Esports One Brings Real-Time Stats To Esports

Although big esports events like Valve’s $23 million The International for Dota 2 and Activision’s Call of Duty World League Championship are being compared more often to traditional sports events—some are even held in sports arenas—there’s been a gap in the esports viewing experience. Real-time stats play a key role in watching everything from UFC to baseball to football. Startup Esports One wants to provide esports fans with the same depth of viewing experience as traditional sports fans currently have.

“While watching matches through the Esports One platform, you’ll have full control over how you watch the game,” Matthew Gunnin, founder of Esports One, told AListDaily. “We have modules that will track every data point you care about to the second. Want to ensure you never miss a single event in game? Our Objective Tracker and ChatBot modules show everything in-game from item purchases to player movements. We even have educational modules for users who are new to the game and want to learn while they watch.”

Esports One is an esports data and analytics company comprised of MIT engineers that hope to change the way fans watch and engage with esports. Using computer vision, real-time analysis and databases of historical information, the company creates modules updated to the second, which users can insert into an esports stream to show more detailed information.

“When our beta launches, you will be able to watch professional League of Legends matches on esports.one and customize the area around the stream,” Gunnin explained. “There will be panels to the right and bottom of the stream that you’ll be able to customize with modules containing whatever info you like.”

The platform embeds streams directly from Twitch, Facebook and YouTube with no degradation in quality or content. Chat functionality will be provided through a module that the user can add or remove as they choose.

“Social media plays a major part in the esports industry, but for the most part, it feels disconnected from the games themselves,” Gunnin said. “We want our users to be able to interact with each social media platform while not taking them away from the action. We’ll have separate modules for each service with a number of customizable features. As an example, there is a tremendous amount of information that occurs during a live broadcast, and being able to share it quickly with context can be near impossible. With our real-time data extraction tools, users will have a whole new avenue available to them to share their favorite moments with their friends.”

While Esports One is first and foremost a stats and data company, Gunnin sees the opportunity that this platform can provide for advertisers.

“In the NFL, it’s very common to see featured stats and key moments being sponsored,” Gunnin said. “Rotating sponsor logos have become such a commonplace for broadcasters that users very rarely even take notice anymore. You rarely see any type of real-time product activation during major esports game events, largely due to the fact that it requires manual input to activate. We capture hundreds of data points every second, allowing us to make an immediate call to this database to showcase various informative metrics surrounding in-game events.”

“User engagement is one of our core principles and is a driving force behind the Esports One platform,” Gunnin added.

One of the features available to sponsors is One Blueprints, which are page templates pre-configured with different modules depending on the objective of the page. One of the initial three Blueprints at launch will be educational and geared towards individuals that are new to a specific game or esports in general.

Now that the technology has been developed, Gunnin has turned his attention to connecting with endemic and non-endemic brands.

“We are currently working with two brands to incorporate elements of their guides into these pages that will trigger based off of real-time events (champion selection, item builds, skill choice, etc.),” Gunnin said.

The Void Partners With Disney To Create ‘Star Wars’ VR Attraction

Lucasfilm, ILMxLAB and The Void are collaborating to bring a new multiplayer hyper-reality arcade experienceStar Wars: Secrets of the Empire, to Void Experience Centers at Disney World for the holiday season.

The untethered VR experience is being developed using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 technology. It’s the second Hollywood IP for The Void. Previously, the Lindon, Utah-based franchise worked with Sony Pictures on a VR experience called Ghostbusters: Dimensions at Madame Tussauds in Times Square.

Curtis Hickman, The Void co-founder and chief creative officer

The Void co-founder and chief creative officer Curtis Hickman spoke with AListDaily about the collaboration with ILMxLAB and Disney Parks, and The Void’s tech, which blends tetherless VR headsets with haptics, sounds and other senses.

“Guests who step into Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire won’t just see this world, they’ll know that they are part of this amazing story,” Hickman said. “We work hard to make sure it’s not just your eyes, but it’s everything.”

The Ghostbusters experience is designed for four players and is 10 minutes long, with a few minutes before and after to put on and remove the gear. Star Wars will also be a multi-person experience, but while Ghostbusters involved a 3.5-pound portable desktop computer disguised as a proton pack, Star Wars will be tether-free, absolving the need to hide a computer.

“We’re trying to improve on what was done in Ghostbusters,” Hickman said, “and that includes new technology that improves the social interaction. Guests can talk [to] and see each other in The Void experiences.”

Hickman said that as a general rule of thumb, four is a great number to work with because it allows two pairs of people to go through the experience and have a nice dynamic interaction. By working on Ghostbusters, Hickman’s team learned that people are looking for a rich experience and wish fulfillment when they step into a movie universe they love.

“It’s important that a VR experience delivers on those dreams and desires people have from those properties and the worlds they love so much,” Hickman said. “We also learned about flow and experimenting with space and we’re applying all of those things to Star Wars.”

The Void’s Star Wars experience also uses a technology called redirected walking, which gives the user the illusion of exploring a much larger virtual reality world. “In home VR, you can stand in one place and look around at a perceived landscape,” Hickman said, “but if you take two steps you run into a wall. In a Void experience, you can keep going.”

The exact length of time for the Star Wars VR experience is still being determined, but Hickman said it will take place in a similar-sized space as Ghostbusters. The bigger-picture goal for The Void is to create spaces that can be built across many locations around the globe featuring multiple hyper-reality experiences.

“We’re designing the template that we can reuse for many different experiences,” Hickman said. “That’s what we’re looking to do here in Disneyland.”

McLaren Esports Competition Expands Brand And Motorsports

McLaren surprised the gaming world in May when it announced that it was partnering with Logitech G, racing apparel and simulation brand Sparco and the GiveMeSport media platform to enter into the esports space with a new competition series called World’s Fastest Gamer.

