Why Esports One Raised $3M for AI

TNL Take: Esports One recently announced a $3M seed round co-led by XSeed Capital and Eniac Ventures, with participation from Crest Capital.

Esports One utilizes "proprietary computer vision technology, machine learning and custom datasets to provide real-time, live modules to inform and engage any esports fan" as seen below.

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The only hot buzzword not included in that description would be cryptocurrency - but maybe an ICO is in the future.

The Next Level spoke with CEO Matthew Gunnin to get further insight into what this really means for the industry.

 

What was the original challenge you set out to solve with Esports One?

Previously to founding Esports One, I worked at Azubu as Director of Content and then Unikrn as VP of Product. During my time at these companies, I came to realize what I believed was one of the biggest gaps in the industry: The lack of real-time data, non-existent viewer customization and more engaging broadcaster tools. Our mission at Esports One is simple, we want to enhance the esports viewing experience for fans around the world.

Esports One contains "proprietary computer vision technology, machine learning and custom datasets” - which sounds almost like the Terminator. What’s this mean in the simplest terms?

In simple terms, it means that we capture what’s happening on an esports stream in real-time (the computer vision aspect), analyze what was just captured (the machine learning aspect), compare what was captured against our databases of historical information (the custom datasets aspect) and then present this information to the viewer. This final product, the information, can be shown to the viewer in a number of ways. If a broadcaster is utilizing the Esports One platform, this information would be integrated live into the stream, similar to the stats and information you see when watching Football or any other traditional sport. If a viewer chooses to watch a stream on the Esports One site, they will have fully customizable “modules” that will surround the stream with whatever information they wish to see.

 

You’ve currently launched on Twitch and have integrated into their Extensions platform. What examples can you provide of the value to the viewer?

The extensions platform allow for an endless number of integrations with Esports One. Being able to provide broadcasters with new ways of engaging with their audience through the use of computer vision and motion tracking is a core principle of Esports One.

Whether that’s in the form of mapping out a players jungle movements through the course of a game, highlighting skill combinations and gold per minute graphs by the second or providing the viewers with a live prediction bar of the expected outcome and showcasing each event as it affects the percentages.

What if tournament organizers could provide their viewers with the ability to dig into a players team history and statistical breakdown all without leaving the stream. Maybe you want to know a players win percentage as soon as they pick a champion. And these are just a few of the features we will have available at release.

 

Where else do you see Esports One heading?

We see card games and real time strategy as an easy expansion point for Esports One and have already began to work on prototypes that bring value to the genres. FPS, including Overwatch and Counterstrike are obvious expansion points and it starts with determining what the core areas that we feel need to be addressed within each game. Right now though we are focused on releasing our League of Legends product first while we expect to begin expansion into other game titles by early Q2 of this year.


 

How does Esports One plan to monetize?

We’re approaching monetization from two sides.

We’re actively developing tools that will allow event broadcasters to integrate the Esports One platform directly into their production environment and thus increase the quality of their streams. We will license out each product for use, all the while establishing our core stats and data warehouse. Our consumer platform will provide users with the ability to view and engage with live esports content like never before.

As the platform grows, we will begin to introduce premium features for fans that prefer more control of their experience. For example, being able to know how many times a player has picked a specific champion vs. their win rate on that champion after losing the first match of a best of 3 while playing during a winter snowstorm after traveling more than 500 miles on a Sunday afternoon.

Something like that.

Thanks for your time Matthew.

Google Invests In Chinese Mobile Live Streaming Startup

TNL Take: Due to The Great Firewall of China, Google's numerous products including YouTube and its core Search functionality are not accessible to the country's 1B+ population. 

Google is looking to circumvent these restrictions through last week's investment in Chinese mobile live streaming and esports platform, Chushou

Founded in 2015, Chushou has 90M registered users and 8M Unique Streamers - while smaller than other Chinese live streaming sites like Douyu.tv (30M Daily Active Users) or Panda.tv - with Google's involvement, Chushou will be looking to grow internationally as well.

