Esports Advertising 2.0

TNL Take: Almost 4 years ago to the day, I wrote my 2nd article ever on esports called ” In Game Advertising: Failure or Future?”. The TL/DR was a review of the various platforms that gaming and advertising have converged (Static and Dynamic advertising, social games, mobile, retail and the future opportunities within esports and influencers.)

How times have changed.

For example, there were a total of 50 Non-Endemic brands that spent within esports for all of 2016.

(Image: The Next Level)

(Image: The Next Level)

Fast forward to 2019 and we are sometimes seeing 25 brands investing per quarter.

While we have seen a vast increase in the number of brands partnering with esports teams, franchised leagues, events, colleges, and centers/arenas - they tend to follow within 2 main categories: sponsorships and media.

I wanted to examine the companies in the space that were taking the esports brand opportunity further and have broken them down into 2 categories: Dynamic Advertising and Influencer Networks.

Let’s take a look.




Adverty: Niklas Bakos, CEO and Co-Founder

Anzu: Itamar Benedy, CEO and Co-Founder

TNL: What opportunity did you see in the market?

[Adverty] In 2015 I saw several opportunities for a new ad format to enter the space of gaming and apps on all platforms, from VR and smart glasses where calculations have to be done for your whole field of vision, down to the screen of mobile and console/PC gaming. I believe our way of doing seamless advertising is the only proper way to advertise brands in XR and for the current platforms it offers a truly unique way for advertisers to reach their audiences; at the same time as it gives publishers the possibility to monetize 100% of the gameplay.

[Anzu] I teamed up with Ben Fenster and Michael Badichi to form Anzu as a new-age platform for both advertisers and game developers. We three come from a long history of working in the ad tech and gaming space and we understood the pain points of the industry; backed up by numerous conversations with advertisers and game developers. If we look at the performance of video gaming industry last year, it generated $43 billion in revenue. Yet, the lack of scalable tech combined with no cutting-edge solutions kept the advertiser interest low so far. We wondered how we can access the market of 2.4 billion gamers and make it attractive for both brands. We aimed to bridge this gap and created a sophisticated cross-platform solution that brings real-world ads through blended in-game advertising and offers a new revenue stream for game publishers.

TNL: This is not a new idea (I worked at Massive Inc. 10 years ago where we pioneered in-game advertising) - what’s different now?

[Adverty] A couple of reasons why seamless advertising didn't work for Massive about 10 years ago. First of all, gaming wasn't free-2-play, hence the reach wasn't large scale enough for brands to properly care about the opportunity. Second, publishers of premium games aren't that keen on adding sponsored content to their audience as they usually believe it could lower the quality of their premium product. We still hardly see any advertising at all in non-F2P-games. Last, and what people tend to forget, the technology simply wasn't there ten years ago. At Adverty we've built a product and an ad server that is of absolute state-of-art, delivering more data on a day-to-day basis than e.g. LinkedIn, using the latest technologies in highly scalable distributed systems.

[Anzu] That’s absolutely true! It’s all about being in the right place at the right time - and we believe the time is now! Today’s gamers are not teenagers who hang out together in the basement, rather they have evolved into sophisticated audiences of all genders, ages and income levels. This has changed the mindsets of brands and given birth to a new face of gaming. In addition to this, esports is becoming a massive phenomenon that needs more sponsorship options to grow further. We are striving to create a new world for this phase of in-game advertising through our product innovation. Our programmatic offerings make in-game advertising scalable. Our first-ever ad-verification solution for console gaming, launched with Cheq, brings ad viewability and brand safety - a must for advertisers to say “yes” to gaming. We are also working hard to build a solid cross-platform technology operating not only on mobile, but also on PC and Console.

TNL: While this works well for real-world games (Sports, Racing, FPS), what opportunities do you see in larger esports titles that are vastly different, for example League of Legends?

[Adverty] Seamless in-game advertising is a great fit for many gaming titles and genres, although probably not something that can or should be used in every game out there. As the format requires thoughtful game design involvement, there are obviously artistic workarounds to make seamless ads work in more scenarios and contexts than the most obvious ones.

