Last year was one of esports’ biggest years to date. The industry has been growing at a meteoric rate, with pioneering ideas being brought to life and previously unimaginable developments being released on a frequent basis.
As we ring in the new year, here are some of the stories we anticipate breaking more ground in 2018:
MLG and Halo reunite
This should be an exciting year for Halo esports.
A mid-December announcement revealed Major League Gaming’s renewed partnership with Halo for the upcoming season, enticing the impassioned competitive Halo community for the best year yet.
The legacy franchise, Halo, has been around since esports’ inception, much before it was a household word. The two companies grew up together in 2002 when MLG launched, but parted ways a decade later due to fundamental changes in the game that altered Halo in ways that were too big to ignore.
However, the unification of both parties is a testament to a decade of what many remember as Halo’s “golden era” and holds a bright torch looking to 2018 and onward.
Blizzard’s Overwatch League
The lead-up to Blizzard’s Overwatch League was one of the most followed stories in esports this past year.
Many fans and industry analysts watched the OWL grow from idea to execution, surmounting to the league’s preseason debut in December. The engineering brilliance behind the preseason blew away expectations for the league’s initial outing and raised enthusiasm ahead of the OWL’s opening week. More excitingly, OWL surpasses its own far-reaching ambitions, which is only the first chapter in its development.
“Launching the league next week. We’ve been working on launching Overwatch League for over two years now and next Wednesday is going to be the culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people across the organization,” Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer said regarding the start of its inaugural season.
The league’s debut matches kick off today.
Franchising in esports
The Overwatch League sparked the new trend of franchising in the sphere that is revolutionizing the esports ecosystem.
In May, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, bought into the OWL for a reported $20 million. Kraft’s investment would be the first of many franchise buy-ins last year, one of 12 in the OWL alone.
Riot Games’ North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) will introduce the same concept into its league moving into 2018.
Franchising presents a level of certainty: Investors can write hefty checks to purchase teams, with promised longevity for the growth of the industry.
Many investors and speculators are seeking proof of concept and stability in esports. Solidity for the year to come is presented by franchising. Expect to see more new and developing leagues utilize this model moving forward as the OWL and NA LCS validate franchising dexterity .
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ revolutionary aspirations
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, more commonly shortened as ‘PUBG’, experienced what some would consider unimaginable success in 2017.
In less than a year, PUBG broke out into a consistent top streamed game on Twitch, selling over 24 million copies in just its early access stage.
PUBG made headlines in August of last year when the young and fresh battle royale game knocked off longtime titleholder, League of Legends, as Twitch’s No. 1 watched game. It takes a lot to ruin League of Legends’ 34-month stretch at the top. Looking ahead, PUBG’s future performance is expected to dominate.
PUBG’s viewership has attracted a ton of attention, raising the question of its esport prospect while also shifting organized tournaments into overdrive. In 2017, PUBG went from releasing its public beta to awarding almost $800,000 of prize money during tournaments in such a short time. Although PUBG’s esport scene is still in a developing state, the velocity of its rise is exhilarating.
Most recently, PUBG’s developers announced the goal of converting the game into a global media franchise. The company’s CEO, Chang Han Kim, has also indicated being in discussion with Hollywood and Netflix in regards to creating content based on the game.
At the rate in which PUBG has came out the gates in its first year, anticipate the game to make a few more huge leaps in 2018.
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2K League brought to life
The NBA has been working feverishly towards its 2K League, building a premise for the league’s structure and operation during its 2018 inaugural season.
Last year served as a primer for the league as it kicked up speed to lead up to its successful debut. The league’s ambitions are quite toilsome; the organization has been carefully fine-tuning the league up until this point, ensuring a smooth and healthy start.
The start of this year has already brought us the 2K League’s official logo, with a promise to be coupled with the unveiling of the 17 team logos. The NBA announced it would be sharing integral details of the league from now until May regarding the upcoming tryouts, draft, season schedule and more.
With the concept of the 2K League in discussion for so long, esports enthusiasts from around the globe are anticipating seeing the league coming to life this year.
Next year might be Halo’s most historic yet on the esports front.
The December announcement of the game title partnering once again with the old friend, Major League Gaming, has sparked a whole new era for esports. The two entities were once integral parts of each other’s success before parting ways several years ago. That ended one of the most successful stints in competitive gaming.
The new report outlining the renewed alliance for Halo’s 2018 season pledges another invigorating and prosperous year for the game.
To any long-time Halo fan, the news of MLG’s reintroduction into its pro scene is compelling. It provides closure to a wistful period in esports where both Halo and MLG flourished in seperate directions. With an impressive backstory between the two, it is expected that the union will significantly enhance the competitive Halo scene.
