Electronic Arts Opens ‘Madden NFL’ Esports Playbook

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is real-time 3D impacting virtual reality?

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

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

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

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

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

Brands Court Esports Fans With Scripted Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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.”