[Anzu] From the Mad Men days, brands have wanted to be associated with pop culture. The success of PokemonGo was a watershed moment in the status of gaming as a leading entertainment platform. The majority of popular game titles - like League of Legends and Fortnite - are not just games any more, rather than brands themselves and they are leading the way young audiences interact with these titles. In turn, this means, brands and game developers are pushing the envelope in the way they want to make connections with people. Brands like Nike also took to gaming when it gave the players of Fortnite a chance to play in a pair of Air Jordan 1 trainers and unlock exclusive skins and skateboard sprays.

There are plenty of opportunities for brands and it would depend on what kind of creatives are developed to explore these opportunities and turn them into attractive and unique ways to reach new audiences. Of course, it also means that game developers need to be open to new ways of cooperating with the brand.

TNL: What exclusive inventory do you currently have? What brands have used the platform to date?

[Adverty] As a publicly listed company we can only talk about the partnerships officially announced. We were the first company to bring seamless ads to games and have been active in the VR/AR space since 2017. Our most significant launch to date in terms of scale is Critical Ops, one of the leading mobile esport titles with over 1 million daily active users. Compare that to a decent console/PC title that usually peaks around 50,000 at best. Mobile brings the reach the brands are looking for when entering this new space. We are working directly with the largest agencies in the world to offer seamless advertising to their most innovative brands. Large advertisers and brands such as Coca-Cola, Angry Birds, Red Bull, Lenovo, Unilever, Asus, Mozilla and PlayStation have already jumped onboard and through our programmatic delivery more than 2,000 brands have bought seamless ad space in our platform already.

[Anzu] In a short time since we began operations, Anzu has forged strategic partnerships that give brands access to premium games and reach hard-to-reach audiences. Whether it is casual mobile and hardcore PC gamers, esports enthusiasts, VR users, we are working relentlessly to empower top-tier game developers to partner with Fortune 500 brands. A good example is our pilot with Turner.

TNL: Are you running your own programmatic platform or connecting to other DSP’s?

[Adverty] Yes, our platform is fully IAB compliant and we are pushing seamless advertising through IAB as the first company in the category to receive the precious IAB Gold certificate. We have built and run our own ad server to deliver programmatic OpenRTB 2.3+ as our own SSP or connected to leading SSP and DSP partners in the space.

[Anzu] Actually, both. Having exclusive partnerships with brands and ad agencies, we have Anzu’s Private Marketplace where all the direct deals take place. At the same time, since our solutions are compatible with conventional media buying channels, we’re also connected to the largest DSPs including Rubicon and Mediamath, as part of the Anzu Public Marketplace.   

TNL: What analytics are you providing to brands post campaign?

[Adverty] Our seamless approach delivers metrics and data to advertisers in ways they could only dream of before. We deliver one of the most robust viewability metrics in the industry to count true impressions and have full control of what is happening on screen or in your field of vision as we track the placement and positions of ads and when and for how long you're viewing them. Take that and filter on geo, time, platform, genre, title, context and audience segment and all of a sudden you have a very powerful understanding of the reach and uplift of your brand.

[Anzu] Ad tracking and viewability are well-established in the mobile gaming space, but unheard of in the in-game advertising world. We recently launched the first ever ad-verification solution to in-game advertising together with Cheq that allows brands to be sure they pay only for viewable ads. Advertisers benefit from our detailed ad viewability metrics and engagement data, making sure they get the most out of their campaigns. In general, the platform is very flexible enabling to slice-and-dice the data as much as needed and generate customized reports brands are interested in. Data we provide has actionable insights that help to make smarter decisions giving more bang for one’s buck.

TNL: What’s the total funding you have raised and are you seeking additional money?

[Adverty] We make sure to always be in a good position to be part of and lead seamless advertising in becoming an accepted channel and ad format that is part of every buyers' programmatic media plan. To date we have raised roughly USD $3.3M.

[Anzu] We strive to push the boundaries and transform the gaming industry into a premium revenue engine. Our focus remains on strengthening our presence in European and North American markets as well as to be the preferred partner for game studios, working on PC and Consoles. We raised $6.5M in August of this year.

[TNL: Anzu recently hired Nike’s ex-Head of Brand Media Mike Cookson to become their Chief Strategy Officer. Adverty this week hired Group M’s Chief Digital and Product Officer Kenny Spangberg as Chief Revenue Officer.]