In the early 2000’s, before ‘esports’ was even a household word, tournaments for the original Xbox game — Halo: Combat Evolved — were being constructed and organized by a small group of individuals. Little did they know that they were on the verge of a life changing industry. Adam Apicella, now vice president of Major League Gaming, tweeted out the following after the recent announcement of MLG’s regained partnership:
“15 years ago without any experience and no money, I rented out a ballroom in Wheeling, WV, borrowed 20 TVs and Xboxes, made a website, and ran a tournament all to find more people to play Halo:CE with…”
Halo: CE tournaments started from the grassroots; with organic endeavors, modest venues and comparatively meek prizes, players waded into the game for the pure fun and bragging rights that would come along with a win. Somewhere in between the intoxicating games of Slayer on Battle Creek or Capture The Flag on Hang em’ High, a sense of opportunity dawned upon a handful of those attending.
Following Apicella’s initial tweet, Michael Sespo, MLG’s co-founder, replied: “So one summer almost 16 years ago, [Sundance DiGiovanni] and I were playing a lot of halo. For money. I’m pretty sure I was up about $4k. We needed to figure out what to do with our futures. Somehow making money playing games seemed like the future. Then we met [Adam Apicella]…”
A result of a fun and unintentionally complex multiplayer design, MLG was able to harness the energy of Bungie’s sci-fi first-person shooter. It launched Halo to the forefront of what we all know as ‘esports’ today.
MLG and Halo: A perfect match
At the time, Halo was a unique case. It was a spell-binding console shooter with a cult following gave the game a sexy feeling. Couple its popularity with an unmatched competitive feature, and Halo became the perfect weapon for MLG to take under its wing. MLG transformed it into an esport empire.
The fusion of Halo and MLG has generated such an overwhelming response. That’s because of what the two were able to accomplish together, as well as independently in the past. MLG’s impressive display of competitive Halo was later described as pioneering what video game broadcasts should look like. The Boost Mobile MLG Pro Circuit was one of its most innovative endeavors. A televised pre-produced Halo 2 tournament that aired on USA Network, with 13 episodes, was a first of its kind.
MLG encapsulated esport production in its Pro Circuit. Each episode built on top of a preexisting storyline. They created narratives and let viewers feel like they were on the stages themselves. Pre-produced packages gave producers the ability to highlight critical moments in games. It spotlighted strokes of genius from players, which might otherwise be unrecognized.
By the time Halo 3 rolled around, MLG was on top of its game in terms of production. Every event was packaged in a way in which video game enthusiasts had never seen before. Well-dressed, intellectual commentators introduced and gave premise for every matchup on stage, aiding to translate the fiery emotion to viewers and fans alike. Skilled commentary helped illustrate game action while pre- and post-game interviews touched on the tournament’s chronicles.
The sci-fi franchise and esport organization seemed to be a match made in heaven. However, the union was short-lived.
MLG abandons Halo
While Halo is still recognized as a staple in MLG and vice versa, the two parted ways in 2013. Beginning with Halo: Reach, the introduction of armor abilities such as sprint and jetpack tainted the game in fundamentals ways that hindered its competitive viability within MLG.
After MLG dropped Halo in 2013 due to its decreasing popularity, ESL hopped on as the leading tournament organizer for the game. ESL did a fair job. But it just couldn’t quite deliver or match the same caliber as the predecessor, MLG, presented within Halo. Despite great viewership, the 2017 Halo World Championship took a massive blow when one attendant tweeted out a few laughable photos of the venue.
Even with $1 million on the line, the largest of any Halo tournament, Optic Gaming’s commanding victory appeared quite underwhelming when taking into account the placid environment in which the teams competed in. There was also seemingly a low count of attendees, which appeared to be only about a hundred people. ESL’s poor delivery was not something that the celebrated 17-year-old franchise deserved. As a result, fans were crying out for MLG to come back even more frequently than before.
Why is MLG in Halo’s best interest?
MLG’s long-standing relationship with Halo isn’t the only element that makes them a perfect pair. The esport organization is also renowned as being the incomparable partner in this industry.
MLG events deliver on an immersive experience for fans: interactive venues that focus on production value, bringing every event to life. Off the start, banners drape the main entrances of hallways leading into the venue, giving a weighty impression of the greatest teams and a small taste of the ambience and experience inside the venue.
There is no shortage of talent in MLG’s stacked roster to highlight either. The company swaggers with an unrivaled amount of combined industry experience. Chris ‘Puckett’ Puckett, for example, is a name any competitive Halo fan would know. The accomplished commentator narrated much of the game’s history. He was later referred as the voice of Major League Gaming. Not only did Puckett create a signature sound that a generation of individuals associated with Halo, he also played an authoritative producer role in development of the MLG Pro Circuit series.
MLG is king of content — a never-ending streamline of clips, interviews and promotions continually draw the eyes of fans. The scope of this material includes engaging spots that create or build upon an even larger story surrounding the games. Through its subsidiary, Gamebattles, a tasteful feature of high-caliber material is also brought to the screens of enthusiasts. MLG’s approach to furnishing content for viewers is exactly the type of dedicated substance that Halo is currently lacking.
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What to expect next year for Halo
With the announcement still being so fresh, there’s little public information about what Halo will look and feel like this upcoming year. The outlook for Halo in 2018 is bright. It was disappointing that the two separated in the first place. But the reunification has outwardly generated enough velocity for the upcoming year to make up for the time lost.
