AFK Weekly: Ubisoft Follows Riot’s Lead in Esports Overhaul
Hello everyone! The esports industry is still rife with speculation about how the upcoming blockbuster acquisitions of Activision Blizzard and ESL FACEIT Group will affect the industry. Despite Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard facing a difficult review process by the Federal Trade Commission before being in the clear, there are already a few changes in how the latter operates. Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League and Call of Duty League will now be run by third-party tournament operators, much like how other Microsoft esports titles such as Halo and Forza leagues are run.
It remains to be seen whether ESL FACEIT Group will also undergo fundamental changes under new ownership. Here’s a breakdown of this week’s most impactful and important esports business news and more in the latest edition of Esports Business Insights by AFK Gaming.
- Vignesh Raghuram, Supervising Editor, AFK Gaming
Ubisoft Restructures its Esports Division
Ubisoft announced that it has restructured its esports departments, consolidating them into a single global division. As a result, the company will be taking its esports operations internal and will move away from relying upon third-party tournament organizers. The newly reorganized division has promoted François-Xavier Deniele as the senior director of esports and competitive gaming.
In the announcement, Deniele noted that Ubisoft’s new strategy for its esports division is designed to streamline its decision-making processes. “By consolidating our team into a single, global organization, we can establish a clear direction for all our regional activities, taking into account regional and local specificities; strengthen the relationship between fans and players; and collaborate with more teams at Ubisoft in the most efficient way possible.”
The esports division aims to build a thriving and inclusive competitive ecosystem for Ubisoft’s portfolio of competitive games, which include existing titles such as Rainbow Six Siege, Brawlhalla, and Trackmania, and future competitive games. It also plans on creating a multi-year plan with competitive activities, tournaments, and leagues which will enable aspiring players to pursue a competitive career in esports. Additionally, the team plans to optimize broadcasting, content production, and event planning, while also supporting game production teams.
Prior to this restructuring, Ubisoft offices in different regions independently ran competitive circuits locally, which led to lack of uniformity across the ecosystem. The 2020 season, for example, saw all four regions run vastly differently formatted online leagues. The consolidated esports division could rectify this and other complaints about a lack of communication.
Key Takeaway: To date, Ubisoft’s esports strategy has been built entirely around Rainbow Six Siege. While the company does not have the catalog of competitive titles to match Riot Games, it is encouraging to see it take a similar approach to properly fleshing out its esports division. Brawlhalla and Trackmania are both games with surprisingly large player bases that have yet to be fully leveraged through esports. This restructuring is an important step on the road to all publishers fully embracing the importance of esports for every competitive game.
PGL to host 2022’s first CS:GO Major in Belgium
Belgium will play host to the first Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major tournament of 2022. The Major will be hosted by PGL and will take place at the Antwerps Sportpaleis from May 19-22. It will feature a total prize pool of $1M.
According to the release, It was announced that spectators might be able to attend the playoff stage of the Major, but PGL also added that it is keeping a close eye on the global pandemic situation and is prepared to adapt its plans to ensure everyone's safety.
This announcement was followed by PGL renewing its partnership with IMG, which will once again distribute media rights for all of the company's events in 2022. In addition, as an extension of the previous partnership, IMG will become PGL's exclusive sponsorship agency.
News of the PGL CS:GO Major Antwerp 2022 comes just weeks after Valve canceled the first Dota 2 Major of 2022. The company cited the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, difficulties with tournament organizers, and the subsequent increase in travel restrictions imposed by various countries as the primary reason behind this decision.
Key Takeaway: Counter-Strike remains the strongest counterpoint to any concerns that frequent game turnover makes esports a risky investment. CS:GO was able to survive the pandemic and remain a top tier esport despite a lack of developer support and no tentpole, world championship-level event to speak of. Last year’s Stockholm Major showed that the game can still draw an audience even with direct competition from Valorant, so it is reasonable to expect strong numbers from the Antwerp Major.
Tencent plans to take DouYu private
Tencent is looking to take its China-based streaming service DouYu private, according to a Reuters report. The company had planned to merge it with Huya, but Tencent abandoned that idea after Chinese regulators said it would oppose it earlier this year.
Chinese tournament organizer VSPN files IPO
Chinese esports tournament organizer VSPN has filed an IPO prospectus with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The IPO is supported by Bank of America, CICC, and Credit Suisse, according to PanDaily. Tencent currently holds a 13.54% stake in the company.
Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund continues expansion in industry
Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund has invested $1.2B in game makers Capcom and Nexon, according to a Bloomberg report.
Astralis partners with Danish telecom company 3
Astralis has partnered with Danish telecommunications company 3 (Three) for its newly-built Astralis Nexus facility in Copenhagen. The partnership will see 3 and Astralis work together to produce content and initiatives aimed at showing gamers, parents, and the community ”positive gaming experiences.”
Cloud9 signs multi-year partnership with Blockchain.com
Cloud9 has signed a multi-year partnership with the global cryptocurrency platform Blockchain.com. According to a release, the partnership will create a dialogue around financial literacy and cryptocurrency within the esports community. As a result, Blockchain.com’s logo will be placed on all league sanctioned team jerseys and across Cloud9’s digital channels.
League of Legends' Spinoff Hextech Mayhem Added to Netflix Games
Netflix has announced that Hextech Mayhem: A League of Legends Story will be available worldwide on Android and iOS devices for free with a Netflix subscription. Hextech Mayhem is a rhythm platformer and a spinoff of Riot Games’ popular MOBA title.
On the horizon
With its preseason tournament now completed, the LCS will finally begin its official Spring season. Team Liquid claimed a dominating victory over Evil Geniuses in the Lock-In Tournament last weekend, making the organization the clear favorites going into the regular season.
The other League of Legends regional leagues continue to roll through their seasons, all working towards their region’s slot in the Mid-Season Invitational held later this year. Overall it looks to be a relatively quiet weekend for esports as the pandemic continues to impede live events.
Looking further ahead, much of the discussion this month will center on IEM Katowice, one of the most significant annual esports events and one of the first affected by COVID back in 2020. The multi-game event kicks off on February 15 and will run throughout the remainder of February.
People on the Move
The biggest move of this week comes from longtime Newzoo CEO and Co-Founder Peter Warman, who revealed that he is stepping down from the role after more than 14 years leading the analytics firm. Warman will move into the role of chairman, with Michelle Rouhof taking up the mantle of CEO. Rouhof served as commercial director prior to this new promotion. She joined the company in November of 2020 from Activision Blizzard. Other movers and shakers this week:
Michael Brancato has left Twitch to become VP of esports at Chess.com.
Kelsey Mills rejoins Twitch as program manager for talent and creator production.
Sylvain Maillard has left Team Vitality to join Toornament as digital marketing manager.
Avi Bhuiyan has left his role as VP of corporate development at Loaded.
Kevin He has joined collegiate esports platform AcadArena as product lead.
Egiandy Yoswara has left Mineski Global to join ONE Esports as esports event manager.
Christopher Flato has left ESL Gaming to create a new PR firm called NFT-Maker.
Bob Morris Jr. has been promoted to the role of Sr. lead business development & partnerships for Belong Gaming.
Robert Wylie has left Tundra Esports to join Guild Esports as its new head of social media.
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