(Image: Powerspike)

(Image: Powerspike)

Powerspike: Angelo Damiano, CEO

TNL: What led you to create Powerspike?

When we first started PowerSpike, myself and my co-founder Michael were working at an esports event organizer producing World of Warcraft esports tournaments on Twitch. While the events were incredibly successful, pulling in anywhere from 1,000-10,000 concurrent viewers back in 2014, we struggled to monetize the business due to rampant ad blockers and unreliable revenue streams such as donations.

We turned to brands and advertisers as a potential avenue to generate revenue, and ended up sending out 100 cold emails looking for a sponsorship opportunity, and I think we got about 2 responses back, both rejection letters! It was a pretty painful lesson in the nature of cold emailing, but it taught us an important lesson of just how difficult it is to find a sponsorship on Twitch even if you have really high viewership.

We took that lesson on the chin and decided to start PowerSpike to create a platform to make it easier for creators like ourselves to connect with brands and advertisers for sponsorship opportunities.

TNL: There are a million gaming/esports “influencer” companies out there. What makes Powerspike different?

There really are, it’s crazy how much the space has evolved in the past few years! I’d say there’s 3 key things that really differentiate us. First, we’re taking the standard influencer platform approach and flipping it on it’s head. There are so many platforms out there that give brands discovery tools, analytics, and a CRM for managing creators - but the truth is that the process of influencer marketing is extremely time consuming and without a full-time hire, almost nobody has time for that.

One of the biggest challenges PowerSpike solves is we’re making influencer marketing as simple as buying an ad on Facebook. As a brand, you can come to our platform and launch a campaign in 3 simple steps - our platform handles the day to day execution of the campaign while enabling brands to control what they really care about - targeting, A/B testing, campaign optimization, etc. It’s essentially programmatic influencer marketing.

Second, our team and our culture I really believe are a key differentiator. We’ve assembled a powerhouse team of former influencers, talent managers, developers, designers and marketers to build a product to solve the challenges which we’ve experienced first hand.

Third, we have one of the largest networks of talent in the gaming space - we work with over 23,000 creators on PowerSpike and partner with some of the biggest talent agencies in the world to ensure we can find an influencer who is perfect for every one of our client’s goals.

TNL: How easy is it for an influencer/streamer to sign up and get started?

It’s as easy as linking your Twitch account at - once you’ve connected your account, you can start browsing our platform for relevant sponsorship opportunities, and our team will also proactively reach out to you if you’re a fit for any existing campaigns!

If you’re a creator, you can apply for sponsorships in one click and once you’re accepted, we’ll provide you with clear cut instructions and goals on how to succeed.

TNL: Where do you see this space and Powerspike growing in the next 5 years?

At an industry level, we’ve already seen a number of major Fortune 500 brands start to get their feet wet and test their ad spends in various ways on Twitch. Over the next 5 years in the industry itself, I believe you can expect to see a few things:

Major Fortune 500 brands will start jumping into gaming more aggressively, with their competitors soon to follow. We will start to see content wars between platforms. This is already happening in a big way, but it’s only going to continue and even increase. The creators and their agents are going to win here BIG time, with huge multi-million dollar payouts being offered to switch platforms. Eventually I believe the creators will likely go to wherever they have the best financial prospects and platforms will spend an absurd amount of money attempting to lock up creators or be taken over. The professionalization of the space will continue with more talent agencies and managers specifically niched to gaming arising to help creators succeed.

At PowerSpike specifically, it’s our mission to create the most compelling and streamlined destination for activating sponsorships within gaming communities. We’re dead set on building the best platform out there for helping streamers to succeed whether they are on Twitch, Mixer, YouTube, or other platforms.

Our five year plan is to create the world's first influencer exchange - a platform that takes the best parts of programmatic advertising and combines them with influencer marketing. We want to make influencer marketing an automated and scalable media channel that can support creators across every vertical, region, language and platform.

As you can tell, the esports sponsorship/patch on the jersey model has quickly transformed to not only include branded content, social media and very cool activations; the categories of dynamic advertising and influencer marketing could also have an impact on esports future.

In Part 2 of Esports Advertising 2.0, I’ll examine a few different players on the other side: analytics and measurement.

