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.


Game Brands Expand Their Reach By Creating Original Content

Gaming households have enjoyed access to TV through apps on their favorite consoles for years, so it makes sense that console manufacturers would take the leap into show business. OTT and original programming create additional value for those investing in gaming hardware, as well as revenue streams for game brands through subscriptions and advertising.

Nielsen recently found that 42 percent of TV households in the US own a video game console, compared to enabled smart TVs (28.9 percent) and streaming devices like AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV or Chromecast (23.3 percent).

Cord-cutting is on the rise as consumers forego cable to watch content when and wherever they please. PlayStation Vue was Sony’s answer to this movement.

“We’re going after the PlayStation user who is today not watching TV, driving a large ratings decline and is at high risk [for abandoning the pay-TV ecosystem],” Sony Computer Entertainment Group CEO Andrew House told The Wall Street Journal when PlayStation Vue was announced in 2015.

PlayStation Vue has since expanded to include HBO, Cinemax and a 24/7 ESL esports channel.

Video game enthusiasts are less likely to engage with mainstream platforms like cable TV, according to recent findings by analyst firm SuperData. Twenty-seven percent of video game livestream viewers watch most often during weekday evenings, often replacing primetime TV; 20 percent of US gaming video content (GVC) streamers are “cord-cutters,” SuperData found, compared to eight percent of the general US population.

In addition to offering OTT services, Sony keeps trying its hand at original programming, but PlayStation shows have yet to find their stride. It all began with The Tester in 2010 and then Powers in 2015. Powers, a series based on a comic of the same name, was a haven for product placement—gaining partners like Rolex, Dos Equis, and of course, Sony products galore. The show was canceled after two seasons, despite outperforming all other shows on PSN at the time.

Sony isn’t giving up, however, and is on the lookout for up-and-coming filmmakers to try again.

But what kind of an audience will they be serving to? Forty percent of Gen Z and 38 percent of millennials who subscribe to cable or satellite say they have plans to cancel their service in favor of an online-only option, according to Nielsen. Game consoles make it easy to make the switch, and PwC predicts that OTT and streaming subscription VOD revenue will grow to $10.4 billion by 2020.

Xbox found success with the documentary Atari: Game Over in 2014 and soon announced plans for Xbox Originals—a series of original programming exclusive to the gaming console. Since Every Street United, a documentary about aspiring football players premiered in 2015, however, all other announced projects have been stuck in “production hell,” as it were.

Apple, while not a console in the traditional sense, is certainly a gaming platform that has found success with its first original show, Planet of the Apps. Apple’s first step into branded content gives developers a shot at winning $10 million in funding and a top spot on the app store.

Excited app developers mean more apps, and more apps mean more shared revenue for Apple.

‘Castlevania’ Sinks Its Teeth Into A Lucrative Cross-Over Market

The Castlevania animated series has officially premiered on Netflix. Although only four episodes long, this R-rated tale of man versus vampire has garnered enough approval from the fans that Netflix immediately ordered a season two.

Inspired by Konami’s classic video game series, Castlevania is a dark medieval fantasy following the last surviving member of the disgraced Belmont clan who must save Eastern Europe from extinction at the hand of Dracula.

In May, Netflix teased the new series with a trailer—the beginning of which was created on an original Nintendo cartridge.

The show’s producer, Adi Shanker, will also bring an Assassin’s Creed animated series to Netflix soon. As a gamer, Shanker feels that video game adaptations tend to be poorly received because those who make them don’t understand the “language” of games.

“Video games are a new and fairly complex language,” Shanker told Mic. “You have to organically have learned the language and if you’re a gamer, then the language comes second nature to you. Older people who have in the past adapted games play the games as research, but you can’t learn the appeal.”

Other game publishers like Microsoft and EA have released films in the Japanese anime style such as Halo: Legends, Dead Space and Dante’s Inferno to promote their IPs. 3D animation is another popular style employed by publishers like Square Enix (Final Fantasy) and Capcom (Resident Evil). In fact, Capcom released Biohazard: Vendetta this summer—the third in a series that, unlike the live-action films, takes place within the Resident Evil/Biohazard video game universe. Additionally, Square Enix released the computer animated movie Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV to coincide with the launch of the Final Fantasy XV game last year, with both taking place in the same setting and story. Some editions of Final Fantasy XV had the film bundled with it.

