Esports One Bets Big on Creating 'Fantasy Leagues' for Competitive Gaming
Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake
As a math teacher, Julius Woehning can't ignore the numbers.
After climbing to 11th place out of 35,000 competitors in his fantasy sports league this Spring, the twenty-something German knew his chances of placing among the prize-winning top three were still slim. And even now that he's won the $50,000 grand prize, he's keeping his expectations modest for next season–mostly.
"I doubt I will win," Woehning told dot.LA, "but if my friends are playing next season, I definitely think I will beat them."
The league that hosted Woehning's triumph was operated by Esports One, a venture-backed L.A-based startup that is staking its claim on the dynamic esports market by providing fans like Woehning a tech-enabled fantasy sports platform. It currently accommodates just one game, League of Legends, a hit multiplayer battle arena-style competition developed by L.A.'s Riot Games, but the startup plans to expand to another title by the end of this year.
Founder Matt Gunnin told dot.LA that he has over a decade of experience in esports. His recent entrepreneurial ventures have been built around computer vision technology that analyzes on-screen game activity to produce a robust flow of real-time gameplay data and statistics. Gunnin previously partnered with Twitch, a popular platform for watching esports, to provide viewers with analytics as they watched; and he has partnered with Riot Games to help in-game esports announcers spice up their commentary with data.
Recent forecasts for the esports market have proven overly optimistic. As media analyst Matthew Ball wrote in an essay last month, Newzoo, a gaming insights service, predicted in 2017 that esports would generate up to $2 billion by 2020 but has since reduced its forecast to just north of $1 billion. Morgan Stanley had a similar overly bullish view. In April, Newzoo further cut its 2020 forecast, citing setbacks due to cancelled live events from the coronavirus. However, the service raised its expected growth rate, assuming an enduring boost from the increased gameplay occurring amid the pandemic.
Esports One co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Sharon Winter is optimistic about the space, noting increased interest from major agencies in representing gamers, the entry of new brands as advertisers and partners, and the expansion by some classic fantasy sports operators into esports.
The numbers looked good for this past season which Woehning won. According to representatives from Esports One, Europe's professional League of Legends league reported this spring's playoffs saw a 71% growth in total hours watched compared to last spring's, and a 76% increase in peak viewership.
A sport by any other name...
In some ways, fantasy esports is just like any fantasy sport. Esports One competitors have a weekly budget for bidding on players for each week's games; the real-world players are assigned a dollar-value based on Esports One's data-rich algorithms. As the gamers accumulate stats – kills, assists, achieving objectives, etc. – those are reflected in the fantasy gamers' lineups.
Woehning explained that playing fantasy esports makes watching matches more exciting, especially when his favorite team isn't playing – a sentiment many fantasy football players will recognize (anyone up for Lions-Browns?). Jason Halsey, another Esports One competitor, from England, says that just like in traditional sports, esports are filled with exciting moments, intriguing matchups and upsets.
Esports differs from traditional sports, however, in some crucial ways. As Ball described, a developer like Riot Games owns League of Legends, whereas nobody owns basketball or football. This skews power dynamics away from third-party esports companies and toward the game developers. But Gunnin and Winter emphasize they've built Esports One to work in partnership with game developers, yet without being captive to their centralized power.
Another way that esports differs from regular sports, Gunnin says, is that viewers can more easily see themselves doing what the professionals do. "But if you can't slam dunk, you're out of luck," he explained. As a result, Gunnin said Esports One strives to make its fantasy gameplay more like playing the game itself.
The startup's founders also highlight esports' somewhat "cliquey" nature, and how they accordingly aim to cater their platform toward upholding a sense of camaraderie. Halsey, the British gamer, praised the platform's responsiveness to user input.
Esports One has raised about $4 million to date. In the future the league will remain free to access, according to the company, but it plans to grow its revenue streams into premium subscriptions and event passes. Beyond expanding into another game title, the company also hopes to move beyond Europe and North America into other regions.