4 Types Of Games That Should Have A Bigger Place In Esports

Guest Post by Alex Himmel

As the esports industry continues to expand and improve it's becoming packed with different types of games and leagues - such that it seems like there's something for just about everybody. From combat and shooter games, to real-time strategy, to sports experiences, most major genres are covered at least to some extent. Even so though, there's really a handful of games that dominates the business (and the discussion around it), making it difficult for some other popular types of games to break through.

These are four genres and styles of gaming in particular that - we hope - gain a bigger place in esports moving forward.


Virtual reality's many uses have finally begun to influence society pretty broadly. Yet modern VR more or less began as a gaming platform, and despite a few growing pains it's finally produced some excellent gaming experiences. And there's no end to the potential thrills the world of eSports could see from certain applications. With screens for the audiences to see what the players are experiencing, as well as visibility of the gamer in real life, fans could enjoy the whole picture, no matter what game was being played. Naturally this is something that's already being explored lightly, but really what we're talking about is a particular eSports game or two taking off. For example, there are already several decent VR boxing games Can you imagine the excitement of a full VR boxing circuit within the eSports community?


The excitement of wagers and gambling has always drawn an audience, and spectators can watch professional poker on TV even now. Generally, digital casino gaming has strayed towards the arcade and slot games we see from Canadian and European providers online - which tend to involve less in the way of multiplayer activity or competitive potential. However, it's not as if there aren't still millions of online poker allayers around the world. Between that, the existing market for card-based strategy games (think: Hearthstone), and the fact that poker tournaments are already making forays into esports venues (as happened in Las Vegas last year), we'd like to see more attention devoted to this classic game. Perhaps if a developer got game just right, keeping the bones of the game but infusing enough visual and audio excitement to appeal to a broad audience, digital poker could become a hit in the industry.


Real-time strategy games like Sid Meier's Civilization or Age of Empires aren't that big in the esports world, but they have a lot of potential. In fact, the latter has even been discussed as a possible “next big esport”. The immense possibilities in these games mean there would always something for the spectators to watch, from each technological advancements to upgrades to the cities and towns. There would be a fun suspense factor as people waited to see which player gained the advantage and how - particularly if competitions were drawn out over time.


Given there massive popularity, it's somewhat surprising mobile puzzle games haven't found a significant in with esports yet. But hit could be really exciting to watch players and teams try to beat each other through complex levels of ever-increasing difficulty. Games like Monument Valley and Hitman GO are just a couple examples of the games that could be used, complete with their moving staircases, platforms, pillars, and other fun obstacles.

Any or all of the above would be awesome additions to the expanding esports universe.

Guest Post by Alex Himmel

Overwatch League Season 2: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

TNL Take: Now that the dust has settled on Activision-Blizzard’s second season of the Overwatch League, let’s take a look back at what this next iteration showed us.


Expansion: Overwatch League went from its original 12 teams and added another 8 - with 6 of them being International and 3 of them in China (Chengdu, Hangzhou, Guangzhou). Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has said all along that he wants to build an international franchised league and the expansion teams clearly reflected this strategy.

(Image: Activision-Blizzard)

(Image: Activision-Blizzard)

Homestands: Overwatch League’s Season 1 was played at Blizzard’s Arena in Burbank. For Season 2, there were 3 “homestands” in which the local team hosted a weekend of play that took place in Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles - of which the first two cities sold out tickets.

Sponsors: Without having any metrics or data to provide brands, Activision-Blizzard still managed to attract 5 sponsors for the inaugural season: HP, Intel, Toyota, T-Mobile and Sour Patch Kids. Season 2 saw the first 4 brands return in addition to multi-year deals and new additions from Coca-Cola, State Farm, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Kellogg’s.

Coca-Cola’s deal was the deepest not only due to length (3 years) but covering all OWL properties and teams. They even introduced individualized team branded bottles for sale on their website.

(Image: Coca-Cola)

(Image: Coca-Cola)

TV: While the first season saw Activision-Blizzard sign a multi-year agreement with both Twitch and Disney’s network of channels (ESPN, Disney XD, and ABC), Season 2 saw 4 programs on the channel with the most distribution: ABC.

AMA METRIC: You already know how I feel about the use of consistent metrics in esports reporting and Activision-Blizzard was one of the earliest to get on board with the use AMA or Average Minute Audience. This universal metric should help arm their sales team for further brand partnerships in Season 3.