Perhaps it is because so many classic games originated in Japan that anime and video games often cross over well. Final Fantasy, Persona, Pokémon, Yo Kai Watch and Naruto are all examples of a Japanese aesthetic that carries over from one genre to another with relative ease.

Rapidly growing distribution platforms such as Crunchyroll, Daisuki, Amazon’s Anime Strike and Netflix resulted in a phenomenal rise of anime distribution in markets beyond Japan—especially the United States—throughout 2016.

The Japanese animation industry is experiencing its fourth “Anime Boom,” according to The Association of Japanese Animations. This boom can be attributed to increases in market channels including internet distribution over the past decade.

The global anime market reached ¥1.8 trillion ($15.9 billion) in 2016, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, the video game market reached $99.6 billion last year, so the Japanese animation industry is probably more than happy to share an engaged and passionate fan base.

‘Millionaire’s Run’ Promo Will Literally Turn Someone Into A Millionaire

In an effort to invigorate the “endless runner” genre—and prove that Nintendo’s Mario isn’t the only one who gets to run and jump to collect coins—Australian entrepreneurs Grant Moyle and Todd Wild came up with the idea for Millionaire’s Run while on a business trip in Kolkata, India. There, they were playing mobile games and began discussing what the ultimate prize for a mobile game should be. Five years later, Millionaire’s Run was created in partnership with Code Heroes studio.

The mobile game where players must dash, jump or ride a motorcycle through a massive coin vault while dodging the “Police-O-Lanche” begins its beta period Friday with an official launch for iOS and Android on July 13. Players have extra incentive to download the free-to-play game, as there is a cash prize competition that starts today to coincide with the game’s debut. Top-scoring players from around the world will have a chance at a $1,000 cash pot each week with a $1 million grand prize at the contest’s conclusion.

“The Millionaire’s Run global game competition will run for six months throughout 2017, with the ultimate winner announced on New Year’s Eve,” Grant Moyle, the co-creator and managing director of Millionaire’s Run, told AListDaily. “Our game promotions will predominantly be through social media, online press and promo, as well as a viral digital video campaign. We also feel Millionaire’s Run is the world’s first mobile game to offer a prize of this magnitude and will drive a lot of word-of-mouth.”

The game will sell in-game boosts, which essentially amounts to extra lives to help players that fall continue their runs. However, players are only allowed five of them per run to maintain competitive fairness. Moyle stated that if the game is successful, we could see a second round of the Millionaire’s Run contest.

Although cash prizes make for very good reasons to play, Moyle explained how there are other reasons players may stay engaged with the game.

“The game has a fun, addictive quality about it, which leads to a desire to want to achieve the high score. The second iteration of the game would look at developing the hero character, investigating 3D aspects and expanding storylines. That being said, the core offering of this game is the prize, and I would see that is always core to its future,” Moyle said.

Moyle also detailed how the million-dollar launch promotion came together.

“The idea was conceived fairly early on in regards to the app store generating mass appeal to the global market,” said Moyle. “It was clear to us that there were very few products that had that level of global reach within a single distribution model and limited cost base. We asked ourselves a simple question—’how do we encourage as many people as possible to download a game app with an experience they would want to keep going back to?’ The answer was simple—’give them a million dollars!’ Thus, we started the idea of Millionaire’s Run from there.”

Amazon Game Studios Takes Esports Competition To The High Seas

Amazon Game Studios is taking esports to where it’s never been before. In a partnership with the Royal Dutch Navy, Red Bull Esports and AMD, pro teams Echo Fox and Rogue will go head-to-head to play Breakaway—a squad-based brawler where players take the roles of mythic heroes to compete against each other—aboard a naval battleship at sea. All of the high-seas action can be seen on the Red Bull Esports Twitch channel on Monday, June 26 at 3 p.m. ET.

The Battle on the High Seas event was announced last week via an official Breakaway blog post with a live action trailer that demonstrates some of the fast paced gameplay onboard the Royal Dutch Navy battleship. To win, teams must either take control of a golden orb (called a Relic) and bring it to the opponent’s base to score, or completely eliminate the opposing team’s players. Matches are limited to four minutes to keep the action going and the intensity high, which is magnified with the exhibition game’s exciting real-life setting. Viewers can also look forward to prizes, with Rogue running a sweepstake to give away four AMD Ryzen processors and 2,000 Breakaway alpha keys to promote the event.

