Forget Going Pro, Los Angeles eSports Pivots Toward Amateur Leagues

William D'Urso
William D'Urso worked at newspapers in Arizona, Milwaukee, and Las Vegas. His career then brought him to the Southland where he worked for the Orange County Register. He has covered everything from breaking news to aerospace to sports. He has written about raids on illegal marijuana grows, the ballooning F-35 budget, and boxers who have taken their final punch.
Forget Going Pro, Los Angeles eSports Pivots Toward Amateur Leagues

Two companies betting on the Los Angeles eSports market aren't throwing in on glitzy, state of the art stadiums or sinking big bucks into the pros: They're banking on the average Joe.

The video game industry has been red hot, surpassing $120 billion last year. Many in the marketplace think the next area for growth is in the amateurs; a vast pool of recreational players who can, if provided the infrastructure, make hay for investors as competitive players.


Southland stalwarts like Blizzard Entertainment and Riot Games both have investments in the unpaid ranks, building programs around blockbuster offerings like Overwatch and League of Legends.

But companies without game development programs have found a way in.

Santa Monica-based Super League wants to anchor its tournaments and one-off events with geography, drawing crowds to local sites set up for tournaments at the local Buffalo Wild Wings, or maybe even a Dave & Busters. The company already has, launching the program four years ago.

In the age of wireless internet, any place with a strong connection is a potential tournament site.

Matt Edelman, Super League's chief commercial officer, wants to convert the millions who watch competitive gameplay on Twitch or YouTube gaming channel into Super League community members.

Think recreational league sports at the local YMCA or community center.

"Super League is not in the pro eSports business. We have really focused on the fact that every viewer, every player is a participant. And that's not the way it is in traditional sports," Edelman said. "Every single person who goes to a League of Legends event also plays the game. How do I get to play in person? That's where Super League comes in."

The cost structure includes games for as little as $5 or leagues that cost about $80.

Newzoo, a games and eSports analytics firm with offices in San Francisco estimates there are more than 2.5 billion gamers world wide.

Gaming has long offered the advantage of remote competition, allowing communities to grow nationally and even overseas. But Edelman wants to capitalize on the lure of local community, and the chance for digital friends to share a laugh and a high five in person.

The company also streams these events on services like Twitch, offering packages that beam the most captivating gameplay moments to a user's computer screen or television. It's like NFL Red Zone for gamers.

Super League is playing with the on-location model, holding 275 events in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The company announced last month that it had partnered with Chinese-based Wanda Media to bring its model to more than 700 locations in the Middle Kingdom. Super League has not invested in brick and mortar locations, but has amassed a hoard of users, and sponsors who advertise through signage or commercials on gaming highlight videos.

The pro ranks are also sinking more focus into physical locations. Blizzard's Overwatch League will require teams, like the Los Angeles Gladiators, to play more games in their chosen city.

Nerd Street Gamers wants in on the Los Angeles market, too. It finished a round of funding last October, bolstering it with $12 million to help it bring its gaming centers, branded Localhost, nationwide. Fellow Philadelphia company and discount retailer Five Below provided the capital, following a long line of investors including Comcast, SeventySix Capital, Elevate Capital, and angel investor George Miller. The deal is a bet on the value of amateur eSports.

CEO and founder John Fazio said the appeal is largely because of its high school district, which is ranked the largest in the country.

"Those schools are full of kids who would love to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities," he said.

Fazio's company plans to build a massive gaming center where players can compete, and friends can watch. The facility, located in Hawthorne, is a planned 26,000 square-feet or, as the company reports, the size of five-and-a-half NBA regulation basketball courts. Loaded with 375 gaming PCs, it would have capacity for 120 teams and has planned its opening for summer 2020. It's the gamer equivalent of a basketball court or a soccer field. The company announced the arrival Feb 12 of a Southland addition to its previously established foothold in Huntington Beach located at 1524 Transistor Lane.

"I think the growth has accelerated. Right now is what's kind of crazy is we've seen growth with really just investment at the professional level," Fazio said. "We're taking hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of students and turning them into esports fans, if not future professionals."

He noted that developers have closely controlled the leagues they've created for college eSports teams, of which there are more than 250 nationwide. The casual gamer with competitive aspirations, he said, is where his company can find opportunity.

Both companies have their eye on the high-school market, too, but Santa Monica-based PlayVs has focussed their efforts on cornering that market. The company has been raking in investments, including $50 million in funding announced last September, designed to spread its platform to all 50 states.

Sari Kitelyn, director of eSports and project development at Full Sail University, a for-profit college with a focus on eSports, is keeping her eye on the unpaid ranks.

But the market remains in flux. Super League is still growing, recording year-over-year growth in of 350,000 or 129% during the third quarter. Nerd Street Gamers doesn't release financials because it is privately held, but received seed funding from Major League Baseball slugger Ryan Howard and is backed by Comcast.

Whatever the growth potential, Super League and Nerd Street Gamers have already made the commitment, investing in the amateurs in hopes of making big league dollars.

"I think this is the biggest area of market opportunity," Kitelyn said.

Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
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In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

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Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

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Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

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Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

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Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

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Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

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A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
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Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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