Chushou's main notable difference is that it focuses on live streaming mobile games where China's usage is enormous. My chats with China Global Television Network around mobile gaming usage:

Along with the Google/Chushou investment, China's YY Inc. is planning to spin off it's esports video platform Huya Broadcasting in the U.S. and seeking to raise $200M.

Time will tell if Google will be able to grow Chushou to compete with Twitch outside of China but this significant investment shows another big bet on mobile gaming and esports.

2017 US Esports Startups Raised ~$200M

TNL Take: The money that poured into esports in 2017, from team investment to franchise buy-ins, was astonishing.  

US startups haven't been left out of the bounty as they took in almost $200M in venture funding last year.

 2017 US Esports Funding Hits ~$200M (Graph: The Next Level)

2017 US Esports Funding Hits ~$200M (Graph: The Next Level)

Here's a breakdown of who got the investment and where they play in the esports ecosystem (Note: Some startups tread the line between esports, gaming and content):

Discord ($50M): Messaging, chat and game integration with ~100M users. Basically Slack/Skype for gamers

Skillz ($25M): Mobile esports platform

Super Evil Megacorp ($19M): Publisher of mobile esports game Vainglory

Super League Gaming ($15M): Organizes esports events and leagues within movie theaters

Plays.tv ($15M): Game highlights and social sharing platform

Smash.gg ($11M): Esports tournament organization platform

Underworld Esports ($10M* Estimated): Portland based esports team

Sliver.tv ($9.8M): 3D/VR live streaming platform for esports

Wavedash Games ($6M): Game publisher with upcoming esports title

Gamer Sensei ($4M): Esports coaching platform

Gawkbox ($3.7M): Monetization tools for streamers 

Guilded ($3.2M): Esports team management platform

Maestro ($3M): Enterprise live streaming monetization and data collection

Haste ($3M): Network performance for esports

Genvid ($2.5M): Esports interactive broadcasts 

FanAI ($1.8M): Esports audience monetization platform

Taunt ($1.75M): Esports fan competition platform

Matcherino ($1.5M): Crowd funded esports prize pools

VY Esports ($1.5M): Platform bridging esports, media companies and brands

Foundry IV (Undisclosed): Esports game developer

 

As expected, the majority of investment was West Coast based with 12 of the 20 investments taking place in California.

 2017 US Esports Funding Hits ~$200M (Map: The Next Level)

2017 US Esports Funding Hits ~$200M (Map: The Next Level)

What will 2018 hold?

Potentially a further surge in seed stage rounds with some of those above already looking for Series A.

eSports Monetization Platform FanAI Raises $1.8M From Pro Sports VC's, Greycroft and Loot Ventures

ESPORTS MONETIZATION PLATFORM FANAI RAISES $1.8M FROM PRO SPORTS VC'S, GREYCROFT'S NEW FUND AND LOOT VENTURES

 eSports Monetization Platform Fan.AI Raises $1.8M (Photo: Fan.AI)

eSports Monetization Platform Fan.AI Raises $1.8M (Photo: Fan.AI)

[Disclaimer: Loot Ventures is part of the the portfolio of companies associated with The Next Level. Exclusive interview with FanAI Co-Founder Johannes Waldstein below]

 TNL eSports Startups 013: FanAI Raises $1.8M (Graphic: The Next Level)

TNL eSports Startups 013: FanAI Raises $1.8M (Graphic: The Next Level)

From Forbes July 27, 2017 by Darren Heitner

Esports Audience Monetization Platform Raises $1.8 Million Seed Round

 eSports (Photo: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images)

eSports (Photo: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images)

As of July 2017, there is little doubt in the staying power of esports, which is essentially an industry consisting of competitive video game play that has attracted not only participants, but also a wide range of spectators on platforms such as Twitch. However, one of the biggest challenges remains finding out successful methods to monetize the rapidly expanding industry.

Enter FanAI Inc., an artificial intelligence (AI) driven audience monetization platform that is initially focused on exploiting the esports landscape by collecting fan data owned by the rights holders and data available on various social and streaming platforms, as well as data repository services and payment data, and enriching it to build brand-specific personas and achetypes to predict behavior. 

