Riot Games Esports Co-Head Talks ‘League of Legends’ 2017 World Championship

The world’s top competitive video gamers are facing off in China over the next few weeks for the League of Legends 2017 World Championship, one of the premier tournaments in the fast-growing world of esports.

Hosted by Riot Games, the company that makes the popular League of Legends (LoL) online game, the tournament’s early rounds turned in a fair amount of excitement and upsets, though last year’s champion is still standing. The Korean professional esports team SK Telecom T1 remains a favorite in a field that also features teams like Samsung Galaxy (sponsored by the South Korean electronics giant) and the North American team Cloud 9.

If none of those names ring a bell, then the rapid ascension of esports has likely passed you by. Competitive gaming’s popularity around the world has exploded in recent years, and the esports industry is now expected to generate more than $ 1.5 billion in annual revenue by 2020, according to one estimate.

Meanwhile, major professional sports teams like the New York Yankees and Cleveland Cavaliers are throwing money at esports, while tech giants like Amazon and Google compete to lure gaming fans to stream live gameplay and competitions on their digital video platforms, Twitch and YouTube, respectively. Last year, Riot Games (which is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent) signed a reported $ 300 million streaming rights deal with Walt Disney’s BAMTech, and this year’s LoL world championship tournament is available for streaming around the world on Twitch and YouTube.

The influx of media rights deals has also opened the door for a range of high-profile corporate sponsors, with Riot Games landing sponsorships in recent years from the likes of Acer Gaming, Coca-Cola, T-Mobile, and Mercedes-Benz.

This week Fortune caught up with Jarred Kennedy, the co-head of esports at Riot Games, to discuss the world championship (the finals will take place Nov. 4 at the Bird’s Nest National Stadium in Beijing) as well as the overall growth of the esports industry and Riot’s plans, much like rival Activision Blizzard, to remodel its own esports league after major professional sports leagues like the NFL and NBA.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: What are some of the big storylines fans will be following heading into the quarterfinals of the LoL World Championships this weekend?

Kennedy: Where to begin? We’ve got some great teams that have made it through. Lots of regions are still alive. You’ve got your defending champions, SK Telecom T1, where they always are, which is contending. But, you’ve got teams that are potentially going to give them a run for their money. I think if [Chinese team] Royal Never Give Up and SK Telecom T1 wind up meeting in the semifinals in Shanghai that could be incredible. Honestly, any of the match-ups with the teams we have right now are going to be really fun to watch, because they’ve all proven themselves to get to this stage. And, the competition just keeps getting better and better the deeper we get into the tournament. That’s one of the reasons that worlds is so compelling.

How has the media rights aspect of the esports business expanded in recent years for Riot?

I think what you’re seeing is the maturation of our sport. With esports, I wouldn’t say it’s entered the mainstream, but it is increasingly an option that marketers look to. And, that’s great for us, because what we’re trying to do is build up the overall ecosystem, and having those increases in revenue coming in on that side allows us to invest in the professional players, the teams, and it allows these players to make a career out of this in a really meaningful way.

That leads into the bigger question of the esports industry’s overall growth trajectory. What are the areas of business that you think are most ripe for increasing revenue in the industry?

There are lots of different pools of revenue. Big ones would include media rights, which not unlike the NFL, NBA, or the Premier League, media rights are a large driver. For some games, including ours, there’s in-game content, and that’s something that’s unique to esports, as opposed to stick-and-ball or traditional sports, where there’s an opportunity for teams to participate in some of the in-game revenue streams. I think those are probably the biggest ones, but we’re always on the lookout for new ways to engage with fans of our sport.

You used to work at Sony Pictures Television. Would it benefit esports to make that leap to being more of a presence on traditional TV networks?

We don’t feel the need to go to TV as a point of validation. We’ve found that a lot of our fans of this sport are online, they tend to consume digitally, and thus the BAMTech deal and some other things we’ve done—negotiations with Twitch, YouTube, etc.—is just to serve them where they are. But, we’re not looking to be on NBC at 8 p.m. on a Saturday broadcasting to all of America, because we don’t think that’s where our fans want to watch, and we think it would probably be casting too wide of a net.

Why model Riot Games’ North American League of Legends Championship Series league after major professional sports leagues with revenue-sharing and a players association?

