Planning for the Future of Esports and Reimagining the Business

by Neil Bui
Planning for the Future of Esports and Reimagining the Business

The third and final day of Digital Media Wire’s LA Game Conference 2020 focused on esports and mobile gaming, with the former being a major part of my life outside of Dorkaholics as the head of esports at Westcliff University. And with the uncertainty of the quarantine, people within the industry must reassess business conditions and determine the appropriate steps toward success for the future of esports.

The panel was moderated by Mike Vorhaus, CEO of Vorhaus Advisors, with expertise in “digital media and gaming acquired through consulting and research practice in the Internet, new media, connected TV/OTT, and digital entertainment spaces, including gaming, video, live streaming, social media.”

Vorhaus began the panel, The Next Wave for Esports: Rethinking the Business & Plans for the Future, by asking speakers about how their plans in the near-term will shape business planning for the long-term.

Leading game publisher Electronic Arts’ Dave Madden, SVP of Global Brand Partnerships, addressed the current lack of events in today’s world.

“The current COVID situation has created a void in live events happening in stadiums,” said Madden.

For the popular 100 Thieves, President and COO John Robinson shared that his gaming organization has made plans with the expectation that live events will return in 2021, mirroring what many leaders are expecting at both the collegiate and professional levels.

Then the panel shifted towards acknowledging some of the silver-linings that have emerged under the current circumstances.

At Super League Gaming, the host of esports events at the amateur level, Chairman & CEO Ann Hand applauded her company’s productivity during this time.

“The team’s productivity has been really high,” said Hand. “That takes a lot of self-discipline.”

Live streams, which have replaced live events, experienced record-breaking numbers of total hours watched up for Q1 2020 across platforms such as Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Facebook Gaming, and Microsoft’s Mixer. Twitch broke its own records by topping 3 billion hours during the first quarter.

Hand also highlighted Super League Gaming’s in-house automated cloud tools that work as a fully remote production booth.

“It can handle the complexities of esports,” said Hand. “But it can be used in different types of events and industries as well.”

For Singaporean tournament organizer ONE ESports, CEO Carlos Alimurung explained his company’s mission to “unite the world with esports” and how the company’s structure aims to accomplish that, even with a lack of events, its content property thrives.

“We have two teams. One team executes live events, the other team runs oneesports.gg, a top 5 esports site,” said Alimurung. “Traffic ballooned over the last month, with 10 million page views.”

Robinson and 100 Thieves are interested in seeing how Epic Games and their title Fortnite continues to develop.

“We’ll be looking closely at Fortnite to see if they go all-in on entertainment like their recent Travis Scott event, or maintain an esports presence,” said Robinson.

I personally believe Epic Games is positioning Fortnite to become the Metaverse and in order to do so, they must continue to crossover into other industries and show how their experience will span both digital and physical worlds.

VC firm BITKRAFT Esports Ventures’ Founding General Partner, Scott Rupp, spoke about his interest in games that expand the future of the esports industry.

Rocket League is at a crossroads. I hope they do a lot with it,” said Rupp. “Beyond that, I’d love to see more entertainment-esports crossovers to broaden the audience.”

Speaking on the trends of games on the rise and titles declining, ONE ESports’ Alimurung positioned Mobile Legends as one of the top titles in Southeast Asia, while also mentioning titles launching later this year and popular games in other countries.

Wild Rift is coming out later this year. Arena of Valor and Honor of Kings in China. I’m very bullish on the mobile esports titles,” said Alimurung. “On the PC side, Valorant has taken the world by storm. You gotta ask yourself what happens to CS:GO or what happens to Overwatch. It’ll be interesting in the FPS world.”

Given the historical perception and the spotlight being cast in modern times, esports businesses have experienced a positive flow of cash from sources that weren’t previously available, but need to continue being resourceful and uncover the opportunities best suited to their operations.

VC firm BITKRAFT Esports Ventures’ Founding General Partner, Scott Rupp, spoke about the changing view of companies in the gaming sector by investors.

“The investing community has experienced a shift in the perception of the category of gaming,” said Rupp. “Generalist VCs are getting more interested.”

Olivia Friedlander, VP of Operations at Maestro, the interactive white label live video streaming platform, mentioned a trend that she and her company have noticed across the industry.

“You make money on your most engaged fans, now is the time to capitalize on that. We’re seeing that shift more and more,” said Friedlander.

In regards to the merchandise business, Robinson touched upon the current capabilities of 100 Thieves such as inventory and how the quarantine has changed some of the planning in that direction.

“[100 Thieves is] well capitalized for a startup but not for a massive apparel company,” said Robinson. “Pre-COVID, we would have looked into opening retail locations.”

However, despite the setback, their ongoing operations have not experienced any setbacks.

“Online is e-commerce and we haven’t seen any decline in interest,” said Robinson.

ONE Esports’ Alimurung ended the panel recommending those interested in being a competitor within the future of esports to actively pursue real competition.

“[You] gotta be on Battlefy to know what it’s like to compete, gotta be in real competitions,” said Alimurung. “The beauty of esports is that you can find online competitions.”

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