AFK Weekly: Big Moment for Mobile, OpTic gets Another New Home
Week 2, November 2021
Hello everyone! Despite several of the biggest esports titles such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Dota 2 heading into an off-season after the conclusion of their marquee tournaments, it has been quite an eventful week in the esports industry. OpTic Gaming has once again found a new home for itself in the Call of Duty League (CDL), while Activision Blizzard’s other premier esports league saw yet another leadership shake up. Multiple non-endemic partnerships were also announced by organizations across the world, indicating the esports industry's increasing influence on marketing and sponsorships.
Here’s a breakdown of all that and more in the latest edition of Esports Business Insights by AFK Gaming.
- Vignesh Raghuram, Supervising Editor, AFK Gaming
OpTic Gaming merges with Envy to create OpTic Texas CDL Team
OpTic Gaming and Envy have officially merged their operations to form a new Call of Duty League team, OpTic Texas. As a result, two of the biggest names in Call of Duty esports history will join forces and operate under a single team in the CDL. The new team will see two former Dallas Empire and two former OpTic Chicago players banding together for the next season of the CDL.
This merger marks the third time that the OpTic Gaming brand has changed locations in the CDL. For the inaugural season of the league, OpTic operated its franchise from Los Angeles before relocating to Chicago after owner Hector "H3CZ" Rodriguez reacquired the brand from Immortals Gaming Club.
Envy and OpTic revealed that after the merger, the organizations own the CDL’s Chicago-based franchise. However, Envy and OpTic have stated that they are looking to sell this CDL slot. Washington Esports Ventures, the owners of the Washington Justice Overwatch League franchise, appeared to be acquiring the slot until last week. However, that potential deal reportedly fell through last week.
Key Takeaway: Before the CDL, OpTic Gaming was one of the strongest North American esports brands. The brand was fractured when its name went to Los Angeles and its face, Rodriguez, went to Chicago, but it remains an important part of Call of Duty culture. Envy has built up one of the strongest CDL-specific brands with the Empire’s competitive success, so there are few better places the brand could end up. Perhaps even more notable, however, is the potential for the CDL to begin its 2022 season with only 12 teams. It is a worrying sign if the healthier of Activision’s two franchised leagues is not seeing overwhelming interest in its only available slot in a non-expansion year.
The Overwatch League gets a major leadership shake up
Following nearly two years of serving as the Vice President of the Overwatch League (OWL), Jon Spector has announced that he is leaving the league to take up a new position as Commercial Director of Overwatch.
"As we head into 2022, I want to share an exciting but bittersweet career update. I am thrilled to be stepping into a new role as the Commercial Leader for Overwatch. Given my passion for this game and the entire ecosystem around it, I am humbled to be given the opportunity to help lead the Overwatch franchise into its next chapter," said Spector in a statement announcing his role change. “I plan to remain involved in helping the League from my new position and expect I will be well positioned to do so,” he added.
OWL revealed that Spector will be replaced by Sean Miller as the new head of the league. Miller previously served as the Senior Manager of Product Strategy and Team Operations in OWL. Following the announcement, Miller expressed his confidence in making the 2022 season on Overwatch 2 “the most epic one yet.”
In addition to these changes, it was also announced that Matt Morello, Senior Manager of Product and Content in the OWL, will be playing a larger community management role. These changes come at a rather tumultuous time for Activision Blizzard, after its shares fell 14% following an earnings call earlier this month.
Key Takeaway: While the move is undoubtedly a promotion for Spector, it adds to the long line of esports veterans moving away from Activision Blizzard’s franchised leagues, whether by career advancement or exiting the company entirely. Activision Blizzard’s approach to esports leadership stands in stark contrast to Riot Games which has filled the top of its management team with long-term employees with years of direct esports experience. That said, it is somewhat encouraging to see Activision Blizzard choose to promote from within to replace Spector rather than once again looking to traditional sports to fill its leadership positions.
Tribe Gaming Partners with Ford
Mobile esports organization Tribe Gaming, announced a partnership with U.S. automobile giant Ford. As a result, Ford is now the exclusive automotive sponsor of Tribe Gaming.
According to a release, Ford will provide Tribe Gaming's players and content creators with Tribe-branded vehicles, while the organization’s content creators will be producing a wide range of content featuring Ford vehicles including an episodic series in which they will “explore and build deeper connections with their largest geographic communities.”
