An Outsider's Perspective on Evo Championship Series 2017
This past weekend I attended the Evo Championship Series, the premier fighting games tournament in the world. Nine different games were played this year including Street Fighter 5, Super Smash Bros, and Tekken 7. Competitors climbed to the top of the tournament through an open registration process. The top 8 players in each game emerged after two full days of play. The third and final day was a double elimination tournament with the top player in each game taking home 60% of that game’s prize pool.
The last fighting game I’ve played must have been Super Smash Bros on Nintendo 64 over 10 years ago but that didn’t matter for my experience this weekend. Fighting games are intuitive and viewer friendly. After watching a half dozen sets, I could appreciate the skill it took to execute certain moves and tactics. It’s easy to figure out which player is beating up on the other by the sounds and animations in the game, not to mention the crowd’s contagious enthusiasm. I quickly attached myself to players with aggressive play styles and began cheering their victories and lamenting their loses. Before I knew it, I was high fiving other fans in the stands as my new favorite player won a semifinals match. The FGC (Fighting Games Community) was welcoming to my new fandom and even helped me understand some of the more nuanced aspects of the game.
Fighting Games can be a great way to access esports fans. While the majority of pro players seemed to be from Japan or the US, the fans fit the highly engaged, young male demographic trends we are seeing from market research companies. For sponsors, I believe this is a community that is prime for brand integration for several reasons. First, there was always a line for merchandise regardless of when I walked by the booth. I noticed fans all around the casino wearing Evo shirts and other merch. Second, the games were safe for all audiences. There was minimal blood and gore, if any at all. Most of the games featured fantastical fighting moves and explosions of energy. Parents would feel comfortable letting their young children watch and play these games. Third, there was a lack of sponsor activations on site. While the matches move quickly and even taking a moment to check your phone could cause you to miss a key part of the action, the three day event was long and there could have been plenty of brand sponsored activities for fans to enjoy. In between games or during set ups times, there were plenty of opportunities for brand activations that were not taken advantage of. Now, this may be due to Mandalay Bay’s venue sponsor exclusivity, but that is speculation.
Needless to say, I’ll not only be back at Evo next year but can’t wait until the next fighting game tournament, regardless of game, comes to Southern California.
The Growth of Esports Shoulder Programming
ELEAGUE is producing a four-part mini series around the 2017 DOTA 2 The International that will debut on TBS on August 4th and release an hour episode for the following 3 weeks. The International (August 7th-12th) is the largest DOTA 2 event of the year with a crowd funded prize pool of over $21M with over 20M total viewers. The early episodes will follow teams and focus on team life and drama as they prepare for The International with later episodes documenting teams’ successes and failures during the tournament.
As esports continues to grow and develop, shoulder programming will be critical for pushing esports further into the mainstream. Unlike traditional sports where players are very expressive and animated during gameplay, many esports players are stoic and reserved while they play, which can minimize the potential for fan connection.
Some of the most popular content on team’s social media accounts is behind the scenes footage that shows their favorite players in their natural environment and seeing what they are like when they are not competing. Additionally, there are many fascinating storylines in esports that can really resonate with fans like Viceland’s special on the rivalry between TSM’s Doublelift and CLG’s Aphromoo. These high quality pieces of content not only engage esports fans but also provides an excellent crossover opportunity to traditional sports fans by providing a familiar storyline (in this case, a rivalry) as a way to understand esports.
It will be interesting to see how shoulder programming around esports develops in terms of monetization. As of now, a majority of content is distributed on YouTube for fan enjoyment but I wouldn’t be surprised if brands make a stronger push to be title sponsors as these long form pieces of content offer high engagement that can reach new potential fans outside of a core fan base. This content can provide excellent ways to increase brand awareness among esports fans as long as there isn’t an overabundance of blatant product placement.
RIOT Games Makes An Example of Moonton
Riot Games has filed a lawsuit accusing Moonton Technology, developer of mobile games Magic Rush, Mobile Legends 5v5, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, of copyright infringement. This lawsuit follows Moonton’s choice to re-upload Mobile Legends under a different name without notification after the game had previously been removed under threat from Google and Riot Games.
Moonton soon after released a statement stating that their game had been created independently and did not violate Riot Games’ IP. Riot retorts that Moonton engaged in “overt gamesmanship” and that they had stolen several assets from Riot’s hit game League of Legends.
The lawsuit filed by Riot Games can be viewed here, along with examples of stolen art and content.
League of Legends generated approximately 1.6 billion dollars in revenue in 2016 and copycat games can be found in abundance both on the internet and in app stores as developers scramble to capture a share of the rapidly growing esports fanbase.
Because Moonton has established a presence in the United States, specifically in California, and distributed their content through Google and Apple’s online marketplaces, Riot will have the authority to mandate that Moonton’s content is removed from US app stores and likely receive compensation for damages. While Mobile Legends may have only obtained a following of between 10k -100k monthly users (dwarfed by the 100M boasted by Riot), Riot’s decision to pursue legal action against Moonton is clearly to set an example.
At a glance of Riot’s lawsuit, the examples of copyright infringement are so blatant that it can almost be found humorous. In a specific example, Magic Rush simply rotated an art asset from League of Legends 180° and used it as their own. The line between coincidental likeness and blatant copyright infringement can be a thin one, especially in video games and digital content, where many developers are vying for a relatively small niche. Although games can be similar in concept, it is important to define this boundary.