The competition is the brainchild of Darren Cox, founder of IDEAS+CARS, who has spent over 20 years promoting the automotive industry through gaming events such as the Nissan GT Academy, esports and other creative initiatives, now complemented with an unorthodox approach toward esports. McLaren’s competition will feature a spread of games across multiple platforms—including mobile, consoles and PC—using different games that include McLaren cars in them. Its most recent addition is the mobile game Gear.Club, and the person who masters racing across all the diverse platforms wins a job at McLaren driving its Formula 1 simulator.

Darren Cox, founder of IDEAS+CARS

“The growth of esports is well documented, but one thing that slips under the radar is the size of the racing community because it is so diverse,” Cox told AlistDaily. “We’ve seen a huge amount of interest and investment in soccer over the last year, and I think the next great area is going to be motorsports.”

Cox said that he’s seen strong growth in what he calls “unreal esports,” which includes games such as Dota 2, League of Legends and more. But the recent expansion of traditional sports such as American football, soccer and basketball into esports convinced him that now is the time for motorsports to take its place in gaming. However, motorsports faces some unique challenges.

“For a number of years, motor racing has had a huge market on gaming consoles, PC and mobile, but it’s been relatively untapped in terms of potential,” said Cox. “One of the reasons for that is, unlike something like soccer, where FIFA is the dominant source for gaming or Madden for American football, racing is spread across many titles like Forza or Gran Turismo on consoles, something like iRacing on PC and Real Racing on mobile. There isn’t one dominant game for the racing genre.”

Cox then went into detail about how the World’s Fastest Gamer competition came together and how it will grow esports, the McLaren brand and motorsports in general.

What inspired the McLaren World’s Fastest Gamer competition?

The idea behind it is finding the champion of champions. There are many debates on forums and communities across the internet which will discuss whether one favorite game is better than another one. Normally, competitions have been held on one specific platform, and we’ve never had a chance to find out which game is the champion of champions. So, we set out to bring all of those diverse games together to find out what the best of the best is. The great thing about it is that it’s got probably the best prize in esports, which is a year’s contract to work at McLaren’s Formula 1 factory in the UK as a simulator driver helping out the Formula 1 team as they performance engineer their race car.

How did the competition come together?

I’ve had a relationship with a number of people from McLaren over the years, and Zak Brown, the new executive director of the Formula 1 team, and I have worked on a number of projects. I went to them with this concept and we quickly signed a deal to make this happen. Zak is changing a lot of things at McLaren, and one of those things is letting driver Fernando Alonso race in the Indianapolis 500. He’s doing things differently from the traditional approach of Formula 1 teams, and despite how Formula 1 is a technologically advanced and an innovative sport, it can sometimes be very conservative in the ways it goes to market and attracts fans.

McLaren is changing that and that’s why they decided to commit to World’s Fastest Gamer and be the first Formula 1 team to be heavily involved in gaming, despite the fact that gaming is a huge part of the fans’ interaction with motorsports. We’ve got everything from mobile through to PC, and all the games are being played with McLaren products. For them, it’s a fantastic marketing tool—not just for the content of gamers being seen in a McLaren environment, but also because their cars are being driven virtually by thousands of gamers that may not have previously. I think that everyone in the motor industry is now seeing gaming as a valuable marketing tool instead of as just a way of deriving license fees.

What led to the inclusion of Gear.Club, and how do you get over the huge differences between the mobile, console and PC platforms?

That’s the beauty of the competition. Formula 1 is and has been very exclusive, as is esports in a way. When you look at some of the esports, you need a high-end PC and a very good keyboard, mouse or controller. McLaren and I wanted to democratize motorsports. We wanted to make this as accessible as possible, and not just from a cost point of view, but from a geographical one. There are parts of the world where you can’t compete in esports because they lack the internet bandwidth. So, we spoke to a number of different mobile game licensees, and Gear.Club—a newcomer to the space—was willing to use this platform and project as a marketing tool. We’re excited to have an accessible game like Gear.Club played alongside rFactor 2, which is seen as one of the best simulators on the PC. Whatever your focus is in the racing world, you’ve got access to one of the world’s greatest sports.

Besides the fact that they have McLaren cars in them, what goes into choosing these games?

I would say an open mind, because it’s the first year and no one knows how these sorts of projects will pan out. It’s great to have such a strong brand like McLaren to back it, but year one of any project is always a test. Everyone we’re working with has an open mindset and they’re looking at different ways to improve the project. In year one, we can’t give you a bunch of stats like KPIs, but we can explain the five-year vision of where this is going, and those with open minds have committed very early to it.

What is the long-term goal in targeting gamers with the competition?

It’s to open both McLaren and motorsports to a new audience. We had a study with a partner site a couple of years ago that indicated that about 78 percent of gamers found motorsports through gaming. As we know from studies in other sports such as major league soccer, the younger generations are finding sports through gaming rather than their local soccer fields, race tracks or athletics tracks—they’re discovering in a different way. McLaren has seen that the average age of racing fans is going up, it wants to get to a new audience, and they’ve made a big commitment to be in this area.

A side benefit of that is that their cars are being driven through virtual test drives. Now, I don’t think anyone is saying that anyone is going to buy a McLaren car off the back of World’s Fastest Gamer, but there is some data that suggests that the McLaren brand went up significantly when one of its cars was featured on the cover of a Forza game. You can become affiliated with a brand through gaming. Perhaps having McLaren seen as an innovative brand will bring it to the attention of people who can afford the cars.

What is the relationship between high-end car brands and gamers, many of whom may not be able to afford them?