In addition to Ford’s logo being featured prominently on Tribe jerseys, the announcement also revealed that the collaboration will see a new “Plugged In” series on the organization’s social platforms. This will feature behind-the-scenes communications from Tribe Gaming’s esports teams, according to the release.
Tribe currently hosts rosters in five mobile esports titles which include Brawl Stars, Call of Duty Mobile, Clash Royale, Wild Rift, and Clash of Clans. It also has several of North America’s biggest mobile gaming content creators such as OJ, Molt, and Ferg signed under its banner.
This partnership is not Ford’s first activation in esports: In August 2019, Ford launched its Fordzilla esports team, dedicated to virtual racing at gamescom in Germany. With automobile companies such as BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Honda already in the field, there continues to be a growing number of major car brands investing in esports and gaming.
Key Takeaway: Mobile esports development has fallen woefully behind in the U.S. There is a distinct lack of franchised leagues, large-scale events, and international competitive success. However, Riot Games’ commitment to Wild Rift has revitalized the region with multiple teams returning to mobile or expanding their investment. Throughout the region’s mobile drought, Tribe Gaming has remained committed to the platform, becoming a content creation leader. A mobile-only organization landing a major non-endemic deal like this shows that the landscape for Western mobile esports is finally changing, and Tribe will likely lead the way.
EDG founder rewards League of Legends players with real estate
Edward Gaming (EDG)’s founder Edward Zhu is rewarding each of the players on the League of Legends team with real estate properties in Guangzhou (China) worth ￥1M RMB ($156K USD) following the team’s historic victory at the 2021 League of Legends World Championship. The new houses come on top of bonuses from EDG partner TCL, who confirmed that they will be offering a bonus of $470K USD to the EDG roster for their win.
Riot reveals player numbers for its Runeterra IP, claims more active users than Steam
Riot Games revealed its player numbers for its Runeterra titles which include League of Legends, Legends of Runeterra, Wild Rift, Teamfight Tactics, and Battle of Golden Spatula (TFT spin-off only for China). Riot Games claims that over 600M players have played these titles in the past decade and that 180M players played it in October 2021. These numbers exceed Steam’s monthly active users for the entirety of 2020, which peaked at 120M monthly active users, according to Valve.
Riot Games Arcane, Among Us cross-over
Riot is celebrating the launch of its new League of Legends Netflix animated series, Arcane, with a number of collaborations which include an Among Us crossover. According to PC Gamer, this crossover will allow players to play as characters from Arcane. This follows similar a crossover content with Fortnite (featuring Jinx) and a collaboration with PUBG Mobile.
PGL Major final breaks CS:GO viewership records
The PGL Major Stockholm 2021 became the most watched CS:GO tournament in history, with a peak viewership of 2.7M, breaking all previous records by a large margin. The tournament was the seventh most popular esports event in history, according to escharts.com.
Team Liquid secures four-year Coinbase sponsorship
Team Liquid announced a four-year partnership with cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase. With this deal, Coinbase will be integrated into the upcoming Liquid + mobile app, provide cryptocurrency payment options on the org’s merch store, and be featured on the company's branding on jerseys and content. This is the latest collaboration in increasingly lucrative crypto x esports sponsorships which include TSM signing a $210M name sponsor deal with cryptocurrency exchange FTX and Fnatic’s $15M deal with Crypto.com
Brazilian esports organization Vivo Keyd signs Motorola as sponsor
Vivo Keyd, one of Brazil's premier esports organizations, has announced that Motorola has signed on as its latest sponsor. The deal will see the smartphone company have its logo displayed on Vivo Keyd’s team jerseys, social media channels, and other content. This is the latest development in Motorola's growing presence in the Brazilian esports market, the largest of which was a reality show streamed on TikTok for selecting players for Flamengo Esports' Wild Rift team.
On the Horizon
The upcoming week is a pivotal moment for Riot Games’ Wild Rift. The mobile MOBA title’s esports viewership has not been too impressive and pales in comparison to its competitors which include Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. The game’s first multi-regional event, the Horizon Cup 2021, will hope to buck the trend and leverage its popularity in Western regions to gain some footing in the increasingly competitive mobile MOBA esports landscape.
Riot has confirmed that its first official esports season for Wild Rift will begin next year, so the Horizon Cup will serve as an important showcase for the game’s esports potential as the developer begins to court sponsors for its first foray into mobile.
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