Los Angeles seems a good home base from which to do so. Two major studios, Activision Blizzard and Riot Games, are based here. And Kevin Rosenblatt of ESL Gaming, an international esports firm specializing in live events with an office in Burbank, told dot.LA that the region has become a "mecca" for esports, thanks to its history of production expertise, a rich ecosystem of firms and brands, and a talented labor pool.
As Esports One's summer season approaches, Woehning still hasn't decided what he will do with his spring winnings. The math teacher evidently understands compound interest and has plans to save it.
Sam Blake covers media and entertainment for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA
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Coronavirus Updates: Disney Pitches Florida Re-Open; Valence's Push for Interns; Snap, LAUSD and Celebs Partner on Reading
Here are the latest headlines regarding how the novel coronavirus is impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest updates.
- With internships cancelled, Valence tries to fill the void for young black professionals
- Florida is poised to open Disney World and SeaWorld. Will California be far behind?
- Snap and LAUSD promotes reading during COVID, with an assist from celebs like Alicia Keys
With internships cancelled, Valence tries to fill the void for young black professionals<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyNTkwMi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTczNTE4M30.YVDJESMmCRibfFoEY82y4HiQci38rzJH1RKsJGlw_aE/image.png?width=980" id="7f574" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f541a00e8d17de6d806235c23444c2f4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Across the country aspiring young students have had their summer internships cancelled because of the pandemic, crushing dreams and muddying professional paths. It's been especially hard for communities of color, where some are the first in the family to go to college or where internships provide an entrance into a professional world.</p><p>Valence Enterprises Inc., a Santa Monica-based company that's developed a sort of LinkedIn for black professionals, is trying to offset the pain calling on their network of leaders and professionals to provide career advice. Their network of 7,000 individuals can talk on everything from Hollywood to venture capital to marketing. Indeed, the legion of young professionals seeking it will need that hand as they enter a world forever changed by the pandemic.</p><p>Many are already facing devastating family loss - as the coronavirus kills African Americans at three times that of white families. And job loss is concentrated in low-wage sectors where Black and Latino workers are seeing high unemployment. </p><p>The very wealth gap that Valence seeks to lessen is only <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/pandemics-poor-rich-economics-coronavirus-covid19/" target="_blank">expected to widen after the pandemic</a>. </p><p>Dubbing their efforts the "Boost Challenge," Valence is asking their network of more than 7,000 professionals to provide 30 minute one-on-one coaching sessions. "This is a chance to be coached by some really inspiring people that you otherwise wouldn't have direct access to," said Emily Slade, co-founder of Valence.</p><p>So far, they have gotten a buy in from the former chief marketing officer of Beats By Dre, and founder of Opus, Omar Johnson, to offer branding advice; Olympic medalist Michael Johnson will give partnership and sponsorship advice; and Boris Kodjoe, who founded the Full Circle Festival and is an actor and model, will offer his thoughts on the entertainment industry. Other participants include the chief marketing officer of Snap, Kenny Michell; Maisha C. Leek, a partner at Human Ventures; Derek Ali, a Grammy Award-winning mixing engineer; and Caroline Wang, chief culture, diversity and inclusion officer at Target Corp.</p><p>"As a tech platform and professional network focused on connecting the Black community with mentorship, job opportunities and capital,<a href="http://www.valence.community/" target="_blank"> Valence</a> is in a unique position to provide some support," said Kobie Fuller, the co-founder and a general partner at Upfront Venture. Valence has previously partnered with historically black colleges and universities, where students are reeling from the impacts of the pandemic.</p><p>An online survey by HBCUvc found among students at historically black colleges 62% lost their job due to COVID-19. The sample survey of 137 students by the nonprofit aimed at increasing opportunity in venture capital and technology also showed that among those 75% held a job while at school. </p>