HOURS WATCHED: Based on data from Stream Hatchet, this is one of the brightest spots for Overwatch League’s Season 2 - a 22% increase in the total number of hours watched (which includes Re-Broadcast). While there were more total games in Season 2, it still shows a high level of viewer engagement. The importance of this will be highlighted further.

(Chart: The Next Level, Data: StreamHatchet)

(Chart: The Next Level, Data: StreamHatchet)


TV: You would think that by showcasing 4 programs on a national broadcast channel like ABC would propel Overwatch League to the top spots of 2019’s TV Ratings. However, that wasn’t the case:

(Chart: The Next Level)

(Chart: The Next Level)

Activision-Blizzard even touted that the Stage 2 Finals “was the best performing broadcast ever across ABC/ESPN/Disney linear channels”. Well that’s fairly easy as ABC is the largest of those channels and has only broadcast Overwatch League for esports content.

Further, the reason that the Stage 2 Finals were #1 was that it led out to the NBA Playoffs showing directly after. If you look at the 3 other OWL programs, the average total audience was ~330,000, well below the Nintendo World Championships on CBS (which was a re-run of the event held months earlier) or the Madden Classic on The CW.

What’s even more remarkable was TBS’s ELEAGUE FIFA 19 Semi-Finals beat Overwatch League’s Stage 1 and Stage 2 playoffs despite being shown in much fewer homes and on a Friday night at 11PM aka TV’s graveyard shift.

Even further, the Season 2 Grand Finals didn’t even crack the Top 10 with a total viewership of 300,000 - granted there was competition from TwitchCon, ESL One and NFL Football.

Why did OWL generally perform so poorly on a broadcast channel with a great programming time of weekend afternoon? My 1-cent theory is potentially cross-marketing.

When ELEAGUE launched, there was promotion across Turner’s channels, advertising and even nationwide outdoor advertising. Outside of the press mentioning it would be on ABC, I personally didn’t see any promotion of OWL across Disney’s properties or ad campaign. It’s not like Activision-Blizzard doesn’t have the money for this.

LA HOMESTAND: While the Atlanta and Dallas homestands sold out, the Los Angeles one didn’t have the same feeling of excitement (it did have Kit-Kat as a presenting sponsor however). Was this due to the fact that so many games had already been played at the Blizzard Arena in Burbank? Maybe, but how will this affect Season 3’s expanded Home/Away schedule in different markets and especially Los Angeles with 2 teams?

EXECUTIVE DEPARTURES: On May 25th, in the middle of Season 2, Overwatch League Commissioner Nate Nanzer announced he was leaving Activision-Blizzard and went to Fortnite developer Epic Games to oversee their esports development. Even more interesting is that on May 1st, Epic Games bought Psyonix, the developer of popular esport Rocket League. You can absolutely expect more growth of Rocket League esports and maybe even a potential franchised league?

The Fortnite World Cup was also a huge success garnering a massive amount of press and crowning 16-year old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf with the Solo Championship and a whopping $3M prize. I’ve spoken to so many people across all demographics and walks of life and without fail they know that “some kid won a lot of money playing a video game called Fortnite”.

Less than a month later, Blizzard’s Global Esports Director, Kim Phan also left the company. When your two most high profile esports executives leave in the middle of the season of a newly minted franchised league, you don’t need to read the tea leaves to know that something is amiss.

(Image: Blizzard/Carlton Beener)

(Image: Blizzard/Carlton Beener)


VIEWERSHIP: We finally get to my favorite esports topic of all: viewership. Let’s get a few things out of the way.

There had been reports that Activision-Blizzard was inflating Overwatch League viewership by having streams embedded within ads that played across third-party media sites. I won’t even bother linking to all the reports because they’re completely wrong. I spoke again with Kasra Jafroodi, Blizzard’s Strategy and Analytics Lead who addressed this:

“The main purpose of advertisement with the embedded Twitch player is to market your content and increase your fanbase (like all other marketing). It only becomes an issue when companies utilize it to inflate reported metrics. For example, some of Twitch’s metrics are counted at the moment the stream is loaded (like views or uniques) so advertising the embedded player directly increases those. One reason we like to use AMA (Average Minutes Audience) is because it is based on minutes watched, which is naturally weighted based on someone’s engagement in the content. For example, 1 person watching for 60 minutes is worth just as much as 720 people watching for 5 seconds each. However, if you were to look at views or uniques for that example, that 1 engaged person is worth the exact same as the 720 non-engaged people. When used correctly, measured accurately, and reported on fairly, embedded Twitch player ads can be an effective marketing tool.”

