AFK Weekly: Esports stadiums adjust, eFuse acquires Esports.GG
Since launching at the end of 2021, AFK Gaming has put out 30 issues of the Esports Business Insights newsletter, one special edition dispatch, and five issues of our paid offering, People on the Move. We have learned a lot over the last six months–and it has been an honor and privilege bringing readers the latest and greatest esports and gaming news–but we have reached a critical point in the production of these newsletters where we need to be able to prove that it has true value to the audience and can pay for itself.
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Fusion Arena will be a multi-use facility, but esports plans endure
When Comcast Spectacor first announced the Fusion Arena adjacent to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia back in 2019, the plan was to have a 3,500-seat auditorium and amenities that would serve as the home base of the Overwatch League team, Philadelphia Fusion (which the company also owns). But after a delayed opening due to the pandemic in 2020 (a year after breaking ground and hosting a press event in Philadelphia), and the Philadelphia Fusion leaving the city for South Korea (again, pandemic-related) at the end of 2020, Fusion Arena backers decided that a change in focus was necessary.
The idea that there may be in a change in focus (i.e. Fusion Arena would be abandoning esports) first surfaced via a tweet from Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston, who wrote: "The feeling out of the @WellsFargoCtr tour is 10 years from now , Comcast Spec hopes the complex is full of retail, dining & a destination. The esports arena has been scrapped but still room for a smaller venue for events on the property."
While the Fusion Arena will still be capable of hosting esports events as needed, Comcast Spectacor tells Sports Business Journal's Kevin Hitt that the space will also be used for other activities such as concerts, comedy shows, seminars, and other entertainment offerings. It is unclear if the reimagined auditorium will have the same seating capacity and amenities that were initially planned, or if these changes reduce the $50M price tag that owners initially committed to.
When it was first announced, Fusion Arena's planned features included a 3,500-seat auditorium with adjacent club suites, balcony bars, lodge boxes, and private suites, as well as a 10,000 square foot space dedicated to a training facility sponsored by Xfinity ("Xfinity Training Center"), broadcast studios, and team offices. The space, which is being developed by Populous, may be less ambitious in scope and may involve new partners to provide support and reduce the price tag even further (for example Nerd Street, which opened a Localhost gaming centre in the area, might get involved, in theory), though there’s no clear indication one way or the other as of this writing.
Key Takeaway: The Fusion Arena was one of the most significant investments made in the long-term vision of the Overwatch League - a full home and away ecosystem that would draw large crowds for in-person matches. The vision was always ambitious, but the COVID-19 delay all but guaranteed that version of the OWL would never even get a chance to try. While the OWL is far from “dead” at this stage, it’s clear that an Overwatch sequel alone is not enough to revive the full original vision of the league.
eFuse acquires consumer-focused esports site Esports.GG
Ohio-based gaming talent discovery and competition platform eFuse announced this week that it has acquired consumer focused esports news site Esports.GG for an undisclosed amount of money.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but eFuse claimed in a release that this acquisition is the company's largest to date; it acquired the Collegiate Carball Association and College CoD in Q4 2021.
Under the terms of the deal, eFuse will take over the domain and the social media accounts of Esports.GG (including the valuable @esports twitter account) and fold the core editorial staff into its organization. The company promises to continue to let the site maintain its editorial independence, but will also find ways to highlight the eFuse calendar of events and competitions by integrating its "high school, collegiate, influencer and professional events onto the Esports.GG platform," according to a release. eFuse also plans on providing support that will enable the staff to "cover international offline events,” and hire new talent to enhance the site's editorial, social media, and video" production capabilities.
At the top of the new structure will be eFuse Head of Content Halina Malik, with support from Head of Socials James Bevins, who will help guide the social media accounts of the site. Esports.GG Editor-in-Chief Lawrence Phillips will continue in his role, reporting directly to Malik.
According to a Digiday report, acquisition talks began in November of 2021, and advanced in February, well before Esports.GG was caught up in a controversy over its TikTok content; the team creating TikTok content for Esports.GG was accused of "stealing" other people's work to create their videos, which put the publication on its heels for awhile–it ultimately decided that it would halt all efforts related to that platform. eFuse will not be working with that team, according to a release, and Esports.GG will continue to stay away from creating TikTok content for the foreseeable future.
