, they’ll see a prompt to redeem content, which includes a Free Agent card—a high-value card with a rating for that player in the MyTeam mode. They’ll also get a random boost for MyPlayer, which can be rescanned every day that team plays on the NBA schedule.
If the jersey doesn’t relate to anyone on the Top 20, then they’ll receive an Arena Card (which is a team or arena-specific card) that can be used in MyTeam. The same random boosts will apply, and they can also be used on the day of the game.
Brody said 2K is currently talking with Nike to figure out additional ways to reward gamers through NikeConnect, further connecting real players and teams with the video game universe.
2K also recently partnered with General Mills to offer redemption codes in Reese’s Puffs cereal, which unlock in-game currency for NBA 2K18 players.
“Over the past few years, we have done a code on packaging to give extra value for that product,” Brody said. “We’ve done research on the consumer packaged goods side with companies that are also NBA partners, exploring the crossover of their fan base with ours. This is another method to incentivize consumers to further engage. Our fan base is really engaged and always looking for ways to boost their MyPlayer. Even NBA players take it very seriously.”
Both NikeConnect and Reese’s Puffs promotion connect gamers to NBA 2K18’s “The Neighborhood,” which is the core game mode of MyCareer. This year, the mode is more open world, allowing those additional boosts to help gamers’ MyPlayer on the NBA court and also on the streetball court of The Neighborhood.
“Our jobs as marketers is made easier by the hooks, innovations and improvements in the game year over year,” Brody said. “We’re delivering what our consumers want by engaging with them across social media, offering up the best talent, and ensuring that the actual gameplay experience is the best quality.”
This year’s NBA 2K18 marketing got an unexpected boost when cover athlete Kyrie Irving demanded to be traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and subsequently moved on to the Boston Celtics.
“As a marketer, we didn’t see that happening, but it provided another marketing beat for us,” Brody said. “There were a lot of complexities to hit the brakes on everything we were doing with Kyrie and refocus on the Celtics, but the timing worked out, and Kyrie is excited to be on his new team, and we were able to harness that. These guys are very good at NBA 2K. Paul George and Kevin Durant and Irving are the top in the league, so that trade gave us a unique opportunity.”
2K also faces competition from Electronic Arts for the first time in years.
“We don’t focus on the competition, but we’re aware they’re there,” Brody said. “Whether we have competition or not, our development team always tries to innovate and take risks. We think it’s good to be on your toes.”
Heading into 2018, NBA 2K18 is also at the center of the new NBA 2K Eleague, which has already given the game a boost through additional esports media coverage. Eighteen of the NBA’s 30 teams are on board for the inaugural season, which tips off next year.
“Right now, there’s not a ton of marketing momentum, but the NBA 2K Eleague announcement and the model of consumers having a path to becoming pro athletes is very exciting thing to talk about and harness,” Brody explained. “When we get to the February/March timeframe, we’ll kick this off, and consumers can try out for NBA teams and be seen by GMs. That’s going to be what we focus on. Then with the launch of the regular season late next spring, it’s a great opportunity for marketing the brand.”
This new “aspirational” journey for gamers will be solidified in 2018. Brody said people are entering the franchise and now they have the opportunity to participate in tournaments at retail. 2K has done Pro-Am tournaments the past few years with plans for a third one still in play. Then NBA 2K Eleague offers that next step for gamers to become professional athletes.
By 2019, the plan is for all 30 NBA teams to be recruiting gamers to field their video game teams. There’s also a plan to expand NBA esports globally.
“NBA 2K has seen double-digit growth in Europe year over year,” Brody said. “In China, we have fewer console gamers, but NBA 2K Online has over 36 million subscribers. NBA’s very big in China and they consume a lot of the product at retail and online.”
2K is also marketing its console game in Europe and Latin America while focusing on mobile and online in China.
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.
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.”
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 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.”
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 Deadtold 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.
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.
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 USOpen.org, 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, 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.
“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.”
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.
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-The AList Team
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