Basically, the “streaming ads” didn’t affect the overall AMA due to the limited engagement that a user may have contributed to by “viewing” those streams. In addition, some of the streaming ads were actually distributed by Overwatch League sponsors and not Blizzard themselves.

(Now Twitch on the other hand is a different story as they do report views and viewers to their brand partners. When I reached out to Twitch PR for comment on what they call NAPU - Native Ad Product Unit - I was given a “No Comment”)

Getting to the viewership data, Activision-Blizzard reported publicly that the Grand Finals brought in 472,000 watchers, and increase of 41% vs. the Season 1 Grand Finals. Here’s how the US 472,000 figure was calculated:

Digital + Linear

Hours Watched = 1,102,047

Minutes Watched = 66,122,831

Content Minutes = 140

AMA = 472, 306

While the mixing of both digital and linear could be considered “fair” for reporting the true total audience of the Grand Finals, I wanted to see what just the US digital viewership for the regular season looked like.

(Chart: The Next Level, Data: StreamHatchet)

(Chart: The Next Level, Data: StreamHatchet)

A big qualifier here: This is comparing Average Concurrent Viewers per week between both seasons - not AMA. (Here's the primer again on what is AMA). As mentioned in the article, even if the simple "definition" of AMA is to take total hours watched divided by hours broadcast, we as an industry still need to come to a definition of what that specifically means: Live, Live + 24, Rebroadcasts, etc. In my opinion, Live +24 is the best option because it mirrors how TV is measured but we still need to address rebroadcasts and using "ads" for streams.

You may have seen reports that the Overwatch League Season 2 viewership had actually increased. That is also true because it’s taking into account one other important factor: that’s a global number that includes China. The International AMA was 218,000 for the regular season was.


INTERNATIONAL VIEWERSHIP: Considering that 9 of the 20 teams are outside of the US, Overwatch League is now much more an international league than a domestic one. Now that there will be homestands that will held solely in Europe and Asia, I would expect that international viewership continues to increase and play a larger portion of the overall OWL total viewership.

MEDIA RIGHTS: There is no way that Twitch ponies up another $45M/Year for digital rights especially if the majority of the traffic is not coming from the US. So who’s going to get the digital rights and at what cost? TV will also be an interesting as you now have games held internationally so channels will either need to show tape delayed games/non-live or show live games at odd hours.

SPONSORS: Some Season 1 deals have expired and the canary-in-the-coal-mine for brand deals are renewals. Again with the international focus, how will domestic brands look at the Overwatch League market or will it be more global brands like Coca-Cola?

LOCAL REVENUE: It will be very interesting to see which teams are able to maximize local revenue the most: Ticket sales, merchandise, and event F&B sales.

TRAVEL: This area is going to be the biggest burden for teams for Season 3. Instead of just traveling to Burbank, they will now have international travel, much bigger travel expenses, and playing away games. Which teams will be able to handle this new challenge the best?

There’s a lot on the line for Season 3 and with the upcoming Call of Duty League starting in early 2020, Activision-Blizzard will now be managing 2 very different franchised leagues.

“Every gun makes it’s own tune” - The Good (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly)

The Good That Esports and Gaming Provide: Charities

On August 3, Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old from Allen, Texas drove 10 hours to El Paso and shot 22 people to death and injured 24 others at a Walmart store in El Paso. Prior to the shooting, he posted a “manifesto” with white nationalist and anit-immigration themes on the cesspool of a website that is 8chan.

On August 4, Connor Stephen Betts, a 24-year-old from Dayton, Ohio walked into a bar and shot and killed 9 people (including his sister) and injured 27 others before being killed by police in 32 seconds after the shooting began. He was carrying a AM-15 (which is similar to the popular AR-15) with a 100 round drum magazine.

As of September 1, there have been 238 mass shootings in 244 days of the year.