Expect to see a cameo from a few of your old favorite Halo casters. Those should include Puckett and DiGiovanni, which Puckett had subtly hinted at on Twitter. A majority of us are looking forward to seeing Halo presented in an entirely new fashion. After seeing the luminosity of the partnership in the past, both organizations have matured over the last several years. That is anticipated to amplify the next presentation of Halo.
MLG Orlando in mid-February will be the first stop of the Halo World Championship road map. It will be our first glimpse of the next generation of Halo. I foresee the union of the two powerhouses bringing upon a new era of excitement and renaissance in esports that will have a lasting impression for decades to come.
In the world of sports, football has always reigned as America’s favorite. But when it comes to esports, Overwatch appears to be king.
Using data collected over the course of a year — starting in September of 2016 — EsportsEarnings and Frontier Communications collaborated to identify the most popular esports by state. They used the relationships between highest earning titles and Google Trends of esports in the United States.
Globally, Overwatch hardly stacks up against the gargantuan communities behind prominent titles such as League of Legends or Dota 2. Variation in esport interest across individual countries is common. But, new intelligence is helping us understand the unprecedented professional gaming sphere on a more precise scale.
Here is a look at each state’s favorite esport, according to the research:
Overwatch in America
Overwatch is dominating American gaming enthusiasts’ time like never before. Blizzard’s recently launched Overwatch League is reframing how pro-gaming competitions operate, propelling the game to new levels.
The success of Overwatch is indisputable. Being watched more frequently than any other esport in 18 states, its popularity is vividly seen and reflected.
The current predominance of American Overwatch professionals is provided clarity by these statistics. It accesntuates the United States as being a hub for the sci-fi first-person shooter. With an inflated interest, a region is more easily able to generate talent over time. Other regions may have less motivation in understanding and playing a game competitively.
Overwatch leads supreme in most of the West Coast, earning the No. 1 spot in California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon. The west is also home to America’s first dedicated esports stadiums. Those are the Blizzard Arena (Los Angeles) and the planned Luxor arena (Las Vegas).
Call of Duty and Halo
Call of Duty and Halo are titles whose similarities have historically clashed by their nature of both being successful first-person shooters, and they both boast intriguing statistics to probe.
In the case of Activision’s Call of Duty, the title is not as popular in the west. It’s noteworthy that there is a large cluster on the East Coast in which Call of Duty is most popular, in 14 states to be exact. Being a more global game than Halo, the hearty talent pool of American pros in the Call of Duty World League is better explained when acknowledging its substantial presence in the states.
While the overall popularity has appeared to dwindle over the years for Halo, its global audience has increased overtime. Halo’s long-standing competitive scene spawned in the United States. Now expanding through Europe, the game boasts a more global interest as well as gaining some international talent. Although fundamental changes sent the game on a bit of a decline, Halo’s most elite spartans are still produced in the US, primarily throughout the Midwest.
FIFA dominating the Northeast
One of the best-selling franchises of all time, FIFA, doesn’t sell out stadiums like other esports have shown. Sports-simulation games are by all means fun to play and can be highly competitive, It’s just not as exciting to watch when compared to actual sports themselves. EA Sports recently announced its FIFA eWorld Cup, advertised as its largest tournament ever, likely to shift some attention towards the game.
In the data provided by Frontier, FIFA is the most-watched esport in New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The small yet concentrated area in which the less trendy esport thrives is an interesting contraction. Soccer in the United States is not all that popular. Yes, it has gained a ton of momentum in the last several years. However it still lags behind much of the world in terms of engagement.
Growing up in Connecticut, I can attest to the weighty accent of soccer in these regions as well the heated FIFA competitions among friends. According to EsporstEarnings however, FIFA’s best players are still coming from outside the US.
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Top tier esports in the United States
In this data-driven conversation of esports in the United States, it’s important to understand the relevance of games in professional gaming. Each game has different sizes and calibers of audiences. While Overwatch currently dominates the American gaming world, this doesn’t reflect the global popularity. Although there’s no ‘official’ ranking of esports, you can break games into tiers based off Twitch viewership and prize pools:
While games like League of Legends, Dota 2, CS:GO and Hearthstone are considerably the biggest esports in the world, their influence in the United States is limited. Americans have historically fallen short of their international competitors due to the advanced infrastructures for titles such as StarCraft in Korea, for example, hindering its local interest. Despite this, Dota 2 is identified as being Washington’s favorite.
Not only does the Northwestern state show a high interest in an unlikely subject given its geographic location, it’s also considered one of the top cities for esports in the world. Home to Microsoft, Valve and Nintendo of America, Seattle is a pinnacle for competitive gaming.
Back to the concept of Dota 2, Seattle had been home to the premier Dota 2 tournament, The International, for several years. The tournament congregates the world’s best Dota 2 teams to compete for prize pools in the tens of millions. Despite Dota 2 being an outlier in this study, it’s presence in Washington comes as little surprise.
The long-awaited Overwatch League is finally kicking off this week.
The preseason schedule is already underway, and the inaugural games will take place through Dec. 9. Originally promised to begin sometime in 2018, Overwatch fans are ecstatic for the OWL’s timely launch.