We’ve always looked at professional sports, not because we want to model exactly what other sports do, but even when you’re attempting to innovate, sometimes there are things that already exist in the world that work really well and work for a reason, and we shouldn’t be afraid to use some of that. Our goal is to have sophisticated owners of teams that can operate at a high level, know how to build businesses, know how to build sports, and who aren’t going to be working against each other, but are going to be collaborating in the best interests of fans around the world.

Going back to your point about esports not yet being in the mainstream, what needs to happen to put esports on the same level as one of the major professional sports leagues?

It takes time to get to the scale of where major sports are today, and I don’t think we have any illusions that we’re going to be able to do that overnight. We do have the advantage of being a digital property that tends to grow faster and can grow more virally. Friends tend to bring their friends into the sport, we found. We’re looking to build the best ecosystem for our fans that we can and we hope that by doing that it will thrive and grow, and over time we’ll have a chance to be as big as some of the major sports that exist today. But our primary goal is delivering value to fans day in and day out. And, if we can do that, then the rest will take care of itself.

Tech

FanDuel announces acquisition of leading esports platform AlphaDraft

PRESS RELEASE:

Strategic alliance marks FanDuel’s entry into the rapidly growing fantasy eSports market

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–September 24, 2015–

FanDuel Inc. (www.fanduel.com), the largest one-day fantasy sports operator, today announced it has acquired leading fantasy eSports platform, AlphaDraft. Marking its entry into the fantasy eSports market, FanDuel will leverage the partnership to enhance and expand core product offerings in order to further reach new sports fans while maximizing engagement.

With the best talent in the sports tech industry, FanDuel’s acquisition of AlphaDraft, the premier daily fantasy sports platform that seamlessly blends eSports, live streaming and fantasy sports contests, will bring the company’s employee base in-house to help create a one of its kind daily fantasy product specifically for eSports. This partnership marks the first time FanDuel will have a product for the eSports community.

From VentureBeat

Location, location, location — Not using geolocation to reach your mobile customers? Your competitors are. Find out what you’re missing.

“With over 200 million people globally watching eSports, AlphaDraft gives those fans a way to engage with this burgeoning entertainment product that creates an enormous opportunity for us,” said Nigel Eccles, CEO and Co-founder, FanDuel. “This is sports for a new demographic, with very little crossover with what are considered traditional sports fans, and this acquisition gives us the ability to leverage the expertise of AlphaDraft’s team, while helping their efforts in customer acquisition and building awareness of this new industry. It’s a win-win.”

The acquisition of AlphaDraft continues FanDuel’s long-term strategy of acquiring top talent around the fantasy sports industry as it builds one of the finest fantasy products for players – all designed to enhance the sports experience. This comes on the heels of the acquisition of numberFire, the premier next generation sports analytics platform, and Kotikan, a leading mobile app developer.

“It is clear that FanDuel is committed to the fan community,” said Todd Peterson, CEO of AlphaDraft. “This pairing creates an incredible opportunity to drive the fantasy industry forward and create compelling products that will enhance all fan engagement.”

Investors in AlphaDraft to date include former NBA Commissioner David Stern, Melo7 Tech Partners, Metamorphic Ventures, WME, Upfront Ventures, IDG Ventures, Greycroft Partners, Freestyle Capital, KEC, Amplify.LA and others. eSports generated $ 612m in revenue last year and 13% of all live stream viewers are watching eSports. By 2017, the number of eSports fans is projected to come close to that of American football.

About FanDuel

FanDuel is the leading daily fantasy sports provider with the sole mission of making sports more exciting. Founded in 2009, FanDuel has redefined fantasy sports; offering a multitude of one-day game options for NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and college football and basketball, with new public and private leagues forming daily, ranging in size from two to thousands of players. FanDuel is the Official Partner of the NBA and has multiple deals with NFL and NBA teams, driving fan engagement, hosting numerous live events and creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences for sports fans throughout the year. Based in New York City with offices in Los Angeles, Orlando, Edinburgh and Glasgow, FanDuel has raised $ 363 million in funding from investors including KKR, Google Capital, Time Warner/Turner Sports, Shamrock Capital, NBC Sports Ventures, Comcast Ventures, Pentech Ventures, Piton Capital and Bullpen Capital.