So how did the media react to the back-to-back mass shootings?

Blame it on violent video games.

Even our Cheeto-In-Chief said the games industry is partially to blame because “games glorify violence”. Video games stock slid on the “news” with Call of Duty publisher Activision-Blizzard lost 6%. Walmart’s answer was to take down displays of violent video games in their stores - while continuing to be the largest seller of ammunition in this country. (After weeks of protest and #BoycottWalmart, they acquiesced by reducing certain ammunition sales and requested that customers no longer openly carry guns in their stores. However, they still sell other guns and ammunition in 3,700 stores).

Let’s set the facts straight: The notion that video games cause violence is utter bullshit and has been debunked many times. Here are a few data points and articles:

(Chart: Vox Media)

(Chart: Vox Media)

See an anomaly there? Could it in fact have to do further with maybe gun ownership and access?

(Chart: CNN)

(Chart: CNN)

Finally, this 2014 joint study between Villanova and Rutgers University “Violent Video Games and Real World Violence: Rhetoric Vs. Data”.

(To clarify further, yes we also need to address mental health and that issue plaguing our country currently. Both Japan and South Korea have serious issues with mental health and suicide. Even more specifically mental health within the esports and gaming community - but that’s a whole other article).

So how about we focus on the positive aspects of esports and gaming for a moment. One of the best developments in this space has been the involvement of charities and giving back to the community. Let’s look at some of the amazing work that’s been done this year.


(Image: Heal For Real)

(Image: Heal For Real)

Every two seconds, a patient in America needs blood - but less than 20% of donations come from 20-34 year olds. To help encourage young donors to come forward, Team Liquid partnered with the Blood Center of America, a national network with 50+ blood centers.

The idea was simple: Find a BCA location near your, donate blood, and receive a limited-edition red Team Liquid t-shirt.

The partnership was taken even further with a Team Liquid branded bus that toured the country and offered participants to donate as well. In fact, the bus was at ESL One NYC where you could win either the t-shirt or a ticket to ESL One.

(Image: Marcel Coppersan)

(Image: Marcel Coppersan)

Reports from the event blood drives have been very positive, with many potential donors signing up to donate at their local centers.

You can get additional feedback from the BCA twitter account or #HealForReal.


(Image: NRG)

(Image: NRG)

Last month, NRG announced The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) as the team’s new charitable partner through 2020. The collaboration reaches across the entire NRG organization and esports teams and started in line with September’s Blood Cancer Awareness Month.

NRG and its players will raise awareness and driving donations through digital and live activations.

I asked NRG co-founder Andy Miller how important is giving back to the community as part of NRG’s mission and why they picked the LLS:

When we launched the San Francisco Shock we had a chance to start a brand from scratch. Given the local nature of the league we felt it was very important to be part of the community and participate in meaningful social causes. That is how our SF mental health initiatives and wildly successful Baby Bay Challenge were born. We were looking for a similar vehicle for NRG when LLS and their interest in the gaming community popped up. We jumped at the chance to take their message to our fans and gamers in general to create awareness and hopefully raise a bunch of money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and support the amazing work they do.

(This one is also close to my heart as I lost a close friend at 16 to Leukemia. RIP Haider).


(Image: Dr Lupo Twitch)

(Image: Dr Lupo Twitch)

During this years GuardianCon in June - which originally started as a destination (no pun intended) for fans of the game Destiny, immensely popular streamer Dr. Lupo raised a whopping $920,000 in less than 5 hours for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Many big name streamers such as Ninja and TimtheTatman donated with even State Farm donating $10,000 (State Farm has made huge investments in the esports space this year sponsoring Dr. Lupo, Overwatch League of Legends and the NBA 2K League)

This is also on top of the $1.3M he raised for St. Jude’s last year.

It costs $2.8M to run St. Judes for just 1 day. GuardianCon 2019 raised a total of $3.7M - $750,000 more than their goal of $3M.

(Multiple messages for more info and quote to Dr. Lupo’s agency were not returned)


(Image: Complexity Gaming)

(Image: Complexity Gaming)

Last week, Texas based esports organization Complexity Gaming announced a partnership with long standing gaming charity Extra Life (part of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals).

The partnership will consist of live-streaming to provide funding and reward fans with prizes and Complexity players will visit their local CMN hospital to connect with children through gaming.