There is clear interest in the startup. FanAI will soon announce that it has closed a Series Seed round, led by Courtside Ventures, for a total of $1.8 million.

"Brands, especially non-endemics, are one of the largest potential revenue drivers for esports, but they have played a very minor role to this point," says Deepen Parikh of Courtside Ventures. "We believe FanAI can spark that shift and drive significant money into the industry. We have a great syndicate of investors coming in on the round."

The round includes Greycroft GC Tracker Fund, a new augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and esports fund, BDS Capital, CRCM Ventures, Sterling.VC, Loot Ventures (Manny Anekal, Dan Porter), Expansion VC, QB1 Ventures, Rosecliff Ventures, Catalyst Sports, Jason Robins (founder of DraftKings), Jordan Rambis (former VP Business Development at aXiomatic) and Everblue Management.

These investors are observing studies like one from The Next Level, which states that non-endemic brands are looking to increase their esports investment and that the industry is on pace to double 2016's total. FanAI specifically seeks to drive that type of revenue opportunity from non-endemic brands through exploring and delivering information related to the preferences of the esports audience. Thus far, FanAI has already partnered with Mastercard MA, a non-endemic brand, to provide proprietary information to the company as it seeks to make determinations on smart investments.


 Johannes Waldstein, Co-Founder of FanAI (Photo: FanAI)

Johannes Waldstein, Co-Founder of FanAI (Photo: FanAI)

TNL Take: Exclusive interview with Johannes Waldstein, Co-Founder of FanAI:

 

The Next Level: Why did you create FanAI and what was the opportunity you saw in the eSports ecosystem?

JW: Our backgrounds are from Google, Facebook and dunnhumby, three of the most data driven companies in the world. Particularly at dunnhumby, where we provided analytics on over 800M loyalty cards from some of the worlds largest retailers like Home Depot and Best Buy, to brands like P&G, Unilever, and Pepsi. We wanted to take the knowhow we had on understanding purchase behavior, social and demographic segments and monetizing data to eSports. 

 

The Next Level: The number of brands investing in eSports are on pace to double 2016’s total with 60+ Non-Endemic’s in the first half of 2017 alone. What can FanAI offer these brands they’re currently not getting after their campaigns end?

JW: There are two problems that we help solve:

/01 There is still a general perception that eSports is an homogenous audience of under-age male, energy drinking caffeine fiends living in a dark basement (our data shows something very different). But many big brands ask how is this relevant to me? 

/02 Because the rights holders can't segment their audience by purchase behavior and channel, even if a brand invests sponsorship dollars or marketing budget, they can't correctly target segments of the audience in different social channels and measure how well their investment worked. It is currently extremely hard to show ROI. 

FanAI has integrated proprietary purchase data streams and the leading social media channels and so can offer brands the ability to understand and predict purchase trends of the eSports audience across about 200 spend categories as varied as CPG, Automotive and Travel. 

 

The Next Level: What partnerships can you publicly announce and how are you working together?

JW: We can publicly announce our partnership with DreamHack, one of the largest digital festival and LAN party organizers and we have several further partnerships that will be announced over the coming weeks and months. 

 

The Next Level: We’ve talked about brands and event partners - how can FanAI help eSports teams as well?

JW: We have a partnership with Immortals, one of the leading eSports teams in LA and owners of the LA Overwatch franchise.

As eSports teams continue to grow their audiences and sponsorship deals they can use the same tools FanAI has built for the games publishers, agencies and brands to understand and monetize their audience. We have also mapped the social ecosystem for the top 100 teams giving teams the ability to see fan overlap and movement in social networks between leagues, teams, players and sponsors. Understanding how many uniques each has and how many fans they have in common. 

 

The Next Level: The current focus is within eSports and Gaming. Do you see FanAI expanding further into other areas in the future?

We are 100% eSports focused. We currently have seen lots of interest from other areas - from English Soccer teams to pro sports leagues in the US and we certainly have the platform capabilities to expand to other markets in the future.