AFK Weekly: Valorant’s First Crowdfunding Campaign is a Roaring Success
Week 6, December 2021
Hello everyone! The Valorant Champions 2021 is inching towards its conclusion, marking the end of the Valorant Champions Tour (VCT), the first official tournament circuit by Riot Games for the title. According to Esports Charts, Riot’s marquee FPS tournament has drawn in an average viewership of 429.9K and has peaked at 836.9K with the semi-finals and finals scheduled to take place over the weekend.
Incredibly, this is not the most-watched ongoing esports tournament. That honor goes to Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB)’s M3 World Championship that has drawn in an average of 385.5K viewers and peaked at 1.36M with its group stages. It’ll be interesting to see if MLBB can continue to maintain its edge over Valorant Champions 2021.
Here’s a breakdown of this week’s most important esports business news and more in the latest edition of Esports Business Insights by AFK Gaming.
- Vignesh Raghuram, Supervising Editor, AFK Gaming
Valorant Champions Collection raises more than $7.5M USD for its 16 teams
Riot Games announced that its Valorant Champions Collection skin line has raised more than $7.5M USD for participating teams in the Valorant Champions 2021. With an even split, each team would pocket more than $460K in addition to their prize winnings.
Since it was previously announced that half of the proceeds from the skin sales would go to the 16 teams participating in the tournament, it means that the bundle has accrued more than $15M in sales overall for Riot Games. The Champions Collection skin will be on sale until Dec. 13, one day after the tournament concludes. The bundle currently costs 6,264 Valorant Points (roughly $64).
The Valorant Champions 2021 is already the biggest tournament in the title’s history, featuring a base prize pool of $1M, plus half the proceeds from the sale of the Champions bundle. Up until now, the highest prize pool in Valorant esports had been $700K at the VCT 2021: Stage 3 Masters - Berlin, where Gambit Esports won $225K.
The concept of crowdfunding additional prize money for esports tournaments was pioneered by Valve with Dota 2 and CS:GO. Both titles use in-game battle passes and cosmetics to supplement the prize pool for their biggest tournaments. The International 10 managed to raise over $40M in prize pool money, thanks to a highly successful crowdfunding campaign utilizing a battle pass.
Key Takeaway: Every year Riot Games is asked why it doesn’t follow The International’s example and shatter records with a World Championship prize pool unlike any seen before. Around $40M would be nothing for a League of Legends battle pass. For a decade, the company has remained resolute that this strategy (profitable as it might be) is not healthy for an esport long term, and League of Legends global prize pools have never risen above a few million. That said, Riot does seem to be growing more and more committed to creating sustainability opportunities for teams in all of its major esports, which is where the Valorant Champions Collection comes in. While this initiative should not be taken as a sign that Riot will ever try to chase Dota 2’s monumental records, it does show that the company is at least now willing to do more than just create a skin line for the world champion of its most popular game.
Activision Blizzard employees announces strike, move to unionize
In the wake of a lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at Activision Blizzard, the ABK Workers Alliance (a worker's group within the company) launched a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe to support employees participating in the work stoppage. The work stoppage follows Activision Blizzard confirming layoff plans at Call of Duty: Warzone developer Raven Software, which prompted a walk out from the company’s Quality Assurance (QA) team to protest the decision. Employees at other Activision Blizzard studios including QA departments in Texas and Minnesota also followed suit.
The GoFundMe campaign is listed with a goal of $1M, which would be used to support employees currently on strike and assist with the relocation expenses of Raven Software workers who were let go last week. As of this writing the campaign has generated nearly $250K in donations.
According to a report from The Washington Post, the ABK Worker Alliance will also be calling on employees across Activision Blizzard to sign union authorization cards which would authorize a union to negotiate on their behalf. This would be the first serious step towards forming an actual union for employees who wish to be involved. However, with the company already working with WilmerHale, a law firm that has reportedly helped big companies like Amazon block employee unionization efforts, it’s going to be an uphill battle to unionize.
Over the last few months, Activision Blizzard has been embroiled in lawsuits, scandals, and demands for CEO Bobby Kotick to step down for a series of allegations about workplace practices and sexual misconduct over the last few months.
Earlier this week, employees who were breastfeeding have alleged that they had to put up with unsanitary conditions and were subject to harassment. Activision-Blizzard activist Jessica Gonzalez and former Blizzard producer Stephanie Krutsick alleged that the breastfeeding room was unsanitary and that breastmilk that they had stored in the refrigerator was “stolen” or “tossed.”
Key Takeaway: Activision Blizzard’s stock price has fallen nearly 40% over the last six months. All eyes are on the World of Warcraft maker as the fallout from this ongoing struggle for workplace culture and workers rights will undoubtedly cause reverberations across the industry (remember, Blizzard isn’t the only studio with these problems, it is deeply ingrained in the fabric of game development). However, it is also important to remember that much of the increased scrutiny and criticism from fans is due to their general dissatisfaction with Activision Blizzard’s video game properties across the board. Nearly every title is in a poor state currently due to years of short-term decision making by the company, making it easy for fans to jump on a legitimate criticism of their once-beloved studio. It remains to be seen whether public outcry will maintain this level of fervor for the next big scandal if it comes from a studio where the players actually like its games.
People on the Move
It’s been another busy week as executives and professionals in the esports and gaming industries find new roles at leading companies or leave old roles to find new opportunities before the new year. Here’s this week’s rundown of the biggest announcements:
Laura Bouman has joined the all-women esports organization DOTA Valkyries as its new chief technology officer this week. Bouman will continue in her role as workplace coordinator at esports organization Team Liquid.