Complexity Gaming founder and CEO Jason Lake tells me:

We met with quite a few different potential cause partners, but it wasn't until we connected with the Extra Life team that we felt like we found a match made in heaven. Leveraging the tremendous power of gaming and esports in a simple, yet gamified way to create a powerful and long-lasting impact, there's nothing more perfect for us as an organization than that. Their mission statement of "Play Games. Heal Kids." hits at the very core of our internal belief system - Gaming is powerful, and it's time we use more of that power for good.


(Image: Gamers Outreach)

(Image: Gamers Outreach)

Founded in 2007, Gamers Outreach is a charity organization that helps kids cope with their hospital treatment through video game equipment, technology and software. I spoke with founder Zach Wigal about this amazing program:

What and when made you decide to fund Gamers Outreach?
Gamers Outreach was created in 2007 after a police officer shut down a video game tournament I tried to produce in high school. I was frustrated and decided to organize a new event to demonstrate the positive difference gamers can make when we come together around our passion. I called the event “Gamers for Giving” and originally founded Gamers Outreach to facilitate the event's production and fundraise in support of charity.

I was inspired to continue working on Gamers Outreach after the success of the initial Gamers for Giving fundraiser. At the time it was just a passion project between college and my job, managed with the help of friends. Present day, our organization is focused on providing entertainment to kids in hospitals through video games. Our goal is to improve a patient's quality of life while they're receiving care.

Talk about Project GO Kart?
GO Karts (Gamers Outreach Karts) are portable kiosks designed to make video game content available and easy to manage in hospitals. They're tools that assist healthcare workers in providing kids with access to recreation. We started creating GO Karts in an effort to address two primary challenges we observed:

-Many hospitals are not equipped with devices that make gaming content readily accessible to patients (e.g. consoles, controllers, monitors, games, internet access).

-When technology is present, it can be difficult for hospital staff to manage entertainment due to a number of factors (unfamiliarity with equipment, existing responsibilities, ease of mobility, bandwidth limitations, etc).

(Image: Gamers Outreach)

(Image: Gamers Outreach)

Each GO Kart is equipped with a gaming console, monitor, and assortment of games. They're intended to be user friendly - all a hospital worker has to do is find an electrical outlet and hit the "on" button.

Since starting, how many hospitals have you worked with and total number of Karts in service?
We estimate 6 - 8 children per day benefit from a single GO Kart. Presently, Gamers Outreach maintains ~700 GO Karts in nearly 200 hospitals, primarily within the United States. We estimate the program has capacity to support as many as 1.2m - 1.5m play sessions / patients annually.

But to put it in perspective, the number of people passing through hospitals is massive. As an example: in 2018 Children's Hospital Los Angeles recorded more than 556,000 patient visits and an additional 18,000 inpatient visits (people who stayed overnight in the hospital). That's a single hospital in a single year. We're proud to say GO Karts are playing a role in making gaming content more widespread and we've still got a lot more building to do!

It's worth noting we also have a volunteer initiative called Player 2. Player 2 invites gamers to apply their knowledge in a manner that supports patients and staff within hospitals. By volunteering, gamers become "digital activity managers" and serve by managing equipment, providing tech support, and playing games with patients. Many hospitals receive game donations, but without proper staffing to manage inventory at mass scale, it can become difficult for tech donations to properly serve patients as intended. Player 2 helps address that by ensuring knowledgeable individuals are present to distribute technology and exercise its positive benefits.

If there's one memory you have of helping children through video games, what would that be?
For me, the stories that stand out most are the instances when the kids themselves have been advocates for our programs in hospitals. The first time this happened was at Children's Hospital Oakland where a child had been undergoing care for a number of months. He was frustrated that he had to wait each day to play on their single GO Kart. He started fundraising and ended up building a small fleet to share with the other kids. His parents were so proud to see him engaged with our cause and it was inspiring knowing a child found so much value in our work that he wanted to get involved. That's since happened multiple times.

These are fantastic stories and programs that shows the positive side of esports and gaming and hopefully the Mainstream Media starts covering it more outside of the usual mantra of “If it bleeds, it leads”.

There are numerous other similar gaming programs and if you have the ability, please donate. #GiveBack