About AlphaDraft

Founded in 2014, AlphaDraft is the premier online platform that seamlessly blends the highly popular worlds of eSports, live streaming and fantasy sports, with daily and weekly contests for cash and other real-world prizes. Members draft a new team every day without season-long commitments, and play against friends and other fans without having to create their own fantasy leagues. There is no purchase necessary to register, and AlphaDraft offers both free and paid contests. For more information, please visit www.AlphaDraft.com or follow us on Twitter at @AlphaDraft.

 

 

View source version on businesswire.com: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150924006288/en/

FanDuel
Emily Bass, 646-930-0231
[email protected]
or
AlphaDraft
Mario Kroll, 919-414-2038
[email protected]



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Ashton Kutcher invests in esports startup Unikrn as it launches global platform

First, billionaire investor and Shark Tank television celebrity Mark Cuban invested in Unikrn. Now Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary are investing in the esports gaming startup through their Sound Ventures investment firm. Unikrn is also launching its global platform today.

Following on a $ 7 million investment that included Cuban, the deal is another sign that esports is maturing, and that entrepreneurs are figuring out ways to make money from the tens of millions of people who regularly watch esports matches for fun. Seattle-based Unikrn has created a web site where you can bet on matches with your favorite esports athletes in games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike Global Offensive, Dota 2, and others.

The company was founded in November by Rahul Sood, a former Microsoft executive and founder of gaming PC maker Voodoo PC, and Karl Flores, another gaming entrepreneur.

The previous investment round was led by Jonathan Teo and Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital, who are known for early investing in companies such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Whisper, and Taskrabbit. Besides Cuban, other investors include Advancit Capital, Freelands Group, 500 Startups, Indicator Ventures, and Tabcorp.

From VentureBeat

Get faster turnaround on creative, more testing, smarter improvements and better results. Learn how to apply agile marketing to your team at VB’s Agile Marketing Roadshow in SF.

To date, Unikrn has raised $ 10 million in its short life. But the company is moving fast to take advantage of the growth of esports. According to ESPN, 27 million people tuned in to watch the 2014 finals of the League of Legends World Championship. That is more than watched the final game of the World Series (23.5 million) or the NBA Finals (18 million). The global audience on Twitch is more than 100 million monthly active users.

The company launched its Unikrn Arena Global around the world. It’s a virtual arena where users can earn “Unikoins” by participating in various activities and then use the virtual currency to increase their chances of winning prizes. Unikrn is also launching its Unikrn Vault companion app, which will be available soon on Android and iOS.

Unikrn currently works on either mobile or desktop, and it operates only in jurisdictions where betting on esports is legal.

Sood was recently general manager of Microsoft Ventures, but he quit that job to start Unikrn with Flores, the former CEO of online gaming advertising firm Pinion.

“I’ve had the pleasure of investing and being involved in a number of outstanding startups, and Unikrn stood out because they are completely changing how people engage with eSports,” said Kutcher, in a statement.  “esports are mainstreaming, and Unikrn Arena provides fans with an additional level of excitement not found elsewhere.”

Kutcher and Oseary are active tech investors, and they have taken stakes in Airbnb, Foursquare, Skype, SoundCloud, Square, Zenefits, and Uber.

“I’m thrilled to be launching Unikrn Arena to the world, and releasing the Unikrn Vault App to allow our users to generate Unikoins is something we’re all really excited about,” said Rahul Sood, CEO Unikrn, in a statement. “At the same time, bringing Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary on was a big deal for me. They are well known for picking winning consumer technology companies and are incredibly connected.  We’re looking forward to working with their team to help make Unikrn Arena a big success.”

Unikrn is now offering daily “quests” that provide the chance to earn Unikoins, which can be used to win prizes from companies such as: Alienware, Caseking, Funko, Gunnar, HP, HyperX, and Logitech. Types of quests include “Betting Quests,” which reward users for placing bets on Unikrn; “Social Quests,” which reward users for engaging with their friends and/or social networks; and “Trivia Questions,” where users can answer questions about the games being played on Unikrn.

Above: Ashton Kutcher

Image Credit: s_bukley/Shutterstock

 

 

 

 

 

 

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