Florida is poised to open Disney World and SeaWorld. Will California be far behind?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4ODI2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDkzNDcyNH0.-nX2hvzltOpH8ieuOf_ohBoNJM-JbXhshLlK4D1FW8M/img.jpg?width=980" id="d0ee6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79ab04e2418b271f2628e2786013b354" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Walt Disney World wants to reopen in weeks after the Orlando amusement park was shuttered as the pandemic spread, and the company's multi-tiered proposal might be a blueprint to how the Magic Kingdom will open the front gates of its Anaheim park. Other Florida parks are also unveiling proposals to do the same, which must be approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis. </p><p>Disney plans a tiered reopening, with Disney World and Animal Kingdom opening on July 11, then Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15.SeaWorld wants to open on June 11. And Universal Orlando presented its plan to reopen on June 5. That plan also has been approved by the Orlando task force, which sent its recommendation to the governor. "We are developing a series of 'know before you go' communication vehicles and our objective is to reinforce our health and safety messages to guests before they arrive on our property so they are aware and prepared for the new environment," Disney's senior vice president of operations, Jim McPhee, <a href="https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-05-27/walt-disney-world-park-reopening" target="_blank">told the task force.</a></p><p>Will the same re-opening plan soon be unveiled for California's version of the theme parks? <a href="https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-05-27/silicon-valley-health-officer-slams-faster-pace-of-california-coronavirus-reopening" target="_blank">The Los Angeles Times reported</a> that a key architect of the nation's first coronavirus shelter-in-place order is criticizing the state's <a href="https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-05-26/los-angeles-county-reopens-with-new-state-guidelines-while-city-allows-in-store-shopping" target="_blank">increasingly fast pace</a> of lifting stay-at-home restrictions. Dr. Sara Cody, health officer for Santa Clara County — home to Silicon Valley and Northern California's most populous county — said she was concerned by the decision to allow gatherings of up to 100 people for <a href="https://covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-places-of-worship.pdf" target="_blank">religious</a>, political and cultural reasons.</p>
Snap and LAUSD promotes reading during COVID, with an assist from celebs like Alicia Keys<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY1NzUwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTAxNDQ3N30.Ff-fzCnRnQLbhIXn1cyzX0YwGUwp8YwNWrif-9njEE4/img.jpg?width=980" id="34bce" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8bec468dda80a988ea00bd5388f3aa67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />c1.staticflickr.com<p>Snapchat and L.A. Unified School District are partnering to keep high school students reading books while the coronavirus pandemic keeps them from the classroom. On Wednesday, Snap launched a new original series titled <em>The A-List Book Club </em>on its Discover platform, which houses Snap-curated content for its young-skewing audience. The new series will showcase celebrities discussing a favorite book and what it means to them. </p><p>Participating celebrities, who will shoot the footage themselves, include Russell Westbrook, Alicia Keys, and Kendall Jenner. At the end of each episode, LAUSD students can swipe up to be directed to L.A. Unified's website, where they can enter their student credentials to receive a free digital copy of the book. Book donations are supported by L.A. Students Most In Need, a charity created to support students during this challenging time. </p><p>The series will also air on LAUSD's YouTube channel, as well as on Snapchat nationwide, but without the swipe up option. "Education creates opportunity, and we are excited to support public education and help create new ways to engage students in learning outside the structure of a classroom," said Evan Spiegel, Snap's co-founder and CEO. "We are inspired by working together with Los Angeles Unified to create resources for students to help them build the foundation for future success."</p>
Americans locked out of the workplace have been remaking their home offices by adding desks, plants and wall hangings. Some of it so that they look a little more slick on Zoom calls.
The new interest in a beautiful home office has been a boon to furniture services like Fernish, which sells itself as an affordable option to upscaling your home. The rental service recently closed on a $15 million Series A led by Kosla Ventures, alongside other top investors including Scott Cook (founder of Intuit), Eytan Elbaz (founder of Scopely), and Jeff Wilke (Amazon's CEO of Worldwide Consumer), and Spencer Rascoff (founder of Zillow and dot.LA).
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HBO Max, the new streaming service from AT&T's WarnerMedia, launches Wednesday. Advertised as the place "where HBO meets so much more", HBO Max will debut with over 10,000 hours of content from a range of brands including HBO, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network and Turner, with characters as diverse as Elmo and Tony Soprano. This marks a culminating milestone in AT&T's massive integration that began in 2016 when it agreed to acquire Time Warner for $85.4 billion.
HBO Max users will be able to browse by "hub"
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