G2 Esports Head of Content Karina Ziminaite announced this week that she will be leaving the Berlin-based esports organization in February of next year. Ziminaite, who helped lead G2 to win two awards at the 2021 Esports Awards in November, did not disclose where she will go post-G2.
Joe Pokrzywa has stepped down from his role as chief operating officer/vice president of OpTic Gaming as a result of the recent merger between OpTic and Envy Gaming.
Margaret McClure joins Netflix Games as an executive producer on external game development / publishing. McClure left her position as senior product manager / producer of Valorant at Riot Games at the end of 2020 to join Facebook Gaming.
Kevin Scarapeti has stepped down from his role as public relations lead of Overwatch League to take a similar role at Activision Blizzard that focuses on the Overwatch game franchise. Sean Miller will assume the role vacated by Scarapeti. Miller is no stranger to the league; he served in the role of senior manager, product strategy and team operations for OWL from January 2020 - March 2021, leaving the company to join Texas Capital Bank in an executive VP role for 10 months.
Stephanie Snowden left her job as director of programming/broadcast talent at Activision Blizzard Esports to take on the role of director of communications at Call of Duty Warzone studio Infinity Ward. Snowden, a former producer at Fusion Media Group and ESPN, spent more than two years in her previous role.
Former Havas exec Tyler Williamson joins Activision Blizzard as manager of partner marketing & management at Activision Blizzard for Call of Duty and Warzone.
Daniel Kawano has joined hardware maker ASUS as the new product manager, focusing on the company’s gamer focused brand Republic of Gamers in Brazil. Kawano brings his six years of experience working for Activision Blizzard in the region as a senior public relations manager.
Marcos Pereira has left his role as manager, Blizzard franchises for Latin America. Pereira spent more than five years in the role. Prior to that he worked for Warner Bros. Entertainment Group and Microsoft's Xbox division in Brazil.
Finally, Tiffany Le has joined Riot Games as a visual designer on its player platform team this week. Le worked for Activision Blizzard prior to joining the company, helping with projects related to Overwatch and StarCraft.
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Quick Shots Segment
Gaules to launch podcast with Brazilian soccer superstar Ronaldo
Popular Brazilian esports streamer Alexandre “Gaules” Borba announced that he is partnering with soccer superstar Ronaldo Nazário for a podcast to be launched in 2022 called the “Fenômenos” (“Phenoms,” from Portuguese), the show will count on guests such as Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar Jr. and other personalities from Brazil and international media.
ONE Esports Appointed as Media Partner for PUBG Global Championship 2021
Krafton has announced ONE Esports as the official media partner in Southeast Asia for the PUBG Global Championship 2021 (PGC 2021). Thus, ONE Esports and Krafton are now working together to create bespoke content and provide fans with comprehensive coverage of the tournament. PGC 2021 is the final PUBG PC event of the year and features 32 teams competing for a share of $2M prize pool.
FaZe Clan partners with MoonPay for crypto and NFTs for esports
FaZe Clan has partnered with crypto payments firm MoonPay in a multi-year partnership that will include collaborations on multiple content series and will see the payment provider getting integrated into the organization’s existing productions. FaZe will also use MoonPay’s infrastructure for its forthcoming NFT and digital goods initiatives named “FaZe Forever.” According to the release, FaZe Forever will center on three key pillars: Curating & Collecting, Creating & Collaborating, and Spotlighting & Elevating.
Ford doubles down on esports initiatives with Rocket League
Rocket League developer Psyonix announced that U.S. automobile manufacturer Ford has partnered with the company to add two new cars to the game: the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R. Ford will also serve as the presenting sponsor of the Rocket League Championship Series Fall Major and bring back the Ford + Rocket League Freestyle Invitational, where players will have the chance to compete for a 2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
Trovo and Challengermode create PUBG Mobile prize pool fund
Grassroots focussed esports platform Challengermode has teamed up with streaming platform Trovo to create a $2K monthly prize pool fund that will be distributed to teams and tournament organizers. The two organizations are also creating the PUBG Mobile Pro Team Tournament Series which will give fans and grassroots esports players a chance to compete against established esports teams.
Valve requests Dota 2 tournament to change logo for potentially promoting communism
Game publisher Valve has asked Epic Esports Events to change the logo for its Eastern Europe Dota Pro Circuit earlier this week, citing concerns that it could violate Ukrainian laws regarding the promotion of communism. In the original logo, Dota 2's Pudge was seen with a red star surrounded by red flames in the background. The logo used by USSR’s Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization featured a similar design, which could have caused concerns.
Porsche Korea Signs Partnership with DRX
Porsche Korea has signed a three-year partnership with Korean League of Legends team DRX. In addition to Porsche’s crest being featured on the team’s uniforms, the announcement also revealed that various esports activities that expand contact points between esports fans and players will be hosted as a result of the deal. Collaborations, such as active social media postings and content creation, will also continue.
On The Horizon
This weekend marks the culmination of the first-ever Valorant Champions. Riot’s first-person-shooter will crown its first World Champion, establishing the game’s regional hierarchy going forward. Already, North America has settled back into its comfortable position of raising fans' hopes only to dash them spectacularly when it really counts. Still, a tier one esport where Korea and China are not overwhelmingly dominant is a big deal for the industry, and if a European team can come out with the win on Sunday, it will set an encouraging precedent for the future of Western esports.
It is also worth mentioning that Champions will conclude the first year in which Riot has operated in-person, international championship events for three different major esports. With Activision Blizzard selling off most of its esports infrastructure to third parties, Riot is now firmly positioned as the most prominent esports-operating developer in the world.
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