Here’s everything you need to know about the league leading up to its debut and moving forward:
Creating a new type of competition
Overwatch has been nothing short of a success story since its release back in May 2016. The last recorded player count in mid-October marked 35 million heroes.
The masterminds behind Overwatch’s creation and design — Blizzard Entertainment — are also responsible for reputable titles such as World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and StarCraft. Many anticipate Blizzard bringing the game to unimaginable heights with the integration of its Overwatch League.
The Overwatch League is a first of its kind in terms of structure. Rather than established gaming franchises having ownership of OWL teams, Blizzard scrapped that idea and started fresh by auctioning franchise ownership of localized teams (for a lofty buy-in starting at $20 million).
What makes OWL unique in this case is that it disqualifies companies like Liquid, Counter-Logic Gaming and Echo Fox from owning teams and instead shifts that focus to geo-franchising, a crux of this model.
Unexpected start for Overwatch League
Prior to the action taking place this week at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, one of the 12 teams already had to drop out of the preseason.
The Philadelphia Fusion cited “player logistics issues” as the reason for pulling out of the OWL debut match against Florida Mayhem. Further research into the topic shows their South Korean tank Su-min “Sado” Kim was issued a 30-match suspension for boosting, or leveling up other players’ Overwatch accounts for money.
Despite this, the OWL is already in full swing and delivering on its promise of a rich Overwatch viewing experience for spectators as well as a fierce gameplay for competitors.
Eleven out of 12 teams ventured out to the Blizzard Arena to partake in the four-day event. Inaugural league games include bouts between Florida Mayhem and San Francisco Shock (originally Philadelphia Fusion) as well as Seoul Dynasty squaring up against the Shanghai Dragons. The preseason schedule wouldn’t appear to be impromptu, either, as teams that would in theory be rivals met each other early in the competition.
All three California-based squads face each other at least once over the course of the preseason. Dallas Fuel vs. Houston Outlaws is another rivalry match. New York Excelsior went head-to-head against Boston Uprising in another age-old city rivalry in the opening two days.
The outcomes of the initial matches will determine the remainder of the games.
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OWL meeting expectations
At first subject to a vast scrutiny from esports enthusiasts for seeming ‘too ambitious,’ it’s safe to say the Overwatch League has since silenced naysayers. Blizzard’s dedication to the league shined through much of the controversy surrounding its release.
Our first glimpse of the OWL is more than what anyone could have expected. Intended to enhance the spectator experience, an array of new weapons in spectator mode include a detailed mapping of each hero’s health, kill-feed and objective status bar across the top of the screen.
In replay mode, seamless transitions to past bites of skill helps viewers relive these crucial moments without deviating too far from the current action of the match.
Most popularly, OWL released designated skins for each team to sport in competition. Players wear their squads’ customized armor, making the action that much easier to follow on screen, especially in a chaotic game like Overwatch. Compare this to an athlete wearing a jersey, the concept is simple yet something we’ve never seen in esports. That’s not to mention the skins are purchasable in-game, with 50 percent of the proceeds going in the pockets of the teams themselves.
So far, the Overwatch League premiere seems to fulfill, if not surpass, the immense expectations the totality of the professional gaming community placed on it.
Tension still exists within a large portion of the esports community, fearing that Blizzard’s global league will collapse under the weight of its own aspirations. Blizzard’s exquisite roll-out of the OWLwas a marketing strategy to marvel at and will more than likely help drive it into orbit.
Overwatch League preseason games and schedule are on the OverwatchLeague.com website or MLG.tv.
Having a game hit esport success means wide exposure, large cash payouts, sponsorships and potentially even stardom for its’ players.
Some developers tailor games to fit this criteria. Others reach the premier level organically. For the rest of them, esport success seems perpetually out of reach. Stuck in a limbo between a roaring fanbase, entertaining gameplay and complex MMORPG elements lies Destiny 2.
Bungie’s sci-fi first person shooter Destiny is the second of its kind. Refined from the same game developers who experienced tremendous success with Halo, the expectations were high for Destiny as well.
Recognized as a staple in competitive gaming’s history, as well as powering Major League Gaming’s success, Destiny’s ‘younger brother’ is an elite name in the trade.
Destiny however, has faced difficulty in swinging professional league momentum. With two original sci-fi first-person shooter (FPS) titles fashioned by the same developers, Destiny’s competitive deficiency is vaguely ambiguous.
Low skill ceiling
Over the course of the franchise’s success story, the Destiny community has consistently shown an interest and desire for a competitive scene. Destiny 2 is now dominating people’s playtime. The introduction of new raids and strikes are keeping up with even the most elite guardian players. The PvP, on the other hand, appears to be lacking some depth.
Destiny differs from its Bungie counterpart, Halo, in countless ways. Destiny introduces a wealth of RPG elements that allow players to carefully fine-tune characters to their taste. In this sense, the game exhibits some complexity in the form of character builds, rarely finding two characters that are exactly alike.