According to internal figures provided by Esports.GG, it receives more than 500K unique visitors per month, and experienced a peak of 1.5M page views per month in its first year of operation. It also claims that 60% of its traffic comes from countries outside the United States, most notably Brazil because it also offers a portuguese-language vertical.
eFuse has received a total of $7.4M in total funding to date, according to Crunchbase, with $6M of that coming from a post-seed round in February 2021 led by NBA and NFL athletes such as Brooklyn Nets point guard Seth Curry, Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, and Cleveland Browns defensive end Chase Winovich. Other funding comes from investment rounds led by the Ohio Innovation Fund.
Key Takeaway: While Esports.GG functions as a news site, the value of its Twitter handle and domain likely offer as much if not more to eFuse than the content itself. Esports.GG is the latest in a long line of ambitious competitive gaming content projects to find itself either folding or finding a new direction under new ownership.
Esports Stadium Arlington puts keen focus on live events
Earlier this week AFK Gaming reported that Esports Stadium Arlington lease owner/operator Envy Gaming would be abandoning retail efforts at the Arlington, Texas, venue to focus on delivering live top-tier esports competitions and events that bring more national and international traffic to the region.
Those events Include Call of Duty League and Overwatch League homestands for Envy’s respective franchised teams, as well as one-off events and the Dota 2 Arlington Major later this year. Envy is in ongoing talks with first-party publishers and tournament organizers for future events, Moore said, but did not provide specifics.
In addition to ditching efforts related to the gaming center, Envy COO & President Goeff Moore told AFK that the company was in the early stages of exploring possible naming rights deals for the stadium that could come to fruition in the second half of this year or in the early part of 2023.
It was also revealed this week that several staff members at Envy Gaming who focused on video production had been laid off in California and Texas–something that Moore alluded to in our initial report. Those layoffs included Johnny Wickham, Kate Meyers, Rob Fee, Jacob Strunk, John Culp, Mike Botkin, Vladimer S., and Andrew Jewell. No staff at ESA were laid off related to its retail-focused gaming center; those already occurred earlier this year when Envy took over from Esports Venues LLC–a group led by Texas Rangers co-owner Neil Leibman and other investors.
Luminosity Gaming announced via social media this week that it would no longer compete in Valorant. "Exiting Valorant is not an easy decision for us, we look forward to Riot's upcoming structure for 2023 and we do not rule out the opportunity to participate in Valorant esports again down the road," the company said. Luminosity added that it was in the process of finding a new home for the team, but did not elaborate further. The team will continue to compete under the Luminosity banner through the remainder of Stage 2.
Call of Duty League team Toronto Ultra and Overwatch League team Toronto Defiant owner OverActive Media has renewed its partnership with Canadian telecom Bell Canada for three more years. In addition to appearing on the jerseys of both teams, Bell will work with OverActive on content creation, support major events, and facilitate the Bell Fibe Zone training facility at the company's headquarters in Toronto.
Activision Blizzard is still owed between $390M-$420M in franchise payments from participating teams in the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, according to a report from Jacob Wolf. These payments were deferred for two years by Activision Blizzard due to challenges team owners faced in generating revenue due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NRG Esports has named Rockstar Energy as its energy drink partner in a new multiyear deal that will see the NRG's team Jerseys for Rocket League, Apex Legends, and Valorant bear Rockstar branding. In addition the two companies will partner on content creation and a concert series this summer.
North American esports organization the Golden Guardians plan to open a 10,700 square-foot esports facility in Los Angeles this fall. The location will feature a training facility and a production studio, among other amenities.
Epic Games announced that the first in-person Fortnite LAN competition will take place Nov. 12-13, in Raleigh, North Carolina. The FNCS Invitational 2022, which is being produced by tournament organizer BLAST, is a one-off duos invitational tournament that will feature a $1M total prize pool.
KRAFTON announced the PUBG Nations Cup 2022, an international competition that will see the top 16 PUBG teams in the world compete for part of the total prize pool of $500K. The in-person LAN event will be hosted in Bangkok, Thailand, from June 16-19.
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