It’s an interesting space, and we know that many other car brands are getting further involved in gaming. Porsche had a recent partnership with Forza at Le Mans, where roughly 100 gamers were flown there to race virtually while the real Le Mans 24 Hours was on. Audi has also had competitions on Forza. So, we’re looking at the high-end brands, knowing that they need to be in this space for the future and because they know that their current consumers are gamers. We know that some people spend tens of thousands of dollars on gaming rigs, so the dynamics and demographics of gamers are changing dramatically.

A number of brands have even used gaming to launch cars. BMW is launching the 6-series in Gran Turismo before it launches in the real world this fall. Like I said before, car manufacturers once saw gaming as an income stream that was a profitable sideline to their normal business, but the switch is coming where brands want their cars to be in certain games, and they work closely with publishers to make sure they’re front and center. I can see the license fee model changing, where certain games will be able to charge the other way around—offering premium position for car brands. That’s how important gaming is to the car industry.

How have you been getting the word out about this global multiplatform competition?

This is a multi-year deal, so we haven’t gone hard in the beginning—we’re building it very organically. Our main outlets are the McLaren social media sites, and they have millions of followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They’re pushing this story to their current fans. We have an excellent media partner called GiveMeSport, which is the biggest sports publisher on Facebook with 26 million fans and they’ve been carrying all of our content. So, at the moment, we’re just doing introductory content about the gamers that have gotten through to the finals and what the competition is all about.

We’ll be livestreaming the main qualifiers next month across Facebook Live, YouTube and Twitch, but the main piece of content will be the finals in late October, early November at McLaren’s. We’ll have short-form content, livestreaming and we’ll have a long-form documentary style piece about the competition and the winner. It’s 100 percent digital first because we know that’s where our audience is, it’s where gamers are and it’s where car fans are today. We haven’t done any broadcasting with traditional channels, so everything is rights free and free to access. We’re also engaging with individual gaming communities that exist around Gran Turismo, Forza, Project Cars and others.

‘Life Is Strange’ Prequel Connects With Fans Using Authenticity

Episodic game series Life is Strange was a huge hit when it debuted in 2015. Developed by French studio Dontnod Entertainment and set in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, the game told a multilayered story across five episodes that covered issues such as grief, bullying, sexuality and suicide, just to name a few.

All of it was wrapped in a supernatural coming-of-age story and a complex murder mystery involving strange characters, reminiscent of the TV show Twin Peaks.

Both adolescent and adult fans were drawn to the teen drama about a high school girl named Max Caufield who used time travel abilities to change decisions—ones that mostly centered on her estranged childhood friend Chloe Price, who was looking for her missing friend Rachel Amber.

So, it came as a surprise to fans when, instead of announcing a sequel, Square Enix brought a prequel titled Life is Strange: Before the Storm to this year’s E3, which is being developed by Deck Nine Games (formerly Idol Minds) while Dontnod finishes its work on a separate game called Vampyr.

The three-episode game series will release its first chapter August 31. It will focus specifically on Chloe Price (who does not have any supernatural abilities) and is set during the time period when she first meets Rachel. The setting is important because it deals with a period that isn’t fully discussed in the first game; therefore fans won’t already know what will happen, or how the story will end.

Zakariah Garriss, lead writer at Deck Nine Games

“We’re examining the life of this girl when she’s really lost and has burned every bridge at school and at home,” Zakariah Garriss, lead writer at Deck Nine Games, told AListDaily. “We’re looking at what it’s like for her when she meets Rachel Amber and examining what it’s like in someone’s life when they need somebody and they meet somebody who can change everything for them.”

Garriss has had experience in Hollywood writing for TV and film before entering game development, and the opportunity to work on the Life is Strange franchise came when the studio met with Square Enix to discuss using its game development toolset StoryForge.

That conversation occurred just as the Life is Strange fan base was exploding, which shifted the topic of the conversation. “Square cares so much about the franchise, that world, and meeting fans’ desires to go back there,” said Garriss. “We met, and those conversations turned into discussing what kind of story we would tell in a Life is Strange game. That led to creating the prequel.”

However, one of the core elements from the first game was Max’s ability to rewind time. Garriss explained how he pitched fans the idea of a Life is Strange game that didn’t seem all that strange. “While we don’t have a power like time travel, we have plenty of supernatural stuff in the game,” he said. “The idea of Chloe herself having a power felt wrong, but Arcadia Bay is a very strange place. Life is Strange’s art and narrative styles have surreal aesthetics to them. It has the willingness to examine odd, almost unexplained things as ways to represent the interior worlds of the personalities that live there. We’ve fully embraced that. There are all sorts of strange and surreal spaces to navigate in the game.

“The other way I would pitch it is that [the story] is more about responding to fans. I think the thing that’s most memorable about Life is Strange for most people isn’t the power, it’s the characters. It’s dealing with these relatable people and real-world issues. A lot of those stories were very personal [with issues like] bullying, relationships and even sexuality. There’s a courage there that we see as the cornerstone of the franchise—taking relatable problems that teenagers go through very seriously. We let that be our guide.”

It seems as though fans have taken to the game’s announcement very well, despite the fact that it’s being developed by a different studio. “There was rightfully a lot of curiosity,” said Garriss, “but our experience is in sharing what we’re doing by talking about the work and revealing more as we lead up to launch. We’ve received an incredible groundswell of support from the community, which is excited to go back to Arcadia Bay. The expectations are really high, and we wouldn’t have it as any other way. We all identify as fans ourselves.”