However, in the face of Destiny’s elaborate composition, there seems to be an undefined line between good players and great ones.
Destiny’s PvP is ostensibly perceived as having a low-skill ceiling, a high bullet-magnetism and a lack of mechanics, which is now narrowing the gap between average and elite guardians. Various levels of expertise are seemingly wedged into one division, which unfortunately means another significant obstacle when one tries to set themselves apart.
Destiny’s esport future isn’t as bleak as it would seem. Within esports specifically, dedicated fan bases are renowned for pushing a video game’s engine to its limits.
Making Destiny more competitive
The competitively-focused Trails of the Nine playlist is currently Destiny’s premier contest. The 4v4 format on a weekly rotated map is the primary method for skilled guardians to compete against one another.
Trails delivers on its promise of offering a fierce competitiveness. A fireteam of four is required to enter in together to even be able to initiate the matchmaking, creating a cutthroat environment. The most elevated contest in Destiny 2 however, still faces some challenges.
Bungie most likely ditched the 6v6 concept from Destiny 1 to match the criteria of most FPS esports, which is typically 4v4. The reintroduction of 6v6 into PvP in Destiny 2 may help alleviate some of the balance issues presented by the game.
With this format, team compositions could be limited to two of each class, creating an interesting dynamic in a highly competitive format. In turn, regulating team builds would emphasize identifying players who specialize in specific classes and subclasses, accrediting the top players.
Destiny opting to go against the more popular format may prove to be beneficial in the franchise. A six-person squad is uncommon in FPS esports, setting Destiny apart from the rest of the pack.
One of Destiny 2’s greatest downfalls in PvP are its maps. Defining what makes a ‘good map’ is very esoteric as what often separates the favored from the loathed is how it’s received by the community.
Good maps must above all fit the structural needs of the game; weighing in movement, weapons, supers and subclasses are all important factors of this conversation. Destiny is somewhat of an isolated incident as it’s one of the more complex FPS games on the market. Balancing a map around so many ingredients poses a challenge to any development team.
Javelin-4 is acknowledged as one of the choice PvP maps available right now, and for good reason. Its nearly symmetric build offers strategized plays off the break as well having choke points throughout the map that prompt coordinated attacks.
Coordination and teamwork pays off big on Javelin-4 for those that can execute it, while strategy awards squads with power weapon ammo likely to dictate the close-quarters plot.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many maps that deliver that high-octane feel, so to speak. Understanding each map’s optimal strategy is an essential part of any esport. With this in mind, Destiny 2 inhibits the ability to uncover these tips with the lack of one common feature: private lobbies.
Competitive Destiny 2’s most sizable hindrance is in its lack of private lobbies. PvP is only accessible through the different matchmaking playlists, leaving a vacancy when it comes to scrimmaging other top teams.
Comparatively speaking, private lobbies have always been a critical aspect of training for professional gaming rosters. Scrimmaging other top teams provides a system for the best to practice against each other and learn from one another. Destiny 2’s current matchmaking system doesn’t support this. Instead, elite teams are put up against more casual squads, making practice time unproductive.
Scrimmages aren’t the only benefit of private lobbies. They also enable players to comfortably scout each tournament map for tips and tricks. Players can then take an incisive survey of a map without being in a frenzied match.
The real bottom line is, even if Destiny 2 gained the momentum to become a top esport prospect, tournament facilitators won’t be able to host events without private lobbies. Bungie has rumored introducing private matches in a 2018 update, so let’s just hope it comes sooner rather than later.
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Destiny has the tools
Despite Destiny 2 not yet being in the esports food chain nearly two months following its release, the FPS can’t be counted out just yet.
Destiny possesses many of the tools needed to be a leading competitive title, which, unfortunately, seems to be the main reason behind the frustration of many players and fans. Let’s review some of the details:
Leading esports bring spectators. The higher caliber the game, the more people want to watch.
Spectator value in professional gaming is important. Central questions to ask include how well an action is illustrated on screen and whether or not what’s happening in game transpires through the audience as well.
Destiny 2 is advantageous in finding a way to gracefully blend the perplexity of RPG elements within the fast-paced action and easy-to-follow format of a FPS.
Destiny has no shortage when it comes to numbers of players, an essential aspect for a victorious gaming scene hoping to be put on top.
The game is reaping countless amounts of hours from people inside and outside of PvP. Featuring their own subreddit, “Crucible Playbook,” individuals are collaborating to study Destiny 2’s PvP in the same way we see other prominent communities tackling their favorite esports.
No video game today boasts millions of players without prompting the question of its prospects as a potential esport. Destiny was no exception.
The first installment of the game was briefly featured by MLG. Destiny’s professional premiere was short-lived however, as the series was discontinued shortly after its debut. ESL has since gone on to bring Destiny 2 into its rotation of renowned esports.
The lack of private matches for hosting tournaments leaves ESL with its hands tied for the time being. But everyone is hoping the esport titans can help revitalize the title.
Conclusion: Destiny can become an esport
All in all, Destiny 2 has the tools necessary to make the title a more viable competitive option for players. One dedicated fan base won’t let Destiny’s esport promise sink quietly. The input for improving its tournament viability can now even be found on the local Reddits.