Talking with AListDaily, David Silverman, head of marketing at Amazon Game Studios Orange County, explained how this partnership to bring esports aboard a battleship came together.

“It all started with the Royal Dutch Navy—they were looking for ways to incorporate competitive gaming into Sail Den Helder, an annual gathering of the largest tall ships in the world,” said Silverman. “After hearing a TEDx talk from our head of esports, Jonathan Pan, they approached him with this awesome opportunity.”

Silverman then talked about how Red Bull became involved. “Red Bull’s approach to esports, specifically their focus on community tournaments and the way they let players—rather than their own brand—take center stage in their marketing, really resonated with us. They liked our approach to competitive gaming too, so we decided to work together, starting with a Breakaway playtest at their Santa Monica studios. We started working with Echo Fox and Rogue around the same time.”

As for AMD and Razer, Silverman said, “we’ve worked closely with AMD since we unveiled Breakaway. They are passionate about gaming and we love working with them. Razer helped sponsor our USC vs. UCLA exhibition match a few months back, and was also great to work with. We’re thrilled to see all these pieces come together for Battle on the High Seas.”

When asked what inspired this event, Silverman replied, “It sounded like an incredibly cool opportunity, and we thought it was something our community would think was a lot of fun.” The tournament will be played inside of the battleship so that the heavy North Sea winds won’t interfere with the competition, and the casters will be on the second deck.

We also asked Silverman how the battleship will be featured in the event and whether sailors from the Dutch Royal Navy will be involved.

“The Battle on the High Seas is happening during Sail Den Helder, and the ship we’ll be in, The Holland, will lead 150+ ships when we all sail out to sea to conclude the event,” said Silverman. “Four sailors will participate in the undercard match, and the Navy is also providing two drone operators to help film the event.”

So, what makes Breakaway the ideal game for an esports competition on the high seas? “Breakaway is a team battle sport that focuses on sport and intensity,” Silverman explained. “The competitive nature of Breakaway has attracted a lot of teams who are looking for something that has a similar skill gap to the games they currently play, but resolves in just a couple minutes.

“In addition to the fast gameplay, we built Breakaway to be just as fun to watch as it is to play. We’ve been hosting weekly broadcasts on Twitch since we announced the game at TwitchCon last year, and for the launch of our June alpha, we thought this event would be a great way to kick things off for our European players who now have dedicated EU servers online. Hopefully, this is the start of bringing high-intensity competition to cool and unique venues. If this goes well, maybe there will be a Breakaway Battle in the Skies or Breakaway Battle in Space!”

‘Call Of Duty: WWII’ Engages Fans With High-Flying Activation And More

Call of Duty: WWII, developed by Sledgehammer Games and published by Activision, marks a return to roots by bringing players back to the war that started the entire franchise. It is a highly anticipated entry in the franchise, considering how its past few games have taken players to the future and outer space. Activision debuted the game’s multiplayer modes and gameplay at this year’s E3, giving attending fans their first chance to try the game out well before its launch in November.

NBA star and celebrity spokesperson Karl-Anthony Towns made appearances at Activision’s E3 booth to further spur excitement on the show floor, but the real spectacle would happen high up in the sky. On the opening day of E3, two groups of World War II-era planes flew over the Los Angeles Convention Center to promote the upcoming game. The two flybys made multiple passes over the South Hall of the convention center, flying approximately 800-1,000 feet off the ground. The first group included a C-53 transport plane while the second squadron included AT-6 planes based in Van Nuys, California.

AListDaily spoke with Todd Harvey, SVP of marketing at Activision, about what inspired the high-flying activation.

“Historical authenticity is a central tenet in Sledgehammer Games’ development philosophy for Call of Duty: WWII and a cornerstone of our marketing efforts,” said Harvey. “In addition to the planned activities within the convention center, we were passionate about finding a way to respectfully extend our presence to the conference attendees outside. The activation was a great way add impact to the show while celebrating the history of World War II aviation.”

So, what was involved with getting this activation off the ground, so to speak?

“In order to pull off the flybys of E3 using vintage World War II planes, we carefully coordinated with a handful of Southern California aviation preservationist groups such as the Condor Squadron based nearby in Van Nuys,” Harvey explained. “These groups are made up of passionate individuals who devote much of their time to preserve and fly vintage planes, many from the era. There was a shared interest to participate because of the relevance to Call of Duty this year, and also because it was a chance to share their passion with the new generation of gaming fans.