With the release date fast approaching, Deck Nine has been closely engaged with fans of the series. “One the most exciting moments for us in development was E3, because that’s when we announced, released the first trailer and started to engage the public to talk about the game and what’s to come,” said Garriss. “Here at the studio, we all monitor social media differently, but our entire studio was watching when we announced the game and they saw YouTube videos of people recording their responses to the announcement and trailer. We take them very seriously, and it’s an incredible privilege to work in this franchise and share our love of Life is Strange with the community. It’s incredibly humbling and rewarding to see so many people excited about the game and wanting to learn more about what Before the Storm is going to be like.”

Before the Storm was also presented at the San Diego Comic-Con, where Deck Nine showed an early demo of the game. The studio has also released developer diaries on social media and YouTube as opportunities to further engage with the enthusiastic community.

In May, Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment announced that Life is Strange had sold over three million copies, and thanked its community for sending a multitude of supportive letters and gifts, including photos and even statues inspired by the game. Garriss shared his thoughts about how Life is Strange brought together an incredibly dedicated fan base that’s comprised of both teenagers and adults.

“To me, it’s about the flaws in the characters,” said Garriss. “Life is Strange is about telling stories with imperfect people who are dealing with really difficult but relatable problems. I think there’s a kind of celebration of the normal, even as it explodes what normal means if everyone is weird—if everyone is a little strange. There’s a kindness in that. There aren’t a lot of stories that feature characters who are really flawed but very real. I think that’s what creates the powerful connection players have with Max, Chloe and the other personalities in Arcadia Bay.”

In addition to the dramatic story and engaging characters, the music featured in Life is Strange turned out to be a huge draw for fans. The game became a vehicle for music discovery, which led to the inclusion of a soundtrack disc in the Life is Strange Limited Edition, a boxed retail edition that released last year.

Before the Storm will continue to engage with that love of music by including a Mixtape Mode in the deluxe edition. With it, players can create their own playlists from the soundtrack to play alongside a dramatic scene in the game.

Jeff Litchford, vice president at Deck Nine Games, discussed Before the Storm’s soundtrack with AListDaily.

“The first Life is Strange game was hugely praised for music and we want to follow in those footsteps,” said Litchford. “Aside from multiple licensed tracks, we also have a bespoke musical score that has been created for the game by a well-known band. Discoverability is something we feel was really important in the first game, and we look to continue this by using a mixture of recognizable tracks alongside some bands that players may not have come across themselves.”

‘The Crew 2’ Expands Franchise With Planes, Boats And Community Engagement

Motorsport fans have a lot to look forward to next year when The Crew 2 releases. The game, which is coming to PC and consoles (enhanced with PlayStation Pro and Xbox One X features), will be a significant step up from its predecessor—a massively multiplayer online game that focuses exclusively on land-based vehicles. In the sequel, players will have the opportunity to race across the skies and dodge obstacles in planes, then take to seas in race boats, and go on land again to do stunts in a monster truck, participate in a pro circuit race, speed through city streets or go off-roading throughout the United States.

Ahmed Boukhelifa, managing director at Ivory Tower (a Ubisoft studio)

Speaking with AListDaily, Ahmed Boukhelifa, managing director at Ivory Tower, a Ubisoft studio, said that the newest installment in the racing franchise completely reinvents the game. The gigantic open world encompasses practically all of the US and lets players compete online across sea, land and air events to prove who the fastest racers are.

“When we released The Crew three years ago, we knew that it was only the beginning,” said Boukhelifa. “We did a lot to expand the game because we had a lot that we still wanted to do. Our incredibly engaged community was asking for stuff and we knew that we had to improve the game, releasing patches and expansions to make the game bigger, more varied and interesting than ever. But at some point, even with all those evolutions, we were getting to a wall that we needed to break in order to bring a revolution. That’s what we’re doing with The Crew 2.”

Boukhelifa also went into detail about the new frontiers Ivory Tower wanted to explore, stating that the developer had to look at the world and cities from all directions using cars, planes and boats.

“We had to reinvent our world, so we needed to not be afraid to break anything—to break everything—and that’s what we did and why we made The Crew 2,” Boukhelifa explained. “It will be another good start for a very long life of updates and expansions.”

Although Ivory Tower will be happy to keep the original game going after the sequel launches, Boukhelifa said, “We’d love for all the players to come and join [The Crew 2]. That’s why we set up a loyalty program, and every month (for a total of 10 months) players will have specific objectives which will allow them to earn new cars and vehicles that will be waiting for them in The Crew 2.”

The loyalty program started in June, and players earn achievements and rewards through Ubisoft’s Uplay platform.

“Not only is it a way for players to earn cool new vehicles for The Crew 2, but it will give them objectives to rediscover everything that is in The Crew,” said Boukhelifa.

So far, fans seem excited about the sequel, even though the announcement came from out of the blue (so to speak) during Ubisoft’s pre-E3 presentation.

“When you’re creating a game, it’s all about listening to the community, but it’s also about developing your vision and taking risks,” Boukhelifa explained. “You want to give players what they want, but you also want to surprise them. Through the planes and boats, we wanted to create a surprise. We worked very hard to make sure we presented a wide scope of content at E3 and we’re super happy with the response from the community.”

Pleasing a highly engaged community is one of the top lessons learned from servicing The Crew.

“What’s been interesting is that now with online games, you’re always interacting with the community,” said Boukhelifa. “You provide a service, people are playing and you know what they’re playing and what they don’t. They vote with their feet like the British Parliament—if they don’t like it, they won’t come. If they like it, they will come and ask for more. If there are issues, you’ll hear about it on the forums or the community media. We’ve been listening, always trying to do our best to understand what the players like and how they play.

“Actually, we don’t have one type of player. We have several types of players who like to play differently. Some like to explore the world, some like to compete. Some will compete very hard while some compete more casually, and some will want to do and collect everything. We try to give them new ways to play over numerous updates in The Crew, and that was the basis from which we worked from [to make The Crew 2].”