At this point, Destiny 2’s esport capacity is in the hands of its developers to tailor PvP in order to meet demand and to listen to the community’s desperate call to be heard.
Tobias Sherman, former global head of esports for talent agency WME-IMG, is launching a game studio called Foundry IV.
The company aims to design and tailor games to an esports audience, gearing titles strictly toward professional leagues and competition.
A sound foundation for Foundry IV with MGM
Sherman brings with him co-founders Simon Abitbol and Lilia Russo Sherman, also former WME-IMG executives who helped conceptualize and bring to life ELeague.
Sherman broke ground in many regards at WME-IMG and now plans to break ground in this next endeavor. Foundry IV’s foundation is strengthened by an early seed investment from MGM Resorts International with a Series A funding round. Some professional sports organizations were also involved, according to a release from the company.
The hospitality and entertainment giant is a valuable weapon in Foundry IV’s arsenal given its overall aspirations. MGM’s deep Las Vegas ties in a city with designs on becoming a hub for esports intensifies Foundry IV’s prospects.
Currently, MGM is still working toward the launch of its esports arena at Luxor in Las Vegas in 2018.
Foundry IV: Blazing its own trail
According to the release, Foundry IV has piqued the curiosity of numerous publishers offering to join the project early on in hopes that they can develop esport titles for them. Foundry IV has so far declined offers as it opts to evolve its own way.
“We decided that in the best interest of the industry, it was wise to protect our IP to ensure we could execute on our vision, the right way,” Abitbol said. “That does not rule out working with a publisher, though; it’s just that there is no value in being beholden to one.”
Foundry IV aspires to pave a smooth road for investors down the line, many of whom will likely be new to esports. Foundry IV’s strategy includes drawing insights from professional players, the media and industry insiders during the development of its games.
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Cracking the esport code
Although Foundry IV has experienced velocity from initial investments, the company has a long road ahead.
The concept of building a game designed to succeed in esports is one that has previously failed while others have experienced unprecedented success, such as PlayerUnknown’s Battleground.
The algorithm for manufacturing esport titles is still being calculated. But striking gold now in this sector could pay off big for game development companies.
PokerStars, a giant in the online poker industry, has built a new game called Power Up, crafted with esports in mind.
A surprisingly massive following has erupted behind video card games such as Hearthstone, most likely attracting PokerStars to join the mix.
PokerStars Power Up
Last month, PokerStars parent company Stars Group announced the launch of Power Up for real money play.
Power Up is an innovative new variant of online poker that meshes a traditional poker game with the excitement of modern video games.
“The game delivers an engaging user experience within a futuristic, immersive competition that brings exciting twists and special powers to players within the context of a traditional poker tournament.” Stars Group said in its press release on Power Up.
Power Up is not your typical poker game. Although it operates under the same basic rules as Texas hold’em, Power Up interjects special powers for the players that can swiftly change the flow of the game.
The powers — such as “Scanner,” “Clone,” and “Intel” — each contribute to Power Up’s unique gaming experience. In conjunction, “energy” will be needed in order to activate power ups — think “mana” in Hearthstone — promising an added layer of dimension in strategy as players must carefully manage their energy levels.
Game developers are hoping these added ingredients can attract a more serious type of virtual poker player.
Card games as esports
Created by Stars Group’s in-house development team with the aid of poker and esport professionals, Power Up is structuring the game around the professional gaming scene. If you’re asking yourself if a digital card game can succeed as an esport, the answer is yes.
Blizzard’s strategy card game, Hearthstone, has shown unprecedented growth evolving into an esport with an astronomical competitive following. Magic: The Gathering, a traditional strategy card game introduced in 1993, boasts roughly 20 million current players and is now picking up momentum on its online counterpart as well.
Digital card games unquestionably fall within the parameters of esports. With increasing numbers to back that proposition, PokerStars aspires to this status with Power Up.
Power Up’s esport potential
With the exposure, sponsorships and business endeavors offered to the up-and-coming elite esport titles, it’s no surprise developers are now tailoring their games to fit the space. Although a lot of companies are aiming for esport stardom, few are able to actually hit the target, prompting the question of what exactly constitutes a successful esport.
Just as much an art as it is a science, the theory behind developing an esport is complex enough to be a subject of its own. Power Up is still in its early days, therefore making it difficult to determine its true competitive outlook at this time.
Once the game finds its footing and a competitive meta is formed, players can then consider how the game will fit into the esport community through actual gameplay. Despite the ability components introduced being designed to add additional layers of strategy, the ‘energy’ and ‘special power’ features may be received as more of a novelty by competitors, potentially harming its overall aspirations as an esport.
Power Up is targeting an audience of current and former poker players, aiming to draw from its current digital audience as well as revitalizing past players’ curiosity of the new poker adaptation. It also hopes to draw players who might not have been poker players in the past.
Power Up is also a mobile game, a format that has been successful in today’s era.