“In terms of the activation itself, working with these aviators, we coordinated a safe, but exciting flight plan that would be fun for a viewer on the ground.”

Although the flyby was one of the key highlights of the show, we couldn’t overlook how packed the Activision show floor booth was since the event was open to the public this year. Fans waited in long lines to be among the first to play Call of Duty: WWII. We asked Harvey how E3 compared to engaging with audiences at other public events.

“E3 differs from most of our public events in that it’s primarily an industry conference,” said Harvey. “While the information needs of the attendees are at times different than the general public, at the end of the day, the steps we take to drive engagement doesn’t differ greatly from our other public events. Being informative and entertaining is important to all audiences. This year, the general public attended E3 for the first time, and the presence of consumers didn’t change our plans in any substantive way.”

Harvey also detailed how Karl-Anthony Towns became involved with Call of Duty’s promotion. “We first met Karl-Anthony during Call of Duty’s release in 2015, and more recently sponsored him last year during our fan celebration event, Call of Duty XP,” he said. “His knowledge of Call of Duty’s history and interest in the various aspects of gameplay is impressive. This year, with our return to the Call of Duty franchise’s roots in World War II, we felt E3 would be a great opportunity to sponsor his appearance and host him here at the show. He was able to spend time with and play Call of Duty: WWII and met some of the team. He was great to work with, and an absolute pleasure.”

In addition to its E3 showing, Activision further engaged with its community by bringing the Making of Call of Duty livestream series back to Facebook Live last week. Hosted by actress Alison Haislip, developers at Sledgehammer Games provided an in-depth look at newly revealed multiplayer modes through the fan-focused livestream. The first episode debuted episode in May and more are expected to release during the lead-up to Call of Duty: WWII’s launch.

“Delivering this program in a live broadcast where our team can engage directly with fans to share insights of the choices they make, and provide an authentic look of what goes into producing a title like Call of Duty is what this is all about,” Activision CMO Tim Ellis said in a statement. “Making Call of Duty is another critical step in connecting deeply with our community. It follows the reveal in April, which was the most watched livestream in franchise history. We’re bringing a new level of engagement to fans where they can consume and interact directly.”

W Hotels Gamifies Its Newest Location With ‘Belle The Bear’

W Hotels has always marched to the beat of its own marketing drum, and now it has added a video game to its list of out-of-the-box campaigns. Belle the Bear is a retro-inspired mobile game that celebrates the grand opening of the new W Bellevue hotel in Seattle.

“Bellevue is a gamer’s city, so we thought it would be fun to tap into that energy but with a W twist,” Anthony Ingham, W Hotels Worldwide global brand leader said in a statement. “Creating Belle the Bear, a throwback game with an innovative edge, is just another example of how we are constantly looking for new ways to engage with future W fans on their own turf.”

Belle the Bear has players traversing an 8-bit world Frogger-style on their journey to a virtual W Bellevue hotel. This Seattle-themed adventure features a few special roadblocks to keep things interesting, such as a cannabis leaf that turns Belle into a gummy bear and cocktails that reverse the in-game controls.

Through July 15, top-scoring US gamers can compete for glory and prizes, including a trip for two to Seattle, where they will stay in the Extreme WOW Suite, dinner, wine tasting and a seaplane tour of western Washington. To help spread the word and celebrate its newest hotel, W has enlisted the help of social media stars.

“We are reaching out to influencers in the lifestyle and gaming space, posting the game link on our social channels and announcing the news globally in our news center,” Ingham told AListDaily. “The game also has built-in social sharing options, so participants can post their latest high score directly to their personal social channels. We think the news will spread organically, as it often does with fun new games.”

W Hotels joins a growing list of brands using games to promote and engage its audience. Following the release of Under Armour’s It Comes From Below ad campaign, a tie-in game was created for Snapchat that challenged fans to navigate Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton through a forest of obstacles. Netflix created an 8-bit endless runner game to highlight its lineup of original programming and Gatorade celebrated the 2016 US Open with a Snapchat game starring tennis champ Serena Williams. Additionally, NBC Universal turned to a variety of experiential campaigns to promote the launch of The Mummy, including a standalone VR stunt experience and a separate VR video game called The Mummy: Prodigium Strike, developed by Starbreeze (John Wick Chronicles).