Attendees were given an early look at The Crew 2 at E3, and Boukhelifa went into detail about how they presented the enormity of the world and the variety of vehicles at the event. He said that they started by showing a map of the US and zooming into New York City and out again. Then they did the same with Miami and other cities. That’s when audiences realized that the scope included Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, St. Louis and everything in between.

“Then suddenly, what’s just a premise of the US becomes something that is too big to consider,” said Boukhelifa.

That’s when gameplay using boats, planes and cars was added to show the wide variety of vehicles featured across different events and challenges.

“You put all of that in a shaker and suddenly, the sky’s the limit,” he said.

When describing the essence of The Crew’s brand, Boukhelifa went into detail about the experience Ivory Tower strove for to engage its players.

“We want to allow everybody to live their passion for driving and motorsports—all the pleasure you have when driving a vehicle. Hearing the engine roar, feeling the asphalt below your wheels, feeling the air when you’re driving, and the exhilaration of having your plane go around buildings and down near a river. All the skills you need to develop and the pure pleasure you have when playing with those vehicles are realistic recreations.

“It’s a passion that we have for motorsports in all its varieties. When you consider street racing, it’s very different from racing on the circuit, which is different from freestyling and doing stunts with a monster truck. But at the same time, when you go for it and live this passion with these events, in these vehicles, at those places, it’s a very unique and true experience. It’s a passion that we want to make live in the game in all its forms.”

The current fan base, which includes over 12 million players, according to Boukhelifa, certainly seems to feel that passion. After converting them into The Crew 2 players, the challenge will be in getting new players. Boukhelifa believes that the fresh challenges and experiences featured in The Crew 2 will be the key to both engaging with current players and attracting new ones.

“The first step is putting out the game and showing it—getting journalists and players to play it and talk about it. The media is a huge way for us to get the word out there and it’s only the beginning. We opened the registration for our beta program, and of course, getting the game in the hands of players is another major step,” said Boukhelifa. “We’ve seen a massive response in registrations and we’re happy with that. We intend to keep engaging with the community through the loyalty program in The Crew, through the betas that will be coming, and other opportunities in our future communications.”

Asus ZenFone AR Makes An Argument For Why Brands Should Embrace Augmented Reality

Asus launched the ZenFone AR in the United States on Thursday. Built to be a kind of dream smartphone for technology enthusiasts, the ZenFone AR features high specifications, including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 mobile processor.

It’s also currently one of only two devices in the world that supports the Google Tango augmented reality technology (the other being the Lenovo Phab 2), and it’s the only smartphone that has both Tango and Daydream—Google’s mobile virtual reality platform. The phone is available exclusively through Verizon and is priced at $648 for the 128 GB model.

Verizon and Asus partnered to host a pre-launch event in New York City on Wednesday to showcase the ZenFone AR and its capabilities. There, attendees could get their hands on the cutting-edge phone and try out a range of applications including: AR and VR games, the BMW i Visualizer app, which lets users project and customize life-sized virtual cars into real-world spaces like garages or driveways, the Google Expeditions application, which lets educators illustrate concepts like volcanoes, tornadoes and tsunamis using animated 3D models that viewers can step around, a Spider-Man AR photo booth and Wayfair’s 3D shopping app, which uses AR to let users place virtual furniture pieces in their homes and offices to see how they look.

Randall Grilli, director of media relations for Asus

Randall Grilli, director of media relations for Asus, sat down with AListDaily at the showcase event to discuss the ZenFone AR, which he describes as a top-of-the line smartphone that’s been purpose built for AR and VR.

“Most of the ZenFones are purpose built,” said Grilli, pointing to his own ZenFone 3 Zoom and explaining how it was created as a high-end camera phone. “I think that you’ll find that we purpose built a lot of our products. With the ZenFones in particular, we make phones for specific purposes or people. This (ZenFone AR) is purpose built for AR and VR, so you’ll buy it based on that.”

So, what audience does the world’s first AR and VR phone address, specifically?

“AR is pretty new, but there are a lot of different functions for it,” said Grilli. “So, it could be for a lot of different audiences, depending on what you’re looking for. For example, Google Expeditions is an education-based platform. We’re doing a lot with learning with it, and Tango is a learning tool—it learns the world around you and communicates it back—so applications can be varied. You’ll probably see a mix of education, mobile shopping and entertainment.”

Grilli also stated the early technology adopters were likely to be the target audience for the ZenFone AR, given the phone’s high-end specifications. Asus partnered with Google to develop some of the core Tango applications, particularly Expeditions, and it has worked closely with Qualcomm to ensure those apps run smoothly on the device.

Compared to the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which released last fall, Grilli said, “The [Tango] platform is more mature, and the ZenFone AR has a much better spec, given that the Lenovo phone is a year old. Both run Tango, but this has a totally different set of sensors and cameras that are more sophisticated than what you’ll find on the Lenovo Phab 2.”

Discussing whether it was important for Asus to have the first fully capable AR/VR phone on the market, Grilli said, “It’s great to be first, but I don’t know if it’s important. It’s great that we have all these technologies that we’re able to combine in a portable way. You don’t have to have a giant computing system to have VR and AR, and that’s something that you’ll see that’s continuous throughout our product line.

“The ZenFone 3 Zoom is tiny with a thin form factor and lasts 42 days on standby. So, I think you’ll find that consistently throughout a lot of our products—making technology more accessible to more people in a small form factor is probably the most important aspect.”

For many consumers, one of the first things that comes to mind when hearing about mobile AR is Pokémon GO, the location-based mobile game that caught fire with mobile players last summer. However, the game ran on straightforward smartphones, so why should they be interested in Tango?