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Stars Group backs Power Up with industry pedigree
Power Up offers a heavy advantage with support in the form if its developer, Stars Group. Formerly known as Amaya, Stars Group boasts industry experience surely to aid with its latest production.
With a pedigree in live event production — having hosted poker tournaments throughout its history — PokerStars will have no trouble promoting similar events for Power Up. PokerStars currently offers real-money gambling for its online poker games and is doing the same with Power Up, which will likely sweeten the pot for potential new players.
In addition to PokerStars’ leading position in the poker industry, the company already has a few existing ties in esports. Back in May 2016, PokerStars sponsored three Team Liquid players, all former poker players, to play and stream their online poker games. The PokerStars’ interest and experience within esports certainly won’t hurt in its quest to bring Power Up to the forefront.
The New York Yankees are the latest professional sports power to take the leap into the burgeoning esports realm.
The Yankees and esports
The Major League Baseball franchise announced its partnership with Vision Esports, the largest individual shareholder of several esport-related companies. The partnership will serve to manage an “ecosystem” of esport properties.
The deal grants the Yankees a stake in Echo Fox, the professional esport franchise owned by former NBA player Rick Fox. Gaming analytic maestros Twin Galaxies and esport video production venture Vision Entertainment are now also a part of the blanket deal.
The New York Yankees will seek to accelerate the brand growth and awareness of all three companies.
“Guided by an impressively skilled and sports-savvy leadership team, Vision Esports is transcending the industry with a bold, innovative approach to their business, and we are excited to enter this dynamic arena as their partner,” said Hal Steinbrenner, Managing General Partner and Co-Chairperson of the New York Yankees.
Traditional sports becoming allies with their digital equivalents is far from a new trend in esports. The gravity of the New York Yankees brand, however, generated a lot of buzz.
Legacy baseball franchise meets rising esports
The Yankees bring over a century of experience in sports and entertainment to the alliance.
The baseball franchise has a proven track record. George Steinbrenner’s purchase of the Yankees in 1973 for a humble $8.8 million has since evolved into a sports empire valued at more than $5 billion, according to Forbes.
The Yankees and Vision Esports aim to mirror this success with a fervent and nurturing guidance of all three esport properties in a fashion similar to its traditional sports counterparts. The Yankees will likely focus on maximizing revenue opportunities in:
- Ticket sales
- Broadcast rights
- Original content programming
“In every business, you are known by the company you keep, and we cannot be more pleased to be a part of the New York Yankees organization. We look forward to exploring synergies between the Yankees and all of our portfolio companies to maximize the opportunity for a successful esports ecosystem for teams, players and fans,” said Stratton Sclavos, General Partner of Vision Esports.
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Other potential advantages?
Major League Baseball’s video streaming and technology services company BAMTech may be a consideration within the partnership.
BAMtech — the genius behind MLB.TV’s streaming platform — also secured a deal with League of Legends developer Riot Games back in December for $300 million. It operates out of Yankee Stadium in New York.
Riot agreed to the pricey fee in exchange for streaming rights of League of Legends through 2023. That’s an esport that boasts an Echo Fox team. The deal doesn’t mention BAMtech anywhere. However, its residency in Yankee Stadium may present Vision Esports with an opportune chance to get involved.
Image credit: Vividrange / Shutterstock.com
While esports has become an increasingly global affair, a looming debate over the mandate to “region-lock” teams continues to raise the question of whether this practice still belongs in the modern era.
Region-locking has created some controversy — appearing in many forms across multiple esport titles. To League of Legends Championship Series participants, it means restricting the regional movement of players between teams.
In the Halo Championship Series, we recently saw NA players being denied access to HCS London. This was an event exclusive to only European teams, a first for the 17-year old competitive Halo franchise.
Why region-lock for esports?
Region-locking was first introduced in Blizzard’s StarCraft 2 World Championship Series. Players needed to be legal residents of a country in the qualifying region to participate in the WCS.
The largely Korean-dominated-scene first prompted the concept of region-locking as a way to avoid predictable tournament results against the all-Korean teams and an attempt to lessen the occurrence of seemingly stale events.
Other regions had begun tapping into Korean talent pools and importing their players, essentially uncoupling teams from their local flavor. In fear of harming local followings, other leagues allow a limited amount of ‘imports’ to be drafted. This attempts to avoid teams converting to entirely culturally foreign rosters.
Building local pro-gaming scenes
Regional restrictions are seen as a way to build upon local gaming communities by leveling contests when competing locally.
Fan engagement is a critical part of this conversation. Why? Esports has the advantage of a relatively small barrier between fans and the players. Fans have the ability to watch their favorite players practice and scrimmage while also communicating through Twitch.
Importing foreign players with a significant language barrier is essentially creating a barrier for the primarily English-speaking fan base.
Improving fandom and making esports generational
Advocates of regional restrictions sustain a focal point revolving around the development of a sustainable ecosystem for pro-gaming leagues.
Many believe facilitating a healthy global system is the key to maintaining a generational fandom.
“The way you do that is by creating narratives and storylines of players that people want to follow,” Immortals CEO Noah Whinston said during a roundtable discussion on region-locking. Whinston added to his argument by insisting that players who share similar cultural backgrounds would be more approachable and personable to fans.