Pokémon GO isn’t true AR in the strictest sense,” Grilli replied. “With Tango, you have three qualifying factors—motion tracking, the infrared sensor (for distance tracking) and the dual camera. Without those three combined, you’re not going to have that true experience. What you’re getting with Pokémon GO is an overlay on a map. But if you look at something like Expeditions, you’re getting true-to-life mapping and data points. It’s fixed on an object found in the real world, so it’s much more sophisticated technology.”

Grilli explained how AR in general might be more appealing to consumers than a single game, even one as big as Pokémon GO. “Not everyone likes to game, but everyone is into shopping,” he said. “So, you’re going to see richer shopping experiences come, which will be more interesting to consumers. We have different verticals here, including car-and-furniture shopping and education—and there are games too, of course, because they’re popular. We’re seeing more developers take advantage of the AR platform, and [someday] it will be as basic as software in the future—there will be a different flavor for everyone.”

All these applications are why the ZenFone AR’s catchphrase is, “Go beyond reality.” According to Grilli, the biggest incentive for brands to start taking advantage of AR comes from how the technology eliminates barriers.

“One of the things that makes Amazon so successful is that you can point, click and order online,” said Grilli. “But now we can take it a step further by seeing how things look in your house, trying clothes on for yourself, or creating a custom spec car and ordering it direct. These are all experiences that are moving closer to true-to-life, but from the comfort of wherever you are—your home, office or on-the-go.”

Grilli believes that experiencing AR and VR first-hand, in addition to growing the experiences to provide “more flavors for more people,” will be the keys to growing consumer adoption for the technologies. That is why Asus and Verizon partnered to host the showcase event. But ultimately, it all comes down to the in-store experience.

“We worked with Verizon closely on in-store training,” said Grilli. “It’s a new technology, so we want consumers to know about the experiences, and one of the ways to do that is in the stores. Representatives will be trained to show the different varieties of Tango AR apps you can use.”

Inside The NBA’s New Marketing Deal With Fitbit And Minnesota Timberwolves

When NBA players hit the hardwood floor this fall, the jersey straps on their shoulders will look entirely different.

The league is making a pair of marketing moves when the season tips off in October, one being a new global apparel partnership with Nike that features the iconic swoosh logo occupying the longtime real estate once reserved for the Jerry West-inspired silhouette. The other is that each of the 30 teams will send players to the court on a nightly basis emblazoned with a brand-sponsored patch.

The NBA’s board of governors approved jersey sponsorships last year as part of a three-year pilot program that marries teams with brands both on-and-off the court, and more than a third of the league’s franchises have already secured sponsors. Each team is responsible for negotiating and selling their own jersey sponsorships, and 11 have already formed unions:

Boston Celtics (GE), Brooklyn Nets (Infor), Cleveland Cavaliers (Goodyear), Detroit Pistons (Flagstar Bank), Denver Nuggets (Western Union), Minnesota Timberwolves (Fitbit), Orlando Magic (Disney), Philadelphia 76ers (StubHub), Sacramento Kings (Blue Diamond), Toronto Raptors (Sun Life) and Utah Jazz (Qualtrics).

The patches are netting in the neighborhood of $3-to-$8 million per year, with pricing varying from glamour franchises with marketable stars to cellar-dwelling teams getting little play on national television.

The new branded format positions the NBA to provide deeper engagement with partners looking to build unique associations with its teams. In turn, the investments pad the pockets of both owners and a multi-billion-dollar league that’s looking toward innovation to allow for them to remain competitive in a global marketplace.

Basketball fans will not be forced to buy retail versions adorning sponsor patches, but teams have the option to sell the branded-jerseys in their own retail outlets.

AListDaily united the one-two punch of Tim Rosa, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Fitbit, and formerly the vice president of global brand development at Electronic Arts, and Ethan Casson, CEO for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, and the COO and CRO of the San Francisco 49ers before that, to dish details on how this deal will shift the sports marketing landscape and what we can expect from their partnership moving forward.

Why were the Timberwolves and the market of Minnesota the best fit for Fitbit to partner with as the “official wearable,” “official sleep tracker” and jersey patch?

Rosa: When determining the NBA landscape in terms of sponsorship, the Timberwolves were a natural fit—this partnership provides a chance to work with a young, up-and-coming NBA team, dominant WNBA team and premier NBA developmental team. Both organizations are uniquely aware of the role data and analytics can play in improving performance and the partnership offers a chance to work across the whole Timberwolves organization, expanding our work in the corporate wellness space. Minnesota also makes sense for us—it’s home to many like-minded partners of Fitbit, including UnitedHealthcare. Duluth topped our “fittest cities” list this year, with Minneapolis taking second place last year.

Why was it important for the Timberwolves to partner with a wearables brand?

Casson: When we set out to find a partner for the jersey patch, we looked locally, nationally and even internationally to find who would be right for this opportunity. In Fitbit, we found an ideal partner at a time when our franchise is taking a fresh look at technology and innovation, and how it can be leveraged within our business to improve operations, fan experience and fan engagement. There are many synergies between our two companies—both of us are very focused on the role data and analytics play in our businesses, and on being innovators in our respective industries.

(Former Timberwolves star Zach LaVine’s first-hand experience using Fitbit Blaze, shortly before he was traded this offseason.)

Is the NBA introducing ad-sponsored jerseys a good thing for the league? What are you looking forward to learning most about the process?

Casson: The NBA continues to be at the forefront of these types of initiatives and we’re thrilled to partner with Fitbit on this new and powerful piece of inventory. With the popularity of the NBA game at an all-time high, I think the media exposure attached to the patch will be remarkable. . . . The patch provides another piece of inventory to start the conversation, and in the case of Fitbit, is one part of a much larger relationship. We’re looking at this as a bigger story around health and wellness, technology and innovation.

Fitbit positioned its brand on providing data and analytics. On the business side, how are you using data and analytics as part of your overall marketing strategy to reach fans?

Casson: Our emphasis on data and analytics has expanded tremendously over the past several years. Where our business intelligence unit started as a department of one, it has now grown to a department of eight people who are continually looking at ways to customize the experience for our fans. . . . We’ll be making a series of technology announcements, including new partners and upgrades, over the next several months. We recently announced a new app that will launch prior to next season through VenueNext, and we will continue to unveil significant technology upgrades tied to the re-opening of the renovated Target Center prior to the upcoming season . . . Our new app will give our team even more capabilities for gathering insights to help us understand our fans’ preferences, make customized recommendations and make informed business decisions about our fans’ behavior.

Why is it important for a sports franchise to tell a bigger story around innovation and health and wellness?  

Rosa: When we were looking at this opportunity, we saw the ability to extend our relationship beyond just a business sponsorship, and form a real partnership with the Timberwolves where we are working together and collaborating. Data from Fitbit wearables can help the Timberwolves on and off the court. While the NBA does not allow wearables to be worn during games, there is a lot of innovation happening around sensor technology and its placement. The goal is to create the awareness and really start to dig in with a team that is embracing innovation and technology, and use it in a lot of different ways. For example, seeing how sleep plays a role in performance and fitness, or how travel schedules and back-to-back games affect a player’s performance and recovery.

Jimmy Butler, acquired through a draft-day trade from Chicago, was introduced as a new member of the Timberwolves, complemented by Fitbit branding.

How are you going to leverage this pact to identify new ways that Fitbit can provide value to other brands?

Rosa: We believe that wearable technology is in a position to change the sports and fitness landscape—whether with everyday athletes or professionals. We’re committed to working together to identify new and innovative ways that our technology can help enhance and improve performance throughout the organization as it embarks on a promising future. We’re exploring opportunities for the Iowa Wolves to serve as a testbed for using Fitbit technology in new ways to enhance basketball performance.

How does a partnership like this fit into Fitbit’s overall marketing strategy?

Rosa: This isn’t our first work with the NBA—we have previously worked with the Warriors and Cavaliers in the area of corporate wellness, and announced an integration with NBA 2K17 to provide video game players with in-game rewards based on their real-world activity. We continue to embrace new partnerships with brands that share our vision for engaging the community and helping consumers lead active, healthy lives.

What are you most looking forward to getting out of this union?

Rosa: We’re excited about the opportunity this partnership provides to generate excitement and awareness around the value wearable technology can bring to the NBA. This will also raise the profile of wearables with everyday consumers and professional athlete.

Considering your new roster and excitement behind it, highlighted by the addition of Jimmy Butler, how will the Timberwolves be leveraging this as part of a larger rebranding strategy?

Casson: We have entered a new era of Timberwolves basketball—beyond the exciting roster, we also have new leadership on and off the court, a newly renovated Target Center hitting the finish line in time for next season, and are currently undergoing a rebrand. We unveiled our new logo in April, and soon we will be unveiling our new uniforms with Fitbit patches included on these brand new designs. The partnership with Fitbit is also absolutely a part of this new era. The announcement is just the first step and there are many directions we can go both on and off the court. We look forward to working alongside Fitbit to make this an exciting partnership over the next three years.

Pixels And Ink: Marketing Video Games Through Comic Books

Video game publishers have had a friend in the comic book industry for over three decades. From Atari Force to Tomb Raider, that bond continues today by providing fans with deep back stories, promotional tie-ins and even tales based on player experiences.

Video game-themed comic books are more than simple promotional tools. In fact, fans often love a franchise so much that they ask for more ways to enjoy it.

Sega and Amplitude Studios, for example, just released the fourth and final issue in a series of digital comic books called Endless Space 2 Stories. Each issue gives insight into the factions of the Endless Space game universe, as penned by the game’s writers Jeff Spock and Steven Gaskell. Amplitude’s Olivier Moreno provides artwork alongside other comic artists including Max Raynor (Judge Dredd), Denis Medri (Red Hood) and Yoon Seong Park.

“We often get requests for some more material to dive into the Endless Universe outside of the games—something to keep immersing oneself into the lives of heroes and villains, as a hero holding a standard or a fly on the wall,” Amplitude senior community director François Hardy wrote on the Endless Space 2 Steam page. “So, we listened and thought real hard about vignettes that could capture the spirit of each civilization in Endless Space 2. Comics seemed a great material to convey an atmosphere.”

Video games often fail to translate to other mediums—especially film—because each player creates his/her own memories within a franchise. This is particularly true for Eve Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that features 7,800 star systems to explore.

Player stories within the Eve Online universe became such an integral part of the community and game’s lore that developer CCP decided to chronicle them.

“We crowdsourced a number of stories from our players and published a comic book in partnership with Dark Horse Comics (EVE: True Stories) based on them,” Torfi Frans Olafsson, senior director of business development for North America at CCP told AlistDaily, who noted that the process was definitely a challenge.

“I remember when we were doing the comic book with Dark Horse, I was trying to think of an example of where this had been done before to act as a template. I couldn’t find one. There’s no playbook for taking a narrative that’s been shaped by so many people and crafting it into something. At times, we thought we could do it with big data analysis and tracking people like were the NSA or something. But in the end, it just comes down to good storytelling and journalism.”