In theory, enlisting casual fans to follow esports could be unaccommodating if a sizable cultural disconnect between the spectators and the players flares up. Region-locking could promote the health of esports holistically. But the argument against the restriction focuses more on the competition itself.
Improving regional skill
In esports, we see fascinating skill gaps between specific regions closely resembling the same abstraction in traditional sports. Just as Europeans remain well ahead of North America in soccer, Korean digital athletes are chiefly more skilled than the rest of their international competition in StarCraft.
StarCraft is not on an island either. We see similar differences in technical savviness across the varying regions in other games, such as League of Legends.
Although Koreans dominate a majority of League’s landscape as well, Europe has also been able to produce very capable mid-laners. In Halo, we see a pro-league commanded by NA players with consistent and unchallenging victories against the European squads.
With such pronounced supremacy in esport titles, wanting to know what characteristics allow a region to easily trump another is a common inquiry.
Infrastructure facilitating artistry
One of most common references for Korean players sustaining an extensive distance ahead of their international competition was that the existing infrastructure in Korea was so sophisticated that it produced and facilitated an ultimate competition. The advanced competition offered in Korea was available only to Korean players or those that took the leap of relocating to Korea to train, creating a sizable skill difference in international bouts.
In the case of the 17-year old Halo franchise, its competitive roots came in North America. That happened independently at first, and finally legitimized early on by Major League Gaming. The organized structure that MLG brought to Halo’s competitive scene encouraged and provided the top players the opportunity to significantly improve their skill sets.
An elevated contest of Halo in North America fostered professional players to play at a higher level. This movement allowed the players to compete in the MLG Pro Circuit — granting a heavy advantage when challenging other teams that lacked the same top-tier exposure.
Exposure to top talent
“You’re only as good as your competition.”
That’s what Jack Etienne, CEO of esport franchise Cloud 9, said during the aforementioned recorded discussion of Esports Salon.
In StarCraft, the dispersal of Korean pros across Europe and North America helped players in these regions reach similar skill-ceilings through increased exposure. In an ‘unlocked’ system, top players can draw from other competitors’ technical skills through practices and scrimmages, by learning and adapting different techniques they observe.
Ultimately increasing the professional standard in premier tournaments through a collective intelligence, skill level has the opportunity to exponentially swell without the boundary of region-locking. Restricting talent to specific regions inhibits competition in those areas with less-developed skill, leading to consistently poor performances on international stages.
What’s best for the long haul?
It’s tough to pinpoint what the best strategy for the long-term development of esports is at this time.
There’s a wealth of information and evidence to both support and to oppose the concept of region-locking. However, with esports growing in an unprecedented fashion, there’s just not enough evidence to make a clear distinction on what will be better for its overall growth.
Fan engagement is undoubtedly a crucial component of esports’ ecosystems. Yet in the same breath, if particular regions are performing so poorly on international stages, viewership of those leagues could take a colossal downward turn.
The upcoming seasons will provide more clarity and possibly test these theories in more depth.
Los Angeles-based pro gaming organization NRG Esports continues to move forward at full speed.
The team is in the process of finalizing a Series B investment of $15 million from many high-profile names, according to multiple media reports.
The news broke soon before their San Francisco Overwatch League roster reveal, shifting all eyes on the relatively young yet, exponentially growing esports organization.
NRG raising $15 million
The second financing round included:
- Professional recording artist and actress, Jennifer Lopez
- Former Major League Baseball player Alex Rodriguez
- Current NFL player Marshawn Lynch
- Former NFL player Michael Strahan
Investments from industry ‘Outsiders’ continue to pour in
Traditional athletes and sports franchises are becoming more frequent and common investors in esports.
NRG Esports boasts Series A investors such as NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, as well as Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov, who are both stakeholders of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
Collectively, NRG showcases leadership with experience from industry titans such as Apple, IBM, NBC and Twitch.
Now, it’s adding more backing from the sports and entertainment industries. As an ‘unconventional’ celebrity investor, Lopez’s stake in NRG headlined a majority of the news surrounding its announcement. However, it’s not clear why she decided to get involved with the esports organization.
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NRG Overwatch enlists firepower
This noteworthy roster includes:
- Daniel “dhaK” Paz
- Dante “Danteh” Cruz
- André “iddqd” Dahlström
- Andrej “babybay” Francisty
- Nikola “sleepy” Andrews
- David “nomy” Ramirez
NRG’s Overwatch roster also includes players Jay “sinatraa” Won and Matthew “super” DeLisi, despite their ineligibility to compete until after their 18th birthdays this spring.
The team includes eight elite players from former Immortals, LG Evil and Selfless Gaming rosters among others. The team will be overseen by the previous owner of Selfless, Brad Rajani, who will be acting as the team’s coach.
NRG Esports was one of the initial organizations to invest in Blizzard’s Overwatch League by paying the $20 million price tag to secure its San Francisco-based team in July. NRG is now one of twelve teams participating in the league’s inaugural season starting in January.