Sometimes, a character or video game world is bigger than what a player can experience in one playthrough. Expanding on a game’s lore is another way game developers tell stories and enrich gameplay experiences with this additional knowledge. Franchises like Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Tekken, Halo, Gears of War, The Last of Us, Darksiders, Silent Hill, World of Tanks and more have used comics to share back stories, crossovers and bonus content with the players.

Back in 1982, home video game consoles were a new market—so to appeal to young audiences, Atari teamed up with DC Comics and added a little extra. Enter Atari Force, a series of mini comics packaged with game cartridges that illustrated storylines for a number of Atari Games. Since then, other games have leaped onto the pages of comics, including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid (Valiant) and Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics and soon IDW). Sonic would go on to (fittingly) become the longest-running comic book series based on a video game.

Both industries have come a long way since then, with video games fetching $30.4 billion in the US last year. Thanks in part to blockbuster films, total comics and graphic novel sales to consumers in the US and Canada reached $1.1 billion in 2016, a $55 million increase in sales over 2015.

Video games help drive comic book sales, too. For example, Tomb Raider issue #1 became the top-selling comic book of 1999. Video games and comic books unite fandoms in new and interesting ways by pitting heroes against one another (Injustice: Gods Among Us) or taking superpowers for a test run (Marvel Powers United VR). Batman: Arkham Asylum was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most critically-acclaimed superhero video game in 2015.

We think these two industries will be friends for a long time.

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

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

Walking Dead, Posing Fans

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

Legion Of Fans

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

Marveling At VR

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

Demigorgons, Zombies And Ghosts—Oh, My

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

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

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

Creepy Clowns And Replicant Hunting

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

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

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

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

Paul Mitchell Neon Supergirl Pro Empowering Female Gamers Through Esports

Esports have been growing by leaps and bounds, and the industry is expected to bring in $1.1 billion in revenue by 2019, according to Newzoo. But there is one segment of the gaming population that has been slow to rise with it—women. Although women make up almost half of the video gaming audience, that isn’t reflected in the esports space, where most—if not all—of the top teams are comprised completely of men.

The good news is that companies like Intel are working with ESL to turn that around. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers, which owns Team Dignitas, is connecting its women’s team with brand sponsors, particularly those that wouldn’t fit with a male team. Now ASA Entertainment, the company that manages the Paul Mitchell Neon Supergirl Pro (an event that promotes women in male-dominated areas of sports, media, entertainment and education), is looking to empower female gamers by launching an esports tournament to coincide with the event.

The Supergirl Gamer Pro is a female-dedicated multi-title esports tournament that will take place from July 28-to-30 at the Oceanside Pier in Oceanside, California. This marks the first time esports will be featured at the Supergirl Pro, which is also celebrating its tenth anniversary. The top teams will go head-to-head for a cash and sponsored product prizes in League of Legends and Hearthstone live on stage with the final three rounds of the tournament livestreamed on Twitch. ASA Entertainment is relying heavily on a grassroots campaign, using social media and esports influencers to get the word out about the tournament.

AListDaily spoke with ASA Entertainment CEO Rick Bratman, who said the main goal of the Supergirl Gamer Pro tournament was to show that women are excellent players and deserve the same opportunities that men receive. He added that the tournament would both entertain audiences and inspire them to help change the way the industry treats and perceives women as more enter into professional gaming.

Rick Bratman, CEO of ASA Entertainment

What inspired the inclusion of the Supergirl Gamer Pro esports tournament?

The Supergirl Pro has provided opportunities for women in traditionally male-dominated areas of sports, entertainment, media and education for the past 11 years. Esports is the perfect example of an industry where women are unnecessarily treated like second-class citizens despite a huge percentage of the gender that considers themselves avid gamers. By most accounts, 46 percent of all gamers are women, yet females receive less than one percent of all tournament spots in esports. After seeing this ridiculous disparity and witnessing the tremendous toxicity towards women in gaming, we decided to launch the Supergirl Gamer Pro to provide a platform for female gamers and to help inspire women to take a larger role within esports. Our mission is to encourage the empowerment and participation of more women in competitive gaming and to help facilitate a future where women and men have equal opportunities within esports.

How do esports and the Paul Mitchell Neon Supergirl Pro brand go together?

Esports was a perfect fit given Supergirl Pro’s mission to empower women and to identify genres of culture where women are simply not treated as equals. It’s incredibly important to develop this platform for women to feel safe when competing in esports, and we want to use the power of the Supergirl Pro brand to help foster a strong, positive and healthy environment for women gamers.

Why do you believe there should be a stronger women’s presence in esports?

From an outsider’s perspective, I can’t comprehend why women and men don’t receive equal opportunity already within esports. Women are generally smarter than most guys I know [laughs], and there is certainly no issue with thumb dexterity. Simply put, if women represent 46 percent of all gamers, then women should receive 46 percent of the tournament opportunities and 46 percent of the sponsorship dollars.

What are some of the main sponsors for the Supergirl Gamer Pro tournament and how will they be represented?

Twitch and Blizzard were the first companies to recognize the importance of this initiative and they jumped on board immediately. Twitch has been incredible in its support financially, spiritually and socially. They will be livestreaming 20 hours of tournament play from the event and have helped connect us to a number of influential members of the gaming community. Corsair has also been a great partner and will be supplying the hardware and peripherals for the event. There are a number of additional brands that love the project and will be supporting at smaller levels in 2017, but want to be a much larger part of the event as it grows in 2018 and beyond.

Why were Hearthstone and League of Legends chosen as the featured games?

We wanted both a five-versus-five and a one-versus-one game for the first iteration of the Supergirl Gamer Pro. Given the family-friendly environment of the event’s festival, we also wanted games that were both PG-13 and recognizable. Hearthstone was selected as the one-versus-one game in consultation with Blizzard and LoL was a no-brainer for the team game, given the criteria.